Posted in Catching TV, Listening to Music, Reading Books, Traveling to Places, Watching Movies

So…What Happened to 2015?

Well, I made it through the entire year of 2015 without blogging once. Don’t worry, I’m not touting this as a good thing. In fact, I’m downright ashamed about it. Blogging was my thing, the one way I held on to my love of writing that spawned over 20 years ago…and I just let it disappear.

 

I could sit here and blame a list of things for my lack of writing: no ideas, no time, etc., but it wouldn’t justify anything. I had ideas. I had time. I just got lazy. It became easier to just post on the many pointless social networks I belong to. In fact, basically all I did in 2015 was post to social networks that I don’t even like because I kept changing my mind about which one I wanted to use and didn’t want to use and it was enough to drive me crazy.

In fact, it DID drive me crazy. Crazy to the point where I decided that in 2016 I need to get back into long-form blogging and ENOUGH WITH THE SHIT OF SOCIAL MEDIA.

But I’m not here to discuss all the things that are wrong with social media in 2016. I’m here to tell you that I’m back and that this year will be much different than last year. It HAS to be.

So before I officially make my blogging return, here’s a quick run-down of the things that happened in 2015 just so you know that it wasn’t ALL social media.

• I realized that I liked other genres of books more than young adult. That’s right! 2015 was the year where I sort of broke up with YA and embraced historical mysteries and middle grade. Of course middle grade isn’t exactly new to me, but some of the best books I read last year were from the middle grade genre. And I absolutely tore through the Maisie Dobbs and the Beatrix Potter mystery series’, thus giving the British Cozy Mystery genre a new fan.

• I saw some movies in 2015! Even some in the theater! See, I’m not getting old just yet. A couple of stand-outs were Pixar’s Inside Out (which made me cry like a 15-year-old me watching Little Women), Cinderella (which was just PERFECT), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which is so freaking fabulous I may need to write a separate post about it).

• It’s no surprise that I listened to a ton of music this year, mostly film scores. Unlike YA books, film music will ALWAYS be my thing and I’ll never outgrow it. Highlights: Patrick Doyle’s Cinderella, Junkie XL’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Debbie Wiseman’s Wolf Hall, and DUH John Williams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

• Speaking of music, I finally got to see One Direction LIVE AND IN CONCERT in July. I went by myself, like all cool 36-year-old moms do, and had a freaking blast. Seriously, it was tons of fun. And hot as hell since it was like 95 degrees, but still tons of fun. After seeing New Kids on the Block in 1990, ‘NSYNC in 1999, I’ve finally come full circle. No more boy bands in my future.

• Oh, let’s not forget TV! Of course these days I usually only watch whatever my daughter watches (which isn’t bad at all), but last January brought the return of two of my favorite shows, Sherlock (Series 3) and Downton Abbey (Series 5). And then in May my other favorite show, Glee, finally came to an end after 6 seasons. Again, talking about that show and its ending will require a separate blog post.

• In terms of traveling, the only place we went this year was California to visit the in-laws. Despite the fact that my father-in-law’s health was fading during our summer visit, we managed to have some fun at Disneyland and my first trip to Universal Studios. We had to return to CA in October for my FIL’s funeral, which was sad, and doesn’t even count as a trip since it was literally for two days. This year, however, is a biggie when it comes to travel. In March we head to Japan for two weeks with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law in what will definitely be the most interesting and fascinating trip I’ve ever taken. You can bet there will be post about that!!

2015 was definitely an interesting year, with both the good and the bad. But it’s time to move on…time to remember the good, get past the bad, and welcome the new.

HERE’S TO BLOGGING IN 2016!!

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Posted in Reading Books

Reading Rut

Unlike last year, 2014 went off to a great start in terms of reading.  I was reading a lot, and I was reading really good books.  Books like Marie Lu’s “Legend” trilogy, and two books from one of my new favorite authors, Rainbow Rowell: “Fangirl” and “Eleanor and Park”, both of which will probably end up on my Best of 2014 list at the end of the year.

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And then I hit a rut.

Once February came it seemed that my luck had run out when it came to amazing young adult books.  So for a week or so I turned my attention to Lois Lenski’s Regional America books and burned through seven of them, basically reading one a day.  Those books will never get old for me because for some reason I see them as a source of comfort.  But I still wasn’t being dazzled the way Rainbow Rowell had dazzled me with her books.

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I tried a couple more young adult books, got about ¾ of the way through, and then gave up.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  Nothing was connecting with me.  I would go to the library and walk the aisles only realize that nothing even sounded good.

What was WRONG??

Again I went back to some middle grade books, this time picking another newly discovered author, Hilary McKay, who’s British and writes adorably British books about a ridiculously fun British family.  I started with “Binny for Short”, made my way to the “Saffy’s Angel” series, read three of those books, and then felt I needed a break from that, too.

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I found another middle grade series that I actually adored, Grace Lin’s mostly autobiographical books about her childhood growing up in America from Taiwanese/Chinese descent.  These books were a DELIGHT, and they felt so familiar to me, like I was reading a “Baby-sitters Club” book.  The only bad thing?  There were only three books to read!  Once again I felt lost.

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That’s when I knew that something had to be done.  So I did the only thing that really gets me out of my reading funks.

Harry Potter.

All this time Harry Potter had been sort of hanging out in the back of my mind, sort of whispering to me to pick up one of his books, but I tried to ignore it because a) I need to read NEW things, and b) I save Harry Potter for the fall season.  But suddenly there he was, right in front of me screaming OH JUST READ ME FOR GOODNESS SAKES.

So I returned all the library books I had collected over the past few weeks and picked up “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” since I never got to that one or “Deathly Hallows” when I did my annual HP read last fall.

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And it was glorious.

I’m serious when I saw that Harry Potter is the cure for practically anything.  I read the book with my usual glee and wonder, and once I finished I knew I was ready to get back to new books and young adult and all that good stuff.

Luckily a book I had requested was available to pick up from the library, Rosamund Hodge’s “Cruel Beauty”, which is a take on the classic tale “Beauty and the Beast”.  It was the perfect book to kick-start my YA reading again, just as HBP was the perfect book to take me away for a few days.

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Right now I have a mix of middle grade and young adult books at home from the library.  I just finished a MG “The Crowfield Curse”, which was fun and kind of creepy, and now I’m currently reading Kasie West’s “The Distance Between Us”, an adorable YA contemporary that completely fits my mood right now.

I’m hopeful that I get on another good streak when it comes to books, especially since I’ve come to realize that I can’t focus on Goodreads reviews and ratings, because I honestly think that had something to do with the funk I got myself in.  I’m not being so judgmental when it comes to picking out books to read, and that in itself is pretty freeing.

So here’s to a remaining nine months of reading for 2014 – I have a feeling it’ll be my best reading year yet.

Posted in Catching TV, Reading Books

November, We Meet Again

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost halfway through November.  Like…really?  How did we get from September to the middle of November in what seems like a matter of days?  Is this what getting old is like?

Okay, so I blinked and October disappeared into bits of school activities and Halloween parties and weddings and sicknesses.  I’m serious – my daughter will sniffle one day, and the next day my husband and I feel like we’re dying of the plague.  Ah, parenthood.  It’s lovely, it really is.  And so are weddings!

1383689_10151793778912713_1999946997_nThe lovely bride and me.

On the plus side, Thanksgiving is only 16 days away!  Thanksgiving is super fun because of food, and that’s about it.  It’s also the unofficial start of the holiday season (though some retailers use Halloween as the unofficial start…crazy town, if you ask me…), which means I’ll start listening to Christmas music and decorating the Christmas tree the day after I eat turkey and watching holiday-ish movies with the fam.

XmasClass-01Namely this…

And okay, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t sneaked a few Christmas songs into my daily listening already.  But it’s been really cold (it was 12 degrees this morning!!), and I made myself better by playing some Manheim Steamroller.  So there.

51iJ3T7qgfLNamely this…

In between all that stuff, all I’ve been doing is reading.  Honestly, it’s, like, all I do these days.  And I couldn’t be happier.  As usual I started my annual Harry Potter Read-a-thon.  And this time around I checked out the new paperback editions from the library just because they’re brand new and I’m totally in love with the covers.

Harry Potter SeriesDrool…slobber…love…

Of course I only got through four books before some new young adult stuff beckoned me over to their side.  But I fully intend of finishing up the Harry Potter series before the end of the year…after I get through some more YA stuff.  Seriously, I just checked out the new edition of Order of the Phoenix and it’s in line, just waiting to be read.  Promise.

newsImg1101Fancy pants Potter…

But I’ve been hitting the YA jackpot lately when it comes to really good books.  To write about them all would take up another ten pages, so I’ll just make a list of the ones I recommend for some excellent stay-home-because-it’s-too-cold-outside reading:

  • The Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson (one of the best high fantasy series I’ve read since the Graceling trilogy)

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  • The Benny Imura series by Jonathan Maberry (perfect for Walking Dead fans with excellent writing)
  • The False Prince and The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson (so much fun, that’s all I can say.  Can’t wait to read the third and final…)

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  • Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano (a new series from one of my fave authors that will leave you begging for the second book
  • Just One Year by Gayle Forman (finally we know what happened after Just One Day!!)

So those were some highlights over the past month.  I’m currently reading Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, which is perfect since I’ve been on this high fantasy kick lately.  Like how last year it seemed that all the good books were historical fiction, this year it’s high fantasy.  Love it.

New-PB-CoverComplete with kick-ass cover

Am I watching TV?  Not really, unless you consider spending endless hours watching THE SCARIEST SHOW ON EARTH, “Lazy Town”, with my daughter watching TV.  I’m serious, that show is horrifying.  I’d tell you to watch it just so you know, but I don’t want to subject you to that horror.  Just take my word for it.

54846298_1382468994I…just…can’t…

I have been keeping up with Glee, though, because even though it’s not like it used to be, I still feel rather devoted to it.  And yes, like how last season was different, this season is even differenter (made up words are fun), mainly because NO FINN (cue sadness).  When critics say that “there’s a cloud hanging over the Glee cast this season”, they’re not just making up silly stuff like they usually do.  They’re actually kind of right.  Everyone on the show seems…off.  But that’s to be expected.  And I’m okay with that, considering things.

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One bright spot this season is the addition of Demi Lovato, bless her awesome little heart.  I’m totally not ashamed to say that I have been a Demi fan ever since Camp Rock, people.  She’s got a flipping amazing singing voice, and she’s a strong supporter of eating disorder education (sadly close to home for me) and she’s just plain awesome.  My favorite song so far on this season of Glee has been her Beatles duet with Santana when they sang “Here Comes the Sun” and Demi sounded…hmm…I don’t know…kinda perfect.  Please, Glee Peeps, have Demi sing more.

glee-season-5-demi-lovatoFinally…some sun

I HAVEN’T SEEN ANY MOVIES SO DON’T ASK.

The rest of the year looks to go just as quickly but be just as fun.  Here’s a run-down on some things to look forward to:

  • An exciting list of books on request from the library, including Vicious by Victoria Schwab and These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman.
  • The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special on November 23!
  • The new One Direction album released on November 25!  Because admit it…you secretly kinda sorta love the song “Story of My Life” just a teeny little bit maybe yes.

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  • After being on the library wait list since September 17, Season 3 of Downton Abbey is finally almost available! (I’m patron 8 out of 221).
  • And speaking of Downton Abbey…and Sherlock…new seasons to premiere in January!!!!!
  • The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug in theaters December 13!!
  • My office holiday party on December 14!  Okay, not exciting.  Sorry.

That’s about it as far as my goings-on goes.  What’s new with the rest of the world?

Posted in Reading Books

YA Lit…In the Year 2000!

As I lay in bed during the early hours of the morning, unable to sleep because of a really annoying stuffy nose, my mind somehow randomly wandered to this memory I have of this Young Adult literature class I took many moons ago during the first semester of my senior year of college.  It was actually a library science class, one of the few 4th year classes that didn’t require a prerequisite, and one that actually sounded really interesting.

To be honest, at the time I was registering for classes, I really wanted to take the children’s lit class because a) that’s mostly what I was reading at the time, and b) I had no interest in young adult lit.

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I know, I know.  It sounds crazy now, right?  Because, hello, young adult lit is pretty much MY LIFE now.  But back in the year 2000?

No way.

Unfortunately, the children’s lit class was full, and I was stuck with YA.  I was kind of bummed, especially when I found out the children’s lit class was going to be reading this new series about a boy named HARRY POTTER (which I hadn’t read yet at the time), but I figured the class was still probably going to be better than 95% of the rest of my classes that semester, so what the hell.

The class was mainly just reading YA books and writing about them – not from a literary point of view, but from a “how does this benefit the young adult” point of view.  You know, like a librarian of sorts.  At the beginning of the semester the professor handed out a list of YA books to choose from, which was helpful, because the only YA author I was really familiar with at the time was Judy Blume.

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Painful.

And here’s where I struggled.  As a 21-year-old female in college, the last thing I wanted to read about was uber-depressing topics.  That’s still not really my style today, but luckily I have a plethora of YA books to choose from.  But back in 2000, it seemed that the only YA books out there were ones about drugs and rape and abuse and eating disorders and other such things that some teens tend to identify with.

That was not what I wanted to spend my semester reading about!

Another thing about the year 2000 was that the internet was still fairly new, and there was definitely no such thing as Goodreads to guide me on my way.  It wasn’t exactly easy to look up all these books on the internet to see what they were about.  So I would take the list to the library and find as many as I could so I could read the description on the inside cover.  I decided I was safe with a) humorous YA, or b) sci-fi/fantasy.  I wouldn’t even consider anything else.

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This, of course, is BOTH.

Of course I couldn’t avoid it completely – there was some required reading in the class by certain authors.  I don’t remember every single thing I had to read, but I do remember having to choose a Chris Crutcher book (don’t remember which one I chose), and I remember reading “The Chocolate War”, but I don’t remember what I thought of it.  I think I ended up liking it better than I thought I would.  But still.  Depressing stuff.

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No. Thank. You.

Some of the books I picked on my own was Joan Bauer’s “Squashed” because it was funny, Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game” because it was a mystery (which I LOVED, by the way), and Francesca Lia Block’s “Weetzie Bat” because I thought it was a fantasy but it turned out to be a HORRIBLY DEPRESSING book about drugs and I didn’t like it at all.

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Read at your own risk.

We had to do two verbal book reports but make them more interesting than just telling the class about the plot of the book.  I chose to do “The Shakespeare Stealer” by Gary Blackwood, in which I turned it into a Mission: Impossible plot (“your mission, should you choose to accept it”, and all that stuff), and “The Girl in the Box” by Ouida Sebestyen, in which I pretended to be the kidnapped girl reading her own letter.

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Actually pretty terrifying.

At the end of the semester our big project was to write a sort of thesis paper on a young adult author.  If I got that assignment today, I would be all over it.  But 13 years ago?  I HAD NO IDEA.  I love Judy Blume now, but back then I had no interest in reading about all the deep stuff that she excels at writing about.  Because a huge part of the project was actually reading a bunch of their books.

In the end I chose Robin McKinley, mainly because one of my roommates raved about her, and she was a fantasy writer.  My only real experience in fantasy books was Cynthia Voigt’s “On Fortune’s Wheel”, which I read in high school and LOVED, so I figured this was a good way to go.

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Perfect!

Luckily I ended up really enjoying my Robin McKinley project.  I read “The Blue Sword”, “The Hero and the Crown”, “Spindle’s End”, and “Beauty”.  I loved that she wrote fairy-tale retellings, something that not many authors were doing at the time (but are all over the place now!).  I wrote a pretty kick-ass 15-page paper on her, one that my professor suggested I submit to a library journal (I didn’t because I had no idea how to do something like that, which I kind of regret), and was pretty thrilled with the A grade I received in the class.

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Well since it’s such a pretty cover…

Which brings me back to the thoughts I was having this morning, and I how different that class would be today.  In the late 90s-00s, young adult lit’s reading stats were probably the lowest they’d ever been.  Yes, the Harry Potter books definitely kick-started a whole new generation of readers, but at that time those books were still considered to be children’s books and not necessarily intended for an older audience (of course that would all change in a very short amount of time).  But YA books, while somewhat popular in the 1980s, were pretty much a dead thing in the late 90s.

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Um…no pun intended?

But today?  My God, the choices of what books to read would be ENDLESS!!  Today YA lit is actually outselling adult fiction, and 55% of people who are buying YA lit are actually over the age of 18.  It’s obvious that YA lit is HUGE today, and I have a feeling more people would be interested in the YA lit library class than it’s children’s counterpart.

So here’s the real question:  If I were to take that class today, who would be the subject of my thesis paper?  Would it be Meg Cabot, of whose books I probably own the most?  Would it be Stephenie Meyer, who single-handedly changed the course of YA lit in the late 2000s?  Or would it be Cassandra Clare, who at this moment is probably the hottest YA author out there?

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Yes, please!

Well, if I had to choose now, my author would be Shannon Hale, whose Books of Bayern made me love the historical fantasy genre, which drew me to such authors as Kristin Cashore, Leigh Bardugo, and Rae Carson.  I have all of Shannon Hale’s books, and they’re actually the few that I would read again.

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But of course that could easily change on a daily basis, depending on my mood.  So actually, maybe it was a good thing that I took this class when I had few options.  It probably made the whole thing easier!

Posted in Catching TV, Listening to Music, Living Life, Reading Books

Where Have I Been???

Instead of making up excuses as to why I haven’t written a blog post in OVER A MONTH, let’s just jump right into the middle of September and talk about things that I’ve actually accomplished over the past five weeks!

And yes, I get that in doing that is also kind of giving excuses as to why I haven’t blogged in so long.  But hey, it’s not like I’ve just been sitting on my ass looking at Adventure Time Tumblr GIFS.*

marcelinelol_zps89f93ecfOkay, so maybe I have.  A little.  Maybe a lot.

Writing!

So just because I haven’t blogged in a millennia doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing.  No, siree.  I’ve actually dug up a couple of good ol’ stories I’ve started in the past and have never been able to finish.  And guess what?  I still haven’t finished them.  But that’s okay!  I managed to completely change the plot of both of them and delete a bunch of stuff and write a bunch more that I probably will end of deleting as well.  But all that takes time, yo.

tumblr_ls7095kkiU1qhqibno1_500I’ve also been pretty committed to my other blog, which I have to do every day or else I get behind and then the whole thing is screwed up.  But it’s so much fun to write, and embarrassing and scary and hilarious to read these old journal entries from twenty years ago, especially when all of it is still so vivid in my mind.  So go read it!

Reading!

Oh my goodness, I’ve read books!  And despite the two week period where I barely read a thing (writing, people!), I’ve done a very decent amount of reading since the beginning of September.  Eight books in two and a half weeks, actually.  Feel free to be impressed.  And what’s even better?  Most of those are probably some of the best books I’ve read so far this year.  Seriously, I’ve been on a good streak when it comes to young adult fiction these days.

Le Highlights:

Shadow and Bone / Siege and Storm (Books 1&2 from the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo)

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The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

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Unravel Me (Book 2 in the Shatter Me series by Tarereh Mafi)

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All of these books got 5 stars on my Goodreads page, a rating I usually only reserve for JK Rowling books and Betsy-Tacy books.  And the occasional young adult contemporary that managed to knock me onto my ass.*

I’m referring, of course, to Gayle Forman’s Just One Day which is so incredibly divine that I want to have it for dessert every night.

Watching!

I told myself this year that when my daughter was spending four weeks at Camp Grandma, I would find a new TV show to get into and WATCH ALL THE EPISODES.  Last year it was Supernatural, and it was well worth the time.

My-baby-s-supernatural-15201351-1152-864DUUUUUH.

To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to happen this year.  My husband and I found ourselves obsessively watching every episode of The Amazing Race on Hulu (seriously, there are 20 seasons streaming on it right now), which does not qualify as a new show in my world.

Finding a new show didn’t happen until the weekend my husband flew to CA to pick up our daughter and I had the place – and the TV – to myself.  I decided to watch the first episode of Teen Wolf – a show I had been mildly against since its inception – and…WHOOPS I ACCIDENTLY WATCHED THE ENTIRE FIRST SEASON IN ONE NIGHT.

teen-wolfWhoopsies?

So yeah, I ended up kind of liking it.  Loving it.  Oh,hell.  LURVING IT.  It’s easily comparable to The Vampire Diaries, but you know what?  I like it better.  Even if you try to shove Damon and Stefan in my face, with all their prettiness and sexiness and whatnot, THEY ARE NOT STILES STILINKSI.

Dylan-OBrien-teen-wolfMarry me.

Seriously.  I watch Teen Wolf for Stiles.  And maybe a little bit for Derek’s chest.  Okay, and for Jackson’s freckled nose.  Fine…and Alison’s clothes.  Whatever.  I just really enjoy the show.

I’m also a teeny bit pissed I didn’t stick around for the Teen Wolf panel at Comic Con this year.

Because Stiles.

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Listening!

Okay, so near the end of August I somehow developed this weird, kind of obsessive “thing” for One Direction.  I know, I KNOW…sounds totally weird.  But seriously, I COULD NOT stop listening to their music, it was so addictive.  And Harry Styles?  HOLY MARY I thought he was the end-all be-all of my world.  Gorgeous, funny, and a sexy, gravely voice to boot!  Never mind the fact that he’s, erm, 15 years younger than me.  I dare – nay, CHALLENGE you to find a woman my age who wouldn’t admit that, yeah, okay, she MIGHT want to do things to him.

Harry-styles-2013-one-direction-34365165-1193-1600Um.

I even went and saw the ID movie in 3D.  By myself.  AND IT WAS FUN.  So what.

