An Alternative to the Insanity of Black Friday:

National Day of Listening

Friday, November 26th take some time to interview a person you know and love.
Record that interview via a recording device or pen and paper.
And enjoy the blessing of stories.

Need some tips?



And There Goes My Diet...

Okay, so I wasn't really on a diet. But, I had some vague ideas about possibly going on one (we've got family photo's next month). Instead I am eating these to-die-for peanut butter dark chocolate chip cookies that I nabbed from Sarah Dessen (Yes, that Sarah Dessen--as in the ever-brillant author Sarah Dessen who has a really fantastic blog that you should really check out even if you don't know anything about her books--but shame on you if you don't know her books).

Diet, shmiet. I'm pretty sure it is my turn to stand behind someone in this family picture.



It is that fantastic week where we get to slow down, enjoy that last remnants of Fall, hang out with our wonderful families, watch some football, and EAT!!! Also, I believe there is supposed to be something in there about gratitude and thanks giving. Here's a short message to remind me about that:


Les Mis in Concert

aka a plethora of YouTube clips

Last night I had the singular opportunity of attending the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert (originally performed in London and broadcast in movie theaters throughout the US last night) and can I just tell you that there are simply no words to express how wonderful, extraordinary, magical, powerful, etc. the performance was. To just give you a hint, I've placed a couple of clips from the show (sadly not official clips so the sound and the camera work is not exactly stellar but just imagine sitting in a theater with surround sound and then triple experience you are imagining and you will just about be there)--both clips are from the encore. You may also notice one Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers performed in the show (and did a really fine job--I am now repenting for questioning his casting), Lea Salonga, and a few other recognizable cast members. However, who I really want to draw your attention to is one Alfie Boe who plays Jean Valjean (the 4th Jean Valjean in the first clip), is a part-time resident of Salt Lake City (his wife is from Salt Lake City and they have a home here), and is now on my Christmas list as well as my list of people to see perform live before I (or they) die--Dame Judi Dench being the only one on my list that I have actually been able to see perform live. The last clip is of him warbling in a friend's kitchen--how cool would that be?

You'll notice in the above clip, the fantastic Frances Ruffelle is only shown from the waist up which is a kind gift from the recorder of the clip as Ms. Ruffelle appears to have forgotten her pants (possibly in both the American and British sense of the word "pants") to say nothing of her choice in shoes!

If you are British or live in Britannia you can purchase the DVD on November 29th. No word yet on when us Yanks get our chance but if you missed this in the theaters then you must, must, must purchase or rent or borrow (I would almost say steal) the DVD, find a large screen with surround sound, and sit back and enjoy! 

In an unrelated note, I saw a local musical production of The Scarlet Pimpernel and for the first time in my entire life (including that one unfortunate time that I endured an entire 30 minutes of the A&E version) I was rooting for Chauvelin--extremely bad casting (the actor who played Chauvelin would have made a charming Scarlet Pimpernel!)


The Winner Is...

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Which was bound to be the result as it was the one book--of the three I thought would/should win--that in the end I ignored in my predictions.


2010 National Book Award

When Janssen mentioned that she was going to read the the five 2010 National Book Award finalists in the category of Young People's Literature I decided to jump on board and do the same--there is nothing like being ahead of the popularity curve (which is just a tad slow around here) and being able to say "oh, yes, I read that last year"--very pompous of me! I thought that I would read the books and then just before the announcement was made do a post of my reviews and predictions. It wasn't until this past weekend, though, that I realized that putting all of my reviews on GoodReads (and then Facebook via GoodReads) kind of defeats that idea as most of you probably have access to me through one--if not both--of these social mediums. On realizing my goof, I did withhold one review and of course I haven't made any predictions whatsoever. So, then, without any further ado, here are my reviews and predictions:

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (6 out of 10 stars)

Summary: In a futuristic world, teenaged Nailer scavenges copper wiring from grounded oil tankers for a living, but when he finds a beached clipper ship with a girl in the wreckage, he has to decide if he should strip the ship for its wealth or rescue the girl.

