Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Getting Serious Edition

What's Up Wednesday is a meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to bring reading and writing bloggers together once a week. Go to Jaime's blog to add your link and check out posts from other writers!

What I'm Reading

I am in the weirdest of all states: between books!  I finished off my Little Women project yesterday, and haven't picked up a new book yet.  I did just start beta-ing a really exciting MS, though.


What I'm Writing

I did pretty well last week, meeting goals and even hitting my challenge goal once or twice.  Monday I spent doing some necessary legal research that helped me pin down the details of how my story will end.  And yesterday...well, I wrote MAYBE 100 words...and then started a new project entirely.  Sigh.  (But I wrote almost 1K on that project without batting an eye!)  Turns out I hate writing endings.  But it's gotta that's my goal for this week.  Finish this MS!!!  

What Else I've Been Up To
This weekend we had the first of a couple celebrations of my father-in-law's 60th birthday.  Most of the family went kayaking while  I sat in a lovely park and read/babysat the picnic stuff, and then we had a great homemade lunch by the water (fun fact: Buffalo is a waterfront city!) and later went out to dinner. 

Now that August is TOMORROW, I'm also starting to kick into high gear with school stuff.  I think I may be slowing down my creative projects soon in favor of some heavy-duty planning.

What Inspires Me Right Now  
The new project I started yesterday!  It's the treat I get to work on if I get a decent amount done on my real WiP.

What's up with you?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Love: Wonder-ful edition

This week, I finished the fantastic At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, which took me quite a while to read.  So I wanted to switch up to something I knew I'd read quickly and something I was confident I'd enjoy: Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I'd heard so much great stuff about that book that it was a natural choice; I didn't know how much it would crawl inside of me and make me spend the rest of the day looking at things that make me happy-cry.

What I Read This Week: 

  At Home: A Short History of Private LifeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this ramble through the history of modern civilization, organized by the rooms in Bryson's old English parsonage. Bryson is the king of anecdotes that make you turn to whoever is sitting next to you and go, "Whoah, did you know..." I highly recommend this for anyone who's curious about the details of history: why does "toilet water" mean two very different things, why forks have four tines, and why jackets have those useless sleeve buttons, to name just a few.

View all my reviews

  WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is going to be a terribly incoherent review because I've just finished reading this book and I'm still in pieces. Ok. Let me see. You know how, when you have a massage, you feel tired afterward, because your muscles have been mushed around for an hour? So even though you did something relaxing and enjoyable, now you feel like you just need to sit and sip water and recuperate? That's how I feel about this book. Like I need to spend the rest of the afternoon meditating or something, even though the actual experience of reading it was mostly a lot of fun.

The thing about this book is that even though it's a serious book, it's a fun-serious book, because Auggie and the people around him are people, and like most people they enjoy fun things and have senses of humor and don't go through life never cracking a smile because a person in their lives has medical issues. Wonder does an especially great job of capturing the moods of the gala days of growing up: science fairs and school plays and graduations. It's also got things in it that are sad and things in it that are frustrating. It's got song lyrics and quotations from books and plays that I love. It's the kind of book that makes me want to teach fifth grade (and it also reminds me of the hard parts of teaching kids that age.)

I know I'm a little late to the party on this one, but if you haven't read this yet, do yourself a favor and set aside some time (preferably by yourself, in your home, as the likelihood of tears in the second half is strong) and read it.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Short and Sweet Edition

What's Up Wednesday is a meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to bring reading and writing bloggers together once a week. Go to Jaime's blog to add your link and check out posts from other writers!

What I'm Reading
Still loving A Short History of Private Life!


What I'm Writing

I've gotten back on the horse, now that my brain has re-formed in our air-conditioning.  I've been meeting my goals, so I think I'm ready to try for a few days of 1K words this week.  

What Else I've Been Up To
Had a nice visit with my mom and step-dad this weekend, including a lovely brunch with them, my in-laws, and my husband's grandmother.  And driving: I had a double lesson Tuesday, and I have another one today.  Getting my license by the end of the summer is starting to feel like a very real possibility!

