Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Collectors

My book club selected The Collectors by David Baldacci as this month's pick.
Baldacci currently has two books on the bestseller list - Collectors' sequel, Divine Justice just released a few weeks ago, and its prequel Stone Cold is holding on to a spot on the mass-market fiction list.
Once again, I have to thank my fellow book club members for pushing me to pick up a book I might not normally read, but really enjoyed.
Baldacci weaves a tight plot that involves the Speaker of the House, the Library of Congress, the CIA and a casino heist, a la Ocean's Eleven. There's a big reminder here that things are not always what they seem - the heart attack may be a murder, the spy may be a con artist and the guy who mows the grass at the cemetery - there's no telling who he might be.
I do have to mention my disappointment in the audio version of this book. Three different actors were used to read the various characters with a constant narrator. This narrator read all the attribution tags which made for a slight pause between speakers. It didn't work for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

What a fun read this was!

This contemporary book is set in an elite East Coast boarding school. The main character, Frankie, has blossomed between her freshman and sophmore years of high school and is finally noticed by the cool, upper classmen on campus.

As she begins to enter their world, she learns that her boyfriend, Matthew, is a member of a secret all-male society know as the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds.

The book explores class, feminism and discovering yourself in a unique and poignant way. Plus, the author, E. Lockhart took the liberty of having some fun with words in the book. Check out this snippet:

"Prefixes like 'in,' 'non,' 'un,' 'dis,' and "im" make words negative, yes? There may be grammatical particulars I am not addressing here, but generally speaking. So you have a positive word like "restrained," and you add the prefix "un" to get a negative: unrestrained.

"Possible. Impossible.

"Sane. Insane."

Frankie calls these neglected positives. She also has imaginary neglected positives (INPs) like petuous, meaning careful from impetuous; ept meaning competent from inept and turbed meaning relaxed and comfortable from disturbed.

Disreputable History is a nominee for the 2008 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. It is my goal to read all of the nominated books this year.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The House on Fortune Street

I recently finished reading The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey.

The story is set in the United Kingdom and reflects all the wonderful complexities of the English. I found this book particularly interesting in its approach to perspective. The book is divided into four sections, each told from a different character’s point of view. This technique allows the reader to see events and weigh their consequences through different eyes.

Would that it were so easy for us to shift our experience and take the other party’s thoughts and feelings into account. Livesey’s skillful writing and well-drawn characters produce a satisfying, yet sad story that is impossible to put down.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Continuing Education

I just found out that I've been accepted into the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children. It is a low-residency program, meaning I don't have to move to Vermont - only go there two weeks each semester. It seems like a perfect plan for adults who want to further their education.


I've been thinking about going back to school for a while, but I've never gotten beyond the thinking part. But now the timing is right and everything fell into place for this to work out, so I'm thrilled.

I recently read The Samurai's Garden: A Novel by Gail Tsukiyama. It is a rich story about a young Chinese artist who spends the summer on a Japanese island just before World War II. It is definitely a literary novel - meaning how it is written is more important than the plot. But both are fascinating. My dear mother-in-law, Marilyn, who is an artist herself, recommended this book and I must say, I wholeheartedly agree.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mystery Twist

I've been having so much fun reading, that I haven't done much reviewing lately.
Down The Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams is a tight mystery featuring a plucky adolescent heroine. The plot is engaging and the characters are well-drawn.
My only complaint was that 13-year-old Ingrid weaves a web of lies so thick I thought at times she was Charlotte. And these aren't little fibs, she tampers with a crime scene, eludes police and takes her grandfather's car for a joyride. All without any consequences! At times she does reflect on all the lies she is telling, but it doesn't change the course of her behavior.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Delicious New Book

I'm working hard to make up for going almost two weeks without a post.

I finished another very good book today. It isn't quite as serious as Trudy's Promise, but it is an awesome read.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is a charming story of two Southern sisters who just happen to have a little magic, including a clairvoyant apple tree. Very intriguing, no? Allen does an excellent job of subtly weaving mysticism in with a story of love and family.
You can read more about Allen and her books at her website:
One of the things I found inspiring is that it took her 12 years to get published. I think I needed to read that because I got a rejection letter on the teen novel I submitted recently. It was a very nice rejection letter, as far as that goes. The editor called the mystery "compelling" and praised the plot, but said "the narrative voice wasn't quite there." So, I guess it is back for more revision.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Great New Book

Oops! I let almost two weeks go by without a post...

But I just finished a fantastic book: Trudy's Promise by Marcia Preston.