Luckily (for me and my poor husband who had to endure this two week obsession of mine) the obsession has faded a bit.  I’m listening to all things on my iPod now instead of just the 31 One Direction songs that currently reside there.  I’m not checking Harry Styles’ twitter feed every hour to see if he’s said something quirky.  And I’m not watching ID videos on You Tube with my daughter every night.  Things are back to normal.

one-direction-introIt’s alllll good.

I’m still kinda excited for their new album coming out in November, though.  Suck it.

Parenting!

In between all this nonsense, I am still first and foremost a parent.  Yes, really!  I spent the last part of August getting said child ready for Kindergarten, which has proved to be both stressful and weird and fun and stuff.  I don’t remember bringing home this much paperwork when I was  five years old – seriously, all I brought home from kindergarten when I was a kid was sticky glue fingers – but I guess that’s just what’s up with kindergarten these days.  Paperwork and pseudo homework.

But it’s all good.  My daughter gets out of the house for a full day, which makes everyone happy.  And that’s another thing I don’t get.  These moms who cry and get all depressed because their kid is leaving the house for a few hours.  Like, really?  How can this be a sad thing?  Don’t they remember how annoying summer is when your kid complains about how bored they are and both of you get annoyed with each other because it’s just you and her and she wants to go play somewhere and you want to stay home and read in silence but you can’t because you have this thing in your face begging you to take her to the park even though it’s 100 degrees outside with 99% humidity??

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Sorry.  I love my daughter, I really do.  But she needs time away from us, just like we need time away from her.  I shed no tears when she has to leave for school.  Because school is awesome.

STAY IN SCHOOL, KIDS.  Your parents want you there.

So that’s about all that’s been going on in my world.  A lot, but not a whole lot.  I promise to try keep up again with this blog and give you all the odds and thens from the pop culture world via MY BRAIN.

So get ready, world.

Posted in Reading Books

Little Houses in Abridged Books

When I was a kid I loved the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  They were first read to me by my parents and then when I was a little older I tackled the whole series myself.  And 25 years later, I still totally love these books.  Along with Harry Potter and Betsy-Tacy, they’re the ultimate in comfort reading.

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But although many people are familiar with Laura’s adventures, they may not know about the other books related to that series.  In the mid-90s to early 2000s books about Laura’s ancestors, namely her daughter, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, were written.  Of course this was during a time when I wasn’t reading much – I was in college and apparently had better things to do with my time (like read crappy assigned reading by Russian authors).

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It wasn’t until recently when I was reminded of these books after seeing a couple in the library.  I checked out Little House on Rocky Ridge, which is the first book in a series about Laura’s only daughter Rose, written by Roger Lea MacBride (who was Rose’s adopted son).  And honestly, I wasn’t expecting much.  Because how could they compare to the original Laura books??

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But you know what?  I really enjoyed it.  It had the same tone as the originals, and even though it was difficult at first to read about Laura as the mother instead of Caroline, the story kept me interested.  As did the task of suddenly having to read the seven other books in the series!

So now I’m currently in the middle of the Rose Years, and just a few days ago started reading the first book of the Martha Years, which are about Laura’s great-grandmother living in Scotland in the late 1700s.  Of course I’m loving it, and last night I actively started looking on the library’s website for not only the rest of the Rose and Martha books, but also the Charlotte books (Laura’s grandmother in Boston) and the Caroline books (Laura’s mom in Wisconsin).

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However, in searching for all these I discovered something that didn’t quite settle well with me.  I noticed that my library was only carrying abridged versions of some of these books.  For those who don’t know (hey, there might be some), “abridged” means “shortened” or “edited” or, in this case, “dumbed-down”.  Basically the publishing company decided that to keep up with trends, these 300 or so page books needed to be shorter for young readers.  Which means up to around 100 pages cut out of the story.  WHICH IS CRAP.

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If you want to know the whole horrible story, check out the author Melissa Wiley’s blog, or go to this Amazon page where I first read about it.  Wiley wrote about the Martha and Charlotte Years, and she’s obviously totally pissed about this, so much so that she decided not to write about any more adventures and actually walked away from the series.  And that’s too bad because a) I love these series and I want more adventures, and b) young readers are totally capable of reading larger books – look how quickly they all poured through 800 pages of Harry Potter!

But as usual, the people at the top have money in their interest rather than the readers.  Fortunately my county’s library system still has some of the original, full releases available, but good luck finding all of the them.  You can find them on eBay, but make sure your wallet is full.  Some are selling for hundreds of dollars.

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On the bright side, the fun is ALWAYS in the search, and I will continue looking for these full versions because I REFUSE to read anything that’s abridged.  Seriously, I don’t even know why abridged versions of books were even invented.  They’re even worse than Cliff’s Notes.   Let’s not assume that kids can’t handle bigger books any longer.  And hello, there’s at least one 34-year-old out there who wants to read the COMPLETE adventures of Martha, Charlotte, Caroline, and Rose.

This ends here!

If you’re interested in these books, here’s a handy list for you…

The Martha Years

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Stories about Laura’s great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, written by Melissa Wiley

  1. Little House in the Highlands (1999)
  2. The Far Side of the Loch (2000)
  3. Down to the Bonny Glen (2001)
  4. Beyond the Heather Hills (2003)

The Charlotte Years

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Stories about Laura’s grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner written by Melissa Wiley

  1. Little House by Boston Bay (1999)
  2. On Tide Mill Lane (2001)
  3. The Road from Roxbury (2002)
  4. Across the Puddingstone Dam (2004)

The Caroline Years

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Stories about Laura’s mother, Caroline Quiner Ingalls written by Maria D.Wilkes (1-4) and Celia Wilkins (5-7).

  1. Little House in Brookfield (1996)
  2. Little Town at the Crossroads (1997)
  3. Little Clearing in the Woods (1998)
  4. On Top of Concord Hill (2000)
  5. Across the Rolling River (2001)
  6. Little City by the Lake (2003)
  7. Little House of Their Own (2005)

The Rose Years

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Stories about Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, written by Roger Lea MacBride

  1. Little House on Rocky Ridge (1993)
  2. Little Farm in the Ozarks (1994)
  3. In the Land of the Big Red Apple (1995)
  4. On the Other Side of the Hill (1995)
  5. Little Town in the Ozarks (1996)
  6. New Dawn on Rocky Ridge (1997)
  7. On the Banks of the Bayou (1998)
  8. Bachelor Girl (1999)

Happy reading!

Posted in Reading Books, The Awesome 13

The Awesome 13 – The Baby-Sitter’s Club

The Awesome 13 – The Baby-Sitter’s Club

For some reason I’ve totally been in Baby-Sitter’s Club mood lately.  It’s probably because the short-lived television series from 1990 is now on Netflix and I’ve been secretly watching it in the mornings as I get ready for work, but I’ve totally had BSC on my mind.

I’ve written about how important this series is to me before in this wonderful post, but now it’s time to pick my favorites.  I thought it was going to be easy, but it totally wasn’t.  The fact is I love every single one of these books.  But since I know the first 20 or so books of this 200+ book series backwards and forwards, I pretty much narrowed it down to those, which made things a little easier.

So here it is…my top 13 BSC books!

13.  Stacey’s Mistake (#18)

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In this book, Stacey is back living in New York City and invites Claudia to visit her for the weekend.  But she doesn’t expect her best friend from NYC Laine (total B, by the way) and best friend from Stoneybrook to totally hate each other!  There’s so much middle school nastiness in this book that I just can’t help but love it.

12.  The Baby-Sitters’ Winter Vacation (Super Special #3)

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I love stories that take place during the winter, and because this one was a Super Special, it makes it extra awesome.  Their class takes a ski trip to Vermont, and as you’d expect, all sorts of crazy stuff happens, like the Winter War, busses over-turning, and Mary Anne missing Logan (as always).

11.  The Truth About Stacey (#3)

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In this book we find out all about Stacey’s diabetes, which was pretty groundbreaking at the time because it showed us that anyone can get diabetes, but that it’s something that could be managed on a day-to-day basis.  The fact that Stacey could deal with it made the whole thing less scary, at least for me, and taught me a lot.  Great book.

10.  Mary Anne Saves the Day (#4)

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This is the first time we really get to know Mary Anne, the person with whom I identified the most – shy, quiet, timid, etc.  But even though she’s all those things, and even though the book starts off with a horrible fight between the four girls and none of them are speaking to each other, Mary Anne is able to overcome all of that when put in a crisis situation.  I loved this book because it made me believe that I could overcome scary situations, too.  Oh, and Mary Anne gets to take her braids out for the first time.  Pretty sweet.

9.  Little Miss Stoneybrook and Dawn (#15)

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I always found myself re-reading this book again and again because it was so much fun reading about the kids getting ready for the Little Miss Stoneybrook pageant.  I usually only loved the stories that focused on the baby-sitters, but this one focused on the kids and made them sound like so much fun.  You could tell Ann M. Martin had a good time writing this one and trying to think of all sorts of different talents for those kids.  So much fun.  Also, pageants!

8.  The Baby-Sitters’ Summer Vacation (Super Special #2)

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If there’s one thing I love more than winter stories, it’s summer camp stories.  And that’s what happens in this super special.  The BSC girls are CITs (Counselor-in-Training) at Camp Mohawk and, as usual, hijinks ensue.  Dawn gets lost in the wilderness overnight (!), Kristy learns how to use mascara (!!), and Mary Anne gets caught sneaking over to the boys’ side of the camp (!!!).  Also Stacey spends the two weeks in the infirmary with poison ivy…and Claudia develops a crush on a boy CIT.  Good times.

7.  Mary Anne’s Bad-Luck Mystery (#17)

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I always loved the books about “scary” topics, and this one never disappointed.  Mary Anne thinks she’s cursed because all this bad stuff starts happening to her after she starts getting mysterious letters saying that she’ll have bad luck – a letter that she IGNORED.  Of course it turns out that mega-B Cokie Mason was behind the whole thing because she wanted to get her claws on Mary Anne’s boyfriend, Logan.  Still, the whole thing was always spooky to me.

6.  Baby-Sitters on Board! (Super Special #1)

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This was the first super special of the series, and at the time it was a pretty big deal because a) it had more pages than the normal books, b) it was from all the girls’ points of view, rather than just one, and c) it was awesome.  The girls go on a cruise to the Bahamas and Disney World and lots of fun stuff happens, like Claudia getting a secret admirer and Kristy playing matchmaker.  Oh, and the Pike triplets find buried treasure.  I’m pretty sure I had a crush on the Pike triplets.

5.  Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls (#2)

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If Mary Anne was the only with whom I identified, then Claudia was the one I wanted to BE.  Because, admit it, she was the coolest one.  This was Claudia’s first book, and I loved that it was a spooky one.  Claudia starts getting weird phone calls where the person just breathes and then hangs up.  There’s also a burglar hanging around Stoneybrook, which makes this whole situation even scarier.  Turns out it’s just a boy who likes Claudia who’s just afraid to talk to her (duh).  Still.  Spooky.

4.  Kristy’s Big Day (#6)

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For as long as I can remember, this was always my very favorite BSC book.  Why?  Well, let’s see.  Kristy is not too thrilled with her mom deciding to remarry, and a pissed-off Kristy is always kind of fun.  But it’s probably because the whole book is about planning a wedding, and what girl doesn’t love that?  Also, trying to coordinate all those kids into the wedding spelled chaos, which spelled fun for me.  And Kristy ends up all happy in the end.  Yay.

3.  Boy-Crazy Stacey (#8)

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Um, a summer spent on the Jersey Shore with a bunch of cute boys running around?  Yes, please!  But seriously, what made this book so great was that Ann M. Martin put Stacey and Mary Anne together to take the trip to Sea City, NJ – two totally different people that didn’t really know much about each other – and made them get over the whole awkwardness to because actual close friends at the end.  This book wouldn’t have been the same had Stacey gone to Sea City with Claudia, or Mary Anne with Kristy.  It was the dynamic that made it great.  And cute boys.

2.  The Ghost at Dawn’s House (#9)

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This book had the ultimate creep factor going for it when Dawn discovers a secret passage in her ancient house.  Combine creepy storms outside and creepy noises coming from the passageway at night and you have the perfect summer read.  Also, I’m pretty sure I also had a crush on Dawn’s brother, Jeff.  But whatever.  I love this book.

1.  Kristy’s Great Idea(#1)

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Well I couldn’t exactly make any other book my number one pick, right?  This was the one that started it all!  We get to meet all four original members at the club’s inception and how they were on the brink of going their separate ways, as people do in middle school, only to be brought back together by The Baby-Sitter’s Club.  It was a great foundation for a great series, and holds up to this day even though it was written 27 years ago.  Some things never get old!

Posted in Reading Books

More Board Books to Drool Over (Not On)

A while back I wrote about this adorable series of board books for kids that I totally want on my bookshelf because they’re so beautiful and awesome.  Well, that time has come again…this time in the form of FAIRYTALES!!!

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Authors extraordinaire Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott and illustrator Oliver Lake are the ones to blame for my new obsession.  The books are called Les Petits Fairytales, and while they are written in the simplest form of storytelling – one descriptive word per page – I CAN’T STOP LOOKING AT THEM.

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I love illustrated books, and right now these take the cake.  Why?  Because THEY ARE SO DARN CUTE.  I mean, really.  I want to curl up in bed with these books and just stare at them because I simply cannot get enough of the cuteness.  I want to make a blanket out of these books just so I can wrap myself up in cuddly cuteness.  Despite the fact that they’re made of rather hard material.

I originally discovered these at the library (DUH) when I noticed an adorable Cinderella staring up at me.  I opened it up and suddenly fell in love with Oliver Lake’s illustrations.  Because, really.  THIS.

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I kept Cinderella for as long as I could until I returned it.  And then checked it out again.  Just seeing it on my pile of books made me happy.  But knowing that there was more than just Cinderella available, I needed more.

Luckily during a trip to the library a couple of days ago with my daughter I was able to find not only Cinderella (AGAIN), but also Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast.  The library didn’t have Snow White or Rapunzel (DAMN DAMN), but I was happy with the four I found.

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My daughter and I quickly devoured the books when we got home.  She thinks that she “made” me read them all to her five times, but there was no “making” me do anything.  Nay, I was totally willing to read these as many times as she wanted.  BECAUSE THEY’RE FREAKING AWESOME.  Well.  And they take about ten seconds to read.  Whatever.

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Another thing I love besides the illustrations are the fact that the words they use in the books aren’t silly words like “CAT” or “CHAIR” or boring stuff that smart kids already know.  In these books the authors would rather use words like “FRIENDSHIP” and “WALTZ”.  Just to, you know, make your kid way more intellectual than the other kids at the park.

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I know you’re probably thinking, “Wow, dude, they’re BOARD BOOKS.  Why so insane?”  Well, because when I see good illustration that makes me drool, I want to shout about it to the world.  Which is why there are so many all-caps words in this post.  I’m not sorry.

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They all get their man, of course.

Seriously, guys.  You don’t need to have tots or babies or whatever to get these books.  So get ‘em before I hoard them all…’cause I will.

Posted in Reading Books, The Awesome 13

The Awesome 13 – Summer Reading!

Today is May 31, which in my world is the unofficial start of the Summer Reading Season.  The season lasts exactly three months and ends on August 31…because if you’ve read my past blog posts you should know that September 1 is the unofficial start of the Harry Potter Reading Season! (duh…because that’s when the Hogwarts Express takes off!)

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All aboard!

Since I like to make goals (whether I reach them or not is still debatable), I set a goal of 13 books to read this summer.  Why 13?  Well, it’s my favorite number.  I obviously like to make lists of 13.  And also…three months equal exactly 13 weeks, and I figure I’ll be nice and give myself one week per book.  Of course if I happen to read more than one book per week, that’s totally okay.  I’m still way behind on my Goodreads goal, so anyway to catch up is awesome.  But for the purpose of this post, let’s just leave it at 13 books for the summer so I can have something to shoot for.

I’ve also made a pretty bold decision regarding what books I’m going to read.  Since I have about three shelves of books that I own that haven’t been read, I’ve decided to forego anything I see at the library and just read the Unread Books I Own (UBIO).  Otherwise, if I keep checking out books from the library, those UBIOs are just going to keep sitting there looking totally sad and unwanted, and I just can’t have that (unless it’s Anna Karenina which, unfortunately, will continue to sit there looking totally sad and unwanted until ALL OTHER BOOKS ARE READ).

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Never gonna happen.

So now is the time to pick out what I’ll be reading this summer.  Of course a lot of the time I’m motivated by my mood, but for now I’ll make out a rough draft, if you will, of my reading schedule starting with today.

103459271.  A Million Suns by Beth Revis (May 31-June 8)

2.  Bunheads by Sophie Flack (June 9-June 15)

3.  Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (June 16-June 22)

102618124.  The Space Between by Breanna Yovanoff (June 23-29)

5.  Hourglass by Myra McIntyre (June 30-July 6)

6.  The Eternal Ones by Kristen Miller (July 7-July 13)

93009607.  All You Desire by Kirsten Miller (July 14-July 20)*

8.  These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (July 21-July 27)

9.  Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan (July 28-August 3)

797703710.  Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan (August 4-August 10)

11.  Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher (August 11-August 17)

12.  A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (August 18-August 24)

13.  Ruined by Paula Morris (August 24-August 31)

There’s probably a 99% chance that this list will change, but at least it gives me something to go by.  Also, I will make an exception for FOUR books that I have been looking for if I find them at the library, and those are Lauren DeStefano’s Sever, Lauren Oliver’s Requiem, Kiera Cass’s The Elite, and Cynthia Hand’s Bounded.  I’ve been looking for these books for quite a long time, and if I do see them at the library, you can bet that I’ll snatch them up right away.

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I will find you!

So that’s pretty much my summer in a bookshell (hehe).  Have you made any summer reading goals?

*The week I’ll be at Comic-Con!

Posted in Checking Stuff Out, Reading Books

My Awesome Library Book Sale Haul

The one thing I love about the Hennepin County Library System is that you’re guaranteed a book sale at a different library every weekend.  And my favorite sale is the one at the Eden Prairie library, which happens a few times a year.  They have a huge selection of books, and I’ve had the best luck there so far.  So when I saw that they were having a sale this past weekend, I contacted my library sale friend and told her we were going.

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The usual schedule for a library sale is to open on a Thursday or Friday, and then end on Sunday with a bag sale where you pay $5 to fill your bag.  I usually never go to the bag sales because by Sunday most of the good stuff is gone and I can’t really find anything to fill my bag with.  So when my friend and I went last Saturday, I was just expected to pay the $1.00 per book like I usually do, hoping to find a few books that I want to add to my collection.  But that wasn’t going to be the case…

When we got there at 11:30, we were informed that the library was shutting down for a half hour and reopening at noon to begin a bag sale, limit two bags per person.  A bag sale!  On a Saturday!  I was thrilled!  And pretty confident that I’d be able to fill up one bag.

Well, I didn’t fill up one bag.  I filled up two bags.  These things were PACKED.  Finally after being in there for almost an hour the lady running the sale told me that I had to LEAVE because apparently other people needed to have a chance at getting in and filling their bags.  My friend and I giggled at each other, thinking “Oh my God, we just got kicked out of a library sale for LOVING BOOKS TOO MUCH”, but it was cool.  I was done with my shopping anyway, since nothing else would fit in my bags.

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So, obviously I scored.  I grabbed some books that I’ve already read but wouldn’t mind owning, some that I’ve heard of and have wanted to read, and some that I’ve never heard of that I’d like to read someday.  If it fit, it was mine.  Here’s the run-down of my book haul:

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The group of books that I’ve already read but liked so much that they’re worth owning.

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The books I’ve heard of that I’ve wanted to read / own.

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The books I’ve never heard of but sound interesting.

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And one for my daughter.  Because Eloise is awesome.

I don’t know if I’ll get that lucky at a book sale again, but there’s definitely nothing wrong with trying!  Seriously, if you want to beef up your book collection without spending tons of money, find out when your local library is having a book sale.  It supports both your library AND your crazy habit.  Win-win!!

Posted in Reading Books

Books For Every Mood – When “The Walking Dead” Is On Hiatus

So The Walking Dead is done for a while and you need something to fulfill your zombie needs?  Well, I’ve got the book for you.  Now, there are many types of zombie books out there to read these days, some good, some kind of meh.  But last week I stumbled upon one that totally won me over and made me realize that a book about zombies can be more than just a book about zombies.

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I had seen Jonathan Mayberry’s Rot and Ruin at the library many times before last week, but to be honest I never picked it up to even see what it was about.  Why?  Well, this is where I make myself sound like a total idiot:  I saw that it was written by a male author and decided I didn’t want to read it.  I KNOW, I KNOW…stupid.  But for some reason – and maybe it’s just the few books by male authors that I’ve read – I’ve never been blown away by a book written by a male.  I’m not saying they weren’t good, they just didn’t give me the feels the way a lot of books written by females have.  Up until now, the best book I had read from a male point of view (Beautiful Creatures) was written by a female (actually two – Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl).

So what made me change my mind?  Well, I was looking at books at Barnes and Noble and saw it faced out in their “Best-selling Teen Series” section.  And you know how books sometimes look so much more appealing in bookstores than in libraries?  Well, that’s what happened here.  I looked at the cover, then read the back, realized it was about zombies, became a little skeptical, but took note and decided to pursue this series a little further.

The first book in the series, Rot and Ruin, was at the library later that week.  I checked it out, but was still a little rot-and-ruinskeptical.  Not only was it written by a male author, but the bar was pretty high when it came to zombie books.  Before last week, the best zombie book I had read was Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth which, if you hadn’t read it, I also recommend.  But guess what:  this young adult written by a male author I had never even heard of until now knocked Hands and Teeth out of first place.

