Sunday, February 28, 2010

TSS: The One Year Adventure Novel

They say March is supposed to come in like a lamb tomorrow and I am ready!  The Midwest has not been hit as hard as our neighbors on the East Coast, but our winter has lasted long enough for me, thank you very much.

It has been a productive literary month for me, although that is not necessarily reflected in the number of books I have read.  Instead, I have also devoted quite a bit of time this month to developing the Creative Writing class that I hope to offer next semester.  Currently I am co-teaching a creative writing "club" -- that is, the students receive no credit for the course, nor do they have homework.  The club, called iWrite (we tried to capitalize on the iPod, iPad lingo of students in the 21st Century) meets on Monday afternoons from 3:00-4:00.  Given the late hour of the day and the fact that this is completely voluntary, we are thrilled to have between 8 and 12 students show up each week (our student body is less than 200).

This week I met with the developer of a creative writing curriculum entitled the One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) and walked away totally excited!  The curriculum was originally marketed to the homeschool community, but I think it will work wonderfully in the classroom.  Basically the students learn the essentials of a good adventure story the first semester (by completing workbook exercises, watching video clips, and reading through the textbook) and then the second semester is devoted to writing a 12 chapter novel (approximately 15,000 words).  Isn't that exciting?!  In 9 months time these students will write a first draft of a novel!

The parameters of the course dictate that the novel needs to be an adventure story (complete with protagonist, antagonist, heroic quest, etc) and that the novel be written in the first person.  Should students take the class more than once, then they will have the skills to broaden the scope of subsequent novels (eg - different genre, different POV, etc).  I have decided that in order to be an effective teacher, I need to write an adventure story myself.  This will be a challenge on so many levels, not the least of which is that I detest adventure.  I spend my life trying to avoid conflict - and now I must intentionally create this type of story, complete with tense cliff-hangers and life-or-death situations.  I have spent the better part of a week brainstorming various ideas for this project, but I think I have found one - or at least one worth pursuing to the next level.  This week will be spent reading through the textbook and relating the exercises to my story idea.

I have also done a little work on the original story idea of which I posted a couple of weeks ago (working title:  Photographic Memory).  My outside reading this month has focused on published books that I think might help me write that first story.  I read Still Alice by Lisa Genova because I anticipate one of my main characters to suffer from Alzheimer's and I wanted to see if I could write a believable story line and character.  This weekend I started reading The Cotton Queen by Pamela Morsi because it is a generational novel that is written in alternating points of view - the style that I think I may wish to use in the telling of my story.

I've heard that it is beneficial to read as many books in your chosen genre (or style) that you can in order to see how to craft that kind of story well.  Should you know of any other novels that may help me in this endeavor, either where one of the characters suffers from some kind of dementia or memory loss, OR that focuses on the mother/daughter relationship told in alternating points of view, I would love to hear.  I plan to keep an ongoing list of possible book references.

Two more weeks of school until Spring break.  I am ready for spring, and I most definitely need a break.  How about you?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday - The Lightning Thief

I have enjoyed reading Jenners' Show Me 5 posts  and have decided to play along for a second week in a row.  The meme was originally started by A Novel Idea, but I think Jenners is now the primary host for this event at her blog, Find Your Next Book Here.

The concept is to review a book in 5 short, easy steps:

1 Book Read:  The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Words that describe the book:  Mythological adventure
Settings where the book took place and/or characters that you meet:
  • Percy Jackson - a 6th grader with ADHD who happens to be the half-blood son of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea.  He is accompanied by two other friends: Grover Underwood, who happens to be a satyr, trying desperately to become a searcher so that he can begin a quest for Pan; and another half-blood, Annabeth Chase, the daughter of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
  • The Empire State Building doubles as Mount Olympus, the home of Zeus, the Greek god of the sky.
  • The ROA recording studio in Los Angeles doubles as the modern-day location of Hades.
4 Things that you like and/or dislike about the book
  • I like the fact that the book does not demand a knowledge of Greek mythology in order to appreciate its story.  
  • I like the fact that the book not only entertains the reader with a fast-paced action adventure story, but it actually educates the reader.  There is enough information given about the Greek gods and goddesses to allow the reader to relate to the story, while at the same time developing an interest in Greek mythology to make the reader want to learn more on his own. 
  • I like the fact that the book is accessible to many different readers.  Those who struggle with reading will appreciate the simple, straight-forward writing style, the fast-paced action, and the 12 year old humor.  Those who are more advanced in reading will enjoy the layers of thematic development (particularly the Quest archetype and the transformation of protagonist from ordinary boy to brave hero), along with the fantastical setting of ancient Greece in modern day America.
  • I dislike the notion that this series is comparable to Harry Potter.  While I can understand why the comparison is made, I think that this set up a level of expectation in my mind that could not be met.  This is a fine series and will be enjoyed by many - but reviewers need to let it stand on its own.
5 Stars or less for a rating:  4 out of 5.  I did like this story very much and may one day read the rest of the series.  However I was not completely enthralled with these characters the way I instantly became attached to Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I think if I had not had the seed planted from the beginning that there was some kind of comparison to be made --- I may have been more inclined to give a higher rating.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