The book is set in the early sixties and focuses on the Berlin Wall and communism versus freedom. Preston creates incredibly real characters that we cheer for and puts them into extremely difficult situations forcing them and the reader to examine what we believe and why. Because this book was written by a woman and features a female protagonist and is published by Mira, it is classified as "women's fiction." But this story transcends gender lines and will appeal to anyone looking for a good story.

Here is a link to Preston's website where she talks about the book and her inspiration for writing it
This was my pick for our book club this month and I've heard from one other member that she just finished it and really enjoyed it. I'm eager to hear what everyone else has to say about it.
In my own writing news, I submitted a short story to Highlights magazine this week. It is likely to be weeks before I hear back from them and if successful, many months before publication. But it feels fantastic knowing I have launched another possibility out into the publishing world.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Book Challenge - Finish Line

In all, I read six books during the 48-hour period.
Flashcards of My Life by Charise Mericle Harper (235 pages)
Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by JT Petty (120 pages)
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor (170 pages)
The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher (151 pages)
Ellie McDoodle, Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw (170 pages)
Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child (190 pages)

Technically, I think I went about 10 minutes over on the 48-hours, but I'm hoping no one will hold that against me. (and I doubt that I've come anywhere close to reading the most books during this time period)

I reviewed the first two books yesterday, so you can check a previous post for those.
Here are the others.

I have to admit, I didn't like How to Steal a Dog. I realize there are quite a few parents out there who make poor choices or find themselves in over their heads - I could swallow the "we were evicted and living in our car" storyline. What I could not swallow is that no other adults in the story were smart enough to figure that out. The author sets the scene as being in a small town, but my experience is that folks in a small town would find out very quickly that this family was living in their car. More than likely child welfare would be involved, etc. I was impressed with the inner conflict presented in Georgina and the decisions she finds herself making. I just didn't think it needed to go on as long as it did.

In contrast, I LOVED The Opposite of Invisible. Great characters, great plot. I particularly liked how the author portrayed high school cliques and mentioned that the cheerleader was intimidated by the artsy kids. I also liked the open and honest way she talked about drinking and sex and the choices teens face in those areas. Plus, who can resist the Seattle setting? Makes me want to go shopping at Pike Place Market and dodge the flying flish!

Ellie McDoodle is pure fun. I wonder, would drawing in my journal make me laugh more at difficult situations? If I came up with descriptive nicknames and drew pictures of my crabby co-workers would it make me smile? I may have to try it....

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean was utterly wonderful. Again, humor in a difficult situation. I waited until I'd finished reading, but then I had to go back and share the Granddad's friend being evicted from the nursing home because he snuck in the dog and it ate the neighbor's parakeet pages with my husband. It was hilarious.

A few thoughts about the challenge - I learned that I can squeeze more reading time into my schedule. Carrying a book around means you steal time to read a page here, a page there and - guess what - you can read more books!
Most of all, I've been working on developing my voice in my writing. With the assortment I read this weekend (and yes, reading them all together like this really helped) I was able to hear the voice in each of the books. I feel very proud of myself for this. I'm looking forward to applying it to my own writing.
I got an audio book from the library to listen to while driving, but I didn't take the extra step of putting it on my iPod. Had I done that, I probably would've knocked off another book while grocery shopping this morning, doing the dishes, etc. Something to consider for next time.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Two Good Books

Since 6:15 last night, I've read two books. And yes, I'm feeling pretty good about it. :-)

Flashcards of My Life by Charise Mercile Harper is a humorous cross-section of teen angst. The pages are dotted with doodles and drawings related to the story (although I wouldn't say it goes so far as to be a graphic novel) I have to admit there were several times when I laughed out loud. This produced glares from my husband who was attempted to balance the checkbook at the time. But I would read him the hilarious page or passage and he too, would laugh, so all was well. I'm hoping I can talk my oldest daughter into reading this. I think she would enjoy it, but I would also like to get an exact gauge on whether something like this would appeal to freshmen/sophmores. I noticed the author was careful not to reveal exactly which grade the characters were in.

Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by JT Petty was also an excellent book. But very different from Flashcards. I would call this a modern fairy tale. It hinges on a line from supposedly from Peter Pan (although this may be pure fiction - after the Challenge, I'll take the time to look it up): "as soon as Wendy had spoken, Tinkerbell dropped dead. Dead as a gossamer-winged doorknob." I was entertained by the book. It would make a great companion for reading with Peter Pan and also has references to Rumplestilskin and other classic tales.