You guys, Rot and Ruin is AWESOME.  Seriously.  I really can’t think of another word to best describe it.  There are very few books that make me think “I HAVE TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THIS BOOK” while I’m actually reading it.  But that’s what I kept thinking.  I wanted everyone who reads to run and pick up this book.  It was that good.

rot_ruin.jpgThe premise is one we’ve heard before:  One night (they call it First Night) the dead suddenly started to come back and, in typical zombie fashion, go after the living.  Anyone who dies, whether they’ve been bitten or simply dies in their sleep, comes back.  But all of that is just so much more in this book.  Mayberry has created characters that you find yourself caring about after just a couple of chapters.  These people are just so real and their situation is so crappy that you’re rooting for them to figure something out to make things better.  Chapter after chapter, I found myself getting more and more hooked, still amazed that a zombie story could have this much heart and soul within it.

It has lots of action, a little bit of romance (but not the overdone, annoying kind), humor, family issues, and, yes, heartbreaking moments.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’m just going to warn you about the Epilogue.  Tears were shed, my friends.

I was so excited to start the second book, Dust and Decay, which I picked up while I was still reading Rot and Ruin9917998 A lot of times if I check out the first couple books of a series at the same time I’m not in the mood to read the second one right away.  But I think I was still setting down Rot and Ruin when I grabbed Dust and Decay from my bedside table.  And it wasn’t because the first book ends on a cliffhanger, because it doesn’t, at least not one that makes you go, “WHAT??”  No, I just wanted to read the second one as soon as possible because I just loved the characters and story that much.  I’m halfway through Dust and Decay and, no surprise here, I’m loving it.

Honestly the best part of this book is that it’s a rich story.  I’ve read some books like this that have lots of action but lose so much of the story.  Too much dialogue, not enough meat.  But that’s not the case with this book. It’s not just a coming-of-age story with zombies.  It’s just something that you have to read and experience for yourself.

And you probably have enough time before The Walking Dead comes back on to squeeze in the whole Rot and Ruin series!  So go read it.  Like, now.  Before the zombies come and get you.

Here’s a list of the whole series if you want to jump right in:

  • Rot and Ruin (#1)
  • Dust and Decay (#2)
  • Flesh and Bone (#3)
  • Fire and Ash (#4, to be published this year)

There are also three novellas I have yet to see at any library, but here ya go:

  • First Night Memories (#0.5)
  • In the Land of the Dead (#1.5)
  • Dead and Gone (#2.5)

“There are moments that define a person’s whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become balance on a single decision. Life and death, hope and despair, victory and failure teeter precariously on the decision made at that moment. These are moments ungoverned by happenstance, untroubled by luck. These are the moments in which a person earns the right to live, or not.”

Posted in Reading Books

Books For Every Mood – When You Want to Be Freaked Out

Maybe I just haven’t been reading enough Stephen King novels, but not too many books have actually scared me to the point of where I think, “Oh my God, I actually feel frightened as I read this.”  Movies scare easily because they’re so visual, and it’s the things that we see that scare us.  But to read something that makes us feel scared is a difficult feat for the author to achieve.

There is one book, however, that totally has the ‘creep factor’ going for it, and that’s Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall.  In the 1970s and 80s, Lois Duncan pretty much ruled YA horror and suspense lit, at least until Christopher Pike and RL Stine came along.  She wrote freaky books like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, Don’t Look Behind You, and Summer of Fear, but Down a Dark Hall takes the crown as the creepiest, probably because it involves a boarding school, which we all know are creepy enough to begin with.

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Written in 1972, Down a Dark Hall is about a girl (Kit) who is forced to attend Madame Duret’s Blackwood Boarding School, and from the second she arrives at the school she knows there’s something weird about it.  Um, especially because the rooms only lock from the outside.  Creepy?  Hell yes.

Another creepy thing about the place?  Well, for one thing, there are only three other students, none of which had any sort of talent for anything before coming to Blackwood, but who suddenly excel at painting, math, and poetry since starting the school.  Even Kit suddenly discovers that she’s really good at playing the piano.  Where do these weird talents come from?  Who the hell knows!!

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And probably the creepiest thing of all is that Kit eventually learns that all the former students of Blackwood ended up dying.  So, yeah…her prospects don’t look too good, do they?

Well, I’m not going to give you any answers to any of these questions – you’re just going to have to get totally freaked out yourself when you read this book!  And you’d better read it quick – I read somewhere that Stephenie Meyer is developing a movie out of it…so…let’s not even go there.  Read the book!!

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“The moment Kit lays eyes on the great, brooding mansion looming about her, she can feel it – a strange, penetrating chill that later she would describe in a single word:  evil.”

Posted in Reading Books

The First Book I Ever Read

Even though the Betsy-Tacy books are some of my very favorites, Betsy Ray wasn’t the first literary “Betsy” I came across in my readings.  When I was in second grade and began reading chapter books, the first ones I remember reading was a series a books by author Carolyn Haywood known simply as the “Betsy” and “Eddie” books.

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The one that stands out in my mind as “the first chapter book I ever read” was Snowbound with Betsy, written in 1962, and is just one of the many books Haywood wrote about a little girl named Betsy and the things she does with her friends.  The first book in the series is called B is For Betsy, which was written way back in 1939, which I actually found a few years ago at a library book sale (with a slightly disappointing revised cover, but whatever).

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I absolutely loved the Betsy books when I was in grade school, devouring them up whenever I could from my school and public library.  My favorites were always ones that took place in the winter:  Snowbound with Betsy, Betsy’s Winterhouse, Merry Christmas from Betsy, and Betsy’s Little Star.  And then when I wasn’t missing winter (I seriously loved winter when I was a kid), I would enjoy reading Betsy’s Busy Summer, and I vividly remember checking it out from the public library every single time it was available.

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Carolyn Haywood also wrote books about Betsy’s friend Eddie, and even though I read a handful of those as well, I never liked them as much and would usually only read them when the Betsy books were checked out.  I guess I considered them to be “boy” books, even though I know we shouldn’t label books as genders, but I was seven years old, so…that’s my excuse.

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I have no idea what other kinds of kids’ books were out in the mid-80s (I wouldn’t discover The Baby-sitter’s Club for another two years), but I’m so thankful that these books were available at the library.  I truly believe it was these books that began my lifetime love of reading.  If I hadn’t found books that I loved right at the beginning of my reading adventures, then who knows if I would have grown to love reading as much as I did.  And if I hadn’t decided that I loved reading, I may not have ever discovered books like The Baby-sitter’s Club or the Little House books or VC Andrews or – gasp – Harry Potter.

So even though Carolyn Haywood left us over twenty years ago, her legacy stays with me because she shaped the reader I am today.  So a huge thank you thank you thank you thank you to her, and I hope my daughter finds books like the “Betsy” books that help her develop into a reader as well.

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And now I ask you:  What was the book that turned you into a reader?

Posted in Reading Books

Books For Every Mood – When You Want to Escape

Sometimes when the reality of life is just too much to handle, we search for a means of escape.  And what better way to escape than by opening a book?  Books can be pure escapism when they need to be, whether we have the travel bug and want to read about traveling to real places, or whether we want to really escape into worlds that don’t even exist in this world.

Since I want to include the real and the non-real, I have two books that provide that escapism you may be looking for.  Obviously there are many books out there that you can read, but these two are a couple of my favorites.

Betsy and the Great World – Maud Hart Lovelace

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I’ve talked before about how much I love the Betsy-Tacy books, especially the later ones when Betsy is in high school and older.  The penultimate book in the series, Betsy and the Great World, takes place in 1914 after Betsy finishes high school and decides to travel the “great world” before setting off to college and marriage and all that fun stuff.  It’s what every student wants to do before entering the real world, and Betsy does it with her usual flair and fancy, making this a totally fun book to escape into.

Among the many places in Europe to which Betsy travels is Sonneberg, Germany; regions of Bavaria in Germany; Lucerne, Switzerland; Paris, France; and extended stays in Venice and London.  Her stay in London was quite exciting, given it was the outbreak of World War I, and Betsy didn’t even know if she was going to make it back home to Minnesota.  But of course Betsy being Betsy, she was positive and joyful about the whole thing.  Because she’s awesome.

Topping the trip around the Great World with boat excursions to The Azores, Madeira, Gibraltar, Algiers, and Genoa, Betsy’s adventures in travel are a great way of going on a little trip yourself, while at the same time feeling kinda jealous because you didn’t get to do the same thing when you were 21 years old.

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“Guided tours are all right for some people, but not for a writer.  I ought to stay in just two or three places.  Really live in them, learn them.  Then if I want to mention London, for example, in a story, I would know the names of the streets and how they run and the buildings and the atmosphere of the city.  I could move a character around in London just as though it were Minneapolis.  I don’t want to hurry from place to place with a party the way Julia did.”

The Neverending Story – Michael Ende

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I had seen this movie years and years ago (and had nightmares because of it), but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s when I finally read the book…and realized that the book was totally better!  Don’t get me wrong, the movie is pretty awesome, but it only covers the first half of what happens in the book.  So much more adventure is had in the book, making it a perfect read for those times you want to get away from reality (and you don’t want to trudge through 1000+ pages of Lord of the Rings again).

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the story starts off in reality with a boy – Bastian – who lives a pretty crappy life…at least until he discovers a book called The Neverending Story which magically sucks him right into the book.  Like, literally.  Like Tom-Riddle’s-Diary-style.  Bastian actually becomes part of the story.

What follows is one hell of an adventure story that includes lots of travel.  Through the eyes of our new hero Bastian (and the hottie Atreyu), we get to visit places like Fantastica, Amarganth, Spook City, The Desert of Colors, The Fog Sea, The Grassy Ocean, The Silver Mountains, the Swamps of Sadness, The Howling Forest, and many other crazy places that can only exist in our imaginations.  The Neverending Story is a beautifully written book that many people overlook, but I promise you it’ll be a great adventure.

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‘I wonder,’ he said to himself, ‘what’s in a book while it’s closed. Oh, I know it’s full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there’s a whole story with people I don’t know yet and all kinds of adventures, deeds and battles. And sometimes there are storms at sea, or it takes you to strange cities and countries. All those things are somehow shut in a book. Of course you have to read it to find out. But it’s already there, that’s the funny thing. I just wish I knew how it could be.’

Posted in Reading Books

Books for Every Mood – For a Good Cry

I’m not really one to read sad books.  Like, I’m not going to pick up a book version of Old Yeller or E.T. and decide that I really want to read it.  I typically try to avoid all sad books whenever I can, the same way I try to avoid sad movies.

However, sometimes the sadness is impossible to escape.  There are some extremely depressing parts in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I’m certainly not going to avoid those books.  And sometimes the sadness just kind of creeps up without even telling me.  Which is how I came to today’s book choice for those times you just need to cry.

Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver

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Before I Fall is a story about a girl (Samantha) who dies in a car accident…only to wake up and relive the same day over and over again.  Seriously, it’s like the worst case of Groundhog Day ever.  At the beginning of the book, Samantha is living a pretty good life:  she’s pretty, popular, and has lots of friends.  But then when she “dies”, she realizes that she has the chance to change things.  At first she tries to change the fact that she gets into the car accident in the first place.  But that doesn’t happen.  And when she gets the chance to live the same day again…and again…she starts noticing and changing things about her life in general.

Each day she wakes thinking that she’ll be awake for good, that whatever is happening is just a dream, and that she’ll be able to wake up and go to school with her friends, thinking that now she can live the life she truly wants to live now that she’s seen the error of her ways.  And we as readers keep hoping for her chance to live.  She’s made things right.  She deserves the right to live, right?

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Well, I’m not going to spoil things for you, so you’ll have to read it to find out what happens in the end.  But seriously, this book had me crying.  Real tears, people.  My heart hurt so much for her every time she was forced to “die” again, knowing that she was doing all she could to change things.  And there’s a scene in the book she shares with her sister – someone she had never really paid much attention to her whole life – that is so achingly sad that I should have just skipped it altogether (well, not really, but you know what I mean).

A lot of times when I finish a book I don’t even think about it.  I mean, I might think about it for a couple of seconds, but I often just close it and grab the next book in line.  But this one- THIS ONE – had me thinking for a least a couple of days.  I had to wait a bit before I started my next book because Before I Fall was still lingering around in my head.  And that, my friends, is a sign of a pretty damn powerful book.

Just make sure you’re not reading it on your lunch hour for everyone to see your tears.

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“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.”

Posted in Reading Books

Books for Every Mood – For a Good Laugh

Back in the days when Borders was still open, I bought a book from their bargain book section called 1001 Books for Every Mood.  It was only $3.99, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.  Every mood you could ever be in?  Well, there’s a book for that!  Of course I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the 1001 books mentioned, and of course there were some I felt were missing.  So I’ve decided to create my own Books for Every Mood – not 1001 of them, but how ever many I can think of based on what I’ve read.

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I’ll be writing about one mood/one book per post so I don’t overload you with information, and then I can focus more on the book.  So if you like to laugh, this is the post for you.  I’m not who has read a lot of funny books – probably because I read a lot of young adult lit, and funny stuff isn’t usually a focus – but one definitely stands out as holy-crap-this-shiz-is-funny.

Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding

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I remember when I read this book for the first time I had just moved into my first apartment in Los Angeles and I was feeling really stressed out and homesick.  I desperately needed something to cheer me up, so my roommate lent me her copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary.  I had seen the movie, which I enjoyed, and figured the book would be pretty much the same.  But you know what?  It was 100 times better…and FUNNIER.  Seriously, I don’t think a book has made me laugh as much as that one did.  The diary entries were written so brilliantly and realistically, yet funnier than anything else I had read before.  Of course it’s a feel-good book, too, and a book about the journey of improving oneself, but no one had ever written it as humorously as this.

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Bridget Jones is a woman in her 30s living in London who struggles with things that many women do:  love life, weight, family, and bad habits she’s trying to break, like smoking and drinking less.  She records her progress (or lack of) in her diary, and even though she fails at many things, you can’t help but love her because she’s so hopelessly real.  The book was based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with the heroine struggling to find her place in this world, particularly finding someone to share it with, and even though Lizzie Bennett was nowhere near as funny as Bridget Jones, they both end up happy and with the man they truly love.

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And if you’re referring to the movie versions of each, they both end up with Colin Firth.

So if you’re ever feeling down in the dumps or stressed out or just feel the need to laugh at someone else’s life other than your own, run on over to the library and check this book out.  I promise you will laugh out loud, and hopefully will feel better, at least during the time it takes you to read 271 pages.

“Resolution number one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds. Number two: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important, will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobic’s, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts. And especially will not fantasize about a particular person who embodies all these things.”

Posted in Reading Books

“You’re 15 Books Behind Schedule”

This is what I’m greeted to when I visit my what used to be awesome Goodreads home page.  Each year I give myself a goal of 100 books to read, and because I came up short last year, reading 97 books (I blame the flu at the end of the year), I thought for sure 2013 would be my year.  But so far it’s proved to be, for lack of a better word, TOTALLY LAME.

I actually started off the year fairly well, reading five books in January, but I was still behind my pace, and things just got worse as time went on.  I read for in February, three in March, and so far just one this month.  So as Goodreads loves to tell me, I’m 15 books behind schedule.  Which means by now I should have already read 28 books as opposed to the 13 I so pathetically managed to finish.

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Numbers don’t lie…

What’s worse is that three books I sat on the waiting list for at the library – Requiem by Lauren Oliver, Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale, and Boundless by Cynthia Hand – all became available, got sent to my Kindle, and then got left to expire after three weeks without me even glancing at them.

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Guess we’re going back on the waiting list…

There are a couple of reasons for this lack of reading.  One is that I have been trying to dabble in different genres, as stated in this previous post, and I haven’t exactly been too interested in the stuff I’ve found.  Another reason is that I’ve been awfully distracted with catching up on TV and playing silly games on my iPhone – a horrible excuse, I know, but the truth.  I just haven’t been in the “must read this in two days” frame of mind.

But despite all that, I have read a few books so far this year that I’ve absolutely gobbled up, so it hasn’t been a total loss.  And after today’s trip to the library, I hope to get back into the swing of things and become the reader I once was.  Some bright moments:

The Evolution of Mara Dyer – Michelle Hodkin

12950372More often than not, sequels never really live up to their predecessors, but that wasn’t the case with this book.  I loved the first book in this series, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, and I may have liked this one even more.  It deals with hauntings and psych hospitals and of course romance, and I was heartbroken when I finished it, only because I have to wait until October to read the final book.  And of course it ended on that kind of note.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  The “oh God, don’t end there” variety.  But oh-so good.

Across the Universe – Beth Revis

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To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to like this book as much as I did.  It’s more sci-fi than fantasy, and I don’t have much experience in sci-fi (except when I’m watching Battlestar Galactica).  But I really loved this book.  I loved the mix of sci-fi and romance and dystopia, and I thought the characters were interesting.  And of course I developed a teeny crush on the main boy character, which hasn’t really happened since Peeta.  So, yay.

Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

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Let’s start off by getting one thing straight:  this book is NOT about dominatrix.  In fact, it’s pretty much about the exact opposite of the other shades of gray book that other people may be reading.  This one takes place during WWII when thousands of Lithuanians were being forced in to labor camps in Russia, all from the point of view of a young teenage girl.  It’s not a light and easy book to read, given the subject matter, and nothing is sugar-coated.  But it’s an extremely well-written story about a part of history that’s rarely spoken of.  Which of course means ya’ll need to read it.  Like, now.

So those are the three books that have stood out so far this year.  I hope to be adding a lot more to that list starting TODAY.  Because there’s still time to hit that 100-book mark…I just have to pretend that technology doesn’t exist.

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What good stuff have you read so far this year?

Posted in Reading Books

Didn’t Even Last a Month

Oooooohhhhh, I’m pathetic.  Remember that whole “I’m going to read different in 2013!” mantra I “committed” myself to a couple of weeks back?  My whole, “I’m going to read mysteries and historical fiction and biographies blah blah blah blah”….?  Yeah, you can just pretend that never happened.

I was doing pretty well at first.  I read two mystery books, Royal Flush and Royal Blood from the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen, and I enjoyed them.  I was having fun finding new books in sections of the library that I had never ventured in before (romance, mystery, etc.).  I was excited when I checked out a book about Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor called The Shadow Queen.  I thought, “I’m going to be entertained because it’s fiction, but I’ll also learn something!”

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Yeah…that’s a bunch of crap.

I read about four chapters of the book, and I was bored.  I’m not saying that the book was totally boring, because it wasn’t.  But reading it felt like a chore.  I would see it sitting on the table and I would think, “Oh, I should really spend some time getting through that thing…it’s going to be due back at the library soon…”

That never happens when I read young adult fiction.

FE_PR_0518books415x276This is what happens!!

I’m serious.  When I check out YA books at the library, I get those things read as fast as I can.  I get that shiz done, people.  Not because it’s a chore and that I feel almost obligated to read them because I checked them out, but because I really really want to read them.

But even though I decided to give up on The Shadow Queen, I wasn’t going to give up on reading different just yet.  I had checked out the first two books of a fun-looking mystery series about two sister witches, and I was excited to get started on them.

At least that’s what I was telling myself.  What I was really thinking was, “I wonder if there are any new YA books at the library.”  Sigh.

I shook those thoughts out of my head and proceeded to read the first page of It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake.  And the first page was all I read.

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Why didn’t I go any further?  Was it really that bad?

Well no, it wasn’t bad.  Honestly, I don’t even remember what I read.  I just know I wasn’t interested in reading at that moment, and I never looked back.  After that I returned all my books to the library, and that’s when the inevitable happened.

I saw YA books on the shelf that I’ve never been able to find until now!!!

Well, obviously one has to take that as a sign.  These books don’t just pop up at the library every day.  When you see them, you check them out.  No questions asked.

And if I needed another sign to go back to my beloved YA books, it was that two books I’ve been sitting on the waiting list for at the eLibrary just became available yesterday as well.  And there’s no way I’m waiting another two months for those books to become available again.

So here’s what I’ve got on my plate for the next three weeks:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

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I bought the sequel to this popular YA book way back in April of last year, and all this time I’ve never been able to find the first one.  Of course until yesterday.  So duh, I grabbed it.  I don’t even know what the story is about (I wasn’t about to read the sequel before the first one), but the waiting list is hella long on the library’s website, so it’s probably pretty good.  And it’ll probably hold my interest longer than Wallis Simpson.

The Evolution of Maya Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

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I read the first book of this series last year, The Unbecoming of Maya Dyer, and I loved it.  Of course it took a while for the second one to come out, and then even longer for it to hit the library shelves.  But guess what?  I was at the library on a good day and happened to spot it before anyone else.  The first one left off with a ton of questions, which I’m sure won’t be completely answered in this sequel, but I’m excited anyway.  A lot more excited than I was for Wallis Simpson.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

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Yet another highly anticipated sequel that I’ve been waiting for since I finished the first book The Maze Runner a couple of months ago.  When I finished that first sci-fi dystopian eBook, I put my name on the long waiting list for The Scorch Trials right away because I knew it would be a long time before it would come to me.  But the email notification came yesterday, and I’m ready to get back into that frightening world.  A lot more frightening than Wallis Simpson.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones

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This book came out years ago – 1986 – and it’s apparently one of the best fantasy books ever written.  Or so people say.  A few months ago I decided that I wanted to read it, thinking I could easily find it at the library.  Well, I couldn’t.  It was always checked out, and there was a long waiting list for it on the website.  But I put my name down anyway and then sort of forgot about it until I got the email yesterday that it was available.  So now I get to see what the fuss is all about.  More fuss than Wallis Simpson, that’s for sure.

