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!