Monday, April 30, 2012

Middle Grade Monday - The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

Nielsen, Jennifer. False Prince, The. Scholastic, 2012. 6.99. 9780545433471. (reviewing the pb version from Scholastic Book Club)

Genre: Realistic, Adventure
Rating: 4/5

Latamer, Roden, Sage, and Tobias were "rescued" from various orphanages by Bevin Conner and his two henchmen, Cregan and Mott. Conner, a minor regent in the kingdom of Carthya, has it in his head that he can replace the missing Prince Jaron with a boy he trains in the art of princeliness. He just needs a boy who either looks like Prince Jaron or reminds people of him. Jaron has been missing for four years and presumed dead.  No body was ever recovered. If Conner can succeed at placing a false Jaron on the throne, he can rule through him.  Of course, Conner only needs one boy but he has four.

The False Prince is a lot more fun than it sounds.  Sage has a sly sense of humor and is smart to boot though he hides his intelligence from the others. He uses his wit to hide his true feelings and cause the others to underestimate him.  The other boys have an opportunity to move beyond the stereotype as we learn more about them while they study how to be a prince. Although the setting is not distinctive, it's not necessary to get the story across. There was one small surprise that might prove predictable if you are an avid reader though you still want to read to make sure you are right.

I recommend this one to 4th through 7th graders.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth- Review

Reviewed by: Aneeqah's Not So Real Life
Struck by Jennifer Bosworth
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genres: Apocalypse, Urban Fantasy
Release Date: May 8th, 2012
Source: Publisher- thank you to Macmillan!
My Review:

In Struck, we meet Mia Price. She is what you would call a lightening addict. She's been struck by lightening many, many times, and she craves the energy she gets when she gets struck. Mia lives in Los Angeles, and they're in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake, trying to rebuild. Mia has to care for her younger brother, Parker, and her mother, who may or may not have a mental disorder because of the earthquake. But Mia meets two different groups of people, who want her to do different things, things that she doesn't thing she's capable of. In the end, Mia has to make a choice. Who will she side with? What will she sacrifice?

The cover of Struck is really pretty. You can slightly see the scars she has on her arms, if you look carefully. And all the colors create such a nice setting, it's so pretty to watch. Overall, it's really nice!

First off, let's talk about Mia. I loved her. She's so smart, and sassy, and she's a pretty tough girl. I loved her sarcasm. I'm a pretty sarcastic person, so I really appreciated it. Even though she had a tough-girl appearance, she wasn't exactly tough on the inside. I loved how she was a little bit layered; there was more to her than at first sight. She was a really well-done character.

The whole idea of this book was also really unique. I mean, a lightening addict? Yes please! It's so cool! Totally not your whole typical vampire or werewolf thing. There was a lot more to the story though, and there were a lot more elements. Overall, it wasn't too confusing of a world. It made sense, and it was well thought out. Definitely kudos to the author to coming up with such an awesome idea that I've never read about before! That's hard to do in YA now-a-days!

I enjoyed the romance during the first half of the book. It wasn't too rushed, and I liked how Mia was freaked out by Jeremy [who is the main guy in the story] at first too. It wasn't insta-love. However, more towards the end of the book, it seemed way too rushed for me, and it didn't exactly work. They were supposed to have this 'connection' that I didn't get. It wasn't even explained.

At the end of the book, I was left with questions. I'm not going to list any here, because I don't want to spoil anything for you all, but there were some things that weren't ever explained. I think the author could have added just a little more information, and everything would make sense. That being said though, I'm really glad this story is a stand-alone. I'm pretty sure I've never read a Apocalypitc/Urban Fantasy book that hasn't been part of a series, so it was a total relief to learn I don't have to agonize and torture myself waiting for another book. Yay for stand-alones!

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It was a really good read, and I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a unique story that hasn't been told before!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus by Joyce Magnin - Review

Magnin, Joyce. Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus. Zondervan, 2012. $14.99. 320p. 9780310333555
Genre: Christian Fiction
Rating: 2/5

Every now and again we look up and wonder, what’s it all for? What is the purpose of my life? Well, in Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus, Harriet sets out to discover just that. 72 year old Harriet is a widow who lives alone in Bryn Mawr, PA.  When her son Henry and his wife Prudence discover that Harriet has fallen and can’t get up, they make a bet that if Harriet has broken her foot in the fall,, she has to come live with them. Clear across the country in Grass Valley, CA.  Give up the house her late husband built. Give up the friends she’s made. Give up her independence.  This, she does not want to do. But, the foot is broken. And Harriet is a bet-honorer.  

Harriet finds a buyer for the house, packs up her stuff, ships her dog Humphrey on ahead, and decides the only way she is going to California, is in her own way, in her own time. She's going to travel across the country using public transportation.