I'm off to do a little yardwork before starting on the next book. And I haven't decided yet what it will be, but you can be sure - I'll let you know how I like it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Book Challenge

I'm now beginning the 48-hour Book Challenge.
I'm starting with Flashcards of My Life by Charise Mericle Harper. I'll let you know how it is.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Book Challenge

Today was my oldest daughter's first day of volunteering at the library. I'm so proud of her. She spent the morning signing kids up for the summer reading program.
I stumbled upon something else that sounds like lots of fun: The Third Annual 48-hour Book Challenge. See how many books you can read and then review on your blog in a 48-hour period. Since we have no particular plans for the weekend, this sounds perfect. I plan to start gathering my books tonight and working out a reading schedule.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

New Adventures

Last weekend, we went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great action, good versus evil, exotic locations, a touch of romance, riddles to solve - what more could you ask for?

Actually, my writer-mind kicked in and I started analyzing the story and the plot. I happen to especially love these history/mystery/adventure genre movies. In addition to the Indy movies, I'd also add The Mummy movies. Laura Croft and the American Treasure movies. The basic plot of all these has our hero on a quest to find some rare artifact, along the way a classic bad guy steps in, attempting to force the hero to use his unique knowledge to solve the unsolvable puzzle, otherwise the hero's love interest will die. The hero plays along to save the damsel, but then with wit and muscle escapes his predicament. The greed of the villian always leads to meeting an untimely end.

When I reviewed what I wrote, I realized DaVinci Code also falls into this category to some degree. BUT, the point of that book and the movie was not to have fun. The others are purely entertainment - we all know Nazis, Egyptian zombies and folks who would steal American artifacts are bad. Dan Brown picked characters who are less black and white and never gave us any reason to laugh. (except maybe at Tom Hanks' hair, but we have to blame that on director Ron Howard, not author Dan Brown)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Classic Canine Books

I suppose I've been on something of a pet-theme lately with my reading habits, particularly with the two latest books. But it wasn't exactly on purpose.

I re-read Where the Red Fern Grows because it is set near Tahlequah, Oklahoma and I'm working on a feature article about Tahlequah for Ozarks Magazine. I say "re-read" because a long, long time ago, we read - or were supposed to read - Where the Red Fern Grows in school. As I went through the story, I had vague recollections of Ole Dan and Little Ann, but for the most part, I felt like I was reading it for the first time. Wilson Rawls was an incredible storyteller and a true Oklahoma treasure. He was able to weave a picture of life in the Ozarks during the first half of the 20th century that is whole and complete. And although I would never consider coon hunting, I was inspired by Billy's ability to set a goal and chip away at it over time. If only we could all be that disciplined. I did notice that this novel is much more graphic in descriptions of violence and bloodshed than contemporary middle grade novels.

I also attempted to read The Incredible Journey. For some reason, I just wasn't able to get caught up with this story the way I was with Red Fern. Perhaps I've been tainted by the Disney adaptations of this book that allow the animals snappy dialogue. But I really don't think that was it. Rawls animals didn't talk either, but still I was engaged and cared about what would happen to the hounds next.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Book Report

About a month ago, I joined a book club. It's fairly informal, but there's a great synergy that's created when a group of people read the same book at the same time.

The book we just finished was Marley and Me by John Grogan. The subtitle of the book is "life and love with the world's worst dog" and that aptly sums up the whole thing. Grogan did an excellent job of structuring the book with short, compelling chapters that wove his life events into the story of a rambunctious lab. A movie based on the book is currently in production and stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson as the Grogans. Despite his destructive tendencies and bad manners, the Grogans kept Marley - a choice too few pet owners make, based on the overflowing animal shelters across the United States.

For several years, I devoted all of my volunteer time to a local animal shelter. I spent every Saturday at adoption fairs, hoping to find homes for unwanted canines. When my youngest daughter was born, I stopped volunteering and as the girls grew older, school volunteering began to fill my schedule.