BTT - Why We Read....

Well, get ready to hold onto your seats, because this week's Booking through Thursday's question suggested by Janet  is a deep one:

I’ve seen this quotation in several places lately. It’s from Sven Birkerts’ ‘The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age’:
“To read, when one does so of one’s own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one’s life or one’s orientation toward it.”
To what extent does this describe you?

Well, I apparently do not frequent those same sites, because this was the first time that I had seen this quote, and to be honest, I had to re-read it a couple of times to half-way understand Birkerts' position.  While I am not sure that I completely understand all that he is trying to say, nor do I agree with what I do understand, I do think the question of Why We Read is an important one to ponder from time to time.

I guess I find three key points to this quote:

  1. Whenever we read of our own free will (verses reading for work or school or some other commitment) we are making an active choice to read rather than do anything else.  I agree, and the same holds true for any decision we make in life.  By choosing to do one thing - we are therefore choosing NOT to do many others.  I think the important component of this portion of the quote is that we INTENTIONALLY choose.  Too often, I think, decisions are made from habit or from non-decisions (I don't know what to do, so I will sit in front of the television until I decide.  THAT is a decision --- choosing to sit in front of the TV rather than do anything else is a decision, and not a very wise one, I might add *grin*).  We all are given the same 24 hours in a day; it is up to us how we choose to spend those 24 hours.
  2. Reading is a movement and a comment of sorts on the place left behind.  OK --- reading takes us to a literary world and for that brief moment in time we are indeed transported, by the author's words, from our own real world into that imaginary one.  Because what we are reading is voluntary (see  point 1), then we are choosing which literary world we want to visit, and very often, that choice is based on how we are feeling or experiencing the world in which we live.  I will buy that - but I think that is where I will stop.  I am not sure that I am making any other comment on my own life other than the subject matter of the book is of interest to me at this point in time.  I read for a variety of reasons:  sometimes to escape, sometimes to experience, sometimes to learn, and sometimes just to broaden my horizons. This leads me to ......
  3. To open a book voluntarily is at some level  to remark the insufficiency either of  one's life or one's orientation towards it.  I think this goes a bit too far.  Is this sometimes true? - yes; but this statement makes it sound as if the sole reason why those who read voluntarily do so because we are an  unsatisfied group of people and are looking for answers to help us cope.  I think I am rather satisfied with my life, thank you very much, and while I do not believe that I live in a perfect world, I am not at the point of being dissatisfied and unable to cope with the way things are.  
I think I read because, as Horace wrote in Ars Poetica ' Reading entertains and instructs'  These two components, in my opinion, are of equal weight:  yes, reading instructs and perhaps at times it can help us make sense of the real world in which we live and give us insight that will enable us to feel not quite so "insufficient" --- but reading also entertains, just as watching movies, or playing board games with family members, or playing a round of golf.  I do those other activities not because I am dissatisfied with life, but rather, to enhance life.

I am not sure that I have adequately stated my true feelings here.  I think I am hung up on the negative connotations (in my mind) of the word "insufficiencies"  Perhaps my interpretation of that word is not how the author intended.

So let me leave you with someone who is far more eloquent than myself.  C. S. Lewis wrote about the Literary vs the Unliterary Man in one of his essays in An Experiment in Criticism.  I have paraphrased this to suit my purposes, as I use this quote each year at back-to-school night for my British Literature students and parents:

Unliterary Man:  sees no point in reading anything more than once
Literary man:  looks forward to re-reading an old favorite – like a long, lost friend
Unliterary man:  will turn to reading as a last resort – nothing else to do
Literary man:  always looking for leisure time and silence in which to read

Unliterary man:  read only for the plot – totally ignores style or sound
Literary man:  is just as interested in how the author said it – as he is in what was said