This adult road trip was not fun as it could be.  Harriet gets a Droid (just one of many name drops) and uses it to find hotels and transportation as she travels across country and she never once can't find a place to stay, no matter how last minute she calls.  She has a few small mishaps along the way – sometimes public transportation doesn’t run where she needs it and a couple attempt to steal her credit card – but she pretty much makes it all the way across the country no problem. Along the way she ships ahead the salt and pepper shakers that she collects. Meanwhile, Henry and Prudence, the son and daughter-in-law, face their own struggles. Henry has lost his writing mojo and Prudence is overworked. These problems too are easily overcome.

Along the way, I didn’t get a sense of the places Harriet visited or even Harriet herself.  She was your stereotypical spunky near-octogenarian, ala Betty White, but not near as funny. She spends such a little bit of time in each location that everything becomes a blur, both for Harriet and the reader.  The constant references to Amelia, the GPS in her phone, and YouTube, where a video of Harriet hitting a “hoodlum” with her tote bag has been uploaded, become tiresome instead of cute and affecting.  I really just wanted her to make it to Grass Valley already. Henry and Prudence are their own brand of bland. Nothing happened to reveal their characteristics so I had no idea what to expect from them and no emotional investment.

 I was, at first, interested in knowing if you could actually take public transportation across the country.  I was disappointed when Harriet suffered a heart attack before she could make the final leg of her trip. It was a baseless plot mover that led to me caring not caring whether she could make it or not.

I would give Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus by Joyce Magnin a 2.  If I searched really hard, I could pass this along.

You might think differently,
Over on Goodreads - Harriet Beamer Takes The Bus - has a 4/5 stars as of 4/25/12.  If you think you might like this one, leave me an email address in the comments and I'll pass the ARC along. US Only.

Take a quick stop at Harriet's Blog to see her dog Humphrey and hear about her travels!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Best - Adding a Little Color

That's my wardrobe over there! With Spring here - at least according to the calendar - I remembered my desire to add a little color to my wardrobe. To "branch out" so to speak!

In addition to new nail polish - can't wait till Essie's The Office Collection comes out - I added a few new items to the mix.

 <--- I got this shirt from Banana Republic.  It's bright and sheer, far from my usual.

---> this top's from The Limited. It's sort of a bridge piece. It has my usual grays and blues but with a pop of pink.

- I picked these capris up from Target.  I wasn't ready to buy the new brightly colored pants I've seen everywhere and thought this colored was a nice step up without making me feel too flashy.

Hopefully the success of these pieces will push me to expand my closet even more!

So how are you adding color to your days? Hop on over to Embrace Your True Colors and join the conversation!  Are you leading a Life Well Lived? Click the link to share and have a chance to win an iPod Touch and an iTunes gift card!

Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Monday: What Are You Reading - 4/23/12

Check out Teach Mentor Texts with Jen and Kellee to find more #kidlit bloggers joining in this special meme.

In the Past
I finished six books these past two weeks.

11/22/63 by Stephen King - really enjoyed this one.   Was happy that it was not scary. Counted how many times he used "obdurate" and "the past harmonizes".  Might have saved a hundred pages if that was edited.

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - mix of audio and print. If you like the idea that magic is real and true love conquers - read this!! I was a little distracted by Jim Dale's voice on audio - kept thinking of Harry Potter - so had to finish it in print.  It was still awesome.

Storm Runners by Roland Smith - Video class is doing book trailers and this was one of the book choices.  I hadn't read it yet so figured I better so I know what the video should look like.  Seems it could have been combined with the second book to make one book - the cliffhanger was a bit much.  The other groups are taping On The Run by Gordon Korman and Enclave by Ann Aguirre, both of which I've already read.

Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner - was the only 2011 Nerdies winner in the YA category that I had not read.  Review to come.

Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani - talked about by @paulwhankins and @trkravtin on twitter.  It was as good as they said.

Partials by Dan Wells - read for 7th grade book club. I think they will love it.

In the Present
This week I'm working on:
The Chosen by Chaim Potok - daughter read for school and said I needed to read.

Harriet Beemer Takes the Bus by Joyce Magnin - blog tour.

Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski - re-read for 8th grade book club

In The Future
Batty About Books - Maria and I finished our first book buddies book! (which means I read 7 books not 6) Check out our thoughts while reading Graceling by Kristin Cashore - Parts 1, 2, 3, and Final.  Our next book is World Without Heroes (Beyonders, 1) by Brandon Mull

Blog Plans - I want to alternate these What are You Reading posts with both Nonfiction Mondays and Male Mondays. I still need to get my Jane vs Jane post ready for this week.  I plan on doing those once every other month since I'm reading the classic in one month and the contemporary version in the following month.  One more feature I'd like to add is a monthly author spotlight.  I hope to have that ready each fourth Sunday of the month.  Any authors you'd like to see?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Batty About Books - Graceling by Kristin Cashore - Final

Batty About Books welcomes you to 
Our Final Thoughts on 
Graceling by Kristin Cashore! 

Maria (@mselke01) and I are reading together and our first book is Graceling.  Each week, time permitting, we will share our thoughts about a section of the book.  My thoughts are in blue and Maria's responses are in purple.  On her blog, Maria's Melange, you can read the other side of the story!