Also, congrats to Jaime, who was the winner of my giveaway!  She'll be getting a copy of My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi, as well as a giftcard for DonorsChoose.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

What Inspires Me Right Now
The calendar!  I've got four more full weeks before we really start up again with meetings and professional development, but for part of one week we're going away to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday, and I have to plan my classes, finish learning to drive, finish up my Little Women project, etc.  So making time to write is feeling pretty urgent.
What's up with you?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Love: Non-Book Edition

Ok, well, this is a little bit about a book.  I'm still reading the excellent At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson--adult non-fiction just doesn't go as fast as YA fiction, even when it's as compulsively readable as this one is.  So, in lieu of a book review this week:

Here's a link to Target's website, where anyone interested in buying their very own waffle chair may do so!  You may recall this chair from the pictures I posted of my office recently--since so many people commented on it, and it finally went up on the Target website, I thought I'd share!  I just bought two more, actually--they're so lovely and convenient.  They fold up flat, so you can stick them under the bed or in a closet, but they're really comfortable so you may want to find permanent homes for them.  I think I mentioned that I'm not usually a fan of funky/foldable chairs like this--I want to be, but I am long-limbed and not particularly flexible, so they usually don't work for me.  This one, I could sit in all day.  Love it. 

(Disclaimer: I bought and paid for all three of these chairs myself; I am not receiving anything from Target or anyone else to write about these chairs, nor will I receive anything if you choose to purchase one.  I just really like this chair and since people seemed interested, I wanted to share.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Air Conditioned Edition!

What's Up Wednesday is a meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to bring reading and writing bloggers together once a week. Go to Jaime's blog to add your link and check out posts from other writers!

Also, both of my last two entries contain giveaways: My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi+ charitable donation here, and Starglass by Phoebe North here.


What I'm Reading

I've finally started a book that's been sitting around my shelves for AGES--At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.  I'm not a huge reader of non-fiction so I often put off even non-fiction titles that sound fascinating.  I've never started a Bryson book and been disappointed, though, and this is no exception.  I find myself wanting to text my husband "did you know" ten times a day, and I save up good parts to read out loud before bed.

What I'm Writing

Well, this was not a great week, writing-wise.  Last week I had some meetings for a new job I'm starting, we were traveling on the weekend, and the last two days were brutally hot--the kind of hot that just melts me into a puddle of mush.  

But, it's Wednesday again, so it's time to reset.  This week, I just need to get back into my routines, so my goal is a straight 750 words/weekday.  I'm not going to mess around with scenes or challenge goals--I just want to remember what it feels like to do what I'm supposed to do every day.  And so far, so good: I've already gotten today's words done!

What Else I've Been Up To
 We spent the weekend up in Williamstown, where Mr. S and I met in college.  We rented a little house with a bunch of "the guys", as we call his pals from college who, by now, are also some of my favorite people.  We played Guillotine and Spot It and Apples to Apples (all of which I highly recommend!) and enjoyed some of our favorite old haunts. 

In my heat-induced mush state, I developed a serious addiction to playing Ticket to Ride on my iPad.  I had never played before but in the space of a week I'm totally hooked (to the extent that we actually bought the board game version, too!)  Definitely worth checking out if you like board OR tablet/phone gaming.

What Inspires Me Right Now
Our air conditioner!  The landlord came by yesterday afternoon to build a shelf so we could install it safely, and OMG, it is amazing.  I can be a human being inside my house again!  I can focus on things, I have energy, I can think actual thoughts!  It's truly unbelievable how much the heat was affecting me.  I am incredibly grateful for the AC and how much better my brain works now.

What's up with you?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Life After Now: Review and Giveaway!

Since yesterday's post was devoted to the Starglass book tour (be sure to check it out and enter that giveaway, if you haven't already!) I bumped my review post to today.  As it happens, I only finished one book last week, but it's one I'm excited to feature.

