Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I'll be out on medical leave for Fall semester so my postings here will be limited to none. I am using to post books as it much easier for me. If you can't find me, and want to follow what I'm reading and have read, email me at and I'll friend you on You need to join if you don't already belong to to see what I've read. You can also find me on Facebook. Take care everyone, and happy reading! :-)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just a quick posting to let you all know that I am sorry I haven't done any posting for quite some time. Been quite ill and am taking the summer off from teaching to try to get back on my feet again. The grandkids have been to visit, which is good for the soul, but tiring for the body! They may no longer nap, but Gramma does. I finally joined Facebook so you can find me on there as well as GoodReads. That's were I've been posting what I've been reading. Quick and easy compared to here. Take care all!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Steve is trying to fix the mess I made on the other computer so I can't access a picture to add to this posting. Never download free anti-virus software 30 day trials is what I learned. The pop-up screen wanting me to purchase it is in an infinite loop and won't let me access a web site! Growl!!

I had a wonderful Mother's Day weekend. Steve took me out to lunch on Saturday instead, which is good as he was worshipping the porcelain goddess on Sunday due to some short term bug or something he ate. Couldn't been too bad as he wanted meat loaf for dinner! He also gave me the coolest "picture tree" that you hang small photographs on to help me keep my family memories alive. Very cool! Once I find the top of my desk again I'll ask him to set up the photo printer so I can start filling those little frames up. I am also going to scan in a bunch of pictures my mom gave me and one of Mic and Mary when they were kids. Then I'll have them to look at whenever I want without hauling out the boxes.

We chilled at home yesterday and watched the sub-titled version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was wonderful. But, you can't do anything but watch closely when a movie is subtitled as you'll miss something. What a beautiful stark area the movie was filmed in. Reminded me a lot of back home, especially the cold! It's funny - I never had any desire to read the book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (might be the very unattractive cover) but now that I've seen the movie I'd like too. Steve read it and didn't care for it but he did appear to like the movie. I kept asking him what was going on so I think those who have read the book have a much better idea of what is left unsaid in the movie version. After watching this version I don't know how I'll respond to the U.S. version of it. Should be interesting to compare them. I just read the short synopsis for the other two Swedish movies and would like to see them as well. Who knows, maybe I'll end up reading all three books. I've certainly heard enough people rave about them.

Speaking of raving about a book. I can't say enough good things about David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Yeah - I'm a little late on this one as it is a 2008 debut novel, but I couldn't resist it on the Broward Regional Library book sale table when I saw it was set in Northern Wisconsin and mentioned towns I knew. I started reading it and basically spent every free moment with Edgar. It is one of those books you both savor and devour at the same time. You find yourself going back to read the beautifully descriptive passages yet barnstorming you way through it as you just have to find out what happens to this mute young teen who says more with his hands and his eyes than most people could ever dream of saying with words. Beloved by his mother and father, Edgar is raised on a rural dog breeding farm where the dogs are treated better than many people are elsewhere. The family's life revolves around breeding and training the legendary Sawtelle dogs that sell for well over $1000. They aren't any purebred, but through the years Edgar's grandfather and father have breed healthy, intelligent dogs that can be trained to do things many dogs will never be able to do. I have to admit, I wanted to skip over all the dog details to get to the good stuff - the dynamics of this unique family - but it is well worth slowing down and reading the details as they enrich the remainder of the book as the dogs are as rich, unique characters as the humans are.

As I set down The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, that did not end the way I expected it to, I realized had I not been browsing a table of $2 hardbacks at a library book sale I would have never read this book. The time spend browsing and serendipitously finding a treasure like this one is priceless. I wish we allowed our children and teens the pleasure of browsing libraries, book stores, etc. for treasure like this. No AR points involved, no preconceived notions of what they want to find, just browsing for a good book to curl up with.

A delayed treat after the Spring semester was put to bed was opening a box of Scholastic books. I found myself laughing aloud at Craig Smith's The Wonky Donky. This is a very cheap little paperback but worth every penny as I am sure it will be a story time and bedtime favorite if it isn't already as it was initially published in 2009. The illustrations by Katz Cowley are as funny, or funnier, than the text. It is a cumulative tale about a three legged donkey with one eye, who stinks, etc. My favorite double page spread is "I was walking down the road and I saw a donkey,
Hee Haw! He only had three legs, one eye... and he liked to listen to country music. Yee Haw! He was a honky-tonky, winky wonky donkey." The illustration of the yellow toothed, grinning donkey in a cowboy hat and a bolo tie with a guitar on it will bring a smile, if not cause a chuckle for any reader. There is a little funky looking yellow bird on each page and he's flat on his back as "he [the donkey] smelt really bad. He was a stinky-dinky..." You get the picture. Little ones will be "reading" this one on their own after a few read alouds. Cumulative tales are perfect for read alouds for this reason. The repetition is essential.

That's it for today. Steve is still working on the computer. Apparently there is a virus on it, smarter than the virus software already on it. Groan! He's going between computers and printing out directions to purge it. Thank goodness I am married to an IT guru!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

We forgot poor McKinley and Kegan's sunglasses when we went out in the boat and moving they had to squint the whole time. But, they did get to see one alligator. It was a cloudy day so there weren't a bunch of them sunning themselves. I had Kegan in my lap so I wasn't worried about them falling in but I can't imagine what it would be like to get lost in those canals amongst the weeds and dead trees. We have a note by the gate with the alligator catcher's name and phone # as it is gator mating season and I guess more of them come out this time of year. We've not seen any in our part of the canal but it is really shallow right now - more weeds than water. We need rain!!

The Internet was down this morning and I was up at 4 a.m. so I wrote the below fairly long blog entry:

My morning routine is off because our Internet access is down. We just don’t realize how much of what we do is dependent upon access to the Internet until we can’t use it. My early morning hours are for answering email, finishing up end of semester details, checking grades, etc. I’ve tried every way I know to bring it up but will have to wait until “IT Guru Steve” wakes up to fix it. Only a few more days to go and the Spring semester is over. And, I am taking the summer off from teaching. Yahoo!! I can sleep until my body says it has had enough – if that is possible. And float in the pool on the blow-up chair that floats back and forth, looking lonely right now!

