Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Travel Edition!

What’s Up Wednesday is a meme started by the awesome Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk as a way to keep up with your writer/reader/blogger pals in a quick, fun way.  Link up with other participants at Jaime's blog and make sure to leave some comments along the way!

What I’m Reading: 
A lot of different things, actually!  On my Kindle, I've been reading Who I Kissed, and I'm enjoying that.  But we flew to and from New York this week, and I actually prefer paper books on planes because I can read them all through take-off and landing (when I most need to be distracted, as a nervous flyer.)  So on the way in I read Below Stairs, the memoir of a woman who worked as a kitchen maid and cook in big houses in England around the time of Downton Abbey.  It was so much fun I finished it Saturday night!  I won't do a formal review here, but it was a plainspoken, funny, sometimes infuriating account, so if you're interested in that kind of thing I recommend it.  On the way home, I started a collection of old essays by Nora Ephron that I picked up in a bookstore in my old neighborhood, and today I started reading The Awakening, both out of my own interest and because I've been working on ideas for a course or two I'm teaching next year that may involve some feminist criticism.  

What I’m Writing: 

Still adding words to the ol' WiP!  Last week, despite only writing a couple days, I still averaged around 750 words/weekday.  Today I'm back home and shooting for another week with four out of five days over 1000 words--and today is one of them!  I don't have another snippet to share today, but maybe next week once I've been home and had time to pick one out :)

What Else I’ve Been Up To:  

The trip I mentioned!  Mr. S actually got to take some time off of work (only the second time he's taken any days off since he started last summer--the first being two days at Christmas) and we headed back to our old stomping grounds in NYC.  We ate a lot, and saw some friends and family, and DEFINITELY hit up Books of Wonder!  I scored some fun signed books and just generally enjoyed being in the Happiest Place on Earth.
What’s Inspiring Me Now:  

My former students.  The real reason for this trip was to see my students--the ones who were freshmen my first year of teaching, the class I had that whole year, the ones who smelled fresh meat and later told me they were trying to get me to quit, but then couldn't believe that I would leave them two years later: in other words, my babies--graduate from high school.  

I was definitely sad to have missed their senior year, but I was so, so proud of how many of them made it to the finish line.  A few kids in particular, who were my students in some undefinable way, hit big milestones: a few graduated after spending most of HS on the brink of not passing some important classes, while other distinguished themselves tremendously, winning awards and earning fantastic grades.  I was equally proud of them all.  

I'm also inspired by my former colleagues, because I know that getting these kids to where they wound up was not easy, not ever, and I know how dedicated the teachers are at this school.  

So, what's up with you?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Nerdy Edition

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly meme to let bloggers check in and share what they're reading and writing. Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk host, so check out their blogs to sign up!


What I'm Reading:  
I'm re-reading my egalley of Starglass by Phoebe North.  Yes, the book isn't even out yet and I'm already re-reading.  I loved it that much.  But I also wanted to re-read because I'm participating in a blog tour closer to the book's publication date, and I need to get ready for that.  My original review is here, but: a generation ship with Jewish culture, cats, LGBTQ elements, and an amazing heroine?  How could I love a book more than this? 
I usually need quite a while between re-reads of a book.   I'm thinking Starglass is one of the rare exceptions, because I'm just as absorbed the second time around. 

 What I'm Writing:

Still plugging away at Last, but I'm happy to report that I met both my goal and my challenge goal from last week!  I got out 750 new words every weekday, and I hit 1000 on four of the last five writing days.

This week is kind of funky, since I'll be traveling from Saturday to Tuesday.  I'm giving myself those days off from both running and writing, so I can enjoy my time seeing friends and watching my old students graduate.  So I think I'll try amping things up: for the next three days (today through Friday) my challenge goal is 1500 words each day.  If I can do that on two of the days this week, I'll have made up for my two days off next week.