So just let me get through these four books, and then maybe I’ll rethink my whole “Read Different” slogan.  I still want to read Pride & Prejudice – I’m really committing myself to that one – and I’ll still check out other sections of the library just in case something interesting pops up.  But I simply cannot ignore YA books.  YA flows through my veins, and there’s no cutting off the supply.

YA 4 EVAH.  Word.

Posted in Reading Books

It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged…

…that this month marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!

6a00d83451584369e200e54f5a26ff8833-800wiCue applause!!

And yet I have NEVER read the book.

When it was first published in 1813, the book was well-received, and everyone seemed to love it right away.  Well, everyone except for Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, who apparently called the book “a disappointment” with “no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck”, whatever the hell that means.  But despite it having no “bonny beck”, the book is more popular than ever after two-hundred years, with countless movies and shows and other works of literature devoting themselves to Austen’s wit and wonder.

pride-and-prejudice-comic1Even in comic book form!

And yet I have NEVER read the book.

I know, I know.  Fellow readers think there must be something wrong with me.  How have I made it through the past 33 years of my life without picking up Pride and Prejudice, or any Jane Austen book for that matter?  How dare I call myself a reader when I haven’t read one of the greatest?

And I’m not just throwing out the word “greatest” just for the fun of it.  In 2003, Pride and Prejudice was voted second (only behind Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings…duh…) as the UK’s Best-Loved Book.  And in 2008 in an Australian poll, it was voted number one in the 101 Best Books Ever Written.

pride_and_prejudice_and_zombies_book_cover_01Well, probably not this version.

So apparently people kind of love this book.  So ask me again why I haven’t read it?

Well, in all honesty, I just never got the urge.  It’s one of those “I-have-to-be-in-the-right-mood” books, and I guess I’ve just never been in the right mood.  I’ve seen two movie versions of it – the BBC one with Colin Firth and the big screen one from 2005 with Keira Knightley – and apparently I figured that was enough for me.

pride and prejudice 2Seriously…it’s Keira Knightley reading a book.  I DON’T NEED ANYTHING ELSE.

But you know what?  I should just read the damn book.  It’s celebrating its BICENTENNIAL, for crying out loud, and frankly, it just deserves to be read.  Plus, since I’m changing up my reading habits this year, it’s the perfect time to delve into the world of Jane Austen.

This bicentennial stuff is a pretty big deal.  Countless celebrations will be happening at libraries and bookstores around the world this month, and the BBC is actually recreating a Regency Ball – like the Netherfield Ball that occurs in the book – and televising it in the spring.  Tourism to Austenish places like Bath will likely be given a boost due to the bicentennial.  And millions of people will most likely pick up the book and give it another read.  Or a first read.  Like me.

man-who-loved-pride-prejudice-modern-love-story-abigail-reynolds-book-cover-artHOPEFULLY not this version.

So last night I headed to the library to find an edition of P & P that looked exciting to read.  I actually own the book – I bought it years ago when Barnes & Noble was having a “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” on classic paperbacks, and I just grabbed it because I needed to pick out a free one.  So why don’t I want to read the one I have?  Because it’s a boring paperback with tiny letters, and I can totally see myself not wanting to pick it up for that reason.  I want to hold a pretty cover in my hands.  An updated cover.  Not some uninspiring paperback B & N Classics cover that does absolutely nothing for me.

photoOh, it’s just atrocious.  Looks nothing like Keira Knightley.

Yes, I am a book cover snob.  Deal.

So anyway, I went to the library figuring that they would totally have a ton of different copies of P & P just like the bookstores always do.  But guess what?  There wasn’t one copy in site.  Not even a boring paperback.  NOTHING.  They had other Austen books – Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Emma – but no P & P.

I totally blame the bicentennial!!!!

P+P-cover-214x300And Colin Firth.

Well, this just made me want to read the book even more, which means I’m probably going to have to read my boring-ass copy unless I’m lucky enough to find a pretty copy of the book at the library sale I’m attending tonight.  If not, I guess I’m going to have to choose between boring paperback or boring free eBook on my iPad.

But I WILL read Pride & Prejudice before this celebratory bicentennial year is over.  Because what’s the point of celebrating something if I don’t even know what I’m celebrating?

pride_predudice_cover__spanThough I do celebrate this pretty cover….

All right, Miss Austen.  It’s ON.

Posted in Reading Books

Read Different!

Like many other people, I make all sorts of resolutions every time a new year rolls around.  Usually they’re the same every year:  Be happier.  Eat healthier.  Think positive, not negative.  Stop procrastinating.  Blog more.  Yadda yadda yadda.

I won’t bore you to death about how I’m going to achieve all those because stuff like that will be a day-to-day process, and it’s all about mental training.  And grocery shopping.  Instead I’ll tell you about a resolution I’ve made regarding my reading habits.  It’s not to read more, or to read less (who wants to read less???).  It’s simply to READ DIFFERENT.

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That’s right.  In 2013 I plan to branch out and leave the comforts of my young adult paranormal/supernatural/fantasy/contemporary bubble and try out new genres.  I know, crazy, right?  But to truly call myself a reader, I believe I need to dabble in all sorts of different kinds of writing, not just the kind that involve teenage romances with angels and demons and magic.

I’ve talked before about how I can’t seem to get into the mystery genre.  But I honestly think it’s because I just haven’t found the right books.  I think I would really enjoy mystery novels – if the story and the writing grabbed my attention.  It’ll just involve some research and trust in the reviews I read on Goodreads, which is where I get the majority of my recommendations.  I’m just looking for something clever and intriguing with good characters that I can care about.  That’s all.

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Since I enjoyed the first two books of Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, I may try to get back into the series since more books have been released since I last read one.  They take place in London during the 1930s and star a feisty heroine that I enjoyed reading about, so I’m pretty confident in this series.  Just give me some atmospheric weather outside (gloomy and nasty) and I should be good to go.

Another genre that I’m going to seriously try is the Romance Novel.  Usually the first words that come to mind when I think of a romance novel is “cheesy” and “smutty”, but I know there are some really well-written romance novels out there, according to my romance-reading friends (though sometimes cheese and smut can be a good thing).

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There are many “sub-genres” of romance novels, but the one I’m most interested in right now (I think) are the historical romance kind.  And yes, that will most likely involve MANY books that take place in the Scottish Highlands, as it seems a lot of women like to read and write about hunky Scottish warriors.  Which, you know, is totally cool.  I like Scottish warriors.

I did a lot of research on what romance novels to read the other night and came across a few authors that a lot of people seem to highly recommend.  One is Lisa Kleypas, whose books have gotten 4+ stars on Goodreads and rave reviews from most romance fans.  It’s obvious that a lot of people want to read her books, as pretty much every book that’s available on the eLibrary website has a waiting list.  Now I gotta see what the fuss is all about.

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A good friend and fellow reader recommended a romance author to me, one who specialized in Regency romance writing back in the early twentieth century.  Regency romances are set during the early 19th century (the British Regency) and derive from a genre called a novel of manners which is defined by Wikipedia as a genre that “deals with aspects of behavior, language, customs and values characteristic of a particular class of people in a specific historical context” (like Jane Austen).  Also, the more traditional Regency romances “feature a great deal of intelligent, fast-paced dialog between the protagonists and very little explicit sex or discussion of sex” (again, Jane Austen).

Anyway, the author she recommended is Georgette Heyer, who is known as one of the best Regency romance writers.  Most of her books are available on the eLibrary website, so it looks like I’m in luck.  It’s just a matter of finding the right one to start with, and then keeping up with it.  Fingers crossed.

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Another genre of book that has always intrigued me but I’ve never gotten around to reading is the historical fiction novel.  Books about queens and royal scandals always sound good, as do stories from history that may or may not have been inspired by actual events.  I’m looking for something that’s in between a non-fiction book and a historical romance book.  I’ve picked up a few historical fiction books at book sales – a couple of Philippa Gregory books, a book about Helen of Troy, books about various noblewomen – but they just sit on my bookshelf collecting dust.  I think I keep passing them by because they’re big books with lots of pages and lots of words and long paragraphs.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’m so used to the fast-paced, instant gratification world of young adult lit that it’s difficult to get into really lengthy and wordy books.  But as long as I find a story that sounds really interesting and grabs me from the first chapter so I don’t give up and toss the book aside, I think I could really enjoy historical fiction.  I just don’t want to feel like I’m reading a textbook.  Again, feedback from Goodreads really helps, but it is helpful to have an open mind as well.

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Branching out to other genres is going to take lots of patience and commitment and determination, but I know I have all that in me to make myself a more well-rounded reader.  I’ll obviously still read my YA lit – there are MANY books scheduled to for release this year that I MUST read – but if I just read one or two books a month from a different genre, that’ll be a huge accomplishment.

How about you?  What genre are you stuck in, and which ones do you hope to branch out to?

Posted in Catching TV, Listening to Music, Reading Books, Watching Movies

The Awesome That Happened in 2012

Another year has flown by, and it’s time to take a look back at 2012 and all the awesome stuff that went down.  Books, movies, TV, music…and all the other stuff that gets us by on a daily basis.   I can probably count the number of movies I saw on one hand, but it was a record year for me in terms of number of books read – 97 – even though I came up short in my goal of 100 (I can thank a bout of the flu at the end of the year for that).  I lost touch with a couple of TV shows, but learned to love new ones.  And I came to realize that pop music is still alive and stronger than it has been in over ten years and something to be embraced, not shunned.

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So here we go.  My list of the Awesome That Happened in 2012

BOOKS

In between re-reading all the Harry Potter and Betsy-Tacy books this year, I read a good mix of young adult and children’s books (but mostly young adult).  Turns out some of the best paranormal books these days aren’t about vampires or werewolves, but angels, as both my picks for best paranormal books are about angels (yet still completely different from each other in their own awesome ways).  And as someone who is usually underwhelmed by a lot of contemporary young adult, I did come across two that blew me away.

Dystopia still manages to catch my attention despite the fact that a lot of them are starting to sound the same.  My two faves this year broke out of that dystopia box, though, and made things fresh again.  And although young adult fantasy is sometimes hard for me to get into, when I do get into it I usually love it, which is what happened with my fantasy picks.  One made my heart pound, the other completely broke my heart in two.

And finally I started dipping a little bit into historical young adult books, which isn’t a super popular genre but one I believe we’ll be seeing more and more of.  My picks both happened to take place during World War II, and as a result made me even more hungry to learn about the past.

Best YA Contemporary

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Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Runner Up:  Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Best YA Paranormal / Supernatural

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Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Runner Up:  Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Best YA Dystopia

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The Selection by Kiera Cass

Runner Up:  Divergent by Veronica Roth

Best YA Fantasy

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Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Runner Up: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Best YA Historial

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The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper

Runner Up:  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

TELEVISION

As the mother of a four-year-old girl, I’m usually stuck watching such shows as Phineas and Ferb, The Backyardigans, and Dora the Explorer (and when I’m lucky, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic).  But every now and then I get to watch one of “my shows”.  Of course this year was different than any other year before since it’s the first time we’re relying solely on streaming television through Netflix and Hulu.  Of course a lot of the shows I used to watch like Castle, The Vampire Diaries, and The Office are still available through those services, but the urge to watch them just isn’t there anymore.

My love/hate relationship with Glee contines.

However, thanks to Netflix and a 45-minute-long panel at Comic-Con, I dove into a show that’s been on since 2005 and watched all seven seasons in the course of just a few months, thus cementing  it as one of the best shows of the year.  It’s a show that will scare you to pieces one minute, have you laughing on the floor the next minute, and then crying your eyes out soon after.  And it’s managed to do that for seven seasons.  The only other show that’s been able to do that for that long is Gilmore Girls.  And a certain sci-fi show.

This sci-fi show premiered waaay back in 1963 and then sort of unofficially ended in the mid-90s.  Then the show had a sort of “reboot” in 2005, starting with Series 1 and still going strong today with the premiere of Series 7 this fall (in Britain a “season” is called a “series”).  This summer I watched all the series with all its “regenerating” characters, and I quickly realized that no sci-fi show since Firefly gives me The Feels the way this one does.

And what can I say about animated shows that hasn’t already been said?  Some of the best shows on TV are animated, yet they get a reputation for being “kids shows”, therefore not getting the respect they deserve.  This year’s best animated show is more than a companion show to Avatar: The Last Airbender.  It’s a beautifully animated and brilliantly written story that conjures up more emotion than any primetime drama you’ll ever watch.  And when I want to laugh, I know all I have to do is watch the show that makes me laugh more than any other show that’s on TV today, and it’s probably the most realistic comedy show since Friends and The Office.

Best Drama Series

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Supernatural

Runner Up:  Downton Abbey

Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Series

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Doctor Who

Runner Up:  Once Upon a Time

Best Animated Series

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The Legend of Korra

Runner Up:  My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Best Comedy Series

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The New Girl

Runner Up:  Anything I can find on YouTube starring Catherine Tate

MOVIES

Like I said before, it was a pretty pathetic year for movies in terms of actually seeing them, but luckily I do have a few to write about.  One is pretty obvious, since I’ve been waiting for it to come out since 2004, and one was one of Pixar’s best since The Incredibles.  As excited as I was for The Hunger Games, it didn’t come close to the book, although I did find it entertaining to watch.  And even though I loved The Avengers, I chose another masked man as my top action pick for 2012 solely due to the emotional punch it threw at me.  And since most of the movies I watched this year were picked out by my daughter, I decided I should pick my “unofficial favorite” just for the hell of it.  Because at least this one is Disney, and at least the main character is pretty awesome.

Best Sci-fi/Fantasy

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The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey

Best Animated

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Brave

Best Action

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The Dark Knight Rises

Best Movie that My Daughter Made Me Watch

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Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue

MUSIC

2012 was a fun year for music just because of how much we’re being exposed to so many different kinds at a higher rate than we ever were before.  The three main songs of the year:  “We Are Young” (fun.), “Somebody That I Used to Know” (Gotye), and “Call Me Maybe” (Carly Rae Jepsen) were all huge hits yet all sounded completely different.  Adele continued to ride the high she got from The Grammys, yet we’re all patiently waiting for a follow-up album while still listening to her 21 album.  And another boy band hit the scene in a big way, proving that catchy pop music will never die.

Best Song(s)

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“Love You Like a Love Song” – Selena Gomez and the Scene

“Some Nights” – fun.

“Without You – David Guetta ft. Usher

“Domino” – Jessie J.

“I Won’t Give Up” – Jason Mraz

“Starships” – Nikki Minaj

Best Album(s)

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Stronger – Kelly Clarkson

Red – Taylor Swift

Some Nights – fun.

Up All Night – One Direction

Unorthodox Jukebox – Bruno Mars

In terms of all things entertainment, 2012 was a pretty good year.  But I expect 2013 to be even better.  I’m going to see more movies (Star Trek!), branch out into different genres of books (romance?), and see if I can find a new TV show to love and obsess over (Sherlock…).  I hope 2012 gave you as much joy as it did me – and I hope 2013 is your best yet.

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Posted in Drinking Tea, Reading Books

Gifts For People Who Love Tea and Books

Well, that time of year is upon us once again, and in the spirit of St. Nicholas (today is his day, after all) I thought I’d share a few ideas on what to get the tea and books lover in your life.  Of course all of our tastes are different, but let’s just assume for this post’s sake that they like the same things I do.  Because this is totally my own Christmas list in disguise.*

*Cue evil cackle

Tea Drinkware

Since moving to MN a year ago, I’ve come to fully embrace the Caribou Coffee chain, which I’m pretty sure outnumbers Starbucks here in Minnesota (at least outside of Target stores).  And the one thing that I love about the ‘Bou is their selection of drinkware – hot and cold tumblers, mugs, and cups that are well-made and fun to look at.  I currently use an ugly plastic tumbler from Perkins that I stole from my parents as my tea tumbler at work, and I definitely could use an upgrade.  My favorite is the ceramic tumbler with the silicone cover with all the cute drawings all over it depicting “things to stay awake for”, coming from Caribou’s unofficial slogan that I love: “What do you stay awake for?”

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Fancy, Expensive Teas

I’m just going to come out and say it – if you drink a lot of tea like I do, you’re probably not spending a whole lot of money on the habit.  I tend to buy inexpensive teas like Celestial Seasonings, Lipton, and Market Pantry (aka Target brand), all which are great anyway so it’s not a huge deal.  But trust me when I say that once in a while we cheap tea drinkers want to drink something we would never spend money on.  Like the $8.00 boxes of Mighty Leaf I see at Whole Foods , or the $10 tins of The Republic of Tea that look so pretty on the shelves.  Trust me – these are things we want to see in our stockings.

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Hardcover Books

With the convenience of library sales and ebooks and what-not, I don’t know too many people who shell out $20 for a hardcover book from Barnes and Noble these days.  That being said, it’s still something that we would love to receive.  There’s simply nothing quite like unwrapping a Christmas present and finding a beautiful, brand-new hard cover book inside that you didn’t have to buy yourself, all yours to open up and breathe in the new-book smell.  Especially if it’s a book that you simply cannot find at any library or one in which you’re WAY down on the waiting list, like the following:

–        Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

–        The Selection by Kiera Cass

–        Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

–        Reached by Ally Condie

–        Finale by Becca Fitzpatrick

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Coffee Table Books

Everyone loves a good book they can place on their coffee table or on their bookshelves to make their house look extra fancy or give them something to page through when they’re bored.  We have a lot of books like that, but the one that I’ve always wanted but never bought is Avatar: The Last Airbender (The Art of the Animated Series.  Since it’s my favorite animated series of all time, I would love to look at all the beautiful art that went into making and shaping the show.  I would also accept any art book that involves Lord of the Rings / Hobbit, Star Wars, or anything about Disney animation, because all that stuff looks great on coffee tables.

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The Ultimate Book Bag

I don’t know about you, but I always have to bring a bag with me when making trips to the library.  Also, since I bring a book with me wherever I go, my purse has to be big enough to fit one (I make my decisions based on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – if it fits, it’ll hold anything).  So a bag that’s big enough to hold any number of books is something that we’d love to receive.  You can find book bags at many places, but I tend to find the ones I really want on sites like Etsy (for something cute and original), Zappos (for a huge selection), and Zazzle (for something more personalized).

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Background Music

Personally, I don’t listen to music while I read.  If anything I’ll have on my white noise machine or a hair dryer (I know it’s totally weird, but if I’m cold sometimes I turn on a hair dryer while I read – the sound and the heat are oddly comforting to me).  But if you like to have on soft music while you read, I suggest anything that’s instrumental so the words don’t distract you from the words on the page.  Might I suggest the upcoming soundtrack to The Hobbit, a two-disc score that will be available December 11?  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, pinch, pinch, KICK.

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An Awesome Teapot

I’m usually a teabag kind of girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the occasional loose tea leaf.  And the only way to truly enjoy the loose tea experience is to get a awesome teapot.  Teapots come in many shapes in sizes – I have one for multiple cups and one for single servings, and you can find some really cool ones out there in the interwebs.  A great place to find an original teapot that will look great on your counter is Etsy or Think Geek, where you can find such kinds as a TARDIS teapot (for the Doctor Who fan) and a magic lamp teapot (for the Aladdin fan).

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And When All Else Fails…The Gift Card

People say that gift cards are impersonal, but I say nay, nay.  People who love tea and books most certainly love gift cards to Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and iTunes  because it’s simply more fuel for their passion.  And it puts all those questions the buyer may have – “But do they like green tea or herbal tea?” or “Do they already have this book?” to rest.  And even though a place like Target carries books and tea, I don’t suggest getting them a Target gift card.  Because you know what they’ll end up buying with it?  Toilet paper and milk.  So stick with the tea and book-specific places – we’ll have loads of fun deciding what to buy with our gift cards.  Seriously.  Gift cards awesome.  Don’t be afraid.

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Posted in Catching TV, Listening to Music, Reading Books, Watching Movies

Remember, Remember, Another November

Oy.  November.  I can’t remember the last time a month kicked my ass so much.  For some reason this month felt exhausting, and I’m actually glad it’s coming to an end.  That and the fact that my husband can finally SHAVE OFF THAT DAMN MUSTACHE/BEARD/NIGHTMARE he’s been growing out this month for “Movember”.  I’m seriously counting down the hours to when I can see his silly face again.

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In between dentist appointments and flu shots and getting together with friends, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to sit down and blog.  Things have been busy at work, hence the whole not being able to blog at work thing going on.  And don’t worry, being busy is a good thing.  The other girl in my department was transferred, so it’s just me doing these returns, and it’s keeping me busy for a full eight hours.  So, yes, I can’t blog as much during the day, but at least my days are zipping by fast.  And by the time I get home, I can’t think of anything to blog about.  But since the month is over, let me sum up what I’ve been able to get accomplished.

Ever since I got back into reading YA fiction again at the beginning of the month, I have been reading pretty much non-stop, which is another excuse for my lack of blogging.  I’ve been SCORING at the library when it comes to books I’ve been looking for (except for Kiera Cass’s The Selection, which I’m convinced I’ll never find), and it’s been so much fun.  Here’s a list of the books I’ve read this month alone:

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince :  This was the last HP book I read before getting back into YA (see my previous post), and I forget how much I loooooove this book.  Honestly, I think it might have edged up in front of Goblet of Fire, which has been my favorite one for ten years.  But I also think that whenever I read Prisoner of Azkaban, so who knows.  Oh hell, they’re all my favorite.