How early my morning starts depends upon when the cat wants out and how badly my achy body wants out of bed – usually about the same time every morning – between 4 and 5 a.m. Groan! I so fondly remember the days of being a night owl and sleeping in until 10:00 in the morning and then “rushing” to get ready to leave for the office to do afternoon office hours and teach evening classes. 2:00 a.m. was not an uncommon bedtime back then. I’m not really a lark either, as I typically go back to bed when Steve gets up and sleep for a few more hours in the morning. Then it’s doc’s appointments or other stuff and another nap, dinner, and bed. It is a good thing Sophie and I aren’t competing for the same space on the bed! I’m looking at yet another neck surgery on May 10th. Let’s hope this one works!

My morning routine is off because our Internet access is down. We just don’t realize how much of what we do is dependent upon access to the Internet until we can’t use it. My early morning hours are for answering email, finishing up end of semester details, checking grades, etc. I’ve tried every way I know to bring it up but will have to wait until “IT Guru Steve” wakes up to fix it. Only a few more days to go and the Spring semester is over. And, I am taking the summer off from teaching. Yahoo!! I can sleep until my body says it has had enough – if that is possible. And float in the pool on the blow-up chair that floats back and forth, looking lonely right now!

How early my morning starts depends upon when the cat wants out and how badly my achy body wants out of bed – usually about the same time every morning – between 4 and 5 a.m. Groan! I so fondly remember the days of being a night owl and sleeping in until 10:00 in the morning and then “rushing” to get ready to leave for the office to do afternoon office hours and teach evening classes. I’m not really a lark either, as I typically go back to bed when Steve gets up and sleep for a few more hours in the morning. Then it’s doc’s appointments or other stuff and then another nap, dinner and bed. It is a good thing Sophie and I aren’t competing for the same space on the bed! I’m looking at yet another neck surgery on May 10th. Let’s hope this one works!

For those of you who have followed this blog for awhile, you’ll know Alex (Alexandra) Flinn is one of my all time favorite YA authors. I fell in love with Breathing Underwater and have read everything she’s written since then. We’ve been going back and forth via email lately as I recently read Cloaked and she let me know that, on May 20, Breathing Underwater comes out with a new cover and UPDATED CONTENT (e.g., no references to pagers, Beanie Babies, etc.). It will be 10 years old on April 24. It is amazing to think I have been using Alex’s books as required reading for 10 years in my YA literature course. Breathing Underwater has been discussed, booktalked, and contemplated the most of any of her books used in class, though they have all been booktalked many times. The background of the teenage male abuser in Breathing Underwater is a point of view we don’t often see and it opens more than a few eyes of teenage guys. And girls for that matter. I am delighted that it has been updated and a new edition will soon be available to teen readers. For those of you with older copies in your collections, now is the chance to replace it and booktalk it with your teens.

Now, back to Cloaked. Steve and I have had more than few strolls and meals along the legendary South Beach main drag and have seen some pretty bizarre and extraordinary things, but we’ve never seen an international celebrity princess in search of her brother who has been turned into a frog! In case you haven’t figure it out – this is a modern fairy tale retelling, but the cool part is, Flinn has merged several of the lesser known tales into a fast paced, laugh aloud fun romp from South Beach to the Florida Keys. I have often felt like a pauper among the wealthy when in South Beach, but imagine being a lowly shoe repair guy whose main fear is to make enough money so that the power in the apartment he shares with his mother is not turned off. Taunted by the good looking lifeguard, but friends with the coffee shop girl, seventeen-year-old Johnny just keeps plugging along repairing the shoes of frazzled businessmen and replacing heels on the stilettos of the fashionistas. And, when no one is looking, he is designing women's shoes that he figures will never see the light of day. But that is all about to change when Princess Vicky sets her sights on Johnny as the person who can help her find her brother and break the curse. Before long, coffee shop Meg, who is more than she appears to be, is involved and a race against time and foreign gangster-types have the teens using every resource available, including magic, of course. Flinn delightfully weaves 7 lesser known tales into a contemporary setting for a completely satisfying tale. She concludes with an author’s note that offers a bit of insight into each tale. I hope Cloaked will open the door for teens to seek out the original versions of the tales as folk and fairy tales are storytelling at its very best and a resource to be tapped by bringing them back to life via retellings. This is Flinn’s third fairy tale retelling and if you’ve not read Beastly (yes – it’s the one the movie is based on and this is the link to the movie tie-in paperback) and A Kiss in Time, you are missing out on two other delight tales. Alex told me – “My next will be a novel about Kendra (from Beastly) and her escapades, called Bewitching. It comes out winter, 2012.” I will be one of the first ones to read it!

Remember those ugly, slick covered biographies of presidents we all had on our library shelves that the students refused to even open unless they had to do a report? How about spending money on a family biography that will pique their interest instead? In the style of Russell Freedman, Harold Holzer brings the Lincoln family to life through descriptive text that focuses on the antics of the Lincoln boys and the family intrigue and, even better, is accompanied by well captioned archival photographs of the family and the time period and art reproductions. Father Abraham: Lincoln and His Son by Harold Holzer is a must have for every Elementary and MS library. I would even add it to the collection of most HS libraries as it so accessible to the resistant/reluctant teen reader.