A little more swearing than I care for in a teen novel and I didn't care at all for the scene in which teen alcohol use is portrayed as an acceptable means of celebration and escape. In general, though, this is an excellent read that puts climate change at the root of this dystopia. I enjoyed the characters and felt like there was some good development and good dialogue (particularly in the final 2 chapters), though there was a bit of repetitiveness in the use of a few phrases and ideas (blossoms of pain; fear that whoever is dying might not (for different reasons) actually be able to die) that weakened the overall writing. I am, though, looking forward to reading the next installment.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (7 out of 10 stars)

I liked it. I found it a little unexpected and rather interesting, unique, charming, and even informative. That said, it felt a little flat. And while I loved the idea that getting into someone else's head and understanding them can change the world, maybe even lessen the violence we too often witness, I felt the author's note was a little heavy handed and didn't quite connect with the story--It seemed really to be more a story of closure than a story of averting future violence through knowledge and understanding. If I were handing it to a junior or teen reader I think I would also hand them something on Asperger's syndrome as that is a major issue but is not really directly addressed.

Dark Water by Laura McNeal (5 out of 10 stars)

Summary: Living in a cottage on her uncle's Southern California avocado ranch since her parents' messy divorce, fifteen-year-old Pearl DeWitt meets and falls in love with an illegal migrant worker, and is trapped with him when wild fires approach his makeshift forest home.

There is a sad, depressed quality to the writing that hints of tragedy and had me feeling rather unsure of this book from the beginning. And then there were pieces of writing (such as: "He nodded and watched me with his sepia eyes") that just felt ridiculous. Around page 120 the book started to grow on me with some better writing (such as the paragraph on p. 134 that described a desire to be nine again), but still there was this love story going on between 2 characters who barely speak to each other, barely know each other, and have nothing in common--I couldn't decide if this was unrealistic or typical teenage love/drama. Then the book just sort of dragged on and on always hinting of the tragedy but never getting there (actually it did get there eventual, but it took its own sweet time). By the end the tragedy and the romance all just felt so frustrating, stupid, and pointless that I was really rather glad to close the cover on this book. Also, I think I wanted a bit more social ethics--we should care about illegal migrant workers because they are human too type of a message--something that would really make a teen reader think/reconsider ideas.

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers (8 out of 10 stars)

Summary: Teenage Reese, serving time at a juvenile detention facility, gets a lesson in making it through hard times from an unlikely friend with a harrowing past.

There is a realness in the dialogue and reasoning of this book that is intense and feels true--and there wasn't very much swearing which was so refreshing when so many authors think they must load these types of books in order to stay true to reality--a notion proven untrue by this excellent read. The result was a great read that has the potential of changing perspectives of people on the outside looking in and on the inside looking out. This is the book that I wanted Dark Water to be. With the inner thinking that the main character goes through and the examinations of the situations of inner city youths, Myers has created a character that you will sympathize with and root for. And yet, he does all of that without removing the concept of personal responsibility--the character's and ours.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (7 out of 10 stars)

Summary: In the summer of 1968, after traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold wwelcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp.

An excellent introduction, for junior readers, to the 1960s Civil Rights movements, the Black Panthers, etc. Where I wanted more of a social impact drive from books like Dark Water (teen fiction), I felt this was very age appropriate. I did occasionally think that the 3 girls acted above their own ages (particularly Fern who grasps complex scenes and writes poetry about it). And I felt the end wrapped up just a little too neatly (girls understanding mother, mother understanding girls, everyone (nearly) flying off into the sunset). I think I wanted a stronger feeling that not everything was magically fixed--that there was still a lot of work to do and that all involved were committed to doing that work. But maybe this is a point that the girls were truly acting their ages--by needing a mother more than needing to hang on to the bad and being able to forgive in a way only children seem to readily be able to forgive.

So now on to the predictions:

Well, I really just didn't care for Dark Water so if that one wins I will have serious questions about the win. After that, though, I wouldn't be too upset should any of the other books wins. That said, I just don't really see Ship Breaker winning (and really it shouldn't). So, in my mind at least, it is down to Mockingbird, One Crazy Summer, and Lockdown which to me is a contest between 3 potentially powerful books. And while I really would be happy with any one of these books winning, I suppose that the purpose of making a prediction is the actual making of a prediction. So, so, so...really these books are so different, how do I choose? Okay, Lockdown is my pick--but I think it really might be One Crazy Summer (way to hege my bets).