Previous Posts
Graceling Part 3 - page 235 - 357
Graceling Part 2 - Page 116 - 234
Graceling Part 1 - Beginning to pg 115 

First, I was so afraid after they made it through the mountains that something terrible was going to happen.  When they found an ally and and then a ship to take them to Lienid, I thought I could relax but since this wasn’t my first read...  Yes. Though I loved the book, there were some odd pacing issues. Sometimes I expected a longer build up, and then WHAM something was over.

BITTERBLUE! I loved how Bitterblue found herself on the ship.  After being away from Leck and his influence for so long, she was able to relax and even started trusting men again.  I agree! I think I’m really starting to enjoy her as a character, which makes me even happier about the new book coming out. I really want more about her!

LECK! I hoped I hadn’t remembered this part correctly but it’s probably what I remember the most! The redeeming part was Bitterblue.  She could tell he was lying and she defended Katsa when all was said and done.  Boy, that was gruesome and fitting.  I liked how his mouth was his undoing. As I mentioned in my thoughts, I found this section to be over too quickly. I wanted to know how he got there, and I felt like his defeat was just too easy. But I did like how the effects of his Grace lingered. That at least made it feel like it wasn’t just a “wave a magic wand and fix it all” ending.

SKYE! I want a book about him! He seems so fun! I wonder if he’ll show up in Bitterblue married!  He was so excited about Katsa.  I loved that he wanted to see what made her famous.  That he didn’t feel like she was some sort of monster.  How different her life would have been to grow up in Lienid! So glad you brought up this character. I really enjoyed him, and I like how he interacted with both Po and Katsa. He’s a keeper. Maybe he’ll end up with Bitterblue? I thought about that! I was trying to calculate his age - since she's only 9 now - and couldn't determine it. Will be on the lookout in Bitterblue!

ROR! So happy that Cashore showed a different side of him. Kings are NOT all bad.  I have a better feel for him now. Love how he took Bitterblue under his wing. Another positive male role model for Bitterblue. She needs them to counteract Leck’s first 9 years in her life.  Also, I keep forgetting she’s NINE! I think the thing I liked best about Ror was how he felt confident leaving his queen in charge when he left. I think that was valuable for Katsa to see as well. I love how he’s mentoring and guarding Bitterblue. Yes, he would use Po (as we’ve discussed before) but I don’t think it’s because he’s power hungry. I think he’d use Po because kings who care for their people use any tool in their reach. It would hurt Po, but I don’t think that would be Ror’s motivation. Don't know if I could do something that might hurt my daughter!!! Possibly why I'm not officially the queen!

PO! He returns. But he’s not the conquering hero. Even with this new setback, he’s still awesome.  His “saving” Grace - “your Grace shows you the form of things but it doesn’t show you beauty. You’ve lost beauty.” Would be great to have students describe what they would miss if they “lost beauty”? I would miss seeing my daughter’s beautiful smiling face most of all! I really enjoyed this twist. Again, he reminds me of Daredevil! I think he’ll realize that he may have lost one aspect of beauty, but now he’s in touch more with the whole of creation - with the “music of the spheres” - and realize he didn’t really lose anything at all.

MORE PO! He’s going home to share this latest news about himself with his mother.  Now he has two things to keep secret.  Is that possible? Won’t the pretense be overly exhausting, if he’s already having a hard time keeping things from Skye and Bitterblue? I hope he can find a way to admit to at least a part of his Grace, so he doesn’t have to keep up the act completely with his family.

RAFFIN! BANN! Have I said they need a book? They better show up in Bitterblue.  Loved Katsa’s reaction to seeing them again. These two characters are amazing. Raffin is the perfect big brother. I do hope we see a lot more of them in Bitterblue.

RANDA! No, he’s doesn’t show up but Katsa is going to see him. How will we react? Does he still feel betrayed? Will he attack her out of fear? I’m just so thrilled that she decided to say “hang it all, I’m not tiptoeing around him”. She’ll face him, and then be able to move on without fear. Love that. Maybe Randa will die and Raffin will take over. Yes! Death to Randa!

So many questions!
I know we won’t partner read Bitterblue, but I think we should do at least one post with our reactions to that one! I agree!

Tune in next week when we tackle 
A World Without Heroes (Beyonders, 1) by Brandon Mull!

Bitterblue [!!!] by Kristin Cashore- Review

Reviewed by: Aneeqah's Not So Real Life
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Genres: Dystopia, Fantasy
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Source: ALA Midwinter
My Review:

In the third book of The Seven Kingdoms series, Bitterblue is now 18 and queen of Monsea. Her kingdom is still recovering from the rule of King Leck, and Bitterblue is trying to put it back together again. She starts sneaking out of the castle at night, and finds out about the world outside of her palace. She meets new people, and comes to the realization that she needs to find out more about the past, to fix her kingdom.