Most of the time I prefer animal books with color photographs but the paintings by W. Allan Hancock in Amazing Animals: The Remarkable Things That Creatures Do written by Margriet Ruurs had me curled up exploring every illustration before I even read any of the text. The cheetah on the front cover grabbed my attention and when I flipped open the book I hit the page with the western diamondback rattlesnake and the artwork is so realistic I pulled my hand back from the page! Did you know that it uses the rattles, which form when it sheds its skin, to communicate with other rattlesnakes, not just to warn us to stay away? The short informative entries for each creature(bird, reptile, insect, mammal, fish, marsupial, etc.) in sections broken up by Size and Strength, Reproduction, Communication, Homebuilding, Migration and Navigation, Diet, Hunting, and Defense will fascinate readers both young and old. I can honestly say I’ve learned more about unique and well known animals, from this book than any other I’ve read as of late. Picture book style NF books are superb for introducing any topic to any age group. For example, it is good to know that a skunk can squirt its musk up to 20 feet away! If Tundra Books is not one of the publishers of NF books you look at regularly when doing collection development, add it to your review list. There is indeed a Canadian focus, but the books are well written and illustrated and always add elements not seen in other books of their kind.

With summer drives quickly upon us there are myriad children’s books to listen to, but for the adult crowd with no kids in the car I’ve a couple you may want to explore. My husband is not a fan of audiobooks but I do think he would have listened to John Grogan’s Life is Like a Sailboat: Selected Writings on Life and Living from the Philadelphia Inquirer. The topics cover everything imaginable and cause the listener to pause and think and to chuckle. He often goes for the heart strings or hits you in the gut and you can’t stop listening. These are stories about real people, including himself and his family. To add to the enjoyment, John Larroquette is the narrator. This is one I’d give to the male road warrior.

And for those of you who grew up on One Day at a Time, you know who Mackenzie Phillips is. I listened to her matter of fact narration of her autobiography High on Arrival. If you think she was a bad girl as Julie Cooper in this 1970s sitcom, she was an angel compared to her real life of drugs, sex, and a less than acceptable relationship with her father. She doesn’t pull any punches discussing her addictions or her wrong choices in life and although I did not enjoy listening to her describe a life that was so out of control it seemed unreal, I couldn’t stop listening. Would I have picked it up on sale at Barnes and Noble if I had not seen her on the Today Show? Probably not as I am a Valerie Bertinelli fan, but if you want to engage in tough love – give this one to the older teen or young adult who thinks drugs and alcohol are “harmless”! So many wasted years for such a talented woman.

This is an entry that has been worked on through time but I have a hard time editing myself so please excuse my typos and other types of errors.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Good Friday to one and all. The schools are pretty much out around here so there were families everywhere when we took time off from our computers to go out to lunch at the new Mexican place in town, Lime. A cute little cafeteria type place where you order and they bring it out to you. Lots of food and good food too at a reasonable price. Their sign says, “So Mexican we can’t open in Arizona!” Steve took a picture of it to send to a friend in AZ. We sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful breezy day while we ate.

I was outside by the canal this morning finishing up a book I’ll write about in a moment and I paused to just quietly say thanks for the beauty of the area we live in. I was laying my head back on the chair and looking up into the canopy of cypress trees I was sitting under and thought I saw our cat asleep way up in a crook of the truck and a large branch. Thank goodness it was not Sophie, but a napping raccoon. I went in to get the binoculars and Steve to come look too. The raccoon was sprawled across the branches sleeping and opened his eyes long enough to look down at us and yawn and went back to sleep. Reminded me so much of Sophie when her nap is being interrupted, but lots bigger incisors! There was also a squirrel having a late breakfast of green coconut in the palm tree next to him. At one point while I was watching the squirrel he put his tail across his back so that he looked like Stripe from the old Gremlins movie. I laughed aloud and I swear he looked down at me and bared his teeth in a grin! If one sits back and watches nature around us it is astonishing. Sadly, I’ve really not done that much in my life. I’ve been too busy doing everything else to slow down and enjoy it. Perhaps there is some “goodness” to be found out of the health issues I am experiencing that have forced me to slow down. At least I am trying to view it that way, especially when I am frustrated and want to do something and haven’t the energy to do it!

Okay – now to the book I was reading when I spotted the raccoon. I was vicariously on the California coast near Monterey rather than sitting in the backyard in South Florida as I was finishing up a wonderful mermaid tale. I have been enchanted with mermaid and selkie tales since I was a kid so when I opened a box of review books from Houghton Mifflin and there was L. K. Madigan’s The Mermaid’s Mirror I knew it was going on my “gotta read” shelf. Since I have stepped back from reviewing for VOYA or LMC for awhile and reading what I want, I have been focusing on fantasy and Christmas “stuff” – alternating between the two. Imagine being a teen drawn to water with a father who was once an avid surfer and who will not step foot into the water or let her learn to surf. His fear of going into the water is painfully evident, but the cause of it is something Lena has never learned. But when she turns 16 the draw of the ocean near their California beach town is too much for her and she finds herself awaking from sleep walking on the beach. It is as if the ocean is calling to her in her dreams. She can hear it singing to her. Her boyfriend and best friend surf and Lena watches them from the beach and sometimes swims, but never surfs. Or at least, until she can’t stand it anymore and accepts her boyfriend’s sister’s offer to teach her. Lena is a natural on a board. No surprise as she is instinctually at home in the to sea and can read waves without thinking about it. She discovers why her father will not go into the sea and how her mother died – both of which change her life forever. She takes the chance of surfing one of the most dangerous stretches of beach to find the mermaid she is sure she saw in the ocean days before and who is drawing her to the sea. Lena almost dies in her attempt to surf the waves at Magic Crest Cove but instead she staggers out of the water clutching the key to her future and her past. A beautifully done coming of age and romance. I didn’t want it to end.

For any of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, you know I am a major Audrey Hepburn fan so when Margaret Cardillo’s debut children’s book, Just Being Audrey, from HarperCollins arrived, I had to read it immediately. The delightful, mellow illustrations by Julia Denos bring Audrey’s impish beauty to life visually for the young girls who have no idea who Audrey Hepburn was but know the “look” even today. This graceful gazelle of a woman enchanted us from the moment we saw her on the screen and humbled us with her humanitarian efforts when she was no longer acting. Quirky, often self-conscious, but also stubborn and sure of what she wanted, Hepburn left an impact on the world such that I am delighted to see her life introduced via a picture book. Perhaps it will pique both the mothers reading the book and the daughters to find out more about her, especially her later in life work with UNICEF, the organization that was there at the end of WWII when she was a hungry child, hiding with her family and 40 other people. This one goes in my personal collection to be shared with my granddaughters and hopefully we’ll watch Hepburn movies together when they are older.