My Life After NowMy Life After Now by Jessica Verdi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book in the mail approximately...14 hours ago, as I sit down to write this review. In those 14 hours, I ate dinner, did some light home repairs, and slept through the night. Pretty much the only other thing I did was read this book.

First of all, I should mention that this book wasn't one I bought. I won it in a giveaway, with a bunch of other books. It wasn't on my Goodreads TBR, and I hadn't really heard much about it. But as soon as I read the back cover, I had to jump in and check it out. Read for yourself:

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it's all too much--she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different...every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

I was so intrigued--what did Lucy do? And what happened to her because of it? I don't want to spoil anything, so all I'll say is that yes, it is actually as big a deal as the cover copy makes it sound, but this isn't just an Issue Book. Lucy's story is complex and layered, with the Big Consequences of her mistake intertwined around her passion for acting, her complicated family situation (although, points for two awesome parents!), and her friends and love interests. All of those things are important to Lucy and to the reader, and the story feels balanced and relatable.

Oh--and the theatre stuff! I love a high school theatre book that gets it right, and this one totally does. From the chapter titles alone--all named after songs from musical theatre--it's clear that Jessica Verdi has theatre nerd cred. But all of it, really--it just felt right. I think my favorite detail was a scene in which Lucy returns to school after a long absence, and when she walks into rehearsal the whole cast just stares at her for a minute. She's certain they've discovered her secret--but it turns out they just want to know what could POSSIBLY have kept her out of rehearsal for so long! What it boils down to is that Verdi's characters take their art seriously, and while this high school's program runs differently than mine did, that essential piece is the same. For these kids, it's not just "the school play." It's a way of life, and for many of them, a possible career. That definitely pulled me in very quickly.

And--you may want to stop reading now if you're worried about guessing spoilers, although I'll try to say this as spoiler-free-ly as possible--I give Jessica Verdi all KINDS of respect for writing a book that will make something that is often portrayed as a distant or outdated threat feel real and, frankly, as scary as it should feel. But I give her about a hundred times more respect for doing it in a way that doesn't try to intimidate readers, or scare them out of living their lives. I hope this book finds a wide readership because it's both a great story, and an important one.

View all my reviews

Seriously, this is just one of those books that feels special.  One of those books that I want everyone to read.  And because of that...I'm giving away a copy!

I mentioned in the review that I won this in a giveaway.  It wasn't just any giveaway: it was the Lucky 13s Kidlit Authors for Oklahoma Disaster Relief giveaway. To enter, you had to make a $10 donation to the Red Cross.  I thought it was a really awesome way to remind people to donate, and I gave the $10 without thinking much of it.  But then I won and I've been getting these awesome, awesome books in the mail, and now I want to do something more.  So:

1) You don't have to make a donation in order to enter my giveaway, but if you do, then you get ten extra entries.  I'm not going to set a mandatory dollar amount, and I'm going to give you three choices of where to donate:
  •  Donors Choose--because arts education is as vital to Lucy and her friends as it was to me when I was in high school and to my students now.
  • Love Heals--because young people need information and support as they begin to make choices that can have long-ranging impacts on their own health.
  • The Red Cross--because they do good work in all kinds of situations, and the support they offer lasts beyond the first wave of headlines about any disaster. 
If you do choose to make a donation as part of this giveaway, first of all, THANK YOU!  Second of all, if you choose to enter this way, just email your receipt to along with the name you used in the Rafflecopter.

2) I will donate $20 to the whichever of those three organizations the winner chooses.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 15, 2013

Starglass Blog Tour: Interview with Terra! (With Giveaway!)

Hosted by Itching For Books
Welcome to the first day of the blog tour to celebrate the upcoming release of Starglass by Phoebe North!  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that while I review books regularly, book tours are something new to me.  But when I read Starglass, I fell in love with it so fast and so hard that I knew just had to help get the word out.  (Also: hands-down my favorite cover ever.  The color scheme!  Can I get a bedroom set to match this cover?)
Since I pretty much just babbled about how much I loved the book in my actual review, here's the official description:

In this futuristic, outer space thriller, Terra has to decide between supporting the rebellion she believes in—and saving the life of the boy she loves.