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A Brief History of Montmaray / The FitzOsbornes in Exile / The FitzOsbornes at War: It’s been a long time since I’ve read a complete series of books where I absolutely loved all of them, and loved the final book the best.  But that’s how I felt about the Montmaray Journals trilogy by Michelle Cooper.  Seriously, people…if you want to read good YA literature that’s NOT a paranormal romance or post-apocalyptic thriller, read these books.  Amazing.

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Cinder: This retelling of Cinderella was also fun to read, and I enjoyed the Firefly-inspired world the story was set in.  It didn’t pack the emotional punch that other YA books I’ve read have, but it was still a great story, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

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Bitterblue: The book that came before this one, Graceling, was one of my favorite books of 2011 (or 2010…can’t really remember), and I had Extremely high hopes for this one.  And luckily the author Kristin Cashore didn’t disappoint.  I still think I like Graceling better, but I thoroughly enjoyed all 563 pages in a matter of one weekend.  It also made me realize how much I love fantasy books that sound like they could be actual history, sort of similar to Shannon Hale’s Bayern series.  Highly recommend.

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Under the Never Sky: The more dystopian YA books I read, the less and less they affect me.  I don’t know if it’s because The Hunger Games set such a high standard that no one else can come close to (except for Lauren DeStefano’s Wither and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, which were both AMAZING), but I find myself feeling almost disappointed when I’m reading dystopia these days  because they’re all starting to sound the same.  But you know what?  I really liked Under the Never Sky.  It didn’t kick me in the gut like The Hunger Games did, but I was intrigued by the world that Veronica Rossi had created.  Now onto the search for the sequel…

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Team Human: I’d heard lots of good things about this book when it first came out, and I was excited to find it at the library.  It didn’t realize that it was a humorous book that sort of made fun of the whole vampire phenomenon, so I wasn’t very emotionally invested in it.  However, it was light and fun and took me just a day to read, so if you need a break from the heavy stuff, it’s a good recommendation.

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I’m currently reading Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, which is the sequel to last year’s Goodreads’ book of the year Divergent, which I loved.  I’m only a quarter of the way through right now, but things are good.  Can’t wait to delve back into it tonight.

Speaking of The Hunger Games, I FINALLY saw the movie a couple of weeks ago.  I liked it – I thought Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect Katniss and Liam Hemsworth was the perfect Gale, though I’m still having issues with the whole Josh Hutcherson as Peeta thing.  Peeta is sort of sacred to me, and I felt something was missing.  But they covered pretty much everything in the movie that was in the book, and it was entertaining, even though it wasn’t the emotional rollercoaster ride that the book gave me.

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Because of all the reading going on, I’ve been lacking on any TV or movie watching.  I’m still on season seven of Supernatural, and I’ve fallen behind on The New Girl, Castle, and Once Upon a Time.  I’ve been watching a lot of my daughter’s shows, though I’ve managed to get her to watch only shows that I enjoy as well.  Thanks to Netflix we can now watch The Moomins for the first time EVER, which is awesomeballs, and I recently checked out season one of The Smurfs from the library, which I could watch all freaking day.

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I’ve also been watching season two of Downton Abbey in preparation for season three, which premieres on January 6 here in the states.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, Downton Abbey is like the world’s best soap opera but with better writing, better acting, better accents, and better clothes.  Of course I just happened to stumble upon a total SPOILER that will happen in season three involving my favorite character, but whatever.  I got over Joss Whedon killing Wash, Tara, and Fred, and I’ll get over this.

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The only show I’ve only been actively keeping up with is Glee (and I use the term “actively” loosely because I keep having to play catch-up), but I’m finding it difficult to get super excited for it the way I used to.  But I’m having issues with this season of Glee, all which will be addressed in a later blog.  It’s just too much to talk about here in this already-too-long blog post.  But you’ve been warned.

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As for music, the Christmas music season finally began on November 23, when I added 765 Christmas songs to my iPod.  It seems like a lot of songs, but when I play my iPod on random at work, I’m lucky if I hear five Christmas songs during the course of eight hours.  I haven’t bought any music in a long time, even falling behind on my Glee songs from iTunes, but I noticed yesterday that the two-disc soundtrack to The Hobbit is now up for pre-order with a release date of December 11.  And you know I’m not going to wait until Christmas to buy that one for myself.

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So November is over, and December is just a few hours away.  Stayed tuned for an End-of-the-Year blog post spectacular (re: year in review) and a final 2012 wrap-up of Hot Tea, Hot Books.  For now…take a breather.  November is over!

Posted in Reading Books, The Awesome 13

The Awesome 13 – Astrid Lindgren

If Swedish author Astrid Lindgren were still around today, she would be celebrating her 105th birthday today.  She did, however, make it to 94, which is pretty damn impressive in itself.  But being impressive is nothing new to Astrid.  She was somewhat of a rock star during her 50-year writing career, yet there’s still a lot that people don’t know about her besides the fact that she created Pippi Longstongstocking.*

*Also a rock star.

So to celebrate her 105th birthday today, here are 13 awesome things about Astrid Lindgren, part-time rock star, part-time Swedish royalty, FULL-TIME AWESOME.

13.  Astrid became preggars by the chief editor of the paper for which she worked.  But instead of marrying him when he proposed, she said NO and moved to Stockholm where she learned to be a typist and stenographer.*

*A stenographer is someone who writes in shorthand, a language that’s almost impossible to understand in these modern times.

12.  When her second child Karin was sick, Karin suddenly said to her mom, “Tell me a story about Pippi Longstocking.”  Thus Pippi Longstocking from Villavillakula was born.*

*This actually proves that her daughter was awesome, too.

11.   In 1945 Astrid won first prize in a writing competition for Pippi Longstocking AFTER it had been rejected by Bonniers Publishing House.*

*I’m pretty sure whoever rejected it was fired the next day.

10.  A common characteristic with all of Astrid’s characters is their attitude of adult authority (as in, “I don’t need your adult authority”), which pisses off conservatives.*

*ha ha

9.  After a trip to the United States in 1948, Astrid was upset at how Black Americans were discriminated, which inspired her to write the essay book Kati in America.*

8.  Astrid has two literary prizes in Sweden named after her:  the first one is called the Astrid Lindgren Prize, in which 40,000 SEK (I think that’s kronas?) is awarded to a Swedish language children’s author.  The second one is called the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, which was established after her death in 2002, and awards the author 5 million SEK.*

*It also remains the highest monetary award for children’s and youth literature.  IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

7.  Astrid’s portrait will be on the 20 kronor banknote beginning in 2014.*

*She’s money, baby.

6.  A minor planet discovered in 1978 was named after her, 3204 Lindgren, as well as the Swedish microsatellite Astrid 1.  Not only that, but all the instruments on the satellite are named for some of her popular characters:  PIPPI (Prelude in Planetary Particle Imaging), EMIL (Electron Measurements – In-situ and Lightweight), and MIO (Miniature Imaging Optics).*

*”Asteriod Lindgren”, as she liked to call herself.

5.  She’s got her own theme park called “Astrid Lindgren’s World” where you can hang out at Pippi’s house and maybe even sit on the roof with Karlsson.*

*Read Karlsson-on-the-Roof and you’ll get it.

4.  She wrote Mio, My Son, which became a VERY low budget movie called The Land of Faraway and starred a VERY young Christian Bale in one of the first things he ever did.*

*It’s so bad, it’s good.

3.  A collection of her original manuscripts was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2005.*

*Though they’re probably written in shorthand, so you probably can’t read them.  And if they aren’t, then they’re written in Swedish, in which case you still probably can’t read them.

2.  Astrid has superhuman strength and can lift a horse over her head.*

*Well, that’s actually not officially documented.  Pippi Longstocking, however, can totally do that.

1.  No other Swedish author has had their books translated into as many languages as Astrid Lindgren.  As of 2010, her books have been translated into 95 different languages.*

*Take that, Dragon Tattoo.

Happy birthday, Ms. Lindgren.  You’re awesome.

Posted in Reading Books

YA: I’m Back!

Well, I can’t deny it any longer.  The lure of young adult literature has sung its sweet siren song and guided me back into its seductive arms.  This, of course, has caused me to stop my annual Harry Potter read-a-thon just one book short (I promise I will get to Deathly Hallows before the year ends) and give in to all the wondrous books that have been calling out my name each time I stepped into the library.

As usual, my eyes were bigger than my rate of reading, as I tended to check out more than I could probably read in three weeks’ time.  However, when fully committed, I am able to tear through a good number of books, so I’m positive that this will be a successful round.  Here’s my official “YA: I’m Back!” list for the month of November:

The Montmaray Journals by Michelle Cooper

A Brief History of Montmaray * The FitzOsbornes in Exile * The FitzOsbornes at War

I’m halfway through the trilogy, and all I can say is that I’m hooked.  It has romance, intrigue, royalty, and an all-over Gothic feel that I love.  It’s an alternate history that takes place in Western Europe during the years leading up the WWII, a time that I love reading about.  Alternate history stories are fascinating, and I hope this is where more YA books are going (rather than strictly paranormal).  If you love a great narrative, these books (so far) are a wonderful read.

Cinder by Melissa Meyer

I’ve been looking for this book for FOREVERS, and I unexpectedly found it at the library last weekend.  I’m always sketchy of Cinderella retellings because there are just SO MANY OF THEM, but word on the street is that this one is one of the best.  Why?  Because Cinderella is a cyborg, that’s why!  And who doesn’t love a good cyborg fairy tale?

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

I knew nothing of this book when I picked it up except for the fact that it seemed different than any other paranormal book I’ve read.  It’s basically about a girl named who is created as copy of someone else and supposed to replace a girl named Amarra, so that when Amarra dies, she takes her place as the same person.  Of course it’s not going to be that simple, and I’m terribly excited to find out why.

Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore

This book wasn’t even on my radar when I was at the library yesterday, but I spotted it as I searched the shelves for Kiera Cass’s The Selection (which I still haven’t found).  Bitterblue is the sequel to the book Graceling, which was one of the best books I read last year.  It takes place years after the first, so I’m interested in seeing where the author has taken this fascinating fantasy world.

Romeo Redeemed by Stacey Jay

Romeo Redeemed is the sequel to the book Juliet Immortal which, I admit, wasn’t as amazing as I hoped it was going to be.  But it was an entertaining read – entertaining enough to make me want to read the second book, which I found on the eLibrary site.  In the first one we meet Juliet, who’s curse ever since she and Romeo killed themselves is that she dies over and over again by the hands of Romeo – both who take over someone’s else’s body every time they “regenerate” – but never fully dies.  Romeo was a total ass in the first one, so I’m curious to find out how he will “redeem” himself.

I also have two other books – Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi and Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson – but I already mentioned them in another post, so I won’t drone on about them here.  And to be honest, looking at this list of books I have to read, it’s highly doubtful I’ll get to those in November.  Which means stay tuned for December’s list!  It’s gonna be here before you know it…

Happy reading!

Posted in Checking Stuff Out, Reading Books

Board Books for Lovers of Literature

While browsing around the children’s area at the library the other day, I came across an adorable board book (re:  books babies chew on) about colors based on Alice in Wonderland.  The cover made me drool (in my head, people…I’m not that crazy), and the pages – all ten of them – were like works of art that I wanted to rip out and put on my wall.

I returned the book yesterday without thinking too much about it – it was adorbs, and whoever illustrated was no short of a genius.  The end.  But then…BUT THEN…I found more.

That’s right.  This counting version of Alice in Wonderland is not alone in the world.  It’s part of a series – A SERIES! – of classic literature turned into learning board books.  They’re called BabyLit Primer books (website – which you may end up giving all your paychecks to – here), and there are currently six of these beauties sitting on the shelves of your local library and bookstore.  And they are AWESOMEBALLS.

When I spotted two more at the library yesterday, I grabbed them hungrily and held them close to my chest in fear that someone else would spot them and take them before I did.  Okay, well, it wasn’t that dramatic.  But I think I did let out a squeal when I saw the Romeo & Juliet one.  And then maybe an even louder squeal when I saw Pride & Prejudice.

And even though they’re just little counting books – ten pages with less than five words a page – they’re actually pretty clever.  For example, in Rome0 & Juliet number 1 is represented by “1 Balcony” or in Pride & Prejudice we get “3 Houses” .

Alice in Wonderland is such a colorful story already, so it’s a great way for babies to learn colors even if they don’t know anything about Alice’s world.  A sample, if you will:

Another book that teaches counting is the Jane Eyre BabyLit book.  That’s right, I said JANE EYRE.  The library didn’t have this one, unfortunately, but the pictures are most worthy of a squeeeeeeee. 

The person responsible for such genius cuteness is Jennifer Adams, whose website can be found here.  She has a degree in English just like me – omg we’re twins – and is currently the senior editor at Quirk Books (ok maybe not twins).  And the illustrator is Alison Oliver, who is far too talented for her own good (but thank God she is).  In addition to the above four books, the two women just released another two books in the BabyLit series.  This:

and this:

Dracula involves counting (duh…anyone who’s ever watched Sesame Street knows that), and A Christmas Carol is all about colors (and ghosts!).  And, of course, they’re way too nice to actually give to babies. 

I wish I could post every single picture from these books on here, but that would be impossible (and extremely time-consuming), so you’re just going to have to find these books for yourself.  I’m heading to a different library tomorrow to look for the ones I’m missing (yep…I’m determined), and then after that I’m just going to go ahead and jot them down on my Christmas list because even if my daughter isn’t interested (she’s too old for counting and colors books, but too young to appreciate the classics), I could easily spend a rainy afternoon looking at each book over and over again.

Also, if you’re suddenly obsessed with these as I am, you can show your BabyLit love by wearing buttons.  Yep – buttons!  They feature Alison Oliver’s amazing artwork, and people will be amazed at how educated you are (or seem) when they see Mr. Darcy and Jane Eyre attached to your purse.

But if you can, please get your hands on these books.  Even if you don’t have kids, but appreciate art and literature, they’re good to have on-hand as coffee table books.  Believe me – they will definitely attract the attention of your guests.  Just be careful they don’t steal them from you.  Because they’re that pretty.

Happy reading!

Posted in Checking Stuff Out, Reading Books

The Waiting List

If you’ve all been doing your homework, you know that right now I’m currently taking break from my normal young adult lit reading habits and delving back into the world of Harry Potter, the way I always do every fall.  And even though I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Harry, it’s hard not to notice all the YA books that glare at me at the library, taunting me with their pretty covers, silently begging me to check them out as I painfully pass them by.

Must…resist…the…prettiness.

It also makes cruising the Goodreads website difficult to visit everyday.  This is where I usually discover all the new and amazing books that I want to read, making a list a bringing it with me to the library.  And just to let you know, my criteria for books I want to read is that they usually have to have a Goodreads rating of 3.80 or higher.  Anything lower than that, I usually disregard.  I say “usually” because there are always exceptions.

So I figure that instead of being tempted by the books I’m not reading at the library, now is the perfect time to sit on some eLibrary waiting lists.  I love checking books out on my iPad and having them sent to me in seconds, but a lot of the ones I want have waiting lists.  Normally this would drive me nutso, but since I’m currenly preoccupied with British wizards and witches, I can patiently wait for these books to become available.  Let’s take a look at the list, shall we?

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent is the sequel to the book I finally got my hands on (thanks, Natalie!), the Goodreads Book of the Year for 2011, DivergentDivergent was crazy intense – we’re talking Hunger Games level of intensity – and I devoured it.  Of course – of course – it ended on a cliffhanger, thus creating my need for the sequel.  Well, of course I haven’t seen the sequel available at the library, so I put myself on the eLibrary waiting list.  It’s been awhile, but I’ve moved up quite a bit – I’m patron 75 out of 139.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

I originally heard about this book from Goodreads, a site that I’m impossibly addicted to.  First off, let’s talk about the cover.  GORGE.  The story could be crap, and I would still want to read it because of that AMAZING DRESS.  But fortuntely the story sounds rather intriguing – a sort of Princess-Meets-The Bachelor dystopian story, which is right up my I-have-yet-to-get-sick-of-you dystopian alley.  I am currently partron 45 out of 78.  Sigh.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner is another book that I kept seeing popping up on Goodreads, reading amazing review after amazing review.  It’s – surprise – a dystopian novel, this one about a guy who wakes up to find that he doesn’t remember anything except his first name.  Like Jason Bourne.  But minus the Matt Damon.  And then he meets a bunch of other teens just like him.  And then amazingness ensues.  People obviously love this book, which is why I’m still patron 30 out of 64.  Awesome.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

For the longest time I was getting this author mixed up with Veronica Roth, author of Divergent and Insurgent, which is actually how I found Under the Never Sky.  It has a 4.13 Goodreads rating, which is pretty damn good in my book.  I don’t really know exactly what it’s about – it sounds like it’s about a girl who lives “on the outside”, alone and always in danger by cannibels and storms.  I guess it’s because I don’t really know the plot but because it’s dystopian that I want to read it.  And it looks like I’ll get to read it before the others – I’m patron 9 out of 16.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

I have a few trusted friends on Goodreads – people whose reviews I know I can take seriously and who are honest in their reviews.  Ten has a slightly lower rating than the above books – 3.89 – but it still makes the cut, and the people I follow really spoke highly of this book.  It’s a horror book (re:  not dystopia) – like one reviewer described it, “Just like my favorite slasher movies from the nineties. All the tropes, all the angst and dramz, and all the mystery.” – and sounds like a good read for a stormy, October evening.  And it looks like I’ll definitely get it in October – I’m patron 1 out of 1.

So, waiting for books that you really want to read is hard to do.  But if you’ve got something to keep you busy in the meantime  – like 4224 pages of Harry Potter – then waiting isn’t so bad.  And because you’re on the list for so long, you’ll probably forget that you were even on the list to begin with, making that “You’re book is now available” email just like getting a surprise Christmas present!  Drinks all around!

Happy reading! (and waiting)!

Posted in Checking Stuff Out, Reading Books

It’s That Special Time of Year

Like many other people in this world, I love fall.  The colors, the smells…it’s all so beautiful and wonderful and such a nice change from summer.  If you live in certain parts of the country, fall is usually when you switch out your t-shirts for sweatshirts, your swimsuits for parkas, your flip-flops for boots.  And if you’re me, fall is usually when I switch out my young adult books for Harry Potter.

I read the Harry Potter books once a year – more specifically, every fall.  It’s like every time September 1st rolls around (it is, of course, the day the Hogwarts Express leaves for Hogwarts), I get the urge to read Harry Potter.  I’ve stated before how during the fall I tend to resort to what I call “comfort reading“, and reading Harry Potter is the ultimate comfort read for me.  And then once the holidays are over, the urge disappears and I usually go back to reading my normal young adult fare, not picking up another Harry Potter book until next fall.

This year, however, I’m going things slightly different.  Because I’ve read my books so many times, a little bit of wear is starting to show.  I even think a couple of pages in my hardback copy of Prisoner of Azkaban are coming loose.  THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.  These books are prized possessions of mine, and I’ll be damned if they ever get ruined!  So this year I decided to check the books out from the library.  I figure since I have no attachment to these particular books, I don’t have to be uber careful with them the way I am with my own.

Last week I checked out the first two, Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.  It was a bit weird opening an unknown copy – you know when you’ve read a certain book so many times that you’ve memorized everything about that copy.  The edition of Sorcerer’s Stone I checked out was the 10th Anniversary edition from 2008, and I noticed right away that the lines were slightly closer together than my first edition copy I have, it didn’t smell the same, and it just felt different in my hands.

I know all this may sound weird to some people.  It’s just a book, right?  It’s not like the words are any different, or the story has changed.  But one of the reasons why I love reading these books every year is for the experience of reading them.  They’re my favorite books in the world, and I’ve come to treasure every little thing about them.

But once I got past the whole “this book doesn’t feel like mine” issue, everything was cool.  I’m about halfway through Chamber of Secrets, and it doesn’t even faze me that I’m holding a library copy that hundreds of other people have held before me.  Rather now I’m thinking that the last person who held this book could have been reading it for the very first time.  What did they think of it?  Did they love it?  Will it mean as much to them as it did – and still does – to me?  Will they go on to read the whole series?

Tonight I head to the library to pick up Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire if it’s there, and although it’ll still feel a little weird checking out books that I already own (seriously, I feel like I have to defend myself to the librarian), I’ll know that at least my cherished copies are safe atop my bookshelves, simply looking pretty.

Posted in Checking Stuff Out, Reading Books

Go to the Library In Your Pajamas

I think we can all agree that going ANYWHERE in public while still wearing pajamas is unacceptable.  Whether it’s Wal-Mart (I’m looking at YOU, people of Wal-Mart) or the movies or Starbucks, you should at least put on something that you didn’t sleep in before stepping out on the town.  Even if you’re really comfortable in those baggy sweat pants and ratty t-shirt from college but you want to go to the library, either get dressed or skip the library.

Or consider this alternative.

As the owner of an iPad, which supports both Kindle and Nook apps, I’ve been known to purchase a few eBooks when they’re on sale for $.99.  And as I’ve stated in a previous post, having books available on an eReader is pretty convenient, especially when you’re traveling and you want to take more than one book with you.  But I’m not one to typically buy the books I read unless, of course, I find them for dirt cheap on Amazon or at a library sale.  Which is why libraries are so awesome, right?

I have a feeling there’s no kids’ section here, though.

Of course there are some downsides to libraries:  Their hours can be somewhat limited.  Some aren’t open on Sundays, and most close early on Fridays and Saturdays.  I usually find that the time I want to go to the library the most is when they’re closed.

Also, when you have an active, somewhat stubborn four-year-old like I do, it’s hard to get in the book-browsing that you really want to get done.  I try to sneak in the Teen Fiction aisle only to get dragged away to the children’s section, leaving no chance for me to find anything for myself.

Fortunately I have recently discovered an alternative to both of those problems:

The eLibrary!