Lastly, my Easter time Christmas reading! Heather Graham’s Home in Time for Christmas caught my attention because of the time travel romance that reminded me of my favorite Jude Devereaux novel, A Knight in Shining Armor But, instead of a nobleman coming back through a time warp, in Heather Graham's delightful time travel romance it is a young Revolutionary War soldier and author who appears in the middle of the road as Melody is driving home to spend Christmas with her parents. He is dressed in Revolutionary War-era clothes and has no clue what a car is or where he is. Instead of taking the man she “softly” hit with her car to the ER, she takes him home for Christmas. As one would imagine, she falls in love with the man but there is a contemporary rival for her heart who she loves but is not in love with. The best part of this book is Melody’s quirky parents. Her mother is a Catholic Wiccan and her father is an avid inventor who periodically sets fire to his workshop! Once they realize Jake truly is from the past and he needs to get home for Christmas to check on his sister, they are in on figuring out how to open the time portal. What fun to ponder time travel. I never tire of reading books that address it.

Now, since this is supposed to be a day off, I am going float in the pool for awhile!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I had the third procedure done on my neck and I am having a reaction, again, to the oxygen during anesthesia. The first time I thought I had caught something at the hospital as I was really sick for three days after I got home. This time isn't quite as bad - I just feel like I have to sneeze 24/7 and when I do it is enough to take the roof off! My eyes are watering and my nose is running. The doc's office called today and they assured me it would settle down "in a day or two" and it happens to some people. Oh joy!

It may be April, but I am always in the Christmas spirit and found Sherryl Woods A Chesapeake Shores Christmas at Borders. Our local one went out of business last weekend and I stocked up on Christmas books and other fun stuff I wouldn't normally buy. What a sweet Christmas story about a large family with the grown siblings having concerns, especially the one who became a divorce lawyer, about their parents getting back together years after their mother left for New York. From what read in the introduction there are 3 previous titles about the O’Brien family in the Chesapeake Shores series and a new series to come about the son who became a divorce lawyer. It is his infant son who helps bring him around to supporting his parents’ remarriage. With all the horrible natural events and other bad news we hear and read on a daily basis, a sweet, quiet family story/romance like this one is just what one needs sometimes.

I may have already written about Awakened by P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast, mother and daughter writing team. The House of Night is my all time favorite YA vampire series as it features a strong will female main character, Zoey, who is part Native American. You don’t see this kind of character in YA literature very often. Stevie Rae, her blonde haired, rural Okie sounding, best friend is a key character in some of the titles – this one as well. Stevie Rae's relationship with Rephaim, the Raven Mocker, has taken a turn for the better and even his father has stood up to the nasty Neferet, but I am sure her evil doings are far from over. This 8th book in the series is as interesting reading as the first one, even more so when I think about it as I’ve developed a character/reader relationship with the characters in the series and find myself thinking about them as “real people” – which is fine praise for a series about fledgling vampires and High Priestesses!

Most of us know at least one of the versions of the story of the kind and not so nice sisters who encounter a goddess, witch, etc. Heather Tomlinson’s Toads and Diamonds is version set in a fictional India – the Hundred Kingdom. Diribani meets the goddess at the well while on a trip for water and is blessed with speaking flowers and precious jewels. One would think this would be a wonderful gift, but like all people with wealth, she has to wonder - are they loved for who they are or what they have? What happens to Dirabani is opulent captivity. What stayed with me more so is the strength of the sister, Tana, whom the goddess blesses with speaking snakes and toads. Tana has the intellect to turn what appears to be a curse into a blessing of sorts, saving the kingdom and herself in the end. Tomlinson weaves a land that fascinated me as a reader and created strong female characters, though very different from teens of today, ones whom they may well see themselves in as they compare the sisters' responses in this magical kingdom to situations in their own lives.

I am hoping I get to blog some of the many books sitting here on my desk that I've read when I haven't been feeling well enough to do much else. I am actually taking the summer off from teaching to see if I can get back on healthier footing. I hope I'll catch up on some of the blogging of books and sleep until I cannot sleep anymore. I think I've become a cat - my body wants to sleep more hours than it is awake and when it is awake, it is weird hours of the day and night. Please excuse any wonky wording in these blogs. My brain seems to be doing weird things as well!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I I feel like a heel because I am getting Astro's Valentine card and picture up barely in time for Easter! For those you who didn't read the earlier posting - Astro is the delightful Steller Sea Lion in Jeanne Walker Harvey's book Astro The Steller Sea Lion that is beautifully illustrated by Shennen Bersani. Jeanne sent me the above pictures and I am sorry I didn't get them posted sooner. The woman is Erin Gibbons, Astro's trainer at the Mystic Aquarium. Such a cool book! Has a really fun to read section at the back called "For Creative Minds". Did you know that pinniped means flipper footed? It is amazing what you can learn from children's books! :-) Now, I'm going enjoy the Sunday paper and the NBC Sunday morning news.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Isn't this a wonderful picture of Steve? I honestly do not know where this was taken. He sent it to me from his phone so someone else must have taken. Probably on one of his business trips. But I think Steve is very handsome when he smiles. Well, he's handsome to me all the time, but especially so when he smiles!

I apologize for not posting more. It would take me days to write about all the health issues I'm dealing with right now so I won't even try other than to say they have made it very difficult to keep up with work let alone enjoying writing on this blog. I owe emails/letters to lots of friends and family and my office looks like a tornado went through it, but I am focusing on keeping up with grading and making it through this semester. The docs have asked me to take the summer off to recuperate and I am doing so.

Steve took me to Borders, which is going out of business, and I stocked up on Christmas mysteries and romances to read while sitting out by the pool. I am going to read "adult" books for a change with a few YA a children's when I have "withdrawal" symptoms as I've been reading most youth literature for years.