Unliterary man:  rarely affected by a literary work
Literary man:  reads to improve himself – develop potentialities – become more complete

I strive to be a literary man.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Teaser: Still Alice

Tuesday Teaser is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should be Reading.  Anyone is invited to play along, just:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open a random page
  • Share 2 teaser sentences from that page (I will share slightly more today)
  • Share the Title and the author so that other participants may add the book to their TBR lists, if they so desire
My teaser is from Still Alice by Lisa Genova
And I have no control over which yesterdays I keep and which ones get deleted.  This disease will not be bargained with.  I can't offer it the names of the United States presidents in exchange for the names of my children.  I can't give it the names of the state capitals and keep the memories of my husband.                     --- page 251

Monday, February 22, 2010

Musing Monday - Keeping Books

Today's Musing Monday questions asks:
Do you keep all the books you ever buy? Just the ones you love? Just collectibles? What do you do with the ones you don’t want to keep?

Well, prior to my discovery of book blogs a little over a year ago, I would say that I kept every book that I bought.   I tended to read books for school rather than for pleasure, and so every book that was purchased I planned to reuse over time.  At that time books bought for pleasure were judiciously scrutinized to ensure that I would absolutely love it, or I wouldn't invest in a personal copy.  

On occasion I would experience a spring cleaning mood where I would want to clear away the clutter of the home, and periodically I would scour the bookshelves for any potential give aways.  These discards would either find their way to Goodwill or donated to the library's used book sale.

Over the past year, however, I have seen my personal book purchases escalate by leaps and bounds.  I blame this on blogger irresistible reviews as well as the opening of three Half Price Bookstores within 20 miles of my home.  My TBR list is constantly growing, and the clearance shelves at the used bookstore practically give away the titles.  Consequently, my once rather manageable personal collection has gained considerable weight and periodically (about 2-3 times a year) I feel the need to put it on a diet.

While I always keep books that I absolutely love (because I harbor these fantasies that I will one day re-read all these books again), I also keep books that I do not have time to read now, but anticipate a time in the not-too-distant future when I will have more time to read and I do not want to be at a loss for subject matter.  The books that I am willing to part with tend to be those that were enjoyed at one point in time, but that I do not think I will want to re-read.  This results in few books given away and more bookshelves being built.

How about you?  Do you find it difficult to part with books - or do you read and promptly pass along to someone else?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

TSS - 02.21.10

Welcome to my Sunday Salon this week....

The weekend started off in a delightful way!  We went out with dear friends for some good food, great conversation, and a trip to Barnes and Noble.  It doesn't get much better than that, in my book (so to speak).

While browsing the shelves and tables of my most favorite retreat, I found a few books that I want to investigate (e.g. - borrow from the library to check them out).  Many of you have already recommended the Postmistress by Sarah Blake, and while the premise sounds interesting, I must confess that I absolutely love the cover!  My friend took this one home and I am anxious to hear her review of the book as well.  Other books that caught my attention were:
  • Letter to my Daughter by George Bishop.  I read the first page and was instantly drawn in (I'm not sure I can wait until it is my turn to obtain the book at the library - there are 20 people ahead of me).  Right now the aspect that I find most intriguing is that the book is written from the mother's point of view, but the author is a man!
  • The 3 Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine.  At first I was interested in the book because it is  called a modern day Sense and Sensibility.  However, when I discovered that it takes place in Westport, CT --- my home of 20 years, I just knew I had to check it out.  Unfortunately, I think I am currently number 36 in line for the library copy!  In my "research" however, I discovered that this book is actually a sequel The New Yorker - which they currently have available.  I should be picking it up later this week.
  • Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz.  A non-fiction book that delves into the inner psyche of my beloved pets.  The front cover stated that not only can dogs smell day-old food, but they can also smell sadness.  I just KNEW my dogs understood my emotions!  I absolutely have to read this book, but alas it will not be for a while; the wait is over a month at the library!
The weather in the Midwest continues to be dismal.  I heard the other day that we have had the sum total of 2 sunny days in the past 45!  I am beginning to think the nation's midsection will all start to suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) if the weather pattern doesn't change soon.  Today the temperature is hovering right at 32 degrees, which means we are to have a wonderful mix of cold rain, freezing sleet, and accumulating snow.  I am very grateful that I do not have to travel in this mess, but rather I can sit back in my cozy nook and read.  I am currently reading Fablehaven by Brandon Mull (I seem to be in a YA fantasy mood lately) and I just started Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  I won this book last fall during the 24 hour read-athon, and after reading Jenners' amazing review this week, I decided that I should not put off reading this book any longer.  I also consider this book sort of "research" for my writing project.  I had thought that one of my characters would have Alzheimer's and the use of photographs would help to reconnect with her.  Reading more about this devastating disease from the inside out will help me to write a more believable story.