But, I have a large, furry reminder of those animal shelter days - my 10-year-old Irish Wolfhound mix, Grindl. Fortunately, he shares few traits with "the world's worst dog" from Grogan's book. He will steal food, given half a chance and thunderstorms do make him quite nervous. But he is never destructive and is not a digger or a chewer (he won't even play with chew toys!) He's a gentle soul that is utterly patient with the kids and is never aggressive. But, just like Marley, Grindl is a Great Dog who is loved by our family.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Triumph of Hope

On Sunday, Ron and I traveled to Tulsa to see The Singing Revolution. It is a superb documentary film about Estonia. (yes, in case you were wondering, Rabakukk is Estonian) For those of you who don't know, Estonia is a Baltic nation that was brutally taken over by the Soviet Union in 1940. Then the Germans invaded, only to be pushed back again by the Soviets. This tiny country has been a pawn in the world game of chess for centuries. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, Estonia nearly vanished as the Soviets attempted to assimilate them into the collective of Socialism.
But Estonia would not have it. Against astounding odds, the Estonians maintained their identity and their national heritage. And when the time was right (late 1980s - Mikhail Gorbachev) they took a stand and raised their voices for the cause of freedom. Imagine 200,000 people in traditional Baltic dress spontaneously singing the banned national anthem. What's a media-conscious world leader to do?
Most Americans have no idea how truly blessed we are to have such enormous freedoms.
I am currently working on a piece about Estonian Independence for a children's magazine. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Writing News

I met my self-imposed deadline and put my manuscript in the mail to Emily Mitchell at Charlesbridge Publishing today. Now the waiting begins.
A critical part of this deadline I'd devised for myself involved the post office and their rate increase that goes into effect on Monday. Over the past week, as I was double checking on spelling, page breaks and other pesky revisions, I realized that I'd probably only be saving 10 or 15 cents. In retrospect, I'm grateful I was able to beat the increase - even at today's prices it cost me $7 to mail my manuscript - and it's only 150 pages. That's lunch! Woe to the aspiring fantasy and historical fiction writers toiling away on 600 page works - you have my deepest sympathies.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I have two articles in MetroFamily this month. The other one is my monthly character column. This month's trait is wisdom. And yes, I think I've learned how to strategically place the hyperlinks within the post. I feel accomplished. One of the best parts of writing the character columns is that I get to interview young people who are "doing the right thing." These are the Character Spotlight winners One of this month's winners is raising money for the American Lung Association and has held several Kool-Aid sales in the parking lot of his church. Currently he is about half-way to his goal of $500. You can read more about Christopher or donate online (thus missing the strange taste of Kool-Aid and its permanently staining dye.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

May Articles

I am extremely priviledged to have two pieces in MetroFamily Magazine this month.

I'm proud of both of them, but writing one of them really touched my heart: Mothers Don't Always Start at the Maternity Ward can be read here It's the story of Rose Harper, a truly amazing person. She and her late husband were foster parents for two dozen children over the years. That's a picture of Rose on the left.
The Harpers also started Citizens Caring for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides support for children in foster care. For more information about what they do, check out their website They are the real deal and worthy of your support.
I'm optimistic about writing about Rose and CCC again for other magazines - maybe national magazines. I love the opportunity to write stories that make a difference and this one definitely falls into that category. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

So Many Books, So Little Time

I've had a whirlwind time since my last post - both literally and figuratively.
Namely, this is spring in Oklahoma. It seems like every time I turn around the tornado sirens are going off. One of the local television stations even dubbed this "Tornado Week." It started out as a marketing plan, but I wondered if they felt any misgivings about it since there actually were tornadoes last night...

But the weather is not the most exciting news I have. Last weekend, I attended the Oklahoma Writers Federation Conference We had a fantastic line-up of speakers with J.A. Jance giving the keynote. She was witty and inspiring.

Also on the lineup was Emily Mitchell, senior editor from Charlesbridge Publishing . She gave great tips on developing your voice as a writer. I also had a 10 minute appointment with Emily. I wasn't my most articulate, but she graciously encouraged me to send her my manuscript. Since then I've been frantically reviewing and revising. I've set a deadline for myself to get it in the mail on Saturday and I'm going to make it happen.

The highlight for me (okay, pun intended) was the speaker I was assigned to shepherd - Judy Burke from Highlights magazine Judy is very upbeat and energetic and we got along fabulously. What's more, her sessions were outstanding. One was an idea workshop where she had us make several lists and then explained how the things we wrote down could be used to develop articles. Needless to say, I'm now working on several queries for Highlights.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I'm taking the plunge and joining the world of blogging. Blog isn't a very pretty word, but I suppose I don't know that I have much to say, but I have been looking for a way to share my reading and writing with the world.

I'm currently reading the most amazing book: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Check out the author's website here:

Actually, I'm listening to the book. Audiobooks allow me to absorb twice as many books as I would otherwise. This one is particularly good because it is read by the author, so it has the added layer of the inflection and emphasis she intended.