Before anything, let's just stare at that cover. *drool* It's gorgeous isn't it? And next to Graceling and Fire, it looks even better! When the books are right next to each other, you can tell they're part of a series, but they're not exactly alike either. It's a really amazing cover!

So now, onto the real book itself. In Bitterblue, we get to see characters from the past books. Katsa, Po, Giddon, Bann, Raffin, and even Fire all are in there. We get to see more of Giddon, and I really liked that we got to get to know him better. Katsa isn't in the book very much, just a few scenes, although she's important. Po was there, and played a role in the story, and I LOVED that he was in the story! We also got to experience Katsa and Po's relationship with each other from Bitterblue's perspective, which was very interesting, something I hadn't thought of when I was reading Graceling.

Let me say that I loved the last part of the book. I think it was fantastically written. We see some character growth, some unexpected things, and lots of things happen. The story twists, things come up that I wasn't expecting, and it just got interesting.

Here's basically a summary of what I thought as I was reading Bitterblue:

Beginning of the Book

Middle of the Book

End of the Book

So, in short, it got progressively better.

But there were a few things that didn't work for me. For one, Bitterblue was kind of a problem for me. She just didn't act like she was 18, and that she had been ruling the kingdom for 8 years already. She seemed more like she was 15, and had been ruling for only a few years. She never seemed 18 to me, and I don't think I ever thought of Bitterblue as 18. Her personality, her way of thinking, her attitude, it just never seemed like she was 18. 18 means your an adult, right? Well, she just didn't seem like an adult. She acted more like a child, or teenager rather than an adult.

That being said, I don't think it affected the whole story that much, except that it was kind of annoying. However, there were also some things that were predictable in the story. I don't like being able to guess things in a story, but I did correctly guess some things. There were some things, though, that I never saw coming, which was great.

The romance, also didn't work for me. It seemed way too rushed, and I didn't see any chemistry between Bitterblue and the other person [whose name I won't say, because I don't want to give anything away!] It didn't take over the story though, so I guess I should be thankful for that.

Putting those things aside, I loved the story. Alot. There was some action, some very well-developed and slightly flawed characters that I could believe, and a little mystery. It's what your looking for in a good series!

Overall, I really liked the book. I can say that I really, really liked the book. But there were a few things that stopped me from giving this book a full 5 stars. It was a good ending to one of my favorite trilogies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Batty About Books - Graceling by Kristin Cashore - Part 3

Batty About Books welcomes you to 
Part 3 of Graceling by Kristin Cashore! 

Maria (@mselke01) and I are reading together and our first book is Graceling.  Each week, time permitting, we will share our thoughts about a section of the book.  My thoughts are in blue and Maria's in purple.  On her blog, Maria's Melange, you can read the other side of the story!


Graceling by Kristin Cashore - page 235 - 357
Graceling Part 2 - Page 116 - 234
Graceling Part 1 - Beginning to pg 115

Kathy: The first thing that jumps out at me is the mention of Po’s father and his ambition.  Po continually stresses that he is not to know about Po’s full Grace, even though they honor Graces in Lienid.  What are we saying about Kings? We have Randa, Leck and Po’s father, who stole his kingdom from Po’s grandfather, and they seem to have some issues with Power.  When you have Power, are you destined to abuse it given the chance? 

Maria: Hmmm... this is a tricky one. Po isn’t just Graced - he’s a mind reader (well, more of an empath, but still). I think Cashore gave us a nice peek into that aspect of Grace earlier in the book. I think it is his particular Grace, more than just the fact that he is Graced, that is the problem. I also am inclined to give Po’s father a bit of slack so far. Randa and Leck are unbridled jerks, yes. But I can see where being a ruler might mean trying to do what is best for ALL of your people, even if it causes harm to your own child. (Not saying I would make that call myself, but I can see some logic in it). I’m hoping that Po’s father is that kind of ruler, and that his mother is just concerned that the king will feel he NEEDS to use Po’s Grace to sort things out, and not really think through what it does to Po.

Kathy: What is the deal with Leck? What does he want with Bitterblue? What does she mean he has a thing for young girls?? At first I thought it was because she was Graced but we would know if he knew, right? Her eyes would have changed.  Is there something else? She mentioned that her mom became more immune to Leck’s Grace when he threatened Bitterblue and that she herself became more immune when he threatened her mom.  Does that happen with others? 
Maria: Leck seems to be (or it sounds like) someone that the Criminal Minds team would be chasing. He enjoys inflicting pain, and I can imagine he may also be a pedophile. All of that, though, doesn't really explain the extent to which he is going to recapture Bitterblue. Maybe her immunity will cause his downfall? Maybe there was a prophecy about her? It doesn't sound like anyone else becomes immune when threatened directly, so I’m thinking there is more to the story than just that. Maybe there is something to the Lienid blood as well that helps with the immunity? Have we seen any other Lienids react to Leck?