What Inspires Me Right Now: 

  I spent some time yesterday putting together my office.  I finally got a comfy desk chair and a rug and another chair for reading.  I'm waiting for a few last touches before I share pictures of the whole space, but I love that I finally have this poster framed and on my wall.  It's maybe my favorite thing anyone has ever said, and it's blue, and it's SIGNED BY JOHN GREEN.  (I know he signs, like, everything.  But I still get excited.) 
What Else I've Been Up To:
I've been working on plans for next year--it's looking pretty likely that I will be teaching at not one but TWO awesome schools.  I have yet to finalize all the logistical plans and officially sign contracts, but I've accepted the offers and I'm getting really, really excited.   (Oh: if anyone has recommendations for either fiction or non-fiction reads that will dunk me into US History headfirst, let me know--it looks like I will be teaching a section of that in the fall!  You can bet I'll be glued to John Green's Crash Course videos all summer!)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Love: Transition Edition!

Every summer that I have been teaching, I've been amazed to find that my reading actually slows way down at the beginning of the summer, rather than speeding up now that I have all this free time.  The problem is, now I can spend my free time watching old episodes of The Office (desert island show, for SURE) and playing games on my iPad (Temple Run 2, anyone?) and so I have a tendency to binge on those things at first and ignore my poor TBR pile.

So this week, I only have one book to review!  Geez.  But I'm hoping to get on a more responsible schedule this week and get back to books.

What I Read This Week: 

  Boy NobodyBoy Nobody by Allen Zadoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Free ARC received at Rochester Teen Book Festival.

My rating for this book is kind of complicated. I picked up the ARC knowing that it was outside my usual preferences, but thinking it looked interesting enough to give it a shot. For me, personally, this would be about a three-star read. I stayed interested enough to finish it, but I was right: it's not exactly my cup of tea. However, I would LOVE to see this on classroom and school library shelves; I think many of my students would get really into it. The high stakes adventure and short chapters are a combination that will lure even reluctant readers to give it a shot and to keep turning pages. So, for that reason, I have to say this is worth at least four stars.

If you like stories with lots of action, suspense, and mystery, this will likely be one you'll enjoy. (And I think it would make a great beach read--the writing is simple and gets out of the way of the plot, and as I said, the chapters are short and sweet.) If I liked it enough to finish, I can imagine that people who typically enjoy this genre will really enjoy it.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Summer Writing Goals

What's up Wednesday is brought to you by Jaime and Erin.  It's a way to share what's up in your life in just four easy steps!

What I'm Reading

After getting sucked into a Kindle Daily Deal that I wound up finding fairly dopey (and so I will not be reviewing) I'm back on track with Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff.  I picked up an ARC at the Rochester Teen Book Festival--it's not the kind of thing I think I would have bought, but it looked interesting and I decided to give it a shot.  So far I'm really intrigued, and it has the definite bonus factor of very short chapters--great for finding little bits of time to read.

What I'm Writing

I'm so excited to be participating in Ready. Set. Write!  Check out explanations from the hosts, Katy, Jaime, Erin, Elodie, and Alison, if you want to join in!
  • Goal for the summer: Finish the first (real) draft of my WiP, Last, and do one or two rounds of heavy-duty revisions.  Essentially, get this thing to where I can send it to CP/beta readers. 
  • Goal for this week: Keep adding words!  My new-and-improved summer writing schedule is at least 750 words every weekday, weekends off.  
  • Challenge goal: Yesterday I blew past 1K because I got really into the scene I was writing.  I'm going to try for 1K words on four out of my next five writing days (counting today.)  If I don't make that, it's ok, but that's my "stretch" goal.
What Else I've Been Up To
Four days in (counting Sunday's short gym run) and I'm still excited about this whole running thing!  When you're in the kind of shape I'm in, you start to see improvements pretty fast--so jogging a section of my route that winded me on Monday felt easy-breezy today.  Yesterday was a double-distance day, so shifting back down to a single today made it feel like a vacation, not a workout.  I'm impatient for the day when I can put in a reasonable workout and run the entire time, but I know I'm getting a tiny bit better every day.

Also, I'm getting used to being sore all the time.  It kind of feels good now.  Is that normal?  