I am just about done with Jennifer Donnelly's The Winter Rose It will be my treat later this morning after Steve and his mom wake. My body has decided getting up at 4:00 and then taking a nap at 8:00 is what is wants so I get grading and email done in the early a.m. Anyway - back to this wonderful historical novel set in London during the early 1900s. Although she is the daughter of nobility, Lydia has turned her back on position and money and attends medical school to work in the "slums" of Whitechapel where living conditions are deplorable and children and women die of illnesses and diseases that are easily preventable with better living conditions and nutrition. Corrupt and broke Freddie Lytton has spent years wooing Lydia, not because he loves her, but because he wants the money her parents have promised him if he can convince her to marry him and stop working in the clinic in Whitechapel. But Lydia falls in love with the "criminal" Sid Malone and the story takes so many twists and turns that you need to hang on to the sides of your chair to keep up. There may be 720 pages in this book, but you'll devour every one of them.

But, I suggest you read Donnelly's the The Tea Rose first as it sets the scene in the 1880s when Jack the Ripper is terrorizing London and murdering and mutilating the prostitutes of Whitechapel. Fiona Finnegan is the heroine of this prequel to The Winter Rose, in which she still plays a part. She is madly in love with Joe Bristow and they are busy saving every penny they can for their own store one day but he is seduced by a wealthy shop owner's daughter. Fiona runs away to America and makes a name for herself as a tea merchant, seeking revenge for her father's murder in the process. Not quite as lengthy, at 529 pages, it is as fascinating as the sequel. This is Donnelly's debut novel and her skill at writing historical fiction is keenly evident.

I was introduced to Donnelly through her YA novel A Northern Light, a Michael L. Printz honor book, based on the murder of a young pregnant woman at a lodge in the Adirondacks. Set in the summer of 1906, sixteen-year-old Mattie is working at the lodge when a lodger named Grace gives her a packet of letters to destroy. Young Grace's body is later found in the lake. Mattie is a strong female character at a time when women were expected to take care of the home and marry young. She has a suitor and is caring for her siblings as her mother has died but Mattie wants a better life. She wants to go away to school and is encourage by her teacher. There is a train bound for New York City with Mattie's name on it, if she can muster the courage to take it. Teens will relate to the strong female characters in this novel even though the time setting is quite different from the hallways of today's high schools. My YA literature students are booktalking with HS age teens right now and I remind them that a successful booktalk, not matter what time period a book is set in, focuses on making a connection with teens of today.

And then Donnelly totally blew me away with Revolution , her latest YA novel. It is in part a contemporary novel about a teenage girl who is destroying herself with grief over her role in her little brother's death. Andi is sent to Paris for the Christmas holiday to spend time with family friends and to work on her Senior thesis on a little known Paris musician who composed for the guitar, unique for the time period of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Inside a guitar case from that time period Andi finds the journal of a young woman who had been the playmate of the young prince. With no warning Andi finds herself transported through time to take on the persona of the young woman Alexandrine and lives the French Revolution through her. It is an incredible novel. Teens won't even realize how much French and music history they are learning as they vicariously live with Andi/Alexandrine.

Donnelly also delved into the picture book arena in 2007 with her delightful Humble Pie We've all known the little boy, or girl, who is spoiled rotten, greedy, and grabby and just a pain to be around. So does this grandmother who makes a huge humble pie - the crust is as large as bed sheet! It has all kinds of yummy ingredients and greedy Theo falls right in. Grandmother isn't about to let him out no matter how much he howls but all of his jumping and bumping sends the pie tumbling along. Not surprisingly, no one will help him until the pie rolls into a town of hungry townspeople and Theo is able to escape without being baked into the pie. He returns home a reformed boy. Donnelly's rhyming text and message makes this a fun one to read at story time as little kids all have a bit of Theo in them.

Most of you will recognize the whimsical style of illustrations as the illustrator is Stephen Gammell who has illustrated myriad picture books, winning awards too! Barnes and Noble lists 131 results for this illustrator: My personal favorite is Song and Dance Man that won the Caldecott Award. Gammell's color pencil drawings bring to life the old man showing his grandchildren just how a bowler hat and a pair of old dance shoes can transport them to another time when Grandpa used to dance the old soft shoe to "Tea for Two." I can't even count the number of times I read this one aloud when I worked with primary age children. So - now you know a bit about every book Jennifer Donnelly has written - from her debut adult, YA, and picture books as well as two more. Can't wait to see what is coming next. But, while you wait you can check out her web site for cool stuff:

Okay, that's it for today. Now I'm going finish the last few chapter of The Winter Rose so I can get it in the mail to my daughter Mary as I know she'll love it too.
I cannot believe it has been so long since I posted. A lot going on that I'll address in another posting, but since I cannot be at my aunt's funeral today, I felt the need to write down what I remember about her. Aunt Ruth holds a special place in my heart and always will.

My favorite Aunt Ruth, whom I am named after, passed away this week. I’ve not seen her in several years as my visits to Pointe Mills were infrequent, but I could always depend upon an offer of a cup of coffee and something sweet. I don’t think I could have “inherited” my sweet tooth from her, but she did teach me cool things like dipping cucumber in sugar! Yummy! And to take your “propeller” out of your coffee after you stir in a heaping spoon of sugar – otherwise you may poke your eye out with your first sip! Oh yes, and the crunchy, delicious, sweet, saltiness of scooping up a dollop of soft ice cream from your cone with a potato chip.

Aunt Ruth savored food, as she did life. I cannot remember her being anything but warm and welcoming. When I wasn’t in Mom’s or Gramma’s kitchen, I was in Aunt Ruth’s kitchen. The kitchen was the place we hung out to play cards and just talk away the hours. Since she and my mom are sisters and married brothers, the two families spent a lot of time together at home and at the lake. She was a reassuring presence in my life, even though I didn’t consciously realize it growing up.