Kathy: Also, how is his Grace able to control others? I mean, that is one awesome but crazy Grace! He is also a very smart man, surrounding himself with a Graced inner and outer guard.  Why did he kill his wife? 
Maria: I think she threatens his control. Maybe a Lienid thing, or maybe it’s tied to his need to destroy his daughter. Maybe if she got out, she could destroy his ability to control the spin of his story? I really want to know what’s next.

Kathy: While traveling through the mountains with Katsa, we see a more motherly side to her. Will protecting Bitterblue somehow lead to a change in her wanting children? Or will it reinforce something for Katsa since she has to constantly think about Bitterblue and change her plans accordingly, even to the point of slowing down. 
Maria: I’m curious about this as well - but as I mentioned in my discussion I’m pleased to see this female mentorship build. I think the women teaching women aspect is sorely lacking in fiction, and I’m hoping that Cashore builds on this relationship.

Kathy: In addition to the way they are putting Bitterblue first, I was touched by the scene where Katsa went under the waterfall to find Po’s safe place. She asked him to turn his face away so she could get undressed.  I liked that she considered that a 10 year old might not be ready to know about that part of their relationship. 
Maria: Yes! I loved this. I don’t think Katsa was very sheltered, and I love the fact that she considered the need to shelter Bitterblue.

Kathy: And we left Po!! What does he mean that he doesn’t think he’ll get his balance back?? How is he faring??? Has he been caught? How could Cashore leave us hanging? 
Maria: Yes! I forgot to mention that. I noticed his comment about his balance not coming back as well, and jotted down a note. Can his Grace also notice what is wrong within him? That worried me a lot. I am happy he’s out of the picture for a while - so Katsa and Bitterblue can bond - but I do want him back!

This was an exciting part of the book! I can't wait to see what the last part brings.  How will Cashore bring all the players back together and right the wrongs? Will she write the wrong? Tune in next week!

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's Monday: What Are You Reading - 4/9/12

Check out Teach Mentor Texts with Jen and Kellee to find more #kidlit bloggers joining in this special meme.

In the Past
I finished six books these past two weeks.
There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff - Mock Printz.

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter - Classic Double challenge - will be comparing to the Secret Garden.

Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin - great middle grade read! Giving away a copy of the book here.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen - reading to see if it fits for our One Book, One School.

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet - it kept winning the rounds in the SLJ Battle of the Books.

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger - because I needed something light to offset 11/22/63. It fit the bill nicely!

In the Present
Graceling by Kristin Cashore - reading this one as a part of Batty About Books with Maria Selke at Maria's Melange.  Check out our reactions to the first half of the book here and here.

11/22/63 by Stephen King - my first foray into a Stephen King novel. Heard so much about it! But man, it's +800 pages!!!! I must say that it's fascinating, riveting, and a little creepy and confusing. Loving it.

In the Future
Reviews are in order! I have two Classic Double posts I want to get in this week as well as the third part of Batty about Books.

Happy Monday! What are your reading plans?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Sunday Salon - Spring Break and Other Stuff

Times Square
It's been a busy week. The daughter and I visited New York for Spring Break and two of my teen bloggers did their own spring "break" and started their own blogs!

New York City
We've always wanted to visit New York. I went for a fast weekend with some friends about 6 or 7 years ago but we didn't do a lot of sightseeing. The daughter and I wanted to sightsee and visit a couple of colleges she's interested in attending.

We arrived late Saturday night, put our stuff away and walked to Times Square. It was awesome! There were so many people and so many lights. We tried a shish-kebab from one of the many carts and just people watched until we were too tired and cold!

The next day we visited The Empire State Building to pick up our NYC citypass booklet and because it took sooo long, we stayed to visit the observation deck! *sidenote: the pass is only worth it if you have a LOT of time! It doesn't get you in front of any lines so you spend a lot of time waiting which meant we didn't get to all of the things we wanted to do! And we were there for 3 full days!*

Empire State Building
The audio tour for Empire was fun and informative. 

After that we shopped and shopped! At least the daughter did! I pretty much just went along for the ride!
Statue of Liberty
Monday we got up early to head out to The Statue of Liberty Island and Ellis Island.  We did the audio tour for both those places too! It took us almost 2 hours of waiting in line to get on the ferry to Liberty Island! Plan accordingly! Or pre-order your ticket online and schedule a particular time.  Those people had a special line and got through quickly! You also have to go through a form of security. The ferry was pretty crowded but we found seats on the mid-level thankfully. It was pretty cold that day! If you do the audio, consider bringing your own headphones! We couldn't go inside the statue because they were doing renovations but we walked around a bit before taking the ferry to Ellis Island.  Check those ferry times and get there early.

The Ellis Island part of the trip was amazing. The audio tour featured people who'd come to America through the Ellis telling their own stories as well as some additional facts. There were pictures and items from the time period as well. 

Since that took up most of our day we found a place to eat then went to visit The Museum of Modern Art (The MoMa).  Afterwards we stopped by Magnolia's for cupcakes.