For generations, those aboard the Asherah have lived within strict rules meant to help them survive the journey from a doomed Earth to their promised land, the planet Zehava–which may or may not be habitable, a question whose imperative grows now, in the dwindling months before touchdown.
Sixteen-year-old Terra’s situation is tough. A dead mom. A grieving dad. A bitchy boss, and a betrothed who won’t kiss her no matter how bad she wants it. She’s doing her best to stay afloat, even when she gets assigned a vocation she has no interest in: botany.
But after Terra witnesses the Captain's guard murder an innocent man, she's drawn into a secret rebellion bent on restoring power to the people. The stakes are higher than anything she could have imagined. When the rebellion gives Terra an all-important mission, she has to decide where her loyalties lie for once and for all. Because she has started to fall for the boy she's been sent to assassinate...

Expected Publication: July 23rd 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Purchase: Amazon
  Today, I'm honored to present an interview with Terra Fineberg, the awesome (but apparently quite modest and interview-shy) protagonist.

1) You're heading toward Zehava, the winter planet.  If you could choose one season to live in forever, what would it be, and why?

Um, well, I don't know much about summer. The council's ensured that I've never seen it, since they want us to get ready to live in a colder climate and all. Spring is nice, I guess--maybe it sounds stupid, but I like flowers a lot. My mother and I used to take walks through the dome in the spring, and I can remember how everything smelled and looked so . . . promising! But I know that sounds pretty geeky. I don't know. Spring, sure. Is that an okay answer? 

2) What is your favorite memory from childhood, before your mother died?

When I was a kid, my mother noticed that I liked drawing all over the margins of my notebooks at school. Actually, she got called in about it. Rebbe Davison thought I wasn't paying any attention in class. But instead of yelling at me, like Abba did, she bought me a set of colored pencils. I was kind of shy about using them, until she sat up late with me drawing, too. Her drawings were really terrible, but it helped me to feel a little braver about my art. I guess I needed the encouragement.

3) It seems that the idea of a "bashert", the person you're fated to be with, your "heart's twin" is very important to you.  In your opinion, what are the characteristics of an ideal romantic relationship?

Oy gevalt, really? What an embarrassing question. I don't know. My friend Rachel seems to think that all that matters is whether a guy is handsome. I don't know if I care about that at all. I mean, I'm not immune to a pretty face, but mostly I'd like to find someone I can talk to. Isn't that how love is supposed to be? You find someone who doesn't make you feel like such a weirdo, who has your . . . I don't know. Your sonar. Which probably makes no sense to anyone, but I figure if my bashert was out there, he'd know what I mean.

4) You and Rachel became friends when you defended her on your first day of school.  Was there a moment in your friendship when you knew for sure she was your best friend?   What made you so devoted to her?

Rache is great.  Look, I know we haven't always been perfect friends--and me, most of all. But when you share a history with someone, it matters. She's been with me through so much. My mother's death and all of that dreck with Abba. She understands me like nobody else does, not even my family. I mean, you should really be asking Rachel why she sticks around for me. That's the real mystery.

5) What's something you wish people knew about you?

People want to know things about me?! Um, I guess I'd want them to know that I'm really just trying to live my life the best I can. I'm not a hero or anything like that. I'm just a normal girl who is not that different from you or anyone else. Or at least I'm trying to be one! 

To learn more about Starglass, check out the trailer here: 

Starglass Book Trailer from Phoebe North on Vimeo.