It was in Aunt Ruth’s kitchen I watched my cousin Karen learn how to drink without gulping – a lady-like endeavor I have never accomplished myself. I sound like a dockworker chugging a beer when I drink liquids. No dainty quiet sips from me! It was at Aunt Ruth's table where I laughed so hard my sides hurt while Karen was mimicking the “a little dab will do ya” commercial. Why it was funny – I have no idea today, but Aunt Ruth just smiled at the silliness.

It was on Aunt Ruth’s living room floor that Karen taught me how to lay out and mark patterns, cut them out carefully, and make my own clothes. Granted, Gramma taught me my first stitches on her treadle machine, but it was in the safe comfort of Aunt Ruth’s home, with Karen’s quiet guidance, that I learned to sew.

It was in Aunt Ruth’s yard that I learned what family is, even though I didn’t realize how unique the St. John’s Day gatherings were. They were just part of life. Juhannus, a celebration in honor of John the Baptist, is a Finnish holiday initially celebrated on June 24th. In Finland it is now celebrated on the Saturday between June 20th and 26th. I don’t know if it was ever celebrated at any other family home other than Aunt Ruth’s but that’s where it was as long as I could remember. There were Aunts and Great Aunts “everywhere” telling stories, many of which young ears probably should not have been eavesdropping on! Mom and Aunt Ruth had a lot of aunts and they all had very unique personalities! The tables were laden with food and Aunt Ruth’s kitchen was like a sauna from all the goodies she baked on her wood stove. No one was watching their weight as they loaded up plates. I shied away from the green Jello with bananas though! YUCK!! Homemade Finnish "squeaky cheese" - YUM!! What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and quietly listen to the women's stories – I could have learned so much about my heritage and extended family but where/who we came from just doesn't seem important when you are a kid. We are looking forward, not back at that point in our lives.

My Aunt Ruth was the queen of backseat drivers! I don’t remember her ever driving but I do remember her telling my mom, or whoever else who was driving, how to do it better. If there are cars in heaven and St. Peter took her to the where the rest of the family was waiting for her, she was telling him how to drive! She and Dad used to have an ongoing feud about her backseat driving and he was known to pass up a close parking spot just because she told him to park there!

My Aunt Ruth is now with Uncle Hank and the other members of our family who have passed and were waiting there for her to join them. I dearly loved my Aunt Ruth. She was a stable, loving part of my childhood and the first person I went to visit when I went home. I can close my eyes and hear the screen door opening and see her smile. She will bring laughter to heaven!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I love this picture of Michael. Mary found copies of Rob Kidd's Pirates of the Caribbean Series in a used bookstore and brought them home for him. Michael immediately curled up on the couch and was lost in his book. One of the titles, Quest for the Sword of Cortes has a cover that will pique the interest of any pirate loving boy like Michael. He has found his "unconscious delight" reading. The kind of reading that helps create lifelong readers. Books (often a series or those by a favorite author) that a young reader can lose themselves in as they realize that there is pleasure in reading. It is something they choose to do for enjoyment; not sure something they have to do for points or for a class assignment.

This kind of unconscious delight reading is an essential step in becoming a lifelong reader. Sadly, in our zeal to create competent readers who can pass standardized tests, we have created alliterates. Kids who can read but choose not to because they find no pleasure in the process. School librarians are already talking about the upcoming issue of Knowledge Quest that focuses on Readicide - a term coined by Terry Gallagher - to address the killing of reading in our schools. There's a short note about it on the KQ website: The cover art and web content should be there soon for the March/April issue.

Being involved in teaching, reading and reviewing children's and YA books since the 1980s has its perks. I received a signed copy of Mary E. Pearson's manuscript for The Fox Inheritance Even though it won't be out until August 2011, Barnes and Noble has a link to it. Oh my!! I had to force myself to put it down this morning and get on this computer. It is stunning. Locke and Kara died from injuries in a car accident but the content of their brain - memories, intellect, etc. were download to a computer drive. There they floated in a painful limbo for 260 years until an unscrupulous scientist used a much refined version of bio-gel (what was used to bring Jenna - the third teen in the accident - back to life) to create bodies for Locke and Kara. What he doesn't know is how those years trapped in darkness has warped the psyches of the two teens. I am only 63 pages into the manuscript and I have page markers galore so I can go back and read passages. I have gasped aloud and even had the hair raise on my arms due to Pearson's skill at bringing to life the inhumanity of a future where human looking and sounding Bots are only complete to the waist. Put this one on your pre-publication order NOW!!

And, if you have not read The Adoration of Jenna Fox yet, please do so. You won't be sorry. Not only does it tell Jenna's story to help prepare you for Locke and Kara's, it is one of the most haunting futuristic YA novels I've read. I am so impressed with the quality of writing of this novel, as well as the relevance of the bio-gel created teen to today's teens, that it is required reading in my YA Materials course. Jenna is the daughter of the scientist who created the bio-gel that is used to repair his daughter's accident ravaged body. But, is she truly human with only 10% of her brain? How much is required to ensure you have a soul? I've read this book several times since it came out in 2008 and each time it causes me to pause and think. Just what a good book should do! I have the link to the paperback cover above as I like it better than the hardback cover with the butterfly on it, but you'll get why the butterfly when you read it.

I was scrolling back through this blog to 2003 and saw that I had discussed Pearson's Scribbler of Dreams published in 2002. It didn't get great reviews but I liked the modern version of the Hatfields and McCoys family feud. She wrote David v. God back in 2000 but I wasn't writing the blog yet then.

I knew she was a YA author to watch. And sure enough, she knocked one out of the stadium with A Room on Lorelei Street in 2005.
Look at the honors:
WINNER of the 2005 JHUNT AWARD for Young Adult Literature
2006 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
2006 NYPL Best Books for the Teen Age
Bank Street Best Teen Books 2005
Richie's Picks: THE BEST OF 2005
Baltimore Great Books 2005
Capitol Choices Noteworthy Book 2006
Texas Tayshas List 2006 - 2007
2006 California Collection
I couldn't talk about this book enough as we didn't have enough books like this - with totally realistic older teenage characters who were making decisions (not always good ones) to move into adulthood. I cried as I read her joy with having her own room, a safe place, on Lorelei Street. You can explore Pearson's other books on her website: There are links to her LiveJournal Blog and you can even find her on facebook, myspace and twitter. YA authors have to also be Internet savvy as that is where they will meet their readers.