Other than making a dish of PTA casserole to help my family stay warm on this winter day, I plan to spend many hours reading in my nook.  How about the rest of you?  Have you been able to enjoy some literary activities this weekend?

Weekend Cooking: PTA Casserole

 Weekend Cooking is graciously hosted by Beth Fish and allows me to focus on another passion in life:  cooking.  She encourages us to post anything that has to do with food:  a recipe, a cookbook review, a kitchen gadget promotion - anything.  So if you care to play along, visit the introductory post found here

When the kids were younger and life was more hectic (aka - Mom was the only one available with a driver's license to take 3 children to various extra-curricular activities and social engagements), I would gravitate toward the 365 Meal books to help me fix dinner in a pinch.  At one time I think I owned every title made, but I found that the 365 ways to cook Pasta, Chicken, and Ground Meat to be the tried-and-true favorites.  Later this year, if and when the weather ever becomes sunny and warm, I will post the recipe for Pasta Salad that everyone in the family adores - but for today, I thought I would post the recipe for soul-satisfying PTA casserole.  This dish is very easy to prepare, makes a ton to allow for leftovers, and in my humble opinion, epitomizes the meaning of comfort food!

  • 8 oz elbow macaroni -- cooked until tender
  • 1 pound ground meat
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 oz cream cheese - softened
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Parmesan cheese (my addition)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large skillet - cook ground meat and onion over medium-high heat, stirring often to break up clumps of meat, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Drain off excess fat.  Stir in tomato sauce, celery salt and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream and parsley until smooth.
  4. In a buttered (I use Pam) deep 3-quart casserole, layer the macaroni, all of cheese mixture, and remaining macaroni. Top macaroni with meat sauce and dot with butter (I eliminate the butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese instead).
  5. Bake until casserole is bubbling, about 45 minutes
  6. NOTE:  this can be prepared through step 4 in advance, cover and refrigerate for up to one day before baking.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Striking Sentences - 2.20.10

Striking Sentences is a relatively new meme that I have run across lately.  It is hosted by Becca at Bookstack and asks:

Don’t you just love when you’re reading along in your top-’o-the-stack book and a sentence jumps out at you – a sentence that makes you say “Aha!” or “Yes!” or “Why didn’t I think of that before?”  Or you stumble across a sentence  so perfectly written it resounds in your heart-strings for days? 
Each Saturday I’ll be celebrating those Striking Sentences, the ones that pierce the soul with their wisdom or humor or craft.  If you’d like to share a Striking Sentence (or sentences) from your current read, post about them on your blog, tell us why they strike your heart, and leave a link in the comments here so we may come visit. 

This week I would like to highlight one of the several quotes that I found while reading Melanie Benjamin's, Alice I Have Been.  This particular quote is found on page 335, and takes place between Peter Llewelyn-Davies, the inspiration for Peter Pan, and Alice Lidell:
"But people like to think life is a fairy tale, and it seems that I'm quite unable to shake it.  However have you managed to put up with Alice for such a long time?"
I smiled, and did not take offense at the impolite reference to my age.  He looked so very curious, touchingly hopeful; hopeful that somehow, I would be able to help him with merely a word or a handshake or  a kiss on the cheek.
"My dear boy, I'm sure I don't know how."  For to tell the truth, I was tired of being Alice in Wonderland.....
"......I suppose, at  some point, we all have to decide which  memories - real or otherwise - to hold on to, and which ones to let go.  I'm sure I haven't quite gotten the knack of it myself.  But soon, perhaps.  Perhaps, soon."
There is so much truth in this fictitious conversation between two adults who have been immortalized as childhood heroes.  Don't we all sometimes grow weary of the character role we play?  While we may not always have control over life's circumstances, don't we have some control over what we choose to consciously remember?  That is, what we choose to dwell on and rehash over and over again in our minds?  And isn't it possible that our recollection of what happened is somewhat distorted by our personal perspective?  I, too, am learning to choose which memories I care to hold to, and which ones are ready to be discarded so that I can move forward and no longer be held back by the tape recorder of the mind.