What Inspires Me Right Now
Slow and steady progress, a clean(ish) apartment, and some lovely feedback on the snippet I shared yesterday!  Thanks, everyone!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

WIP Excerpt Game!

Yesterday, Elodie tagged me for a writing game.  (Definitely check out her shared excerpt--boy, can that girl write romantic tension!)

Here are the rules: “Search the words “moment,” “forever,” “time,” or the like in your writing, pick your favorite chunk, post on your blog, and tag others!”

I'll tag the gals I met up with at SCBWI this winter: Jaime Morrow, Rebecca Behrens, and Ghenet Myrthil!

This chunk is from my WiP, Last, which, despite having been written twice, is still actually a first draft because I'm completely re-writing it this time through.  This is what I'll be working on during Ready. Set. Write!--I hope to have it revised and ready for feedback by the end of the summer.  But here's a scene for now, in all its unrevised glory! 

     Maggie is now attempting to show me how to wear makeup, despite the fact that her skin is the color of lakefront sand and mine alternates between the color of a frosted lightbulb and the glowing intensity of Rudolph’s nose.  We’ve wisely skipped over the foundation piece and moved on to the eyes.  I’m willing myself to believe that the jitters I’m feeling are due to the pointy objects Maggie is wielding right next to my eyeball, and not the fact that her face is about an inch away from mine. 

     “Close your eyes,” she instructs.  I do, and I’m startled by a soft, warm puff of air, followed by the lightest brush of a finger over my eyelids.  I jump.  "Hold still, Bridget!" Maggie says, and grabs my chin, turning it from side to side to examine her work.  “Don’t want little bits of powder all over,” she explains.  She brushes away any last lingering imperfections with her thumb.

     Her voice is matter-of fact, but her touch lingers on my cheek, just below my eye.  I want desperately to open my eyes, to see if I can read anything in her face, but I keep them shut.  Her hand moves away and I realize I’ve been holding my breath.  I try to let it out quietly, without giving myself away, but then I feel like there’s no air in my lungs at all and I’m left trying to catch my breath without Maggie realizing what she’s done to me.  Luckily, I can hear her rooting in her makeup box, so I let myself take a deep breath.  I keep my eyes closed to calm myself.

Then, without warning, her hand is on my chin, and I feel her finger, warm and slick with something sweet, running over my lips.  A shock runs through my core, and my eyes fly open.  My eyes stare straight into Maggie’s dark brown ones, and for a second, we’re both hypnotized.  

“Lip stain,” she says in a shaky voice.  She holds the little pot out without breaking eye contact.  “Here.  You can practice putting it on me.  Just to see how it goes on.”

I take the pot and break her gaze to look down at it, and contemplate what she’s asking me to do.  I swipe my finger over the top of glossy red disc in my hand, and flip it over to look at the color on my fingertip.  I glance back up at Maggie, but there’s an excitement in her eyes that I can’t bring myself to confront.  So I focus my eyes on her lips, which are smooth and rose-colored, not chapped like mine.  I bring my finger up and gently spread the stain across the center of her bottom lip.  Her chin tilts up, just a fraction of an inch, and when I look up at her eyes again I see that she’s closed them.  I gently rub the color toward each side of her lips, then pause.  

Keeping her eyes closed, Maggie reaches up to take my hand.  “Like this,” she says, and shows me how to finish off the corners.  She moves my hand slowly over her mouth until it’s done, and then she touches her lips together experimentally.  “How does it look?” she asks me, opening her eyes.  “Anything out of place?”  

I look at her red lips, and it does seem like there’s the tiniest bit of a smudge just at the left corner of her mouth.  I nod.  “Hold still.  I’ll get it.”  My voice comes out steadier than I expected, and that gives me the courage I need to take her chin in my hand and reach toward her lips again.  I slide my thumb down her cheek, toward her lips, and her eyes find mine again.  I lean toward her--the better to see the outline of her lips under the bright red stain--and I feel everything inside of me explode with the understanding of what’s about to happen here.  I pull her toward me, just another few millimeters, and I know we’ve reached the point of no return.  