Tuesday was our college visiting day! Before we went to NYU though, we stopped at the Little Red Schoolhouse! We got to meet Jen Hubert Swan (@readingrants, Reading Rants), Stacy Dillon (@mytweendom, Welcome to My Tweendom) and Karyn Silverman (@infowitch, Someday My Printz Will Come) and Celeste! Not only was it amazing to meet these three phenomenal school librarians in person, their schools were outstanding as well.  It was inspiring!

New York University
We then walked/ran over to New York University for our informational meeting and tour. It was fun walking around the campus and visiting one of the dorms.  Our tour guide was on his game and kept us informed and entertained. Thankfully the day had warmed up because we spent a lot of time outside. Afterwards we headed over to Otto's for lunch (get the gelato!) and then to Columbus University.  Such a different world! Since many people go to CU for grad school, many of the students we saw were older. It was also a traditional campus with beautiful old buildings.  We couldn't get an appointment that day so we tried to do the audio tour on my phone. Unfortunately, the thing died about 1/2 way through!! We continued our walk around any way.  After a while we thought we'd head to Central Park.  We got lost somewhere and! After a heated discussion about safety and appearances, we quickly decided to just take the subway back and decide what we wanted to do for the rest of the day.

We ended up visiting Times Square once more! Going full circle so to speak! All in all it was a great trip! We rode the subway and the bus to get around.  We felt like true New Yorkers. Can't wait to visit again!

New Blogs
My two main teen bloggers, Aneeqah and Lucy, both decided to start their blogs in the past week or so! Aneeqah (@AneeqahNSRL) now writes over at My Not So Real Life and Lucy (@KRWLucy) writes over at Keeping It Real With Lucy.  When I recruited these two, I thought they'd be here to take over The Brain Lair when I "retire" but things don't always work out the way you plan! The blogging bug bit them both! I can't wait to read more of their thoughts! Hopefully, we'll have them back here for a few guest posts! In the meantime, please check out their blogs. 

Of course, that means I need to dust off my blogging chair! I'd been taking it easy while they ran things over here!! Look for some minor changes at The Brain Lair as I get my feet wet, again!

Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, April 6, 2012

My goodbye to a hello....

I have some very sad but, exciting news to announce.
I have officially started my own blog, and won't  be a full time writer anymore here.
I have thought about how I wanted to word this post, and as I sit here my eyes are watering up and the sniffles are coming.
While I have only been writing here since the fall, there are many people I need to thank, before I can get excited about my new blog.
1. Kathy, man where do I begin. I met you, we talked, we read, I wrote, and now here we are. YOU got me started. YOU encouraged me to go for what I wanted, and YOU stuck up with my obnoxious text messages when something wasn't working. Thank- you! You're the best!
2. Aneeqah- You started with me on this journey. We were sitting in a room with 4 other people when Kathy bought up the idea of blogging. You were all for it while I had my reservations. When you started you're blog the other day, you gave me thoughts if I wanted to start mine. Thanks for also putting up with my obnoxious text messages, and helping me through this.
3. My family- they let me sit up at a computer and type up reviews etc. They have been great with me getting this new blog.

I have been very thankful to have the opportunity to write here. Meet the amazing people in the blogging world, who are now moving over to my new blog. I'm also excited for all the new bloggers I will get to meet, and talk to.

For now this is my goodbye to hello. I hope you will rejoin with me at my other blog, where I will still be reading Realistic fiction.

Again, THANK YOU! Thanks for the support, and the love.

I want to leave us with a song... I song I feel that goes well with this goodbye to a hello... Because at one time we will collide together.

Loving to Read One Step at a Time

Batty About Books - Graceling by Kristin Cashore - Part 2

Batty About Books welcomes you to 
Part 2 of Graceling by Kristin Cashore! 

Maria (mselke01) and I are reading together and our first book is Graceling.  Each week, time permitting, we will share our thoughts about a section of the book.  My thoughts are in blue and Maria's in purple.  On her blog, Maria's Melange, you can read the other side of the story!


Graceling by Kristin Cashore - Page 116 - 234
Graceling Part 1 - Beginning to pg 115

Kathy: I love the way Po won’t fight Katsa angry.  That would make a great discussion starter or just a fun conversation - what shouldn’t you do angry? I can see kids having fun with the question after we discuss why he won’t fight her.
Maria: I loved this. I just think that the way Po interacts with Katsa is wonderful. I love how he wants to “level the playing field” with her. He respects her strength and power enough that he knows he can’t fight her without her holding back - and that he wants her not to have to hold back. I also think he knows her uneasiness with her anger. I enjoyed the scene when they fought at night, and she could finally completely unleash. Again, I was reminded of some of my favorite female fighters. Batgirl often spars with people like Black Canary so that she can go all out in her training.

Kathy: Were you surprised by Po’s grace? 

