Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hungry for More

I heard about Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games from two reliable friends. They were right--it's a great read.
As with all science fiction the exposition of this book takes a while, but it's well worth the set-up. This book for adolescents prizes independence (even rebellion, for a good cause) and self sufficiency. I enjoyed the plot, the female protagonist, and the supporting characters. Fans of The Giver will like it, but I could truly recommend this book to just about anyone--it's that accessible. Brutality occurs, but the author avoids getting overly descriptive. (Think fourth grade and up.)
Now I just have to wait for the sequel, due out this fall.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Not lovin' it.

Love, as Always, Kurt: Vonnegut as I Knew Him, by Loree Rackstraw is a tease. Billed as a tell-all, Rackstraw's narrative is overly poised and restrained. I'm all for discretion, but Rackstraw wants it both ways. One cannot boast of an affair with the legendary and beloved American author and veteran, then keep mum.

Aside from some trivia (his daughter Edie was married, briefly, to Geraldo Rivera) and a glimpse into the famed Iowa (MFA) Writers' Workshop, this book was a waste of time. The author seems reluctant to truly share her Kurt, and instead mixes too many eras, people, and events without expsing us to the essence of any. I should have believed the reviewers on Amazon. They told me so.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

For Everything, There Is a Season

Finished Off Season last night. The early chapters are inevitably rocky because, as with all sequels, the author has to include background from book one. I felt impatient with that, but once the new plot developments began I was hooked. These high-interest books for readers both reluctant and voractions would make fantastic movies.

I've been immersed in young adult literature recently, which works out well since that's one of the classes I'm teaching this summer, and what I've been writing.

Speaking of seasons, finding time for sewing while working, parenting, and trying to maintain some fitness, is a dismal endeavor, but a month of summer vacation time will soon revive and restore my connection to the world of crafting. The vendor application period for Strange Folk Festival opens on Monday. In preparation, I recently cleaned up my Flickr account. Gone are the souvenir photos, family snapshots, and tattoo portraits. In order to create a portfolio effect, images relevant to my craft are all that remain.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Dairy Queen

I could easily praise the consistent, friendly voice of the narrator, or the artfully natural character development, but what impresses me most are the layers comprised within what first appears to be a simple story. Dairy Queen, by Professor Catherine Gilbert Murdock, is an engrossing read about a teenage girl's awakening--that fleeting time of life during which awareness of others, of one's role in the lives of others, and of the way the world works suddenly expands and settles in for keeps.

This novel could easily be incorporated in schools for its understated lessons in character. The author boldly broaches individualism vs. collectivism, doing what's right vs. what's expected or popular, but never does so in a manner that seems preachy or artificial.

The characters learn that behavior is a choice, and the book therefore advocates personal responsibility and self-control when they exercise their choices in words and deeds.

Though the book is "clean," and free of major controversial issues, the characters are not without cruel impulses or words they wish they could retract. There is ample and realistic strife in their lives--both implied and explained.

This is an accessible, entertaining, and thought-provoking book that I'll buy for my nieces and for my classroom. I'm thrilled to discover that a sequel is now available: The Off Season.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nice to Come Home To

Rebecca Flowers' book has a great title and a great last line, but don't peek!

It's understandable, considering it's literary model, but at the outset Pru is lacking dimension. After nearly 100 pages, I was ready to commit and finish reading the novel. Suddenly, I cared. The conflicts were piling up, needing resolution.

Though I appreciated and admired the scenes, phrases, and metaphors, sometimes they seemed forced. It's as if Ms. Flowers was determined to include each great idea and observation she's had, even if it wasn't a perfect fit.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and continue to think about its characters and setting. Pru became fully realized, and her Patsy's situation was entirely lifelike and compelling.

The character John Owen is just right (very Austen). I recommend perusing this author's website and blog, which are entertaining and helpful for aspiring writers, and for her fans.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Meme

I found this on the blog Everyday I Write the Book, then changed the responses to my own.

Hardback, trade paperback or mass market paperback?
Trade paperback. There's something so pleasing about that size and
weight. I will only carry bags and purses that will tote a book.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
Ideally, I'd choose an independent bookseller like the one in my town:
Turning Pages. I must confess, however, that I have a Borders Visa so
that I can earn freebies.

Bookmark or dog-ear?
Dog-ear. I have a system: top dog-ear = the page where I stopped
reading. Bottom dog-ear = check back for a quotation to add to my
collection. I do use mini Post-its to flag pages if I'm doing research
or lesson planning.

Amazon or brick-and-mortar?
I make many selections by perusing the reviews and lists available on
Amazon. I also write reviews there. I rarely buy books anymore,
though. I'm a library girl again.

Alphabetize by author, or alphabetize by title, or random?
Our books used to be alphabetized (as were our CDs). Now, however,
we're pretty random.

Keep, throw away, or sell?
Donate. I don't like to re-read books, but sometimes enjoy the
keepsake value.

Keep dust jacket or toss it?
Remove it from the book while reading, then replace it to shelve the

Read with dust jacket or remove it?
I can't stand those slippery, noisy things.

Short story or novel?
Novels. Short stories can be masterpieces, but I will always choose a
meaty book over a teaser story.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
I'm an Unfortunate Events fan.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
When tired. Or better yet, keep going until the book is over.

It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
Not a fan of horror or of fantasy.

Buy or borrow?
Either, although borrowing makes me a tad nervous because some people
like their books to remain pristine and I like a book to be
broken-spined and lived in.