Show Me 5 Saturday - The Christmas List

This will be my first time to participate in Show Me 5 Saturday, hosted by That's a Novel Idea.  I have been reading Jenner's posts over the past few weeks and have enjoyed this format of a book review.  It is short and sweet, which may prove to be quite the challenge for someone as verbose as I.

  1. Book Read:  The Christmas List by Richard Evans
  2. Words that describe book:  Thought-provoking and Inspirational
  3. Setting where it took place and/or Characters you meet:  James Kier is the main character - a man who reads his obituary in the morning paper and then witnesses the reactions that people have to his death.  He quickly learns that he is not the man he wants to be and tries to seek forgiveness from those he has wronged.  Linda his faithful secretary who helps create his "Christmas List" of those he has hurt the most and encourages him to follow through with his plan, even if he is met with great resistance.  Celeste Hatt, one of the five whom he grievously wronged and attempts to make restitution.  
  4.  Things you like and/or dislike about the book:  I like the idea of knowing how others truly share their opinions of us when they think we are no longer alive.  It makes me wonder how I am living my life and what they might say about me.  I like the idea that while the setting of this book is the Christmas season, the theme of the book is relevant at any time of the year.  I would think this would make a marvelous read during the Lenten season.  I disliked the fact that each chapter was very short and succinct; while this made for very quick, easy reading, I was left wanting more - more character development, more detail, more opportunity to linger over the powerful message.  I liked the fact that not all the characters were quick to forgive as this gave the book an air of legitimacy.  Although all the loose ends are nice, and perhaps too neatly tied together in the epilogue, the story itself rang true to me.
  5. 5 Stars or less for a rating:  I would rate the book 4.5 out of 5 stars.  I know this is a story and a theme that will remain with me for quite a while.  As I think back on this book I would hope that it would help me be a better person while I am still on this earth.  My only hesitation for rating it 5 out of 5 was the almost too perfect ending provided by the epilogue. I almost wonder if I would have been more satisfied if the book had ended with last chapter.
I want to thank my dear friend and fellow book-lover, Jil, for recommending this book to me.  She was right - I absolutely LOVED it!

Friday, February 19, 2010

All About Alice....

My 9th grade English class has decided to read Alice in Wonderland in preparation for the new release movie by Tim Burton.  While I will be experimenting with literature circles for this read (that is, students will be placed in small groups and as a group they will decide how much to read per week, what projects to complete for an assessment grade, how to study vocabulary, etc) --- I need to have a good handle on the work before we begin to study it on February 26th.  I am sad to say that my educational background did not require me to read this classic before now.

As is true to my nature, I like to try to read as much about a book and its author as I can before teaching it AND without going overboard.  To aid this enrichment process I chose Alice I Have Been and The Other Alice to read alongside the famed fairy tale.  I will briefly review of three works in this post.

The Other Alice by Christina Bjork and Inga-Karin Eriksson is a short (less than 100 pages) non-fiction book about the real Alice in Wonderland - Alice Liddell.  The series of short chapters briefly describe the relationship between the Dean Liddell's family and the math don at Oxford, Charles Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll.  The book is geared toward the Young Adult market, so there are lots of pictures, photographs, and useful background information about the culture of Oxford, England during the Victorian Era.  The somewhat controversial subject matter between Charles Dodgson and Alice remains pure in this book, and that is appropriate for my classroom.  In my opinion, this book gave just the right amount of background information to help me appreciate the classic story.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll -- Penguin edition.  I absolutely LOVE the Penguin classic editions.  I find the long introductions very educational and helpful to the analysis of the story, and the detailed footnotes for each chapter also add value and enrichment.  I was somewhat skeptical about reading this story; it is, after all, fantasy fiction and I often have a difficult time relating to books that are not grounded in reality.  This book, however, I thoroughly enjoyed.  Perhaps it is my recent foray into the Harry Potter books that have made my mind more susceptible to this genre - or perhaps it is because the novella is only a 100 pages long and geared toward a younger audience, but for whatever reason, I found the read quite enjoyable.  I particularly liked Carroll's use of puns and word games throughout the entire book; ;and his sense of "logic" in this nonsense world was quite humorous.  It kept my intellect challenged while the dream sequence challenged my imagination.  I think the class will enjoy this work as well.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin was a pure joy to read --- with or without the original classic tie-in.  In this historical fiction novel, Alice is now over 80 years old and looking back on her life.  Since she was only ten when the famous (infamous?) boat ride occurred that culminated in the tale of "her" story - our narrator is somewhat unreliable.  In fact, she does not really clear up the mystery of what happened between herself and Mr. Dodgson that caused her mother such grave concern - until the very end of the book.  Without giving away any of the suspense, I must say that I was thrilled with the way in which Ms. Benjamin told the entire story - and in particular, with the way in which she tied up all the loose ends.  This book is an absolute must-read, in my humble opinion, for anyone; no prior knowledge needed.