And definitely enter to win a copy here: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway  And check out Phoebe North's website and bio here: 
About the Author
Phoebe North
Phoebe North spent the first twenty-two years of her life in New Jersey, where she lugged countless library books home to read in the bathtub, at the dinner table, in front of the television, and under the blankets with a flashlight when she should have been asleep.
After college, Phoebe went south, enrolling in the University of Florida’s MFA program to study poetry. But after studying children’s literature with kidlit scholars (and geniuses) Kenneth Kidd and John Cech, she started writing books about magic, robots and aliens for teenagers. And realized she loved it almost as much as she loved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Now, Phoebe lives in New York State with her husband, and many licensed novels. She likes to cook, watch Degrassi, sew, take her cat for walks, and, of course, write. Despite many soaked pages, she still loves to read in the bath. |

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Ton of Pictures* Edition!

What's Up Wednesday is a meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to bring reading and writing bloggers together once a week. Go to Jaime's blog to add your link and check out posts from other writers!

What I'm Reading
Suddenly, I'm reading ALL THE BOOKS again!  Over the weekend I read the four Jean Little books I blogged about on Monday, plus I read My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi (which some of you already know because I liked it so much I actually used the Goodreads recommend feature!  I try to do so very sparingly but this is one I want people to read.  I'll include it in my next Monday Love post but my review is up on Goodreads (and if we're not Goodreads friends, feel free to add me!)

Also, I devoured Ghenet's MS in one sitting today--it was so good that, when I was writing up my notes in an email to her, I kept reaching for my desk like it was already a published book that I could pick up and flip through.  So that felt more like "reading" than "betaing."

As for what I'll read next...well, friends, I have an embarrassment of riches.  I've had a streak of good luck with giveaways--I've won four separate times lately, and two of those were for multiple-book giveaways (from awesome blogs The Lucky 13s and OneFour KidLit, both group blogs for authors with books coming out this year and next, respectively.)  My kitty, Willow, decided to play Vanna White and show off what I've gotten in the mail lately:

Charm and Strange by Steph Kuehn, from Goodreads First Reads

Intuition by C.J. Omololu, from Malinda Lo

 The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett, Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe, My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi, Hooked by Liz Fichera, and How My Summer Went Up In Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski, from The Lucky 13s

The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton and The Testing and Independent Study by Joelle Charboneau from One Four Kid Lit

A huge, huge thank-you to everyone who's sent me these awesome books!

What I'm Writing

So last Wednesday, I wound up spending my writing time outlining rather than actually adding words.  I'm pushing toward the end of my story--there's still a little ways to go, but I'm getting there, and I was finding that it was like when you hold a book an inch away from your face--everything was out of focus.  So now I have a nice tidy list of scenes and important beats I want to hit.  I can add things to the list, or change it (outlines make me panicky--we had these Very Important Research Papers every year in HS, and our teachers made us turn in our outlines for approval.  I dreaded that more than I dreaded actually writing the paper) but now I have a map.  It's pretty awesome being able to sit down every day and consult my list, rather than wondering where to start.  I got my four days/1K each in (although technically I did 2K Monday so I could take yesterday off...for more cherries.  It's an addiction.) 

This week, I'm hoping to stick to my 750 word min/1000 word stretch goal every weekday, but I've also chopped that list of scenes up into what I would like to try to accomplish each day.  The way I've chopped it up seems pretty ambitious, so I may not get through it at anywhere near the pace I've set, but I do better with high goals that I'll push toward (because if it's not on the list, it's like I've given myself permission not to do it.)  So out of thirteen bullets on my list, I'd like to be done with eight of them by this time next week (the ambitious goal) but definitely at least five (a more realistic goal.)  

What Else I've Been Up To

Sweating, mostly!  Buffalo is cool enough in the summer that we don't need an air conditioner (I know air conditioners are usually not literal needs, but without one I would not have made it five years in New York City), so we don't have one in right now.  But it's still definitely, definitely summer, so by midday I'm usually pretty warm even if it's a relatively sedentary day.  (Thank goodness for the cool mornings when I can get my running in!)  I'm starting to get used to it--lots of ice water, and endless bobby pins since I cut my hair short a month ago and can't really pull it into a ponytail anymore.  I'm almost starting to enjoy it!