If you have an awesome county library system like I do, then they probably have an online eBooks section on their website where you can check out eBooks and have them sent to your eReader INSTANTLY.  Seriously!  All you need is a library card and a Kindle or iPad, and you can spend your nights in your pajamas searching through thousands of books to check out and read thirty seconds later.  You know how sometimes you think of a book you want to check out the next time you go to the library, only to completely forget about it while you’re there?  Well, now you can check it out (given it’s available) the moment you think of it.  I’ve spent many late nights and lunch hours doing this, and I tell you, it is BRILLIANT.  You still get three weeks to keep the book, and instead of the stress of having to return it on time without any late fees, the eBook simply disappears from your eReader as soon as the three weeks are up.  EASY PEASY.

Of course, as with brick-and-mortar libraries, the eLibrary has its downsides as well.  They don’t have as much selection as regular libraries.  They have a lot, but not always what I’m looking for.  Popular books have long waiting lists.  For example – and this in no way implies that I actually want to read this book; I was simply CURIOUS – the book Fifty Shades of Grey currently has about 1000 people on the waiting list.  Yes, you read that correctly.  ONE-THOUSAND.  At that point you’d think that if someone wanted to read it that badly on their Kindle, they’ll just pay the $9.99 and get it on Amazon that day.

Or you could actually go read something good.

It also takes a while for new books to become available to check out.  You’ll probably have much better luck just going to the actual library and getting it there a few of months after it’s released in stores.  And again, the waiting list for new-ish books is really long.  It just all depends on how badly you want to read it.

But if you’re just looking for books to read and don’t have anything specific in mind, this is definitely a convenient way to do it.  I’ve found a lot of books I had never heard of by just browsing on the website, and because I’m not losing anything by checking it out right then, I can do it.  If I start reading it and decide I don’t want to continue (which happens sometimes), then I can just go to Amazon’s website where is says “Manage Your Kindle” and return the book.  Bam.  Gone.  This comes in handy because through my library system I can only check out 15 items at a time.  If I find a book I really want but I’ve already maxed out my items, I can quickly return one of them at that moment and check out the new one.  No running to the library involved.

An unknown that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Now, I’m only excited about this new discovery because of its convenience.  It will never replace going to the actual library, and I don’t think it ever will.  There’s still something about walking through aisles and opening books to read the inside flap and flip through the pages.  But if it’s late on a Friday night and you decide you want something new to read besides the books on your shelves that you see everyday, then you know where to go.

Posted in Reading Books

The Book Game

So way back in the day, sometime around the late 1980s, kids were very limited in terms of finding ways to entertain themselves.  We didn’t have iPads to play Angry Birds or build our Smurf Villages.  We couldn’t log onto Facebook and write funny messages on our friends’ pages.  Hell, we didn’t have internet.  We had Barbies and Legos.  And I was lucky that my family had a bulky PC where I could play my Carmen Sandiego computer games and an old Nintendo that I could only touch if my brother wasn’t home.

I also had The Book Game.

I like to credit myself with the creation of The Book Game.  It’s a rather simple game in which you and a friend – in my case it was always my bestie Becky – would divvy up all the books on your bookshelf and then would take turns reading the first line of the book.  The other person would then decide – solely based on that one line – if the book sounded interesting.  If it made the cut, it would go into the Round Two pile.  If it didn’t, it went back on the bookshelf.

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

In Round Two we would pick a random page – let’s say page 115 – and we would read the first complete sentence from that page.  This made the game more interesting because a lot of times the sentence didn’t make sense because you would have no idea what’s happening in the book on page 115.  But the judging remained the same – it either goes on to Round Three, or it gets put back on the bookshelf.

“That boy looks pretty healthy to me.”

I honestly don’t really know the point of the game.  We always used my books because I had a crap-load of books as a child, and of course I’m always going to think the book sounds interesting.  That’s why the game took so long to play:  hardly any of them went back on the bookshelf.  But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  I could play The Book Game for hours.  I loved the feeling of opening a book and picking random lines to read, like I was discovering something new despite the fact that I had read that particular Baby-Sitters Club book at least twelve times.  I just loved looking at my books.  That’s what readers are all about.  We just love books.

Lost track of how many times this was read.

As I mentioned, I had a lot of books as a child.  I was lucky to have parents that supported my reading habit and never thought that I had too many.  They never said no to the books I had highlighted in my Scholastic Book Club order form that my teacher handed out every month.  And they always took me to Pizza Hut when I filled up another Book-It button.

I didn’t have very sophisticated reading as a child, but that didn’t matter to me.  I had friends who were reading Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and The Borrowers – books I didn’t read until I was an adult.  My interests lay more in what you would now call the “Favorite Series” section of Barnes and Noble.  The Baby-Sitters Club.  Sweet Valley Twins.  Sleepover Friends.  The Fabulous Five.  The Gymnasts.  American Girl (but only Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly).  I was a series fanatic and looked forward to when the next book would come out.

I also had a lot of random books that I read over and over again as a child but can’t seem to find anywhere these days, not even at library sales.  Books like The Little Gymnast by Sheila Haigh, and Emily and the Green Circle by Mary Kennedy, a lot of books that were part of Scholastic’s Apple Paperbacks.  I would say about 90% of my bookshelf contained Apple Paperbacks.  They looked like this:

 The trademark triangle with the apple next to it.

 I also had a book that I had gotten from my second grade teacher at the end of the year, a book called Claudia by Barbara Brooks Wallace that, to be honest, I never read.  And it never made it to Round Two in the book game, no matter got stuck with it.  However, the book is on Good Reads (a site I spend an infinite amount of time on because it’s one of the few that isn’t blocked at work) and actually has 24 reviews – mostly four and five stars.  Apparently this book helped a lot of girls get through “those awkward adolescent years”.  Which kind of makes me wonder why I got this book when I was eight years old.

Tiny, but this was the cover I had.

Also kind of makes me want to finally read the damn thing.  Too bad I can’t find it anywhere.

I got rid of most of my childhood books before I moved out to CA back in 2001, and I’m sort of regretting it now.  Of course I kept all my Baby-Sitters Club books because, well, they were my life for a long time, and I kept the “Special Editions” and “Super Chillers” of Sweet Valley Twins because they were fun to read.  But every now and then I get this weird urge to pick up a Sleepover Friends book to try figure out why I liked those books so much.  And no library seems to carry any of those old series except for a small handful of BSC and some reissues of SVT.

I truly thought these were awesome.

But just because I don’t have any of those old books anymore doesn’t mean I don’t play The Book Game anymore.  Okay, well, I’m not playing it every weekend like I used to, and I’m not even playing it with another person.  And the last time I did it was probably when I was pregnant and had nothing else to do.  My new version would just be grabbing a stack of books from my bookshelf, picking a number, and writing down the first sentence in my notebook.  Yes, I wasn’t really accomplishing anything.  But I still felt that same love for my books as I did as a kid.  Just opening to an unknown page and discovering something new.

Posted in Reading Books

Adorababble

Call up Mr. Webster, because I’ve just coined a new word:  Adorababble.  You know how when you’re shopping for bags on Etsy and you find so many cute ones that you want but can’t make up your mind, and then just when you think it’s the last cute one you see, you see another one?

That, my friends, is Adorababble.  The cuteness just keeps on coming.

I was a victim of adorababble yesterday while spending some time at the library with my daughter.   I was looking through the children’s picture book section (only because said daughter refused to let me wander on my own), and I discovered this gem:

My first thought was, “HOLYCRAPIMUSTHAVETHISBOOK”.  I mean, look at it.  It is pretty and gorgeous and, most of all, adorable.  Best of all, it has FLAPS.  Who doesn’t love a book with flaps that you can lift, only to discover another picture hidden underneath?

Ah, the joys of children’s books.

There’s no real story in the book, just pictures of a kokeshi doll and her friends and family.  What she wears to school, where she lives, etc.  It also teaches you a handful of Japanese words to use to confuse your friends.  My daughter, unfortunately, got bored after the third time I made her look at it.  I, on the other hand, could look at this thing forever.

I was good with just checking out this one book.  Until I saw another cute one.  You might recognize the style of the cover:

Yes, that is Frankenstein in place of one of my favorite children’s book character, Madeline.  And this story of Frankenstein is written in the same kind of whimsical rhyme that the Madeline books are written, only instead of twelve little girls in two straight lines, you get twelve ugly monsters in two crooked lines.

The pictures are, of course, adorable (sorry, I’ll be using that word a lot in this post), and because the words flow so nicely like a poem, it’s fun to read to kids at night, especially around Halloween.

At this point I tried leaving the picture book section, but my eyes caught another sight.  My knees actually got week at the adorable cuteness of it all:

To be honest I haven’t even read it yet; I’ve just looked at the pictures.  SO CUTE.  Seriously, every time I showed my daughter the pictures my voice automatically jumped up five octaves.  Because apparently you can only accomplish Adorababble with a high, squeaky voice.

But just looking at the pictures I can figure that the story is about a freaking adorable bee who wears a cute pink beanie and has cute friends, all of who are illustrated by Daniel Roode.  But in this case, I don’t even think the story matters.  Seriously.  I just want to tear the pictures out of the book and tape them to my daughter’s wall.

A while back, I wrote about an illustrator named Valeria Docampo whose illustrations are, for lack of a better word, breathtaking.  Well, yesterday I found another book that she’s illustrated, The House At the End of Ladybug Lane.

The story, which is written by Elise Primavera, is cute and, of course, the pictures are GORGE.  And honestly, any book that has a picture of a ladybug wearing glasses is a keeper in my book.  YAY for bugs with faces.

And finally, even though I could have loads more adorababble, I let myself get one more book, this one a movie tie-in for the movie Brave.  Normally I don’t like movie tie-ins because all they are are screenshots from the movie.  But not this one.

OMG, just look at the cover.  Yes, the movie itself looked great, but this?  This is AWESOME.  It’s illustrated by Matt Nolte, who actually served as art director for the movie, so it’s almost like looking at early art concepts before the movie was even made.  And after looking at this book, who doesn’t want another Brave movie to be made, but in this style?  I would totally stand in line for that.

So that’s what happens to me when I’m in the children’s picture book section of the library.  Adorababble.  Every time I think I won’t find another cute book to grab my attention, one does.  And then another.  And then another.

Thank God for libraries.

Posted in Reading Books

The Classics, Or Books I Will Probably Never Read

We all know what books are considered “The Classics”.  Books that were written two hundred years ago, books we’re forced to read in school (though that trend seems to be changing for the better), books that are written in a language so archaic to us now that it seems like we’re actually reading a book in a foreign language.

The thing is, I know these books are probably good in the grand sense of the word.  Obviously if they’ve won awards and have lasted this long, there must be something good about them.  But if I haven’t read them at this point in my life (re: in school), then I probably will never read them.  Let’s talk about a few, shall we?

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Realistically, I’ll probably never read ANY John Steinbeck novels, but this one in particular would probably collect the most dust on my non-existent John Steinbeck shelf.  First off, it sounds rather depressing:  two migrant field workers during the Great Depression – “George Milton, an intelligent but uneducated man, and Lennie Small, a man of large stature and great strength but limited mental abilities” (Wikipedia).  Lennie likes to touch soft things like rabbits on the farm, and of course gets accused of rape when touching a woman’s soft dress.  And then he accidently kills a dog by stroking it too hard.  I’m sorry, I just can’t read this book.  Because poor Lennie gets shot in the head by George “out of love”.  Gaaaahhh….no.  Not for me.

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

People are amazed that I’ve gone 33 years without reading this book.  Seriously, they look at me the same way I look at people who tell me they haven’t read the Harry Potter series.  Of course the people who are amazed are usually people over the age of 50 who were required to read A Tale of Two Cities in school.  Of course I know the first line of the book:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  I know the “two cities” refer to London and Paris and that it takes place before and during the French Revolution.  It’s also the BEST-SELLING BOOK OF ALL-TIME.  I tried reading the “plot” on Wikipedia, and even that lost my interest.  Call me a product of my generation, but I’m much more interested in the adventures of witches and wizards.

The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

Surprised?  You should be.  I mean, this is a story about swashbuckling and seduction and jewelry and beheadings!  This book should be awesome!  Well, I’m sure it is.  But you know what?  It’s like 800 pages long.  And yes, I realize that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has 870 pages.  But that’s Harry Potter.  It’s not filled with French words and names that I don’t understand.  I’m a reader, like some of you, who has gotten rather lazy with reading and simply wants instant gratification.  I don’t want to have to read the same sentence twelve times because I don’t understand what the hell they’re saying.  I can read a book like Order of the Phoenix in a week.  I’m pretty sure it would take me months to read The Three Musketeers only because I would struggle with the language.  Does that make me stupid?  To snobby readers, perhaps.  But I’m just telling it like it is.

Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

Speaking of long novels, let’s talk about this one, which clocks in at around 1,088 pages.  We’re talking 1,088 pages of dystopian government imagery.  Now, I’m all for dystopian stories.  They’re an interesting look at what could happen if we’re not careful.  But this one, which focuses on government and basically “what would happen if the mythological Atlas refused to continue to hold up the world” (wiki).  Metaphorically speaking, of course.  In other metaphorical words, what would happen if I opened the book and fell asleep.  Yeah, it sounds boring.  It’s probably interesting, I’m sure, to some people.  But it’s probably one of those books you have to be in the right mood for, and unfortunately I don’t think my mood will ever warrant a night in with Atlas Shrugged.

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

In 2009, Newsweek magazine ranked War and Peace number ONE in its list of Top 100 Books.  And to that I ask, “WHAT ARE YOU COMPARING IT TO???”  Seriously, this thing reads like a textbook.  Trust me.  I’ve tried.  Tolstoy once said, according to the always reliable Wikipedia, that the book was “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle.”  Even Tolstoy himself didn’t know what the hell he was writing.  In a tiny little nutshell, he was writing about the French invasion of Russia and the surrounding events.  There are lots of characters in the book with notoriously long Russian names that you can’t remember, let alone pronounce, and those characters and surrounding events take up 1,440 pages.  Which yes, I know, is like reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix back-to-back.  But again, that’s Harry Potter.  It has witches and wizards and wands and wonderfullness.  War and Peace is simply war…peace…Russia…long names.

Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

If you were to Google the 100 Best Books of All Time, you would find this one at the top, as it’s been cited as the “best literary work ever written”.  The plot, I admit, sounds fun.  This guy named Alonso Quijano apparently spends all his time reading books about chivalry.  He thinks it’s pretty cool.  He then decides to try bring chivalry back by calling himself Don Quixote and going on all sorts of crazy adventures with his Squire, Sancho.  Sounds good, right?  Well, the crappy thing?  It was written in 1605.  I’m not going to understand a single word of it.  Cliff’s Notes, anyone?

There are lots of “classics” out there that I could write about, but this post would end up being longer than War and Peace.  If I were to go down the list of the 100 Best Books of All Time by the Modern Library, I’ve read five of them.  FIVE.  Four of them were for school: Old Man and the Sea, The Brothers Karamosov, A Doll’s House, and Hamlet.  One book I read on my own.  That book?  Pippi Longstocking.

This doesn’t mean that I haven’t read any “good” books.  I just think it means that the people making these so-called “Best Of” lists are of a different generation.  Who knows what will make up these lists twenty years down the road.  Will we see Harry Potter?  Will we see anything by J.R.R. Tolkien?  Neil Gaimon?  Does The Hunger Games have lasting power the same way A Tale of Two Cities does?

Will this ever make the cut?

Time will tell, I suppose.  Until then, I’ll read the books I want to read.  They can make all the lists they want, but only I can say what I consider to be “The Best”.

Posted in Living Life, Reading Books

Bookshelves

As I mentioned earlier this week, I can no longer “steal” pictures from the interwebs that don’t belong to me.  This doesn’t necessarily take much away from my blog – it just means I have to be a little more creative in providing visual content.

So while I spent the day cleaning my apartment, I decided to take some pictures for a blog post about bookshelves.  More specifically, my bookshelves.

I have five bookshelves in my apartment, all filled with books.  I probably have too many – shelves and books – but it’s just one of the things I like to collect.  I love checking out books from the library, but there’s nothing like the look of bookshelves lining your walls.

Like the weirdo geek I am, I try to keep each bookshelf categorized, though I admit they’re not as organized as I’d like them to be.   This one above contains mostly fiction books, the top shelf lined with my Laura Ingalls and Harry Potter collection, and The Series of Unfortunate Events right below them.  All of my Roald Dahl hardcovers are also located on this bookshelf.

The bottom shelf contains my husband’s Time Life Books collection of Mysteries of the Unknown (27 books total).  They’re seriously awesome yet seriously creepy books that you can spend hours looking at if you’re not afraid to open your mind a little bit.

On the opposite wall we have another bookshelf filled with mostly random fiction, if you exclude the top shelf that contains Blu-Rays and DVDs.

There’s absolutely no organization to this shelf.  This is usually where the random “just picked up from the used book sale” book ends up.  Plus, there’s also these:

If you love history, Scotland, romance, and time travel, then you’ll probably love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  If you have the means, I highly recommend picking them up.  They’re so choice.*

*Copyright Ferris Bueller

Like the previous bookshelf, the bottom shelf also contains a large, heavy, and old set of encyclopedias – though they’re way more fun than your average ‘pedia…

Best encyclopedia ever, right?  And even though they’re way outdated, they’re tons of fun to look at.  Twenty books in all, they’re a great way to spend a rainy afternoon with the kids.  Or alone.  With wine.  Whatever.

I apologize for this next bookshelf.  It’s quite messy and probably the least-visited bookshelf in the place.

The top three shelves are full of non-fiction books:  cookbooks, movie books, dictionaries, etc.  The bottom two shelves contain old photo albums, DVD wallets, and board games.  Sometimes I call this bookshelf “The Husband’s Shelf” because he tends to throw his stuff there.  There is, however, a seriously cool book on this shelf.

Not much I can say about this other than “Star Wars Porn”.  Seriously.  The mother-load.  Right there.

After this we head in to my bedroom (well, it’s my husbands, too, but mostly mine) where I have my very own bookshelf devoted strictly to young adult books.  I’m sure my husband thought he was being nice by letting me do this, but I know it’s because he was slightly embarrassed about my obscene collection of young adult reading.

Here you will find books such as The Princess Diaries series, the Twilight saga, and other random teen books about paranormal romance and quirky characters.  For some reason this bookshelf makes me smile whenever I enter the room, like, “Wow, all these awesome books are mine!  I have my own teen section of a pretend library!”

And even though these aren’t considered “teen” books, it does contain this wonderful, enchanting series:

What is Moomintroll?  Where is Moominvalley?  Who is Moominpappa?  Well, you’ll just have to read them to find out.  If you like intellectual, heartfelt creatures and Finland, then you’ll fall in love with the world of Moomins.

The last bookshelf in the house is located in my daughter’s room.  She’s four years old and has lots of books about princesses and, well, princesses.  But she has more than just Golden Books and Easy Readers.  She’s also got some pretties that I tend to look at more then she does.

Jealous.  Yeah, I kind of am, too.

So that’s our little library in our little apartment, which I consider to be the heart of the place.  I look at these bookshelves and I see me and my little family and everything that we love.  They’re what make our home our home.  I’ve heard people say, “Oh, you have too many books!”  Or “Have you even read all of these?”  “Ever heard of a library?”  And I say to them…

“They’re books.  Does it matter?”

Happy reading!

Posted in Reading Books, The Awesome 13, Watching Movies

The Awesome 13 – Harry Potter

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since the last Harry Potter movie was released in theaters.  Not only that, but it’s been five years since the last book came out.  And one more thing…it’s been fifteen years since the very first book was published.

So even though Harry has been out of our lives for a year (or five years if you’re one who only cares about the books), he’s been a part of our lives for fifteen years.  There have been amazing moments in the books and movies (and unlike some people, I am a true fan of both), and I’m here today to bring the top 13 things about Harry Potter.

13.  Harry Gets His Wand (Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone)

When Harry finds out that he’s a wizard, he’s a bit confused and overwhelmed, and the whole idea of being a wizard after enduring 11 years of torture from his extended family still seems so farfetched to him, even as he walks through Diagon Alley with friend / mentor / half-giant Hadrid.  But then he goes into Ollivander’s Wand Shop and everything falls into place.

There’s the moment where after a few unsuccessful tries at different wands when Ollivander suddenly knows…he knows exactly which wand is meant for Harry, and when Harry holds that 11” wand made of holly with the core of a Phoenix feather, we ALL know.

“I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter…. After all, He-Who-Must- Not-Be-Named did great things — terrible, yes, but great.”

12.  The Unexpected Ally (Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix / Deathly Hallows)

I’m lumping three different moments into this one because they’re all sort of related.  In Order of the Phoenix there’s a moment where Harry’s aunt and uncle – Vernon and Petunia – are about to throw Harry out of the house because he’s being an annoying magical teenager until Petunia receives a howler (a very loud letter) from Dumbledore. And suddenly Petunia won’t let Harry leave.

“Remember my last, Petunia.” 

We’re pretty sure the letter was meant to remind Petunia about the last letter that Dumbledore sent her, which was attached to baby Harry when he was left on her doorstep, telling her that she must raise him as her own.  We also get the feeling that maybe evil Aunt Petunia cares for Harry a little more than we’re meant to think.

And then there’s the moment (also, like above, not in the movies) in Deathly Hallows where Harry is leaving his home for the last time before going off and looking for horcruxes and evil dark lords.  Vernon and Petunia get in the car without really saying goodbye (though in the movie we do get a shot of Petunia sitting in the car looking rather torn), but suddenly Dudley – the boy who’s harassed Harry his whole life – walks over and shakes his hand, thanking him for saving his life from the Dementors two years ago.  It’s a touching moment when you realize that Dudley really sees Harry as a brother, not just a punching bag.