I am now very much looking forward to seeing the movie with my class.  It is my understanding that the movie picks up when Alice is now 17 years old and has no recollection of her original visit to Wonderland.  She is rather disillusioned with life in Victorian England and when she spies the White Rabbit, she decides to follow him.  What ensues is a reuniting with her original Wonderland creatures and another fairy tale adventure.

I think it might be a fun assignment if my students write their own "sequel" to the book before we see the movie.  How do they envision the return of Alice to this fantastical world when she is on the cusp of adulthood?  Then, after we see the movie, they can compare and contrast their ideas to those of Tim Burton.  I think it may spark some fun class discussions, and give students a different way to connect with the text.

What about you?  Do you plan to see the movie when it is released March 5?  Do you have any preconceived notions of how the sequel should be told?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Page in the Life

Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty has a feature where she interviews fellow bloggers.  I always enjoy reading a bit more about the person behind the scene, so when she asked if I would be willing to be a participant, I agreed.

If you are interested in knowing a big more about me - then check out Wendy's post.  I am very grateful that she thought enough of my blog to find me a worthy subject matter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WWW Wednesday - 2.17.10

WWW Wednesdays is a short and sweet little meme hosted by MizB at Should be Reading.  In essence she asks us to post:

What am I currently reading:  The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  This was recommended so highly by several students that I knew I had to give it a try.  It is a very quick, action-packed adventure story of Half-bloods (that is, part human and part Greek god) who are called to a Quest to defeat evil.  Fortunately for me, no prior knowledge if Greek mythology is needed, as it is explained throughout the book.  The movie adaptation was just recently released and perhaps I will venture to see it once I have finished the book.  It is the first book in a 5 part series.

What did I recently finish reading:  I recently completed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, in preparation of teaching it to my 9th grade class.  While I was somewhat skeptical of this fantasy fiction classic (I often have a difficult time connecting with such imaginative stories), I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this short novella that dares to make sense of a dream world.  I particularly enjoyed - and actually laughed out loud - at some of the puns and word games.

What do I think I will read next:  I hope to find the time to read my library copy of Beth Hoffman's, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, before it is due.  I have read so many wonderful reviews, and it does not look like a complicated story.  I also think it is a story rich in character relationships, which is my preferred genre and a welcome change from the fantasy books that have occupied my reading time of late.

How about you?  What books are you planning to read this week that I should add to the TBR pile?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Library Loot: 2.15.10

I do believe this meme is one of my all-time favorites and I thank Eva of A Striped Armchair and Marg of Reading Adventures for hosting this fun event.

This week's haul was rather light - and that is a good thing.  I am somewhat  swamped with teaching at this time of year and I will soon have to start reading for my summer program (which will probably involve either Moby Dick or all of Faulkner's words).  I actually went to the library to drop off about 15 books, and just pick up a couple of holds.  But as luck would have it....there were some books available in the new release area that I have had my eye on for quite some time, so I snagged them.

The books that I brought home this week include:
  • Write Away by Elizabeth George.  I have spent many weeks now reading books on writing and I am just about ready to put into practice what I have read.  However, I remember Belle, at Ms. Bookish, praising this book in the past, and I wanted to read what this prolific author had to say before I temporarily suspended my reading on this topic.
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson.  This is a graphic novel, which I typically do not enjoy because it is like sensory overload for me.  However, because of all the wonderful book blogger reviews over the past few weeks, I decided to give this genre one more try.  From what I can tell, the pictures are not too graphic or over-the-top, so I think I might be able to focus my attention on the storyline.
  • Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman.  Ok - who hasn't heard of this outstanding debut novel?!  I have had my name on the library waiting list for weeks, but as luck would have it, there was a copy available this week on the new release bookshelf.  I will only have this book for 2 weeks, but I think that will be long enough to decide if it is one that I want to read right away.  I just discovered that the author will be in Kansas City on March 23rd - so I may decide to purchase my book at that time and have it autographed -- how exciting!
  • The Group by Mary McCarthy.  Several bloggers have reviewed this book recently and given it the highest praise.  I hope to have the opportunity to see if it is a viable book for me.
  • The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans.  Ok - I know we are two months past Christmas already, but a good friend of mine just ranted and raved about this one.  She made it sound like it was a book that could be read and enjoyed at any time of year - not just during the holiday season.  When I saw it on the bookshelf, I simply could not resist.
So that is the extent of my library loot for this week.  Did any of you visit the library this week?  What books found their way into your home?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Ohh - I am so excited!  I can actually participate in Mailbox Monday hosted by Marcia at the Printed Page.