What Inspires Me Right Now
A few weeks ago, my answer to this was "my office"--which continues to be true.  I work all over the house, trying to catch a breeze, but it is definitely the case that my attention span when I work in my office is much longer than when I work anywhere else!  Anyway, I promised pictures, so here they are:

My desk--and at long last, my office chair!  Actually buying one felt weirdly daunting--I mean, I know that office chairs don't just come with office buildings, but I never contemplated the logistics of it before, you know?  Also, T-Rex over there in the corner is joined by Lil' Sebastian and Pigeon.

The weird-looking square in the corner is my reading chair; it's made of elastic bands so when you sit on it it becomes a chair underneath you.  I love it, and I'm not usually wild about weird-shaped chairs.  Plus, it matches my rug!

My bookshelves are getting out of control.  The shelved books, as well as many of the ones stacked on top, are my signed book collection.  (Oh, Books of Wonder, how I miss you!)  I've discovered that a lot of authors will sign their books at their local indies, especially when they have new books coming out, so I've actually done ok finding signed copies even far away from my favorite favorite place. 

The top shelf of the smaller bookshelf is one of several TBR piles around my house (see also: top of my dresser, my sewing table.)  The painting of the door is by my dad--when I was four, he sold a larger version of the same painting and I got upset because it was my favorite one of his paintings then (blue is my favorite color).  So every day, while I took my nap, he worked on making me a small one of my own and gave it to me for Christmas.  How many four-year-olds can say they commissioned their own oil painting, huh?

My workstudy job, all four years, was in my college's costume shop.  It was awesome, and I learned a lot, but then I moved to New York and had neither money nor space for a sewing machine.  Finally, when I realized I had to costume ten orphans out of thin air during our school production of Annie last year, I caved and bought a machine anyway.  I love that I have an actual space to use I just have to make the time to start a project (ha!)

*About the title of this post: "Ton of Pictures" was our family name for Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever.  It was appropriate.  Also, that book is awesome, so if you have or know little little kids, I highly recommend it.

What's up with you?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday Love: Re-reading Edition

This post is brought to you by the blogging community.  See, back in January, when I did the MotherReader's Blog Comment Challenge, one of the blogs I discovered was Even In Australia.  When I saw a post over there asking for readaloud suggestions for seven-year-old, I remembered Jean Little's books because my mom read one or two of them to me when I was about that age.  I found some old copies on Amazon and ordered four books: two about one family and two about another.  Then they sat forlornly in my TBR, shabby and thin, with no one blogging about how awesome they were, and so the months went by.  Recently, though, I saw this post about the ReReadathon at Bookshelvers Anonymous this month, and I thought: aha.  Jean Little, your time has come.

And then I re-read all four books this weekend.

Ok, actually: I don't think I had read the final book before.  But it was still a blast from the past.  And I'm so glad I made time for these books because they are even better than I remembered them and so lovely.

Um, and also I finally finished Who I Kissed, which was not a re-read but just took me ages and ages to finish because I have time management issues.  Anyway.  My thoughts below!

What I Read This Week: 

 Who I KissedWho I Kissed by Janet Gurtler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After teaching at a nut-and-seed-free summer camp for three years, the premise of this book grabbed me immediately. When Samantha, the new girl in town, kisses a boy at a party after eating a peanut butter sandwich, he drops dead on the spot. Sam didn't know about his peanut allergy, but she blames herself anyway.

So, yeah, this book is about my worst nightmare.

I live in terror of anaphylactic shock. Not my own (although, having never been stung by a bee, I'm a little nervous about that possibility) but that of people around me, especially my students. I've been trained on how to administer an Epipen (punch a tube really hard into the kid's thigh, hard enough to trigger the release of a ginormous needle) and I've learned to rattle off the eight major allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, dairy, fish, shellfish, eggs, soy). I've had actual nightmares about kids in my care going into anaphylaxis.