“I don’t think you’re a waste of space.”

“Thanks”.

Finally there’s a small moment towards the end of Deathly Hallows after Voldemort’s and Harry’s duel when everyone thinks that Harry has died.  He’s lying on the ground, and when Draco’s mom Narcissa walks over to him, Voldemort asks her if he’s dead.  Narcissa bends down, sees that Harry is in fact alive, and instead of calling him out, she quietly asks him if Draco is all right.  While this doesn’t fully prove that Narcissa cares for Harry, it proves that she’s a mom and that her son is the most important thing in the world to her and that she’d rather have the peace of mind that her son is alive than Harry dead.

“Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?” The whisper was barely audible, her lips were an inch from his car, her head bent so low that her long hair shielded his face.

11.  Harry and Lupin (Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban)

Harry meets Remus Lupin at the start of his third year when Lupin becomes the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.  He soon finds out that Lupin was a close friend of his dad’s, and because of that Harry suddenly sees Professor Lupin as someone he can trust and confide in even more so than Dumbledore, as the first adult he’s been able to truly trust outside of Hagrid.

He develops a bond with Lupin that seems to connect him to his deceased father, a bond we don’t see again until he meets Sirius.  And the scenes that reflect this both in the book and the movie show us just how much Harry needs a father figure in his life.  Plus Lupin is the one who taught him “Expelliarmus!”, which proves to be one of the most useful spells Harry will use.

“The very first time I saw you Harry, I recognized you immediately. Not by your scar, by your eyes. They’re your mother; Lily’s. Yes, I knew her. You mother was there for me at a time when no one else was. Not only was she a singularly gifted witch, she was also an uncommonly kind woman. She had a way of seeing the beauty in others, even, and perhaps most especially, when that person couldn’t see it in themselves. Your father, James, however, had a certain, shall we say, talent for trouble.  A talent, rumor has it, he passed onto you. You’re more like them then you know, Harry. In time you’ll come to see just how much.”

10.  Harry and Hermione Dance (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows)

This small scene doesn’t appear in the books, and was simply added into the first Deathly Hallow movie as a tension breaker.  But’s so much more than a way to break the tension.  Harry and Hermione are on the run, hiding, and Ron has left them after a rather large argument between him and Harry.  Hermione is depressed because she loves Ron, and Harry is frustrated – not only because his best friend is gone, but because he doesn’t know where to look next for those damn horcruxes.

The radio is playing music, and suddenly Harry, seeing how miserable Hermione is, gets up and makes Hermione dance with him.  She’s reluctant, but she joins in and they end up laughing, and yes, for a moment you think that maybe there’s someone else between the two of them, but you quickly realize that there’s not.  Harry and Hermione are best friends, they’ve been through a lot of crappy stuff together, and they’re going to stick together even though this.  But the absence of Ron is so overwhelming in this scene, and you can see it on both their faces.  It’s a scene that’s both uplifting and heartbreaking (as is everything about Harry Potter, but whatever).

9.  The Yule Ball (Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire)

What I love so much about this movie isn’t the fact that there’s a huge tournament going on at the school, or that Voldemort is back.  It’s that this movie captures what it’s like to start growing up, what it’s like to suddenly be teenagers and have complicated feelings about other people.  And what better way to experience all of that than at a dance!  The Yule Ball showcases teenagers at their best – the dancing, the swooning, the crying – and makes you realize that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a witch or wizard or muggle.  You still all go through the same ups and downs as any other 14-year-old.

“The Yule Ball is of course a chance for us all to – er – let our hair down.”

8.  Harry Rides Buckbeak (Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban)

Things start to change in Harry’s world once he starts his third year.  He’s used to his magic ability now – the wizarding world isn’t a novelty anymore.  He’s becoming a little more confident in himself.  But he’s still a 13-year-old boy, and things are still confusing.  He hates his aunt and uncle enough to walk out on them and catch a ride on the Knight Bus.  He hates the fact that he passes out every time a Dementor comes around.  He hates that he doesn’t have an adult figure to confide in.  And he hates Draco Malfoy more than ever.

When Harry has the opportunity to ride the new hippogriff at school Buckbeak, he’s a little apprehensive.  But as soon as he lifts off he suddenly feels absolute freedom.  For those few minutes, all of his problems disappear and he’s able to just enjoy life the way he knows he’ll never really be able to do.  It’s a liberating moment for him and for us as well, because all we want is for him to feel truly free.

7.  Cedric Dies (Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire)

If Prisoner of Azkaban is considered the one where things began to change, then Goblet of Fire is the one where shiz gets real.  The Triwizard Tournament is a huge event.  Students coming to visit from other wizarding schools is a huge deal.  And the fact that freaking He Who Must Not Be Named has come back is pretty much the end of the world.

And then we meet Cedric.  Sweet, honest, loyal Cedric Diggory, the boy from Hufflepuff who only want to play fair in a tournament rife with danger.  And when he and Harry decide to call it a tie and grab the Triwizard Cup at the end of The Maze together, we think, “Oh, what a great boy, that Cedric Diggory.  I’m really glad they’re both going to win.”

And then they’re swept off to a cemetery by means of a portkey where they run into Wormtail and a fetus-looking Voldemort, who orders Wormtail to do his worst.

“Kill the spare.”

And Cedric dies.

This is the first death that occurs in J.K. Rowling’s books (outside of Harry’s parents, of course, which we only see through memories), and it was a huge deal at the time.  Someone gets murdered in a kids book???  But you know what?  It had to happen.  It’s Voldemort, for Pete’s sake.  This is what he does.  As depressing as it was, Cedric had to die, if only to prove that Voldemort must be defeated at all costs.

“Remember Cedric Diggory”

6.  A Young Tom Riddle (Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince)

We first meet Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets as a 16-year-old memory from an old diary who reveals himself to Harry and Ginny as a way of trying to defeat Harry again.  It’s a great introduction to Tom Riddle, who will later become Voldemort, but it doesn’t come close to the young Tom Riddle we meet in Half-Blood Prince.

In a memory collected from Dumbledore’s pensieve, we see Dumbledore meet Tom Riddle for the first time at the orphanage in which he grew up.  He’s 11 years old and – just like Harry – is unaware that he’s a wizard, though he knows there is something different about him.  He’s done some bad things at school, but he’s still innocent.  We know he grows up to be The Dark Lord, but for those fleeting moments at the orphanage you want to believe that he’ll turn out differently.

“I can make animals do what I want without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who are mean to me.  I can make them hurt.”

5.  Snape’s Memory (Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix)

Because they’ve discovered a connection between Harry’s and Voldemort’s minds, Professor Snape has been asked to give Harry lessons in Occlumency, which will protect Harry from Voldemort reading his mind.  Harry fails miserably at first, and Snape keeps on harassing him and belittling him until suddenly Harry gets angry and fights back and finds a way to get into Snape’s mind.

We’re suddenly watching Snape’s memories of Harry’s father James, along with his friends Sirius and Lupin, and how they made fun of Snape as a teenager at Hogwarts, and how they would play tricks on him, including the trick that almost killed Snape.  We get a tiny piece of backstory on Snape that we never imagined, as well as insight to James and how Harry feels about him.  Snape is suddenly fleshed out, and Harry becomes more confused and angry than ever.

“Suddenly Harry’s mind was teeming with memories that were not his — a hook-nosed man was shouting at a cowering woman, while a small dark-haired boy cried in a corner…. A greasy-haired teenager sat alone in a dark bedroom, pointing his wand at the ceiling, shooting down flies…. A girl was laughing as a scrawny boy tried to mount a bucking broomstick.”

4. The Epilogue (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows)

A lot of people are split on how they feel about the epilogue of Deathly Hallows, about whether they felt it was necessary or not.  Well, I can’t imagine NOT wanting to know how things end up for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and while we won’t know everything, the epilogue gives us a tiny snippet at the future lives of our beloved threesome.

We see Harry and Ginny, happily married with their children on the first day of Hogwarts for their son Albus Severus, we see Ron and Hermione with their children, and we even see Draco acknowledge Harry at the train station, as they have an understanding now.  Albus is scared to leave, and it’s not until Harry explains to him why he was named after Severus Snape (aka SNAPE), you really get to see how far Harry has come in his life.

“What if I’m in Slytherin?”  The whisper was for his father alone, and Harry knew that only the moment of departure could have forced Albus to reveal how great and sincere that fear was.  Harry crouched down so that Albus’s face was slightly above his own. Alone of Harry’s three children, Albus had inherited Lily’s eyes.  “Albus Severus,” Harry said quietly, so that nobody but Ginny could hear, and she was tactful enough to pretend to be waving to Rose, who was now on the train, “you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew.”

3.  Harry and Ron’s Argument (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows)

After finding the cursed necklace – a horcrux which they must destroy – Ron holds on to it for safe keeping.  But because this necklace is cursed, it drives its owner slowly mad.  Suddenly it takes over Ron, who becomes angry at Harry for leading them on this pointless journey to find the other horcruxes.  All Ron cares about is making sure that his family is dead, and he accuses Harry of not understanding that because his family is already dead.

The dialogue and the emotion between the two best friends is so strong and powerful that it’s almost hard to watch (or read).  Here are two boys who have been together at Hogwarts from the beginning.  They’ve been through deadly wizard’s chess games, a chamber of secrets, a Whomping Willow, and a werewolf attack together, and suddenly you feel this hate coming from Ron, when all you want them to do is hug and make up.  Of course Ron gets angry enough to leave, which makes you realize how evil the power of the dark side can be.  And we’re just left feeling empty inside.

“Well then, I’m sorry, but I don’t quite understand. What part of this isn’t living up to your expectations? Did you think we were gonna be staying in a five-star hotel? Finding a Horcrux every other day? You thought you’d be back with your mum by Christmas?”

I just thought after all this time we would have actually achieved something! I thought you knew what you were doing! I thought Dumbledore would’ve told you something worthwhile! I thought you had a plan!”

“I told you everything Dumbledore told me! And in case you haven’t noticed, we have found a Horcrux already.”

Yeah and we’re about as close to getting rid of it as we are to finding the rest of them, aren’t we?  You know why I listen to that radio every night? To make sure I don’t hear Ginny’s name. Or Fred, or George, or Mum—“

What, you think I’m not listening too? You think I don’t know how this feels?!”

“No, you don’t know how it feels! Your parents are dead! You have no family!”

2.  Dumbledore Dies (Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince)

Obviously this is a huge moment in the books and movies.  Dumbledore is the most important person in Harry’s life, and when he sees Dumbledore dies by Snape’s wand, his world comes crashing down.  It’s a majorly depressing scene in the book, and made even more depressing on film as everyone at Hogwarts holds their lit wands up to light up the sky for their fallen Headmaster.

It’s not fair – everyone he has loved – his parents, Sirius, and Dumbledore – has left him, and now he’s out for blood.  He’s determined to do what he can to finish what Dumbledore started and to finally defeat The Dark Lord.  It was another one those “OMG HE DIES???”” moments that began with Cedric and continued on with Sirius and then multiple others in Deathly Hallows, but it’ll always be Dumbledore’s death that gets us the most.

Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face.

SeverusPlease…”

Snape raised his wand and pointed it directly at Dumbledore. “Avada Kedavra!”

1.  Snape and Lily (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows)

Omigosh, this scene.  This scene nearly killed me in the book, and drove me to tears in the movie.  Voldemort has just attacked Snape, and when Harry finds him he’s close to death.  Snape montions for Harry to collect a tear from him, aka a memory, to put into the pensieve.

And then Snape dies.

But that’s not the sad part.  When Harry drops the memory into Dumbledore’s pensieve, we see how Snape became friends with a young Lily Evans before she met James Potter.  We see the two of them start Hogwarts together as best friends, we see them get sorted into different houses (Lily to Gryffindor, Snape to Slytherin), and we see them start to grow apart.  Snape delves deeper into learning about dark arts, Lily meets James.  But Snape never stops loving Lily, even when she marries James and has a baby boy named Harry.

Because of his love for Lily even after her death, Snape has promised to keep Harry safe even though he represents all that he hates.  Everything that Snape has done over the past six years since Harry entered Hogwarts has been for him, all from his love for Lily.  It’s the best scene in all seven books and eight movies, and it shows that Severus Snape is one of the best characters ever written.

Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
“For him?” shouted Snape.
Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.”

The Harry Potter series is one the biggest series of all time, and there’s a reason for that.  For J.K. Rowling, the timing was perfect, and something about the books struck a chord with audiences everywhere.  There are hundreds of books out there about witches and wizards, but none of them can come close to the characters, the stories, and the world that Rowling has created, and to her I owe so much.  I will love these books forever.

And trying to pick out only 13 awesome moments of them was REALLY hard to do.

Posted in Reading Books, Writing Stuff Down

What’s Wrong with Fan Fiction?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with fan fiction.

Nothing.

Ever since fan fiction started to gain popularity in the late 90s (re: the dawn of the internet), it’s earned a bad reputation.  “It’s not real writing.”  “It’s not original.”  “It’s plagiarism.”  “It’s a waste of time.”  But to someone who loves to write and is a fan of a lot of things, I stand here today to defend the writers of fan fiction, aka “fanfic” and to reassure them that what they’re doing should be appreciated and respected.

Fanfic is exactly what it sounds like:  fictional stories created by fans of a certain published work.  For example, there are thousands of fanfic stories that take place in the world of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, and other such works.  Some writers stay within that world, and some do crossovers, for instance, having Frodo stumble upon Hogwarts on his way to Mordor.  Fanfic usually refers to written stories, but it also may apply to artwork.

Admittedly, a lot of fanfic is ridiculous (not to mention filled with spelling and grammatical errors).  I would probably never seek out fanfic devoted to Legolas erotica, nor would I want to read about “a very special relationship” between Batman and Superman.  But there’s some fanfic out there that I find truly interesting.  I follow a blogger who does mostly Harry Potter fanfic based on the backstories of the original Hogwarts founders.  To me that’s interesting because it’s something that no one knows about except for J.K. Rowling, because we can make up our own backstories to enrich the stories that much more.

And that’s basically what fanfic is.  It’s a way for us to either extend a world that we love so much that might have ended too soon, or it’s a way for us to insert parts we felt were missing from the story.  You wanted Aang to hook up with Toph in Avatar: The Last Airbender?  Write it yourself!  It’s like imagining “what could have been” and just having fun with it.

I’ve never really written true fanfic – I’ve never even dared writing a story that takes place at Hogwarts or that takes place where Firefly left off – not because I have no interest in it, but because it seems like such a daunting task.  Not only would I be meddling in something that’s already fantastic, but I would really have to know my shiz.  You can’t just start writing fanfic based on Lord of the Rings just because you liked the movies.  You have to know a TON about every character and the story just so what you’re writing actually makes sense.  And trust me, people who read fanfic on the internet will let you know after the first paragraph whether you’re half-assing it or not.

How I began writing twenty years ago, however, was taking certain actors that I liked at the time and writing about their personal life intertwining with my main character.  One example would be my character meeting Matt Damon before he became a big star and then they get together and he basically lives his real life, just alongside a fictional character that I created.  I wrote a similar story revolving around Orlando Bloom while he was in drama school before Lord of the Rings came around.  I guess you can say it was like “real life fanfic”.  Completely fictional based on real-life events.  Like Lifetime movies.  But still fanfic.

Fanfic writers will most likely never get published, though there are certain authors who absolutely do not allow anyone to write fanfic on websites like FanFiction.net, like Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire) and George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones).  Other authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, however, support the art of fanfic and seem to encourage it among their fans (though I wonder what Rowling thinks of all the Harry/Draco shippers out there).

So what are the most popular brands of fanfic that people are writing?  On Fanfiction.net, the number one fanfic work based on movies is Star Wars, followed by Pirates of the Caribbean and High School Musical.  The top three TV shows generating fanfic are GleeSupernatural, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  And when it comes to books themselves, the big three are Harry Potter, Twilightand Lord of the Rings.  No big surprises, though I’m a little shocked to see Newsies in the top ten.  Looks like I wasn’t the only one who knew its potential!

A lot of people don’t see fanfic as legitimate writing, which I think is crap.  So it’s usually not the best writing in the world.  But you know what?  Writing is writing.  I don’t care if you’re writing in your diary about your day, blogging about arts and crafts, or writing a story about Loki (like my co-worker is currently doing).  If you’re writing, your brain is working.  If you’re writing, you’re using your imagination.  If you’re writing, you’re creating.  And that’s what’s most important.

So don’t feel like you’re less than a writer if you like to write fanfic.  What do you think all those fairy tale retellings are?  They’re fanfic in its purest form.  If you like to write it, keep on writing and don’t stop.  Because sometimes a different point of view is all we need to fully understand and appreciate a story that we already love.

Happy reading and writing, fans!

Posted in Reading Books

Where For Art Thou, Books?

I love libraries.  I love the fact that I can check out any book for free, return it when I’m done, and check out more.  For someone who loves to read as much as I do, it’s a great way to save money.  If I bought every book I read, I would be so broke that I would be living on the streets.  With nowhere to put all my books.

There is one thing, however, that drives me crazy.  The book I need isn’t there!!!!  For example, let’s say I start a new series of books.  A trilogy.  I check out the first book, I love it.  I go back to get the second book…and it’s not there.  I check another library.  It’s not there.  I go back three days later to see if maybe the book had been returned.

And it’s not there.

This happens to me a lot.  And I know what you’re probably saying.  If you want to read the book that badly, just go and buy it.  Well, yes, I could do that.  But then I would have this random book all by itself on my bookshelf without the other books in the series to go with it.  It would be like buying Eclipse but not owning Twilight or New Moon.  And I’m way too type A to deal with that.

I’m not saying I’ve never done it.  I bought The Hunger Games a long time ago.  It took me about six months to finally get around to reading it.  Of course once I read it, I needed the second book, like, yesterday.  I went to three libraries – none of them had it.  I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for it, so I ended up buying both Catching Fire and Mockingjay from Amazon.  But it was okay since I already owned the first book.

On top of sequels that I’m waiting for, there are other books that I’ve wanted to read for a while that I just haven’t been able to find at any library.  So if there are any libraries out there reading this, here is my wish list.

Fever by Lauren Destefano

I read the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy, Wither, last July and I loved it.  It’s a dystopian book where everyone dies when they reach the age of 25.  I was super excited for the next book to come out in February, and although I knew I would have to wait a little bit for libraries to carry the book after its release, I didn’t think I’d be waiting this long.

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Another teen dystopian book that surprised me.  I bought it at Borders when they were closing for $2.99, and even though I didn’t know anything about it, I couldn’t pass up a good deal.  Turns out I ended up loving it and reading it in just one day.  In this dystopian world people get the “love gene” removed from their brains at age 18 because people have come to realize that love is a fatal disease that kills people.  The first book in the series, Delirium, ended on a total cliffhanger – one that actually made me yell “WHAT????” really loud when I finished, and I couldn’t wait for the next book to come out in February.  Well, like Fever, I knew I had to wait.  I’m currently on the waiting list to check out the book in ebook form from the library, but there are 16 people before me.

The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa

Unlike the previous books on this list, The Iron Daughter has been out for a couple of years.  It’s the second book in The Iron Fey series, a series that I couldn’t even find until I moved to Minnesota.  I’m serious – I couldn’t even find it in bookstores in California.  I finally found it here, and read the first book, The Iron King, a few weeks ago.  Ever since then, however, all I’ve been able to find are books three and four.  I need book two.  I certainly can’t read the third and fourth books without reading the second.  This one is particularly frustrating because those two other books are staring at me every time I go to the library, taunting me that they’re available and the second one is nowhere to be found.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

This book is actually the first book of a series written last year, and I really hadn’t heard anything about it until Goodreads did their annual Book Awards and Divergent was voted best book of 2011.  I don’t know much about it except that it’s a dystopian novel set in Chicago and will apparently become a movie.  I didn’t really know anything about it because I never saw it at the library, and guess what?  Still haven’t seen it.

Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

I checked out the first two books of the Caster Chronicles series, Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness, from the library at the same time and read them back-to-back right around the same time that the third book came out in stores.  That was back in October of 2011, and since then I haven’t been able to find Beautiful Chaos anywhere.  The books are written from the point of view of a teenage boy, which was new to me, but that’s one of the reasons why I love the books so much.  So…Beautiful Chaos…library…any day now.

I know that eventually I will find these books.  I just have to be patient.  In the meantime there are plenty of other books to keep me occupied from the library for which I’m eternally grateful.  Because without the library, I would be lost.

Posted in Reading Books

It’s A Mystery to Me

Since I’m an avid reader, I’ll pretty much read any type of genre of books.  Children’s, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, horror, even some non-fiction if the subject is interesting.

But there’s one genre that I just cannot get into, no matter how many times I try.  The Mystery Novel.

This has never made sense to me.  I like mysteries.  I like the whole “whodunit” nature of a story in movies and TV shows, so you would think I would enjoy reading about them.  But I just can’t.

For example, I always stumble upon a quaint and sometimes adorable mystery series at the library.  I say “quaint” and “adorable” because the author has taken an everyday activity like sewing or cooking and created a mystery around it, usually some kind of murder.  They call the series something like “A Victorian Equestrian Mystery” or “A Coffee Shop Mystery” and put an adorable cover on the book, like a sheet of cookies and a glass of milk…with a bloody knife next to it.

Look closely.  The gingerbread man’s head is missing.