That's it for this morning!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!! Can't wait for Steve to get home from California tonight. He went out to watch the ProAm golf tournament at Pebble Beach. Wish he had gotten Drew Brees' autograph for me. He and a couple of other football players were playing. Bill Murray won this year! Brees is one of my favorite quarterbacks, along with Aaron Rodgers. I was so excited when the Packers won the Superbowl. I would not have been happy if that sleazeball Steelers' quarterback won. The idea of kids looking up to someone like him really bothers me. Brees and Rodgers are different - they give back to their communities and are not abusing their status.

Steve sent hand dipped chocolate covered cherries and strawberries from California for Valentines Day. Glad I was home when UPS delivered them or they would have sat outside and melted. Got into them as soon as I opened the box. The rest are in the fridge waiting to be savored. He spoils me and I love it!!

Now on to a book - my favorite part of these postings. I have an autographed copy of a delightful picture book based on the real life events - Astro the Steller Sea Lion by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Shennen Bersani. Very impressive that the author is donating a portion of her royalties to the Marine Mammal Center and Mystic Aquarium. Astro was found alone on an island off the coast of California. He was brought to the Saulsalito Marine Mammal Center that cares for sick and injured marine mammals. Astro was later released into the ocean but kept finding his way back to the Center. He had spent too long with humans and could not re-acclimate to the wild so he was trained to follow commands and found a home at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut. During one of his treks back to the Center after being released he joined a school field trip and even maneuvered his way through their coned walking route. I bet those kids were delighted!!

The illustrator - Bersani -visited both the Center and the Aquarium and spoke to the employees. Her attention to detail in the colorful, quite realistic double page spreads bring the settings, Astro, and the human caretakers to life. This is a Sylvan Dell Publishing title with copyright-free supplemental factual information about sea lions at the back of the book. In addition there is a really cool video about Astro to get kids involved at And, lots of activities for the teachers. The author is currently a Middle School Language Arts teacher and has a cool website of her own: And, a fun blog - True Tales & a Cherry on Top:

Astro is a must have for all elementary school libraries and public library children's collections. Great combination of a read aloud worthy picture book story supplemented by information on Steller Sea Lions. Teachers and Internet savvy kids will love the online content as well. This is a superb example of how the picture book can span the gap between storytime and the curriculum.

That's it for tonight.

Monday, January 24, 2011

That isn't a dog - it is horse! Mary is tall for a woman so that just shows you how big their dog is! I love the second pic of the boys - wonder who wore who out! I've yet to see this "puppy" and I am nervous around big dogs because of my balance. Can you imagine trying to dry her feet from a romp in the snow? I was talking on the phone to Mary the other day and I she was fussing at Michael as apparently he and Chloe had a snow fight and Cloe lost and brought her white blanket into the house with her. I was laughing but Mary certainly wasn't! :-)

Mary and the two little ones are coming down for my Spring break. :-) Can't wait! We are going to be lazy and lay around the pool and let the kids wear themselves out - at least I hope so. If it stays this cold they won't be doing any swimming, but it should be plenty warm for that by early March. Steve has solar panels floating in the pool - they look like big blue lily pads. They are supposed to warm the water up by we have a shady back yard due to our huge cypress and palm trees so they don't work real well.

Steve's Mom got here Sunday night. Sophie's nose is bent out of shape as she has a little dog that is considerably smaller than Sophie is. :-) They were nose to nose at first and now Sophie is just plain ignoring Carmen. Now I remember why I love cats - you don't have to take them out to do their thing - you can clean out a litter box in your pjs! Well, you could take a dog out in your pjs too but its cold down here as far as I'm concerned. I'm all bundled up in wool sox and a fleece shirt. Haven't worn shorts since before Thanksgiving and this is supposed to be South Florida! Was 46 degrees this morning when I got up at 5:00.

I've read a really odd mix of books lately. That reminds me - I need to get the VOYA review done for Jo Walton's Among Others If you are into SF this is your book. It is a booklist of the best SF ever written weaved into a heartbreaking YA novel about a fascinating Welsh teen. Not sure when the review will be published but I won't review it here. Just wanted to mention it - it hits stores this month.

I saw the cover of Shipwrecks, Monsters, and Mysteries of the Great Lakes by Ed Butts. and I knew I had to flip through to find the chapter on the Edmund Fitzgerald. It had to be there - it is one of the most famous, if not most famous, Great Lakes shipwreck. And Gordon Lightfoot brought this tragedy to life in his haunting ballad Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I grew up hearing horror stories about Lake Superior and how it is so cold that when you drown your body sinks to the bottom. Twenty-nine crew members died on that ore carrier during a November storm in 1975. Their bodies were never found and the theories raged until earlier this year when researchers concluded the ship had been swamped by a 50 ft. rouge wave. They were once though legend, but they have been proven real on Lake Superior.

As kids we used to see the ore carriers go by when we were at the lake and they'd come in fairly close when seeking shelter from storms. They were just a part of life. There was a coal dock on the "way to town" as we said - it was on the way to Houghton/Hancock in Upper Michigan and ore boats were often at the dock. So when this huge ore carrier sank, we realized anyone on those ships was at risk. 1975 is a long time ago now but I can still see grown men cry when Lightfoot's song came on the radio. Everyone knew someone who had lost a friend or family member on the boats. It still raises the hair on my arms when I hear it.

Although not as close to home to me, I read the other shipwreck entries and those on lake monsters, such as the Nessie type sightings (never had one myself). This may be a region favorite for the states and provinces that border the Great Lakes, but the drawing of waves crashing against a lighthouse against a black background on the front cover will get some of the boys attention even if they have never seen an ore boat or swam in the Great Lakes.