And then I bail.  “Got it!” I yelp, pulling my hands away.  “You look perfect.”  I turn toward the mirror, because I can’t bear to see what’s going across Maggie’s face.  If I was reading things correctly (but how could I have been?) then I’m a coward and I just rejected my best friend and biggest crush of all time, ever.  If I was reading things incorrectly (which I can’t have been, I just know I can’t have been) then seeing nothing in Maggie’s face would certainly cause my heart to explode, and I’d like to save her the mess of cleaning that up. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Love: Inaugural Edition

Welcome to summer, everyone!  Today was my first weekday post-schoolyear (sorry to my kiddos and colleagues who still have a few weeks of testing left; being part-time and a sub has its perks) and I'm adjusting to the freedom with a few changes:

--I've changed my writing schedule from 300 words a day, six days a week to 750 words a day, weekdays only.  Trying to get more done while also leaving weekends free to enjoy Mr. S's rare moments away from the office.

--I'm adding in a daily run (well, "run"--right now, there's a lot of walking mixed in.)  After a session at the gym we just joined, I mentioned to my husband that many of my writer friends are also big-time runners, running the equivalent of several marathons each month.  He said, "You could run one marathon in a month," and a lightbulb went off.  So, by the end of June, my goal is to walk/jog 26.2 miles.  Right now, I can jog for about a minute without stopping to walk (pretty pitiful), but I can only start where I am.  By the end of the month, I'm sure I'll see improvement.  Next month: 52.4!  (Thanks for the inspiration, Katy and other runners!)

--And, most relevant here, I'll be changing up my blogging schedule.  My reviews will now go up on Mondays--Monday Love instead of Sunday Sunshine!  I'm going to be participating in What's Up Wednesdays/Ready. Set. Write! on Wednesdays, and who knows?  Maybe something on Fridays, if the spirit moves me.

So--here's What I Read This Week:

 False Sight (False Memory, #2)False Sight by Dan Krokos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Holy geez, this is one heck of a second book! It was full of all the action and plot twists that I enjoyed in the first book, but this time around, I was more invested in the characters, so the stakes felt higher for that reason alone. On top of that, new information about Miranda and her friends raises the stakes by a factor of infinity. This is a much bigger story than the first book.

Where False Memory started with Miranda just trying to find out who she is, this one starts with Miranda and the other Roses actually living a relatively normal life. Seeing them in high school, going to dances, dealing with bullies, makes it much more poignant when their world is torn apart and they must contemplate losing everything they've hoped for.

I thought Miranda, in particular, developed as a character over the course of this book. I also liked getting to know the others better, especially Noah. The new plot elements that were introduced were totally unexpected, and while I was a little skeptical at first, I wound up really getting into them.

After reading this, I'm even more excited to recommend this series. I really enjoyed this installment and can't wait to see what happens next!

Taken (Taken, #1)Taken by Erin Bowman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are you in a reading slump? Looking for a book packed with twists and featuring that most elusive of beings, the male YA narrator? Try Taken by Erin Bowman! It worked for me!

Ok, sorry for the cheesy opening, but I know this book has been a slumpbuster for at least one of my friends and it did the same for me. I couldn't settle on something to read, and then I started reading Taken and was sucked in immediately. It's the kind of book where you sit down and before you know it, you're 70 pages in and you've forgotten to get the laundry out of the dryer (oops!) Erin Bowman has created a fascinating world--or rather, she's created worlds upon worlds, because as soon as you think you understand the world, you're rocked by another surprise. There's enough going on that while I may have guessed one or two of the small twists, I was surprised much more often.

In the small community of Claysoot, the boys all disappear at midnight when they turn eighteen. When Gray's brother is "Heisted", he feels lost. A newly developing relationship and a cryptic note from his dead mother push him to look for answers beyond the simple truths he has always known, and lead him into a world he never imagined. Gray's adventure is harrowing, full of deceit and struggles.