These books are always set in adorable, cozy little villages with names like Cabot Cove or Three Pines where everyone knows everyone, therefore anyone could be the killer!  And there’s always a bunch of kooky characters that give the book some charm and wit, even though I struggle to find that when I try to read them.  Oh, and don’t forget the clever puns that make up the book’s title, like Sew Deadly and Bookmarked for Death.

This one is particularly frightening.

I found a great website that covers all things mystery called The Cozy Mystery, and it goes through every type of “cozy” mystery that has ever been written.  They even break down the themes for you, so if you’re in the mood for a culinary mystery, you know which ones to look for.  Here are some of the different themes you might encounter:

British-English Cozy Mysteries

Historical Mysteries

Animal Mysteries (kittens, dogs, horses, birds, pet stores, veterinarian)

And they’re magical, too!

Culinary Mysteries

Paranormal Mysteries (ghosts, psychics, vampires/werewolves, witches)

Vacation Mysteries

Holiday Mysteries

Hobby Mysteries (Antiquing, camping, beading, candle/soap-making, crossword puzzles, gardening, needlework, golfing, Sudoku)

Ha ha…I get it.

Professional/Career Mysteries (accountants, bookstore owners, dancers, librarians, photographers, teachers)

Basically mystery writers leave no stone unturned.  I guess the good thing is that the books are specialized enough where a reader will be able to find something to which they can relate.  I see these books at bookstores and think, “Oh, I love tea!  I bet I would love this series.”  Or, “Jane Austen as a 19th century mystery detective?  That sounds awesome!  Why wouldn’t I love these books?”

Sounds deadly fun.

And then I check some out at the library, convincing myself that they’re going to be just as quaint and exciting as the cover and title…and they never are.  It’s always such a let-down, too, because to me they had so much potential.  The cute hobby, the tempting cover…the boring plotline.

I tried reading the first Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron because a) I liked the cover, and b) I liked the idea of Jane running solving mysteries while she’s writing some of her greatest work.

I got through the first one, but it took an excruciatingly long time to finish, and I started to dread reading the second one (I was so optimistic about the series that I checked out the first three at the same time).  I started the second one, read maybe two chapters, and then gave up and went back to Lord of the Rings.

I let a few months go by until I started another mystery series, this one called The Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle.  Again, I was attracted by the cover and subject matter and actually got through two of them before getting bored and going back to Harry Potter.

Now with coffee-making tips!

The last mystery series I tried was about five years ago when I picked up the first book of The Lady Georgiana Mysteries by Rhys Bowen, Her Royal Spyness, which takes place in 1930s London.  I was actually really surprised that I enjoyed it.  I actually enjoyed reading it!  Maybe it was because the heroine was closer to my age and was likable and feisty, and 1930s London seems like a pretty awesome time period.

And of course I loved the cover.

I read the second one, A Royal Pain, which I also enjoyed, and I really thought that this series would break down the wall between me and the mystery genre.  I thought that after this series, I would start to like all the other mysteries I read, therefore opening a whole world of new books for me to read.

Could this break the spell?

It didn’t happen.  I never read the third book because when I finished the second one, the third one hadn’t been published yet.  And then I eventually forgot about it, moved on to other books, and haven’t touched a mystery book since.

I tell myself it’s because I’m not a 60-year-woman.  Have you ever noticed that older women love to read mysteries?  I used to go to book sales with my mother-in-law, and the only authors she would look for were Patricia Cornwell or Janet Evanovich and other mainstream authors.  And then she would trade them with her friends.

Why are these women reading mysteries and not romances?  Why aren’t they reading biographies or classics?  Does this mean that once I turn 60 I’m finally going to realize what the fuss is all about?  Am I going to find that mystery series about blogging and think, “Oh, well, here’s a series for me”…and then devour it?

I guess I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.  For now – unless I find one that truly grabs me and keeps me interested for more than one book – I’m staying away.

Sticking to this.

Happy reading!

Posted in Reading Books, Teenage Obsession

Teenage Obsession: Fear Street

Some of you may know that it takes a lot to get teenagers to read.  That’s why paranormal teen romances are so popular.  They take ordinary teens out of this world and make fantastical things happen to them.  Authors tend to add the “shock factor” to their books to keep teens hooked and reading, or they’ll make their vampires sparkly and wonderful so that teen girls swoon and start comparing every guy they know to sparkly vampires.  They make them want more.

That being said, teen paranormal romances aren’t a new concept in today’s world.  Stephenie Meyer may have made them popular, but rewind about twenty years and I was reading the same kind of books (without the sparkles, though).  The trend in the early 90s, however, wasn’t faeries and shape-shifters and magic.

IT WAS TEEN HORROR.

Back in middle school, I devoured books written by R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike.  They were the leaders of teen horror fiction during that time, with Stine’s Fear Street series and Christopher Pike’s numerous novels about everything from baby-sitters being stalked to ski weekends gone horribly wrong.

Somehow I don’t think this party ended well.

I loved these books as a 13-year-old because they were exciting.  They were realistic, but unrealistic enough to not freak the hell out of me.  Yes, I understand that my boyfriend could turn out to be a crazy person getting revenge for his dead ex-girlfriend, but that most likely wasn’t going to happen.

The Fear Street books were all written the same – get to know the character, nice things happen, then weird things start to happen, then really bad things happen.  Each chapter ended with a cliffhanger, which kept you reading until you finished the book.  And since none of the books were very long, it usually only took a couple of hours.

I would branch out a bit while I waiting for the next Fear Street book to come out (there was usually one a month, as opposed to one every 2-3 years, Ms. Rowling), reading such authors as A. Bates, L.J. Smith, Diane Hoh, and Richie Tankersley Cusick.  Their books were always readily available through the Scholastic Book Club, and apparently my parents didn’t have a problem with me ordering books called Chain Letter and Funhouse.

Not fun.

But the Fear Street books were definitely my favorite, having reread them more than once, usually during the summer when I liked to stay up past midnight and scare myself silly.  In addition to the 52 books of the original series (you can read one a week for a year!), R.L. Stine also wrote 13 “Super Chillers”, three Fear Street Cheerleaders books (which are actually ridiculously fun), and the Fear Street Saga books which, admittedly, I never read.

They take place in olden times.

There were certain Fear Street books that I tended to read more than others, those usually being the ones about Halloween or summer camps.  Why?  I have no idea.  I was a weird kid.  Some of my favorites included the following:

The New Girl – The first book in the series.  Anna moves to Fear Street in Shadyside and then suddenly mysteriously vanishes.  Is Fear Street that crappy?  Why would she leave?  It’s not like anything had has happened on Fear Street in the past…

The Halloween Party – Why were they invited?  Why did the lights go out?  Why does that guy have a knife sticking out of his back?  And more!

The Stepsister – First Jessie takes over Emily’s room, then she starts wearing her clothes, and then she has the nerve to use Emily’s own private phone to make late-night calls?  What’s she gonna do next, KILL HER?

Lights Out – Weird things are going on at Camp Nightwing, including vandalism and someone leaving around a bunch of red feathers.  Holly is afraid someone is out to destroy the camp…and her.  Duh duh dummmmmmmmmmmmm…

Prom Queen – Someone is murdering the Prom Queen candidates one by one…and Lizzie is afraid she’ll be next!  Will Shadyside High not have a Queen this year?  What’s the King going to do without a Queen?  Might as well cancel the whole Prom!

First Date – Chelsea is so fricking desperate to go out on a date that she doesn’t care that the guy who likes her is a deranged killer.  Well, beggars can’t be choosers on Fear Street.

After the success of Fear Street (it’s still one of the best-selling YA series of all-time, believe it or not), Stine went on to create the Goosebumps series, for which he’s probably most famous.  I never got into Goosebumps because a) it was aimed towards younger kids and I was now in high school and b) it was more funny than scary.  And I wasn’t into that.

Eventually my love for teen horror fiction dwindled once I entered high school and basically didn’t read anything at all until college, where I got into other types of books that had nothing to do with that genre (aka boy wizard with lightning scar on forehead).  I recently read the first book of The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike, which is first Christopher Pike book I’ve read since middle school.  It was written in 1994 and seemed a tad bit dated (they called each other on landlines!), but it was still enjoyable.

And since summer is right around the corner, I should put down the current teen paranormal romance that I’m reading and grab some Fear Street books at the library – that is, if libraries still carry books like that.  There are so many books for teens to read these days that the little 20-year-old paperbacks that filled my middle-school bookshelf might have been pushed out to make room for vampires and werewolves who actually use cell phones.

But I’m determined to find at least a few stuck on the spinning paperback racks that are situated between the stacks of newer books.  Because nothing says summer like a girl who’s being stalked by a psycho killer at summer camp!

If you’d like more information on the world of Fear Street, check out this hilarious blog.

Happy reading!

Posted in Reading Books, Writing Stuff Down

A Balancing Act

I love to read (duh).  And I love to write (obvious).  But do you know what I hate to do?  Read and write at the same time.

I know it sounds silly.  How can one not read and write at the same time, when the two sort of go hand-in-hand?  Well, let me clarify. When I start reading a book, I don’t like to have any distractions.  I love the feeling of when I’m on a roll, going through a book every few days.  I feel like my mind has been expanded and enriched and all that other scientific study stuff.

I feel the same way when I’m writing whatever story I happen to be working on at that moment.  When I get on a roll with my writing, writing thirty pages a day, I feel awesome, like I actually accomplished something other than going to work and making dinner.

And here is where I run into trouble.  No matter how hard I try, I cannot do these two things I love at the same time.  I’m not talking about holding a pen in one hand and book in the other.  I’m saying that if I’m working on a story all night, I can’t pick up a book before I go to bed and transition into that world.  I end up looking little like this:

It doesn’t matter how good the book is, either.  If storylines and plots and dialogue are running through my head, I just can’t devote myself with someone else’s work.  I picked up the book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children from the library last week, thrilled that I had finally found it at a library, and read the first three chapters that night.  It was off to a great start, and I couldn’t wait to plow through it the next day.

Spooky!

And then I began writing a new story.  I started working on it on my lunch break at work, and then the words just flew out of my pen that night.  I wrote a ton of pages, and my story had taken over my brain.

So when I picked up Miss Peregrine later that night, I just couldn’t get into it.  It almost felt like I was cheating on my story.  I was afraid that if I started to read a completely different story, I would forget what my own was about.  I wouldn’t be able to think of clever dialogue while I was reading someone else’s dialogue.  So I put the book down…and haven’t picked it up since.

But there is one good thing in all this.  I’m writing like a crazy woman.  It would be really bad if I wasn’t reading OR writing and instead just sitting on the couch watching old episodes of Saved By the Bell.  And the great thing is that once I hit that big wall call Writer’s Block (don’t worry, it’ll happen), I know that I can turn to plenty of books for inspiration.

In fact, many books I’ve read have lead me back to stories I’ve started but never finished because they’ve inspired me in some ways.  And just in case that happens soon (even though I wrote another load of pages today), I picked up the following books from the library tonight:

Her book Delirium inspired me to go back to writing after a long drought, so I’m excited to get into this one.

I actually have the first one as an eBook, and got the second one tonight.  For some reason I always get inspired by dystopian teen novels, so I can’t wait to read these.

I’ve heard great things about this book, and the fact that the NY Times used words “dark”, “dangerous”, and “twisted”, I think it sounds like something that could inspire me.

So even though I’m fully invested in writing my story right now, I’m really going to try separate the two and finish Miss Peregrine even while I’m writing.  I know it’s possible to do.  How else do full-time authors read other people’s work?  For my fellow writers out there:  Any tips on how to accomplish this?

Because there’s nothing worse than a writer who doesn’t read.

Happy reading/writing (but not at the same time)!

Posted in Reading Books

Middle School Required Reading

If you were to Google “Middle School Required Reading” (like I did about two minutes ago), you would come across a list filled with some awesome books.  Books like Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman and The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke.  You know, books with actual merit.

Not like the books I read when I was in middle school.

Because who reads when they’re in middle school?

No, when I was in middle school – and we’re talking early ’90s, here – I wasn’t into books.  I was an obsessed, Book-It-loving reader back in elementary school, but once I hit middle school, books weren’t that important to me anymore.  I had more important things to worry about, like taping songs off the radio and wearing scrunchies in my hair (and sometimes around my wrist).

But if you think I didn’t do any reading, well, then you’d be wrong.  Oh, there was reading.  It just happened to come in the form of a magazine.  Two magazines, actually, with the names YM and Seventeen.  And they were the most important reading material out there there for a 12-year old.

YM magazine was started in 1932 (yeah, I was surprised, too) and is second only to Seventeen in being the oldest girls’ magazine.  I started reading YM  in 1991, and loved it so much that I managed to get my parents to get me a subscription.  It had really good articles about boys and beauty (because what 12-year-old doesn’t need to know about crap like that?), and there was always some kind of cool celebrity on the cover (see above pic).  My favorite part of the magazine was, of course, the very last page, which featured super short stories of utter embarrassment called Say Anything.  Because who doesn’t like to laugh at other girls’ misery?  I think every girl reading it learned to never wear white jeans during that time of the month.

Wait, there’s a BEST OF???

While YM had the great articles, funny stories, and cute guys, Seventeen had the fashion.  If you wanted to know what kind of clothes you should shop for before you entered eighth grade, you looked in Seventeen magazine.  Occasionally they had some good articles about the random celebrity, or a good article about the dangers of eating disorders, but it was really about the clothes and the models.

Can I just say that I read this particular issue so many times that it fell apart?  And that I wanted this particular dress soooo bad?

Seventeen had way better covers than YM, and apparently a much bigger following, because unlike YM, Seventeen magazine is still being published today.  Once in a while when I’m at Target or a bookstore and walking through the magazine section, I pick up Seventeen and page through it.  I can see while young teens like it, but for some reason they were way better back in the early ’90s.

This was my Bible the month leading up to eighth grade.

So I suppose you’re thinking that the only things I read back in middle school were girls’ fashion magazine.  Well, again, you’d be wrong.  There was one author, one series of books that I got my hands on.  When my mom decided that YM and Seventeen were “too old” for me, I was told I needed to read age-appropriate books.  So what did I read?

 Now, I know my mom had no idea what V.C. Andrews’s books were about.  Had she known, she would have thrown as many YMs and Seventeens at me that she could.  Those magazines were like Sunday School stories compared the to wonderful, awesome smut that V.C. Andrews wrote about.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, V.C. Andrews is most famous for her disturbing book Flowers in the Attic.  I say “disturbing” because it involves evil grandmothers, incest, and arsenic powder sprinkled on cookies.  My best friend and I used to rent the movie all the time because it was one of the few non-R-rated movies in the horror section at Video Update.  The movie is creepy, but shows nothing of the incest that was written of in the book.  Just a suggestive bath.

Very suggestive.  *shudder*

I don’t know which of my friends started it, but suddenly the book Dawn was being passed around as the “it” thing to read.  It passed through my hands when I was in seventh grade, and I was immediately sucked in.  It was one of those books I knew I shouldn’t be reading, but that just made me want to read it more.  It was one of those books where you would call your friend at 9:00 at night to say, “Page 339”.  No other words were needed.  It was simply code for, “OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE I JUST READ THAT WITH MY OWN EYES, NOW YOU HAVE TO READ IT, TOO!!!!!”

Dawn was full of “Page 339s”.

Dawn was the first book in the Cutler series – V.C. Andrews series’s are always titled with Last Names – and contained three more books.  My friends and I would walk to the grocery store to find the paperbacks since no one working there cared that 12-year-olds were reading smut, and we usually read them over the course of a couple of days.  I’m sure none of us really knew what was going on in those books, and most of us were probably just skipping ahead until we found a word like “throb” or “bosom” anyway.

*May contain more smut than its predecessor.

So there you have it – my Middle School Required Reading list.  It’s nothing to brag about it, but it’s really not that different from obsessing over vampires and werewolves while checking Facebook like the kids do today.  Because it doesn’t matter what decade you’re in – teens will always be teens.  And you know what that means.

Vampire babies!

Side note:  In researching this blog, I discovered that a Flowers in the Attic drinking game exists in this world.  Life is fun.

 Happy reading (and drinking!)

Posted in Living Life, Reading Books

Excuses, Excuses

Forgive me, readers, for I have neglected you.  It’s been six days since my last blog, and, well, I do have some really good excuses to throw at you.  In an ideal world, I would have infinite amounts of time to where I could do every single thing I want all in one day, but, alas, that world only exists in my head.  And maybe in Spain.

It’s the siesta, people.

For starters, I began a new job.  That’s right, peeps…after six years working in retail management, six years of having crazy and mostly crappy hours, six years of being on my feet all day with little or no breaks, six years of dealing with the public with a fake smile plastered to my face, I’m finally FREE.  I don’t have the world’s most exciting job, but let me tell you how nice it is to have set hours – normal hours – after so many years.  I have my nights and weekends free again, which means I can feel like a normal person again…a normal person who likes to stay up late on Friday nights and wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons in my pajamas.

You know, like Biskitts.

So since I’ve had my nights free (I’m done at 4:00!!!!), you would think I’ve had tons of time to blog at night.  Well, this week has been a particularly busy reading week.  I finished two books:  The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which is a pretty sweet book, like a combination of The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and Crescendo, which is the sequel to the book Hush, Hush.  I read the latter last year, and finally found the sequel at the library last weekend.  I read it uber quickly because, well, it’s just a good story.  The author Becca Fitzgerald has a way of keeping my rapt attention to the point where I don’t want to put it down.

For my fellow Paranormal YA book lovers.

I started a new book last night, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I had heard lots about this book, and even though it’s not in my normal genre I like to read (i.e. cheesy), I decided to pick it up.  Well, ever since I picked it up, I can’t put it down.  Okay, well, obviously I had to put it down to go to bed last night and to go to work today.  And I’m not holding it now.  But seriously, this book is good.  The subject matter is dark – WWII, Nazis, The Holocaust – and we all know how all that ended.  But the story and the characters will draw you in, and you find yourself living in their world, as depressing as it might be.  This is a must read for all people, not just teens.  I’m serious – this book listed twenty rave reviews from really good reviewers (not like Jessica, age 14, from Michigan.  Real reviewers like Publisher’s Weekly).  And it won thirteen big awards in the world of literature.  SO READ IT.

Read it.  It’s good for your health.

And finally I’ve been spending the rest of my time dreaming about having our own place again.  It’s nice to have free housing provided by the parentals, but the three of us in this basement is starting to wear on us.  Let me rephrase that:  The three of us are about to open a can of whoop-ass on each other.  We need our own space again.  So I’ve been looking on Craigslist for condos and townhouses, and even driving by a few of them.  Of course none of that can happen until the husband finds himself a job, so…looks like basement living for a little while longer.  Le sigh.

Anyway, I promise I will try not to let six days go by again without blogging.  Now that I have two days off, aka A WEEKEND!!!!, I should have some more time.  If I’m not watching cartoons in my pajamas all day.

Quite possibly the best cartoon of the decade.

Happy living!

Posted in Reading Books

Take Another Look At That Picture Book

I spent two and a half hours at my local library with my daughter the other day, and while she entertained herself playing in the “kitchen” in the children’s section, I needed something to pass my time besides waiting for my crops to harvest in my Smurf’s Village.  So I grabbed about ten children’s books – not the chapter kind, but the picture kind – and started reading.  And I discovered something.

There are some amazing children’s illustrators out there.

Seriously, some of the books I read could practically be up on the wall at an art gallery, they were that good.  And chances are the kid or the parent reading that book doesn’t even notice the art, let alone notice who created that art.  But I thought I would give some credit where credit is due.  They deserve a lot more than just being shoved in the wall at some library.

Valeria Docampo

This illustrator is hands down one of my new favorites.  She illustrated a book called Phileas’s Fortune, and while the story itself is sweet and original, her illustrations are gorgeous.  I was almost tempted to check out the book and then “lose it” so I could tear the pages out and put them on the wall.  She also does prints and cards and random art that tends to pop up in stores every now and then.

Lane Smith

Lane Smith has actually illustrated a ton of books, some of which you may have read before (does The Stinky Cheese Man ring a bell?)  He’s done a lot of collaboration with author Jon Scieszka, but he’s also done things on his own.  Whatever he does, it’s always amazing.

Mary Blair

Mary Blair is actually more famous for working for Walt Disney back in the 1940s and 1950s, including her work on Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, not to mention creating the entire look for the It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland. But her art has been used in retellings of Cinderella and Alice, which bring so much more to those familiar stories.

Lois Lenski

Lois Lenski is no longer with us, but she did a ton of children’s illustrations back in the day, as well as a lot of her own writing.  She even won a Newbury Medal in 1945 for writing and illustrating the book Strawberry Girl.  Her illustrations are simple, but so comforting to look at.  I would seriously wallpaper my kid’s entire room in her illustrations.

Benjamin Lacombe

I literally just discovered this guy about thirty seconds ago, and I’m in love.  He wrote and illustrated a book called Cherry and Olive, which sounds like a bit of a tearjerker of a story, but his illustrations are nothing to cry over.  Unless you cry when you see beautiful things, in which you should proceed to grab a tissue.

Beth Krommes

Beth Krommes reminds me a bit of Lois Lenski in her style, which is made up of lots of lines mostly done in black and white.  But just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they’re not rich in detail, because her illustrations are insanely detailed.  Take a look.

Alison Jay

I first noticed Alison Jay when I read the book The Goose Girl.  It’s not a picture book, but she illustrated the cover, along with the other four books in the series.  Then I discovered that she also illustrated children’s books, including some board books intended for kids under the age of three.  But that doesn’t mean that adults can’t appreciate their beauty.

So the next time you’re reading books with your child, don’t just read the words.  Take a look at the illustrations.  Take a look at the illustrator.  They might just be the one who creates the next work of art you put on your wall.

Happy reading!