Each week I read all of your posts with a tinge of envy.  Of course I am happy for all your wonderful bookish mail, but deep inside I wish that my mailbox had been filled with literary delights too.  Well, this week I received a very special box from Amazon.  I really hadn't intended to buy this many books, honest.  But you know....they had this special promotion of buy 3 books get the 4th one free and I had already selected 3 books that I really needed wanted to buy.  So finding a fourth was mandatory!  And I absolutely, positively loved Dog Gone It and vowed to purchase the second book in the series when it became available.  The fact that it was on-sale made that an imperative buy as well.  AND....I did have all those Christmas gift cards that needed to be spent.

So as you can see, this box of 6 books was really not an impulse purchase; it was simply meant to be.
  • Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren.  I reviewed this book a couple of weeks ago (here), and I simply knew that I needed to include it as part of my own personal library.
  • Thereby Hangs a Tail by Spencer Quinn.  Most of you know by now that I am a sucker for any dog story.  I read the author's first book in this series, Dog Gone It, and absolutely loved the plot, the characters, and the voice of  Chet the dog.  I am very anxious to read this second book.
  • Mr. Dixon Disappears by Ian Sansom.  I reviewed the first in this series, The Case of the Missing Books, and absolutely loved it!!  When I obtained this book from the library (the second book in the series), I knew by the end of the first paragraph that it was one that I needed to own - not just borrow!
  • Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock.  I read the first few chapters of this book and was completely enthralled (thank you, Belle, for the recommendation).  Since I will be teaching a unit on Sherlock Holmes' mysteries later this semester, I thought this would be a nice recommendation for summer reading for my 7th grade class.
  • Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.  This is actually a book that I purchased "sight unseen."  It was suggested as a possible next read if you liked Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.  Since both of these series are hot buttons for my students, I thought I might try this one for myself.  I had read the first two chapters of a library edition and was definitely intrigued.
  • The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan.  I have had two students breeze through this entire series over the course of two weeks.  Because of their high praise, I have had three more students begin the series.  I figure if this book is good enough to encourage 5 middle schoolers to read --- it must be investigated.  I would like to try to read this one ASAP so that I can go to the movie and do a compare and contrast.
I would not be completely honest if I did not let you know of a few books that managed to find their way into my home, bypassing the mailbox.  Again, I am really not to blame.  See, Half Priced books had a 20% off coupon in celebration of Valentine's Day and I just couldn't let that kind of a deal go to waste.  In my defense, I used great restraint and only purchased 4 books for a total of $16.00.

  • The Unauthorized Harry Potter Companion by Colin Duriez.  As many of you know, I am listening to this series on audio book.  For a visual learner like myself, I feel that I can benefit from a dictionary of sorts to show me the correct spelling of wizard and muggle words, and to refresh my memory of significant events, characters, places, and such.  This was found in the clearance section and I simply could not pass it up.
  • The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins.  I have wanted to start this series for quite some time - both from the standpoint of being a Pride and Prejudice fan - and from a writer's point of view.  I am fascinated that this author could write a 7 book series detailing the lives of these classic characters after the joyful ending of the original work.  I also think I will use this book to show my Brit Lit students the lasting power and presence of Jane Austen - some 200 years after her death.
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde.  I enjoyed The Eyre Affair, and I am interested in reading Shades of Grey, but there is something about the concept of bringing fairy tale characters to life in this nursery crime series that has me very intrigued.
  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.  This book has been reviewed on several book blogs lately and I am always interested in reading books about books - so when I saw it sitting forlornly on the clearance bookshelf, I felt as though it was calling my name.

So how about you?  Have you come across any must-have books this week that you simply could not refuse to bring home?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TSS - 02.14.10

Happy Valentine's Day!  My sweetie and I celebrated yesterday by going to one of our favorite breakfast restaurants, Mama's 39th Street Diner (it was featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and we have been thanking him ever since).  Now this restaurant just happens to be a stone's throw from the largest Half Priced Bookstore in town, so naturally we had to stop.  That was the perfect Valentine's Day for me, and Geoff indulged me as I wondered up and down the aisles looking for ways to use my 20% off coupon.  I will outline the books I managed to acquire in a post later this week.