However, one never forgets swimming in the icy waters of Lake Superior in early summer - BRRRR!!! Nor will I forget my frozen fingers dropping a friend's shirt down the hole in the outhouse when we were shivering and trying to chance out of our wet swimsuits!

I always pick up debut novels and Stay Kramer and Valerie Thomas' Karma Bites caught my eye due to the lime green color and the girl looking like she is up to something (which she is) as she lifts the lid of a box emanating light. A quick perusal of the author information and the note that Kramer had produced one of my all time favorite "sleeper" movies, Ulee's Gold with Peter Fonda sure got my attention. Here's the Wikipedia info for it: It is such a beautiful quiet movie that touches the heart. It's about a quiet beekeeper and what he does to help his granddaughters safe as well as help his daughter-in-law detox. The character reminds me of so many of the quiet men I grew up around even though it is set in the South. I also love this movie because it addresses tupelo honey, which has fascinated me ever since I heard Van Morrison sing Tupelo Honey the first time in the early 70s. He sings the chorus and his splendid voice slides over the words "She's as sweet as tupelo honey" and I can't help but smile. But then again, there isn't a Morrison song I don't love!

Anyway, Karma Bites is a bit of delightful fluffy candy. Not a whole lot of substance, but a fun read for MS girls who like magic. Franny's Granny is staying with them and she brought a box with her that was given to her by Lama, who knows Justin Timberlake, but I digress! Franny discovers how the box grants wishes through funky recipes and she decides to fix the problems in her life, including the fact that her two best friends no longer hang out with each other. One has become a popular cheerleader and the other is a band geek. Franny spends her time running between their two after school practices. There are some laugh out loud moments in this plain fun to read romp, with a few lessons thrown in from Granny and recipes that go wrong. Middle School girls who like tween chic lit will eat it up, but I'm not too keen on a 12-year-old talking about looking hot at the end of the book. I guess I'm a bit of a prude that way.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Vowing I am going to do more frequent shorter posts. Can't believe another semester has begun. Classes begin today. Where did 2010 go? I hope 2011 is better health wise - I am optimistic it will be.

Sent in the review to VOYA for Jennifer Pharr Davis' Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail - a memoir/trail guide about her trek up the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine when she was 21. Not one I would have self selected but I am glad I read it. That is one of the joys of reviewing - you experience books you would not have chosen on your own.

I loved the spiritual snippets in the book but my days of camping and hiking are long over so the trail descriptions weren't quite so enjoyable. We did a lot of tent camping in, as well as to and from, Alaska. Most summers we drove home to visit family in Upper Michigan. Even a grizzly tearing a small backpacking tent open above my face with Mic next to me as an infant didn't stop us from camping with the kids, but we moved to a larger tent and then to a truck camper but the bears in Alaska are known to tear the backs off campers if they smell something they want to eat so it really wasn't so much about what you slept in as how you cleaned up after you cook.

Davis didn't like to cook with the small backpack stove so she ate packaged food during her nights on the trail. We had the luxury of larger camp stoves but still ate a lot of granola bars! Becoming Odyssa would be a great graduation present for a college graduate who wants to experience the Peace Corp, hike the world, or go on some other type of "quest" before settling down into a job or going on to graduate school. Even though it is a female perspective, I'd have given this to Mic to read as I think much of his trip to and hike through New Zealand was to do just that - find himself. He'd graduated from college at 20 and wanted to travel a bit before starting graduate school. He was an old soul and very insightful, even when he was a little one. His early observations often amazed me as he seemed to know and feel so much for one so young. Mic was a joy as a son, as a child, a teen, and young man and I feel blessed to have loved him for the 20 years he had on earth. He may have passed from this world, but I will always be his mother. I remind myself daily that he still lives in my heart and always will.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Wow! I had no idea it had been so long since I posted last. I am so sorry! I think I need to just start doing short posts when I think about them rather than taking the time to do the long posts I normally do. Between moving to Florida, a wild Fall semester, and then being quite ill in the last few months, I've barely kept my head above water with the basics. Some days even those don't get done!

The good news is I am finally getting settled in with new doctors down here in Florida who I really like and had my first set of occipital nerve blocks last Friday. You know those occasional headaches that are so bad they make you sick to your stomach? Well, I had one of those 24/7 since September since I had my last nerve block in August before we moved from Lexington. Now the headache is just thudding away and that I can handle. The doc was optimistic that he can give me more long term relief and that was the news I needed to hear.

This morning I'm busy working on getting course docs up for my YA Lit course starting on Friday. Anyway, I was checking links in course docs to make sure they are still live and found a pleasant surprise on The Shambles web site - someone had posted a link to me booktalking at one of the workshops we had for our COLRS grant students: I didn't post it, but I am glad it is out there even though most of us hate to see ourselves on camera. I had the mic clipped to my pocket and it made it difficult for me as I don't normally stand just in front of the room while I booktalk but my YA Lit students are required to present a 6-book booktalking session to high school age teens and find the video useful in preparing, especially my students who have never worked with teens before.

Due to the headache, I've not done as much reading as normal but did enjoy a new fantasy that is going to be a hit. John Stephens' The Emerald Atlas is the first in a trilogy about three siblings who are the key to three books of magic that the wizards of old hid so that no one could have the power bringing them together could create. Fourteen-year-old Kate has been trying to protect her younger brother and sister for the the last 10 years since their parents disappeared as they are shuttled from one nasty orphanage to another. When they arrive at a mysterious dilapidated old house, they find the first of the books and discover their ability to travel through time via this Emerald Atlas. A high-spirited battle of good against evil with the siblings in the middle of it all. Kate is one feisty young teen and her little sister Emma is right there behind her. The bookish dwarf-obsessed Michael is also a delight. His love of reading, with specticles sliding down his nose, brought back memories of young Mic's oversides glasses, visible above the latest book he was happily lost in. We make such a personal connection with each book we read; or at least I do. This is a fantasy romp Mic would have devoured. Watch for my review at a later date in Library Media Connection.

Back to course docs. My 2011 resolution is to do short blog postings regularly. Let's see if I can keep it up!