The announcement comes tomorrow!


99 Most Beautiful Names

I went to a fantastic art presentation at my library last week and it has been on my mind ever since--so now I get to get it on your minds as well.

The presentation/display is called 99 names and stems from the artist's, Andrew Kosorok, own interest in the Islamic faith after 9/11. What he found out about the religion was so different from what the television pundits were broadcasting (for example, he talked about attending a sermon by a California Imam who spent the first half of his sermon teaching about the importance of the family unit, that families need to eat dinner together, and that no man can get to heaven without his wife, and then the second half proving the divinity of the US Constitution through the Qur'an) that he felt he needed/wanted to do something to express what he has learned. What he has created are a series of glass sculptures (there will be 99 in total--hopefully by 2012) representing each of the 99 names of God that Muslims are supposed to learn and emulate (a few examples of the names are "The Judge," "The Gentle," "The Merciful") that are gorgeous and inspiring:

I simply love the simplicity and humility in which this author is working to learn about others and pass on that learning in the hope of creating a more understanding and better world. It is an example, I think, that we can all learn from and follow. Nine of these sculptures are on display at my local library until the end of the year and are really worth a short visit if you are in the area.

You can read a few of the many articles being written on this project here, here, and here (I found the first one to be very interesting and worth a read).


Starlet or Streetwalker?

I have a secret (and slightly embarrassing) love of E!'s show Fashion Police--its funny and informative. And they have a short segment called Starlet or Streetwalker during which the co-hosts have to determine whether the girl in the picture (with the blurred-out head) is a starlet or a streetwalker. Recently my thoughts turned to this segment as I was considering the latest sewing project I undertook:

I sewed it and designed those black "trees" myself. But now I find myself asking, do I dare wear a bright pink skirt out in public (it is brighter than the picture here implies)? And if so, can I accomplish said wearing without looking like a streetwalker? I am entirely undecided. But, I am still loving this whole sewing phase I'm going through.



It snowed today

(and by that I mean wee flurries floating around

and thank goodness that was all because I'm not ready for the real stuff!)

and that means hot chocolate and Christmas shopping!

(and by Christmas shopping I mean spending $70 on myself--for Christmas)


Booktalks Round 4 (Again, sort of)

Not that anyone has been beating down my door demanding that I finish off my reviews of the Beehive Book nominees (last updated the end of June), but I thought I would get the final two out of the way because next week I hope to put up my reviews of the National Book Award nominees in the young readers category (right before the announcement on the 17th). So, despite a general lack of interest: here are the final 2 reviews:

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman:

(This is where the sort of that follows Booktalks in the title comes in) Eon's purpose in life has been to train to become a Dragoneye, but Eon holds a terrible, deadly secret that may undo everything. Sadly that terrible, deadly secret bored me to death as did this book. I skimmed the last 100 pages and wouldn't have even finished it but I had committed to reading all 12 nominees.

Musician's Daughter by Susanne Dunlap

Theresa's father is found murdered, his violin missing. Her quest to solve this mystery uncovers a plot thick with deceit, betrayal, and intrigue. I liked the setting. I liked the characters. I liked the basic story idea. The execution of the story, though, was rather sloppy.

So, yeah, not so much Booktalks this go around, but at least I finished up the reviews--sort of. You can check out the other Booktalks (some of which can actually be considered Booktalks) here, here, and here.

And now for my thoughts on who should and might win:

My personal favorite was The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz for its combining of Baseball and Genealogy. Sadly, I don't know if that combination is a winning combination among my State's teen voters.

Who will win? I'm not sure that I am very good at making these kind of guesses, but I'm going to say My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison.

Who should win? Despite The Brooklyn Nine being my favorite of the bunch, I am really pulling for Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith to win. But I would be equally happy for Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson or Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen to walk away with the award.

I'll let you know when the winner is announced, but until then are there any that you have loved or hated?



This little beauty walked into my kitchen over the weekend and I think I'm in love.

Now I can finally make all those fabulous soups that everyone keeps telling me about--starting with this Black-Bean Soup provided by Janssen.