Monday, October 26, 2009

Change of Focus

On Sunday morning, I used this simple tutorial to change a pair of brown gaucho pants into a marvelously slouchy scarf for myself. Heeding the warning from this blogger, I reduced the number of squares by more than a dozen, and it's still more than twice my height. That makes for some fun ways to wind it around myself, though!

It was a nice indulgence to make something for myself. I think I could easily fall away from the workhorse, selling mode and begin to craft items for my family and home instead.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

Based on the jacket flap, I thought I knew what to expect from this novel. The story arc appeared to be straightforward, and for the first 99 pages it basically was. Beyond that, all of my predictions proved incorrect. This makes for a great reading experience, but (in order to avoid spoilers) a sparse review.

Let it suffice to say that the characters are entirely likable and their problems are entirely plausible. I commend the author for creating extraordinarily likable, friendly underdog characters, and then forcing them to endure trauma, trials, and tribulations. I struggled along with them, wanting only for them to be safe, happy, and confident.

There were a few areas where I felt the passage of time was unclear, and that Sage's character was described too overtly, but neither bothered me as much as the cover art (though it is nicely done). Males and females will enjoy this book, but the sensuous cover may deter some guys from carrying it around.

The bottom line is that Brian Katcher writes entertaining and realistic stories that adults can enjoy as much as teens. My students adore Playing with Matches and they are already raving about Almost Perfect.

*full disclosure: Brian Katcher is a personal friend. (Hi Brian! I liked it!)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Still Hungry

Catching Fire is book two in a trilogy that began with The Hunger Games. Click here for my review of book one.

I finished Catching Fire early Saturday morning. As much as I loved the first book, this sequel took over 60 pages to catch my attention. Even then, there were so many twists and turns that I lost interest occasionally. Every time I'd get drawn in, the character's circumstances would change abruptly and I'd have to refocus.

In spite of its weaknesses (repetitive ideas, maze-like plots, and limited exploration of the coolest aspects: the uprising, fugitives, rebels, and mockingjay connections) I became engrossed, and will look forward to the next installment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Uncomfortable, yet Riveting

Boot Camp, by Todd Strasser

Although the topic and setting might appeal to at-risk kids, the main character represents only one fraction of that audience. He's prodigiously gifted, extraordinarily wealthy, and one half of an anomalous relationship. He's as big a misfit (largely due to his honesty) at the boot camp as he is elsewhere. In spite of (or because of) his advantages, Garrett is an extremely sympathetic character, and that makes the story work.

The events of the book are unsettling and believably rendered right up to the end.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Insomniac Reads Again

Billie Standish Was Here is an outstanding book that readers can inhabit.
Superbly set, written, and paced.
Simultaneously real and delicate, with a flawlessly consistent voice.
Nancy Crocker is the author.

A great companion book would be Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

This I Believe

The NPR standard (and books) This I Believe is a favorite of mine. Begun by Edward R. Murrow, it gives essayists their due time in the limelight (over 60,000 submissions!), and provides an interested audience for musings about life.

I edited This I Believe essays for a dozen former students this fall, and finally settled on a topic to doodle about on my own time. It's not a full essay, but here's one thing I believe, even if I don't always heed it:

The words, "I'm just kidding" should be eradicated from our collective vocabulary.

In the halls of the school where I teach, I hear the words and see their effect far too often. Though the little phrase is an off-hand admission of regret for what's been said, we'd all be better off without that not-so-little white lie.

Hearing the phrase "just kidding" doesn't erase the hurt, but it does erode trust. Speaking the phrase doesn't soften harsh words or retract what's been uttered. The impulse to tell someone I was only joking simply means I should have kept quiet to begin with.

People try to excuse offensive behavior with the "just kidding" Band-Aid instead of sincerely apologizing. The phrase is an effort to redirect insecurities onto the verbal target ("Can't you take a joke? I didn't mean it.") rather than owning up to rudeness.

If we don't mean it, we shouldn't say it, and if a truth needs to be told, it shouldn't be masked as meaningless ribbing. I'm willing to bet that "I'm just kidding" is the most often told lie. And it's no joke.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Books of Late

It's been ages since last I shared my thoughts on a book. Here are a few from the past couple of weeks.
For many chapters, I wondered why Impossible, by Nancy Werlin, had been labeled a fantasy. At most it seemed like magical realism. By now I've decided that there simply isn't any better label available.

I had looked forward to this book for some time, having enjoyed The Rules of Survival and Double Helix, and Impossible did not disappoint. If you have a hard time getting into books outside the realm of realism, here's your entry point. Werlin is not the kind of writer who ends up in a rut; each story she spins is different from the last.

P.S. If you're a Simon & Garfunkle fan, you'll have other reasons to like this book.
I picked up Jancee Dunn's book, Don't You Forget about Me for three reasons: first, the cover is hard to resist; second, the title's reference to the Breakfast Club appeals to my generation; third, it's by Jancee Dunn! (Dunn wrote many a cover story for Rolling Stone, and VJ'd for MTV2.)

The story itself concerns a woman whose life is much different than mine, but with whom I can easily relate. It's about a 38 year old woman's selective memories about her teen years, and the chance to resurrect those good parts. Her class reunion, and her adolescent diary remind her that those glittery memories aren't so golden after all.

Who among us doesn't wonder about the embers of past flames? (Oh hush. Of course you do; it's just that most of us know to leave the past alone.)
Jennifer Weiner's latest book, Best Friends Forever, also hinges on a class reunion. There aren't any surprises in store for readers of this one, but it's still entertaining to flip pages as the story unfolds.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Giddy by Association

MayaMade is Etsy's featured seller right now! Her products are simple, yet not simplistic. Her blog is an oasis of peaceful photographic visions, decorating inspirations, and delectable seasonal recipes. I urge you to check out her blog and shop. (Please see my sidebar for her link; my computer is not allowing me to hyperlink right now.)