The remaining portion of the day was spent working on my story idea.  Yea....that's right....I am finally going to take the plunge and attempt to write a book (the word novel scares me).  I have read so many books on writing lately that my brain finally said enough --- either do something with this knowledge or move on.  So...I am trying to do something with the knowledge.  I spent most of the day fleshing out the three main characters and thinking about the chronology of events as they would relate to scenes in the book.  If nothing else, this writing endeavor will help me gain a much greater appreciation for published authors.  It seems like every decision requires me to go back and rethink other decisions.  So far it has been a fun way to pass the time.

The rest of my literary weekend will probably involve writing a review for Alice I Have Been (I finished the book two weeks ago and it is due to the library tomorrow - so I have procrastinated long enough) and perhaps begin Alice in Wonderland, since my 9th grade class will be studying the book in about two weeks.  I also have some grading to do, but since tomorrow is a holiday, I think I may choose to hold off on that chore.

I will end this post by sharing my Valentine's Day gift with you.  About three years ago I took a group of students to London and my family was able to go as well.  While there, Geoff picked up this etching of Stone Henge.  Once home, he wasn't quite sure what to do with it, so he put it away.  Fast forward to about a month ago when the nook was organized and decorations were needed.  Geoff decided that this picture would be the perfect compliment for the room.  He had it matted and framed and hung it up for me yesterday.  It is on the wall that I stare at while leisurely reading on my couch.  Not only will it bring back fond memories, but it will also inspire dreams of future travels.  I love it!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review: A Moveable Feast

by Ernest Hemingway
Simon and Schuster
copyright (original) 1964 - restored edition 2009
rating: 3 out of 5

I was so inspired by Jeremy Mercer's memoir, Time was Soft There, regarding his time spent in Paris, and in particular at The Shakespeare and Company bookstore, that I decided to read Ernest Hemingway's memoir taking place in the same City of Lights. I don't recall a time when I was so conflicted regarding an opinion about a book. On the one hand, some chapters were beautifully written and spoke to my heart; on the other hand, some chapters seemed rather random and abstract to my way of thinking. If I had a third hand, I would say that I often felt lost in the dark as he spoke about his relationship with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald --- all notable authors whom I have heard referenced, but unfortunately whom I have not read. I felt as though I really needed to be familiar with their works, if not their own biographies, before I could appreciate these chapters in Hemingway's book.

All in all I would say that I am glad that I read this classic memoir, and I am now inspired to read some of Hemingway's classic novels as I feel as though I have insight into the mind of this genius author. Perhaps once after I have read some these enduring works - as well as some of those by the above-mentioned authors, I will gladly re-read A Moveable Feast with a greater appreciation.

While my rating of the book at this first initial read is a mediocre 3 out of 5 stars, I would like to leave you with a few quotes that I found to be most memorable:
Now what can I say about the title? Mary Hemingway derives it from a reark made by her husband to Aaron Hotchner: "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." (page xii)

The final title of the book, A Moveable Feast, was chosen by Mary Hemingway after the author's death....The choice of spelling follows Hemingway's idiosyncratic preference to retain the "e" in words ending in "ing" and formed from the verbs that ended in "e." It adds the imprint of the author and the "ea" in Moveable also makes a pleasant visual repetition with the "ea" in Feast. (page 12)

...It had all been part of the fight against poverty that you never win except by not spending. Especially if you buy pictures instead of clothes. But then we did not think ever of ourselves as poor. We did not accept it. We thought we were superior people and other people that we looked down on and rightly mistrusted were rich. It had never seemed strange to me later on to wear sweatshirts for underwear to keep warm. It only seemed odd to the rich. We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other. (page 43)

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. When you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought it was possibly only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way (page 65)
and finally, I was quite struck by his three page recollection of sitting in a Parisian cafe writing a story in his notebook, drinking rum St. James:
It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.......

.....A girl came into the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as crow's wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek.

I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere, but she had placed herself so she could watch the street and the entry and I knew she was waiting for someone. So I went on writing.

The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with a pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink.

I've seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, however you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.

Then I went back to writing and I entered far into the story and was lost in it. I was writing it now and it was not writing itself and I did not look up nor know anything about the time nor think where I was nor order any more rum St. James....Then the story was finished and I was very tired. I read the last paragraph and then I looked up and looked for the girl and she had gone, I hoe she's gone with a good man, I thought. But I felt sad. (page 17-18)

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