Maria:Yes and no. I had some suspicions as I was reading that it wasn’t really just his fighting style. She gave a lot of little hints along the way. When it was finally revealed, I went “Oh, of course! That makes it all make sense”. All the little tidbits about mind readers early on, and the clues about his sensitivity to those around him. They all tied in nicely together. What else makes this awesome? The female has the fighting Grace and the male has the empathy/sensitivity. Yet Katsa still has emotional sensitivity and Po still has power. They are a well matched pair - ying to yang in every way. I’m actually really glad they let the Giddon angle drop. She’ll have enough other issues to work through. Giddon made me pretty angry with how he handled everything in this segment anyway.

Kathy: I wonder how Katsa’s felt when she first decided to let Lord Ellis go - knowing she would not only be defying Randa but losing her place at the castle, such as being able to do her Council work and leaving Raffin.
Maria: Yet another thing I loved. I kept thinking to myself, “Stand up to him already!” - and then she did. I love that she has to face serious consequences for this action. Doing the right thing isn’t easy, and it always carries a price. I’m sure Raffin will come back into her life, though.

Kathy: “When a monster stopped behaving like a monster,, did it stop being a monster?”
This quote makes me think of who I am and how much of it is in reaction to what others think of me or my perception of their thinking.  How much of me is from inside of me? Great segue into a conversation on identity - what it means, how you get it, how to change or own it...
Maria: Yes! What makes us who we are? Is it who we are innately? How we act? Do our choices change who we ARE, or just how we are behaving? Katsa is awfully hard on herself, but I think it’s because she knows what she is doing isn’t moral or ethical, and she’s trying to work herself into making that break.

Kathy: I wonder why Randa doesn’t respect Raffin? Is it just because of his love for medicine? Are doctors on such a low level in their society? If so, why would Cashore do that?
Maria: This leads me to think there may be more to their mutual dislike than we’ve seen so far. There must be more backstory to it. Raffin also doesn’t seem to pursue power for its own sake, and I think that sets Randa’s teeth on edge. My guess is that even though Raffin’s Council work would make Randa angry, he’d probably also respect Raffin’s backbone more if he knew about it. It also makes me think there might be something to your thoughts about Raffin and Bann having a relationship. That would also cause the rift with Randa.

Kathy: I hate that Randa doesn’t care anything about his own niece either.  Outside of her usefulness to him, he wouldn’t care if she was dead. That is so sad! What has happened to Randa that he doesn’t value family???
Maria: I know, right?? I often wonder about the backstory for villains. One of these days I’m going to write a version of Rapunzel that reveals what the witch’s deal was.

Kathy: I would love a Grace that didn’t protected me from sickness and tiredness!! What things I could get done! The places i would go! Would I force myself to slow down and eat and rest like Katsa is doing? Or would I eventually reach the ends of myself because I pushed myself too far? I would hope I would slow down but I’m sure in the beginning, as I was discovering all I could do, I would pretty much run everywhere and try everything - if I was in my own time of course.  Being in a place where Graces are feared would put a slight damper on things!
Maria: Have you read any of the Wheel of Time series? The “magic users” in that world (Aes Sedai) can often use a similar technique to avoid fatigue, but it does take its toll in the end.

Again, check out Part 1 if you missed it! Join us next week for Part 3!
Thanks for joining us!

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook - Interview with Joanne Rocklin

Rocklin, Joanne. The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook. Amulet Books, April 2012. 240p. $16.95. 978-1-4197-0192-4.

Check out my review of The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook.

Joanne Rocklin talks about change as loss, being a tween, how her pets help her find things, storytelling vs novel writing, and why seeing and noticing can change your life as well as those around you!

How do you write about loss for young readers?

It is interesting that you ask that question first. I did indeed want to explore the illness and potential death of a pet from the eyes of a middle grader, or “tween.” I remember being struck reading a story about a father who was deeply mourning the death of his dog. He described how the memory of that family pet seemed to be fading very quickly for his three-year-old daughter. I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that there are more stories on this topic written for the picture book age, yet it is the tween who truly understands the loss, intellectually and emotionally.

You ask how I write about loss. Let me say first that I am always writing about loss in some way, because change itself implies a loss. I write about kids going to a new school, or experiencing a family crisis, or a new family dynamic. In THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK, yes, I am writing about illness and death, the ultimate loss. Oona and Fred’s father has died, and now their cat is ill. 

But as a writer (and even as a parent, or friend or teacher) I know that adjustment to any loss is an important process, and that’s how I tell my story. At first, Oona wears her father’s Raiders sweatshirt all the time. And she retells her father’s stories, to keep him alive in her mind. She tells her brother Fred a big “whopper”—that cats have nine lives, and Zook has only lived five of them, hoping to assuage Fred’s anxiety. Yet deep down she herself also wishes the whopper were true. Eventually, by telling her stories her own way, and taking care of her brother, and opening up her heart to new people in her life, she’s able to say her good-byes. And that means letting go of any fantasies, removing her dad’s sweatshirt, yet understanding that her father will always be part of her, as will every single living thing she has loved. Five-year-old Fred holds onto to his own fantasy about Zook, and Oona knows she must allow him to go through his own process of understanding.

How do you capture the mind of the tween in your work?