This book will do a lot to raise awareness about life-threatening allergies, and it will likely make readers really consider the possible consequences of their actions. Sam's process of grieving and recovery was hard and long, and felt specific enough to ring true. The book also deals with family connections, romance, and identity, and overall it was an engaging story.

Mine for KeepsMine for Keeps by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the few longer books I really remember my mother reading to me. I know I was read to a ton as a kid, but I started reading on my own so early that I don't always remember what I read and what my mom read to me. I recently tracked down a copy and gave it a re-read.

I was surprised to find how un-dated this book felt. Aside from some of the terminology (like "handicapped") and the notion that a young girl with some physical limitations would have no options other than a far-off boarding school for "handicapped children", most of this story felt surprisingly fresh and timeless. (Oh, and the part about giving out apples on Halloween. That totally wouldn't fly these days.)

When Sally Copeland comes home from the school where she's lived for five years--home to stay--she doesn't know how she'll manage. She has cerebral palsy, which affects her legs and hands. She uses knee braces and crutches to help her get around, and has a hard time doing everyday tasks like getting dressed. She's nervous enough as it is, and then her mother tells her she'll be attending the same school as her brother and sister: a school where she will be the only child with a disability.

The story of Sally's transition back home and into a mainstream classroom--like most realistic fiction for young readers--deals with a character trying to make friends, overcome her fears, and learn to do new things. The relationships between Sally and her friends and family feel real, and Sally's struggles will resonate with any reader who has ever had to tackle a challenge--so, anyone. I was happy to find that this book was as lovely and vibrant as I remembered it.

Spring Begins in MarchSpring Begins in March by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This follow-up to Mine For Keeps builds on the first book to pack even more of an emotional punch. This time, baby-of-the-family Meg Copeland takes center stage, several years later. Meg is a prickly girl, who struggles to focus in school (to an extent that would almost certainly be diagnosed as some kind of learning disability today) and to find her place at home. As is Jean Little's style, Meg's story is not flashy or overly dramatic; it's a small family story about growing up and discovering when old habits need to change. In this case, at least one solution felt a little too easy, but that didn't make the ending any less emotionally satisfying.

From AnnaFrom Anna by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Anna is another of Jean Little's books that I remembered from my childhood. It's funny how specific scenes and images have stuck with me and others are like new to me now. This book focuses on Anna, the slow, clumsy youngest child of a family who moves suddenly from Germany to Canada just before World War II breaks out. When they arrive in the States, Anna visits a doctor who discovers that her troubles are a result of her seriously limited eyesight. Getting glasses and joining a class of other children with low vision makes all the difference for Anna, and this book follows her transformation into an independent, happy Canadian girl. Once again, Jean Little manages to tug at my heartstrings without going over the top; the events in this book feel perfectly human-scale and realistic, and while I didn't feel a ton of suspense about the outcome, I teared up a little reading it anyway.

Listen for the SingingListen for the Singing by Jean Little
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I must not have read this one as a child, probably because I was reading Jean Little books when I was seven or eight and this one focuses on Anna's first year or so of high school. But I'm glad I picked this one up with the rest of the lot, because it was good to see how things turned out for Anna and the other Soldens. Now that World War II has actually begun, things get tricky for Anna and the other Germans living in Canada (and, I'd imagine, any other country on the side of the Allies.) I like the way the larger political events are balanced with Anna's own personal life--even a war cannot completely wipe away the everyday struggles of a high school student, or of anyone else who still has a home and family and friends to deal with. The troubles that come in this book are on a larger scale than before, but they are still met with a realistic blend of discouragement, strength, and optimism. I've really enjoyed getting reacquainted with Jean Little's work and I will look out for more of her books in the future.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's Up Wednesday: Summer is BUSY Edition!

What's Up Wednesday is a meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk to bring reading and writing bloggers together once a week. Go to Jaime's blog to add your link and check out posts from other writers!