I'm already eager to see what happens next--this feels like a world that could be explored for quite a while without exhausting its mysteries.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stay Tuned Sunday

Hey y'all: reviews tomorrow.  I'm going to be changing my schedule up a bit, so, like the title says, stay tuned!

I do want to congratulate my old employers, Dodger Properties, on Matilda: The Musical's four Tony wins (and Tony Honor, for the very young leading ladies!)  The show looks fantastic and I'm so excited for everyone I used to work with in the producer's office (I'm sure there is no greater place to run errands and do data entry!  Thanks for the best internship ever!)

Love. Him.  I was genuinely tongue-tied when this happened--he was so good in Assassins.  And Cabaret--I saw him as the Emcee on my first-ever trip to NYC without adults. 
In parting, I leave you with my favorite video from the entire internet: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tommy Kail working backstage to write Neil Patrick Harris's closing number from the Tonys a few years ago.  West Wing references, some of my biggest show business crushes (you guys.  Tommy Kail.  I can't even.  I met him a few years ago, on a field trip with my students, and he was the sweetest.  And of course, NPH--the first celebrity I ever met.  See above.  Maybe someday I'll meet LMM and complete the trio) and nerdy theater rap?  HEAVEN.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: First Time Out!

What's Up Wednesday is a meme to help reading and writing bloggers share their weeks! It's hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk--head over to their blogs for more info or to sign up!

What I'm Reading

I think I'm feeling the beginning of a slump: I feel like reading contemporary but whenever I pick one up, I get a few pages in and have to put it down because all I can see is how this finished book is miles and miles better than my first draft.  Usually I'm pretty good at taking that in stride and making note of what I like about the book I'm reading so I can try to emulate it; for whatever reason, that's not working for me right now.  So I finally picked up my copy of Taken by Erin Bowman, and promptly read 70 pages in what felt like five minutes.  Looks like I'm going to be taking a little break from contemporary!

What I'm Writing

 I'm plugging away, slowly but steadily, on this draft of what sort of started as my NaNo project (but now bears almost no resemblance to what I wrote in November, since I tossed the whole thing and started from scratch again back in March.)  My 300 words per day that are due to Jaime are usually more like 400-450, so (with days off) I'm up to about 35K over the last three months.  It's amazing how it adds up!  I'm also really looking forward to Ready. Set. Write! starting up--I'm hoping it will inspire me to push through the end of this draft and get to work on revisions.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Honestly?  The approaching end of school.  I really love the school where I've been teaching part-time and subbing (a lot!) this year.  My colleagues are dedicated, excited about their work, and in many cases, awesomely nerdy (like me!)  My students are delightfully strange and wonderful.  I'm really excited to go back next year, and I'm even looking forward to spending some time this summer creating the best curriculum I can for the class I'll be teaching.  

But right now, all I can think about is what my summer routine will look like.  I want to carve out times in my day for reading, writing, walking/running, chores, and just plain goofing off.  I tend to vastly overestimate my ability to maintain a schedule like that, but for the first week or two, I'll really get some good writing in and I can't wait!

What Else I've Been Up To

Since it's the end of the year, my students are all wrapping up whatever projects and activities they've been involved with.  Yesterday I perused the outdoor art show put together by my school's amazing visual art teachers; tonight I'm going to a reception at a local college celebrating an anthology of teen art and writing, for which one of my students was co-editor and one of the featured creators.  This is really the fun part of teaching.

I also went to a really cool community event that was arranged by one of my colleagues in his capacity as an all-around cool guy (rather than as a teacher): the Buffalo Reading Invasion!  It's sort of like a flash mob, except you just show up with a book and a chair and read for an hour.  For the first Invasion of the season, we took over a park in my neighborhood; apparently we'll be invading parks all over the city as the summer progresses.  I'm looking forward to more of those as the weather heats up.

So: what's up with you?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Sunshine: Happy Pride Edition!