I love tweens! That is the part of my own childhood I remember best, when I fell in love with books and libraries and writing stories, poems and journal entries. I wrote long, long detailed letters to my best friend when we were both at different summer camps. We exchanged letters, so I still have mine in the garage! I love that tweens are struggling to understand Big Things, but often miss the mark a little bit, which can be humorous. Oona wonders about true love, magic and God in my story, and finds her own answers eventually. I love their forthrightness as they show off their newfound knowledge. But I also love their ambivalence—they love conflict and independence, but are fine without it, too, from time to time. In other words, there is much to write about, and remember. “Capturing the mind of the tween” is a matter of remembering my own tweenhood, as well as cherishing the tweens I meet in my life.

Do you think pets keep you sane? What about your pets?

with Mitzi and Zoe
I talk out loud to myself when I’m alone. (And writers are often alone; it’s practically a 
requirement for the job. . . .) I just can’t help myself. Frankly, when I do that, I feel crazy. But if my cat or dog are in the room, I address my comments to them. That makes me feel less crazy, especially when they answer me. The other day my cat Mitzie pointed out, “Your glasses are on the dining room table, where you left them.” And she was right!

I do love having pets. They raise my self-esteem. Mitzie makes me feel like a movie star when I enter a room. (“Oh, wow! It’s her! She’s back!”) My dog Zoe is more laid back, but I do feel calm and virtuous, massaging her arthritic hip. They say pets are good for one’s blood pressure. 

How do you transfer the art of storytelling to print?

It was fun and challenging to have Oona tell the stories she’d heard from her father. These stories are variants of very old tales from several cultures. The structure of her stories remain the same, but she adds bits and pieces of her own life to make them hers, as she grows to understand her world. She has learned from her dad to use sparkling, descriptive language, to surprise her audience with loud sounds and odd plot twists, to pull her ear to signal the onset of a tale. I tried to show how being in command of her story gave her a sense of personal power.

I am a writer, not a professional storyteller (as I understand the term). But I do have a sense of what it feels like to relay polished, rhythmic, fully formed stories to an audience, when I speak to kids at schools about my writing. There are certain stories I tell that capture exactly what I want to say about creativity, and it’s enjoyable to repeat them over and over to different audiences. The more I repeat, the more I’m able to perfect them. But the stories are essentially the same. It’s like singing a song I know very well. 

Yet the telling of the story has to seem fresh and alive, and the tale fully formed, as if the teller is discovering the tale along with the audience. How different from my own lonely, rough drafts as I rework a novel! Writing a novel is a messy, circular process. I bounce back and forth, revising. The finished linear tale that results is so very different from the drafts. Do storytellers have their “rough drafts?” I’ve always imagined the gifted storyteller inhabited by a muse. The muse whispers a story in her ear, leaving just enough space between the words for the storyteller to add her own. That’s how I imagined Oona, telling her father’s stories.

Your book points out differences and similarities between observing and seeing. How does this inform the story you've written?

Oona fancies herself a terrific observer, a “noticer,” she tells us. Based on her observations about life, she’s come up with quite a few theories: her Rainbow Whopper Theory, her Cats Have Nine Lives Theory, her Name Theory, her Wishing Theory, her Hope of the World Theory. Most of her theories sound terrific “in theory,” and will improve as she gains experience and maturity. She has even been known to admit when a theory is flawed.

She is also struggling to develop a theory about true love, what it means, and how you know you’ve found it. Galileo, she learns from her respected teacher, wasn’t afraid to base his celestial theories on what he himself actually saw, rather than mere assumption. And as Oona puts it, sometimes you can “notice the obvious but wrong things.” When it comes to relationships, especially new ones, Oona begins to realize that her theories are based on what she hopes or wishes to be true, rather than what she truly sees with her eyes, and is beginning to feel in her heart. 

About the Author
Photo by Gerry Nelson

I was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the land of four distinct seasons. The winters are so long! Wintry days and nights inspired me to read many, many books, the most important thing a writer can do. Of course other seasons inspired me, too! And as soon as I learned to hold a pencil I began writing poems, stories, and diaries. I loved reading my own stories. As an adult I moved to L.A., where my two sons were brought up, and my first books written. Now I live in Northern California, in Oakland, with my husband Gerry, near my sons and their families. I spend my days writing, reading, gardening, cooking up a storm, singing in our synagogue choir, babysitting for my grandchildren, and playing with our golden retriever, Zoe, and cat, Mitzie.s well as library books to my two younger sisters. I have always owned cats (or they have owned me, a cliché, but true!) Coincidentally, all our cats have been authors, and I’ve compiled their writing secrets in the essay “Why Cats Write.” We found our current cat, Mitzie, hungry and flea-bitten, outside our favorite Thai restaurant. Following in my other pets’ paw prints, she is presently revising her heartrending memoir Please Take Me Home With You (It Will Be Worth It, I Promise). 

Check out Joanne Rocklin's blog for some fun with Zook, including a sample chapter!

Want to get your very own copy of The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook?

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