Buying choice: book reviews, recommendations, or browse?
All of the above!

Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
I don't like loose ends.

Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading?
Whenever I can! Most predictably at bed time.

Stand-alone or series?
Stand-alone. Although Marisa de los Santos' books might qualify as a
series. If so, I'm converted.

Favorite children’s book?
Can I say The Little Prince, or is that cheating since it's readable as
an adult?

Favorite YA book?
Looking for Alaska is great. Many of them are.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
I don't keep good books a secret!

Favorite books read last year?
Belong to Me, Girls in Trouble, Paper Towns, and oh so many more

Favorite books of all time?
The Time Traveler's Wife. I struggle to imagine making that plot work

What are you reading right now?
Dairy Queen
All My Love, Kurt (Vonnegut)

What are you reading next?
What's on top of my stack?

Favorite book to recommend to an 11-year-old?
A Wind in the Willows
the Anastasia (oh, a series!) books
Among the Hidden, etc. (another series)
The Giver

Favorite book to re-read?
The only book I have re-read as an adult that was not assigned is The
Time Traveler's Wife
(twice). There are too many undiscovered books to
spend time re-reading.

Do you ever smell books?
Absolutely. I can't read books that are musty, or that have been
stored too long in cardboard boxes.

Do you ever read primary source documents like letters or diaries?
Rarely, and resulting in disappointment. I'm reading All My Love, Kurt
right now and struggling to keep at it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Things that make you go hmmm

I have only two things to say about The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives and Before You Know Kindness, and seven other novels:

1. If you're going to read it, avoid reviews at all costs. I just checked and they're filled with spoilers.

2. I am interested in hearing what others think about this book--especially since I'm still formulating my own opinion.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"That's for girls"

Last summer, I found an adorable boy's Gap-brand ski sweater at a thrift store. When fall arrived, I encouraged my son to wear it, but he never would. Finally, he told me to stop telling him to wear girl clothes, and I understood. Since his dad never wears sweaters, our boy thinks they're feminine. Booper always chooses his own clothes, and has very particular ideas about the colors and textures of what he wears. This sweater didn't have a chance.
I still liked it, though, and by January I decided it was time to experiment with upcycling knitwear. I cut up the sweater and created this bag, lined in red. The strap is constructed from the sleeves, and a cuff now serves as a closure piece. It took until last week before I added the finishing piece: a button. Now it's ready to be made useful.

The project was a learning experience, and there are a few more sweaters (washed hot and then felted in the dryer) in my sewing room that I plan to transform.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Classic YA

My last library trip was a disappointment. Out of eight books, I only finished two. Though the jacket flap summaries may beckon, it's tough to find a quality story sometimes. That's when I'm especially glad to be a library patron instead of a shopper.

In the wake of my shelf-browsing strike-out, I decided to pick up the sequel to a classic. Robert Cormier is a patriarch of the young adult category, and a blind spot in my reading history. I hadn't gotten around to reading The Chocolate War until last year. This week I read Beyond the Chocolate War.

While I have unfailing respect for Cormier's ability to create, build, and sustain tension in a very real, very male and adolescent way, his stories are too sinister for my taste.

Any well-crafted (or poorly crafted) book can teach about writing, though, and I'm always an eager pupil.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in."

Let my bias be known: John Green writes the books that I longed for as an adolescent, and that I would love my own (yet to be finished) novels to be compared to one day.

Green certainly has prototypical female leads and male bonds, but the dynamics ring so true that one can hardly hold any pattern against him.

If you enjoy Paper Towns, try Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher), and Star Girl (Jerry Spinelli). The similarities make them no less enthralling, and all three will grasp your attention until the end. This book, as with his others, will appeal to smart kids of either gender. (Go nerdfighters!)

The quotation in my review title is from Leonard Cohen's song Anthem. The concept is a pivot point for Quentin, the main character of Paper Towns, though Cohen gets no credit. (I merely find this surprising considering his careful attention to crediting other lyrics and poems.)
Cause for excitement: the author is working on a screenplay for Paper Towns!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mission Impossible

Rain, rain, go a-way!

Want to know what's impossible? Finding spare time when the sun is not shining on our deck and patio area, and there is no rain in the forecast, that's what.

We had one day two weeks ago when we were able to spend about six hours getting started, but rain has stalled our progress.

It'll be so lovely when this project is finished. Then we'll move on to landscaping the back yard, and growing our vegetables, which is much more fun.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mother of Invention

I took this Monday off in order to enjoy a day at home alone to sew.

I was excited about this cute hobo bag pattern. It's hard to find a good purse pattern with a zipper top closure, and this one was to be a trial run prior to making an everyday bag for my mom-in-law. The plan failed.

I found the pattern instructions and photographs difficult to follow. After cutting all the pattern pieces and sewing a few together, I was loath to give up, but decided it was a matter of energy. If a project is no fun, it's not likely to turn out well or bring joy to anyone else.

Instead of stuffing the fabric pieces into my scrap box, I decided to salvage some of them to create a different bag. The lining became the bag, and I made pockets from the pieces originally intended for the bag's exterior.

The handle didn't seem long or fun enough as it was, so I created a chain-link strap. Since I had no coordinating fabric for lining, I simply serged the interior seams, as you can see below.

It's a simple, lightweight bag that I am now quite happy with. I might even make a pattern for it so that I can make more of them.