Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happiness is...a new month!

Happy All Saints Day! Hopefully you all had wonderful Halloween celebrations this past weekend. I celebrated with the annual viewing of Disney’sLegend of Sleepy Hollow (the cartoon version narrated by Bing Crosby, it’s not Halloween in my world until that happens), as well as The Birds (which I will forever find creepy) and The Watcher in the Woods (also still surprisingly rich in the heebee jeebee factor, even though I’m no longer 12!) I also had some of the requisite candy, gave treats to some costumed toddlers, ate fresh pumpkin soup and pumpkin cookies and wore a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt (we don’t go for dressing up much here at the library.)

With the end of the month/beginning of a new one I also figured I could share a few of my favorite reads for October, especially since I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this month and will not be doing nearly as much reading as writing (I hope!) so it may be awhile before I do another full-fledged entry like this.

So here, in no particular order, are some of last month’s greatest hits:

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Pages: 338
Age Range: 13-16
Published: 2011
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG-13

I’ve read two of Perkins’ books so far and loved them both! She has a great way of capturing the ache and elation of teenagerhood and first loves in particular. She does a nice job of balancing the out of control emotions, hormones and perspectives with reality to create a story that is both highly enjoyable and believable.

In this one Lola is trying to prove to her parents that Max (her much older, rocker boyfriend) is ‘the one’ but when her first crush, Cricket, moves back in next door her world and all her relationships are thrown into disarray. Eventually she learns how to be true to herself (and even how to figure out who that self is) and while not all of her choices are good there are realistic consequences and growth from them all. Her parents are two gay men, her birth mother is a highly unstable drunk, there are some mentions of sex and drug use as well as some strong language (complements mostly of Max) but none of it is in any way offensive. Anna and Etienne from Perkins’ first novel also make an appearance, which is kind of fun. Highly recommended for teens or anyone wanting to relive the roller coaster ride of a first love.

A Zeal of Zebras: An Alphabet of Collective Nouns
Author: Woop Studios
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8
Published: 2011
Genre: Non-fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: G

Collective nouns are so much fun and this book is a perfect introduction to them. Each page highlights the animal and its group name and gives a brief paragraph of information about it (habits, habitats, conservation efforts and such) and beautifully illustrating the animal. Woop Studios is a collection of artists who've combined their efforts to celebrate their love of graphic design, words and images. It's a terrific collaboration and is a great addition to the alphabet book collection for slightly older readers or kids who are ready for a bit more depth and some information but without the attention span for a full-fledged non-fiction book.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackelton and the Endurance
Author: Jennifer Armstrong
Pages: 134
Age Range: 9-14
Published: 1998
Genre: Non-fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG

In getting ready for my trip down south in a couple of months I wanted to read up on the area and some of the fascinating stories surrounding its discovery and exploration. I have a nice big list and this was the first one up. Armstrong gives a tiny bit of background on Shackelton himself and the age of exploration so the reader has a bit of context but the crux of the book is the men's adventures down to Antarctica, being stranded first on the land but then again on their ship (and then on land again) as they encounter various storms and setbacks on their quest to cross the continent. There's a mixture of humor and human interest as she relates the things they do to keep themselves entertained but there's also some intense imagery as they fight for survival. (***Spoiler alert!! There were several instances of tears as they had to kill off the dogs rather than let them starve to death.)

There are black and white photos taken during the expedition that complement the text and add some additional humanity and depth to the narration. This is a really well done overview of the events of the ill-fated expedition, enough to give you a working knowledge but also enough to whet your appetite for more.

Author: Anne Ursu
Pages: 312
Age Range: 8-12
Published: 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: *****
Rating: PG

Hazel is struggling to adjust to her new school and maintain friendship with her neighbor Jack but things are changing between them. And when he suddenly disappears, only Hazel believes that something might be wrong. Her worst fears are confirmed when another boy mentions he might have seen Jack getting into a frozen sled with an icy queen. She musters up her courage and ventures into the magical, mysterious world beyond the forest to rescue him.

This is my favorite kind of story. Full of emotion and deep, loyal friendships, reality coated in healthy doses of magic (the kind that make you believe the world truly is magical at some levels if you just happened to be in the right place at the right time), subtle tributes to all the best books and a realistically happy resolution. If you love fairy tales then you must read this, I guarantee you'll be enchanted!

I also listened to Dracula in honor of Halloween. It was pretty spooky. I think the narration helped though. I don’t know if it would have gripped me in the same way if I’d been reading it on my own. But I can definitely see where the hype came in and why the vampire culture has lived on the way it has.

GoodReads has a sidebar where you can set goals for the number of books to read this year and I mockingly set mine for 400 back in February or so. I’ve since surpassed that (hooray!) and am working on getting up to 600 by December 31st. (Keep in mind that about half of those have been picture books so it’s not quite as impressive as it sounds, but still!) I’m currently up to about 530. I think I may have to do another great picture book push to meet the goal. I haven’t read a picture book for awhile that has really impressed me so let’s see if I can remedy that.

My October writing fifteen minutes a day (WFMAD) campaign has been a success. I didn’t make huge amounts of headway but I definitely did a better job of making time for writing in my day and got over a few hurdles that had been bugging me concerning the flow of my story. I’m going to let it all stew for a bit while I throw myself into the madness of writing a novel in one month. I haven’t registered to do any of it officially so I won’t have access to all the official guidelines and encouragement and so forth on the website and everything but basically I’m just going to see how much I can get done. I’ve had this idea simmering in my brain for awhile and I think my other WIP (work in progress) will benefit from being able to tackle it again fresh in a month or so. I haven’t done any actual writing on this new project but I did mention earlier that it will be a fleshed-out re-telling of a fairy tale. I’ve read various other versions of the story in preparation but we’ll start at the beginning with a clean sheet of paper this afternoon when I sit down to write. I’m not going to do any editing or re-writing at this point, just get as many words down and as much of the story as possible (the official goal is 50,000...so that’s what I’m shooting for for now.)

The invitation still stands to have anyone interested join me! :)

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