Mr. S and I spent the morning helping out with setup for Buffalo's Pride parade.  It was a fun volunteer opportunity that gave us a reason to be outside in beautiful weather around people having a great time, dancing, hugging, and wearing awesome outfits.  I love Pride celebrations because they tend to be a ton of fun and really diverse.  I was especially happy and grateful to be there given the book I just finished: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, the story of two Iranian girls in love.  If you're looking for other YA books with LGBTQ characters, I put together a list of ones I've reviewed here, and Lee Wind maintains a much more comprehensive list here.

Before I get to my reviews, I have one more fun thing to share: the winner of my The Darkest Minds giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


What I Read This Week:

Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free advance electronic copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I have to say, I was nervous to read this book. I love Code Name Verity so, so much that the idea of a companion novel freaked me out a bit--how could I read it without holding it up to Code Name Verity and finding it lacking? I was all ready to write things like, "Just because I didn't love this one AS MUCH as CNV doesn't mean it wasn't great!"

Then I got an email from Netgalley saying that Rose Under Fire was available for request, and all my nerves were forgotten in a desperate rush to read it as soon as humanly possible. (For the record: that initial email came six days ago, as I write this: one day for the publisher to approve my request, a very busy three-day weekend, and two days of work. This book is apparently 368 pages long, but I flew through it.)

Now that I've read it, I can safely say that I love it as much as I love Code Name Verity: I just love it differently. Rose's story is simpler; there are a lot of other people in her story, but it's not a dual story like CNV is. At the same time, it's a bigger story--it contains multitudes, if you'll permit me to borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman. Code Name Verity told a World War II story I had never heard; Rose Under Fire tells a story that in parts feels like many other World War II stories I've read, but its focus, scope, and subject set it apart.

I don't really know how to write about the subgenre of fictional concentration camp narratives: comparing them against each other on their literary merits seems wrong. I will say that Wein's attention to detail, her ability to imagine characters complexly (borrowing now from John Green), and her choice of this particular group of women and girls all combined into a story I couldn't let go of. I also really appreciated the fact that the story continued: I can't remember another story that followed concentration camp survivors past the first day or two outside of the camp. That element of the story was actually the most moving to me: to see each of these characters processing her own experiences and trying to be in the world.

And, without giving too much away: I was overjoyed to see some characters from CNV again. I was sometimes surprised by how happy I was, actually. "Companion novel" is the right word for this: it's satisfying to readers who loved CNV, but it's not a sequel, and it's not a clone. It's a new story, just as well-told, but really stands strongly on its own.

If You Could Be MineIf You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was a really interesting read for me, because I don't know much about day-to-day life in Iran. This book explores what it's like to be a teenage girl in Iran who's in love with another girl. Sahar and Nasrin have always been close, but as they grew up, their love for one another became romantic. When Nasrin's family arranges for her to marry a wealthy man, both girls know their stolen kisses must come to an end. In Iran, homosexuality is against the law, and Sahar knows that the safest thing to do is to stand back and watch as Nasrin marries the husband she doesn't love. After all, Reza is kind, smart, and rich: it would be hard to think of a better option.

But Sahar discovers one last chance to be with the woman she loves. While homosexuality is illegal, the government not only sanctions but pays for gender reassignment surgery. Sahar wrestles with the possibility of changing her own identity so that she can be the one to marry her first love.

As fascinating as I found much of this book, I didn't always feel connected to the characters. I think part of this is because we actually see very little of Nasrin and Sahar's relationship: by the time the book begins, they're already old hands at sneaking around, and they know an end is coming soon one way or another. I wish we had seen more of the relationship as it developed, because I think it would have helped me feel more of what they were going through. However, the circumstances were dire enough that the book held my interest even without that.

The relationship I found the most moving was actually not the central one between Sahar and Nasrin, but the one between Sahar and her father. Sahar's mother died when she was young, and her father has become a shadow of his former self. His gradual realization that Sahar needs him, and that he needs her, is a big part of the story, and the scenes between them were some of my favorites.

This is a book I would love to teach; I think it does a good job of showing different facets of life in Iran, including people with a range of beliefs and lifestyles. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for another perspective on love, marriage, and family.

View all my reviews