What I'm Reading
Somewhat embarrassingly, this hasn't changed much since last Wednesday.  I still have that book of Nora Ephron essays sitting on my nightstand, I'm still making my way through Who I Kissed, and I'm reading a few chapters of Little Women every day with my students from Queens (coincidentally, the new school where I'll be teaching in the mornings this year chose Little Women for their all-school summer reading this summer--woo!  They're also reading Ready Player One, which I'll have to bump up my list for sure now.)  I also just got a new MS to beta-read and when I started it yesterday I had to TEAR myself away from it to get to all my other tasks.

What I'm Writing

Still moving forward on the same WiP, although I missed a writing day Monday.  I had to pit and freeze six quarts of sour cherries (they only keep a few days in the fridge, and they have a very short growing season.  If I want cherries to bake with all year--which I do--I have to put them up NOW) that I bought at the farmers' markets on Saturday, and then I had a family dinner to go to up in Canada that was very probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a very, very important friend of my husband's family, who is 90 years old and lives in Israel, was in Canada for a wedding, so some of her family and some of my husband's family got together for dinner.  (To give you an idea of how important this woman is to them: one of my husband's aunts flew in from New York City, and the other flew in from Bermuda.)  Then the dinner lasted until 11pm, getting us home just before midnight.  So, worth it, but a hiccup in my goals.  This week, it should be business as usual, though: 750 words minimum on weekdays, with the challenge goal of 1000 words four out of five days.

What Else I've Been Up To
I'm still running!  This weekend at the gym, I smashed my previous mile time by about a minute, running/walking an extremely difficult (and fairly pathetic) 12:35 mile.   But the milestone I'm prouder of came yesterday, when I ran a full mile without stopping to walk at all, for the very first time in my entire life.  I'm fairly certain it came in well above the 12:35 time, although I don't usually time myself when I run outside so I'm not sure.  It was a slow pace, but I did it!  That was the first big goal I had set for myself with this new running and walking thing, so I'm feeling really good about that.  It took me 24 days to get there (with a few days off sprinkled in) from...pretty much from nothing.  From not even being able to run all the way around the block (.41 miles) once.  (Oh, and I also hit my goal of 26.2 miles, or one marathon, from June 9th to the end of the month.  This month, I'm shooting for two.) 

What Inspires Me Right Now
In both running and writing, I love that I have found friends online who are far ahead of me in their journeys.  I feel so lucky to be able to follow along behind them, watching as they achieve goals and hit milestones that are way far in my future if I get there at all.  Yes, of course, there are the occasional twinges of "I wish I could do that," or "I wish that was happening to me," but more often it makes me feel like these far-off goals are in reach, and I'm happy to have such successful, knowledgeable guides.  Plus, it makes my current goals seem so much more doable: if I have friends who are running 150 miles a month or more, I have no excuse for not being able to do a mile or two every day.  If I have friends who are querying and getting agents and going on submission, I can put my butt in the chair and keep putting words on paper.  Right?
What's up with you?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday Love: No Reviews This Week!

Last week, I missed my Monday post entirely, because I was off traveling.  And this week, I have no real reviews to post!  I finished two books in the last two weeks, though:

The Awakening and Selected StoriesThe Awakening  by Kate Chopin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this one because I really should have read it ages ago.  I understand why it's significant, and I enjoyed reading it--but it definitely went much slower than I'm used to, despite being very short.  I kind of wanted it to either be much shorter (like Chopin's Story of an Hour, which plays with similar ideas but in the space of a page or two) or longer and therefore more detailed and engaging (like Edith Wharton at her best.) 

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" by Margaret Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I mentioned this one in my last post; I really enjoyed it and I think it's convinced me to read some more non-fiction this summer.  This was a very quick read.

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Also, I've started my summer reading club with the students from my old school who read Great Expectations with me last summer.  This summer, we're tackling a more popular read: Little Women.  It's definitely one I've come back to over and over, and one I hope everyone will read at some point.  If you want to read along, I've created another blog: Little Women Readalong.  Check it out--we just started today with Chapters 1-2.  New posts will go up every weekday in July, and at 20-25 pages per post, that will get us through the whole book!