Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Giveaway Hop

This blog hop is being hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and BookHounds.

For my portion of the blog hop, I am giving away a copy of:
You Remind Me of You by Eireann Corrigan
Published: February 1, 2002
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 128
Format: Paperback
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Novel in Verse
Audience: Young Adult

Goodreads Summary:
A startling autobiographical account of a young woman's battle with eating disorders that put her in and out of hospitals over a span of four years and led to her own parents fighting for the right to commit her. When her last source of support, her boyfriend, attempts suicide and ends up in a coma, she is forced to find strength from within. A courageous story about the strange paths we take to recovery.

Terms and Conditions:
Must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address.
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter.

Monday, July 30, 2012

This makes my heart happy

You have no idea how happy this video makes me. A mere 6 months ago our pug Frank was an amorphous blob who did nothing but sit around the house and sulk. We thought he had a bad back and was in pain, but this spring our vet suspected it might actually be his thyroid. Sure enough, his levels were low, we put him on meds and now he's back to the old Frank. So happy to see him playing again.

BTW, Frank is the light-colored pug, you know, like Frank the Pug from Men in Black. :)

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 7-30-12

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

This week I have lots of cool things to share, the first of which is a guest post I wrote over at the Nerdy Book Club. It is my Top Ten Literary YA Reads, which I'd love for you to join the discussion because if you read my post, you'll notice the whole point of it is to show everyone that narrowing YA lit to just 10 literary titles is not an easy task. There are WAY too many great books to choose from.

I love when the UPS or FedEx man shows up on my doorstep with a book I wasn't expecting. That happened to me this week thanks to Harper Collins Publishers. A few weeks ago I received two ARCs of Sharon Creech's upcoming September release, The Great Unexpected, which I was expecting because I had received an email indicating it would be on its way. But then a few weeks later, i.e. last week, I received another package from Harper Collins, this time with a beautiful new edition of Chasing Redbird.
Thanks so much Harper Collins! You have been amazingly generous to me over the past year!

I have said many times in the past, last week included, that my town has an awesome public library. Unlike most libraries who just hold annual book sales, my library has a used bookstore that is open six days a week. I go there every Tuesday when its members-only day to get first dibs on the "new" stock. This was my loot last week:

(and it's even more awesome that children's paperbacks are only 25 cents a piece. The reason my classroom has 1,500 books is almost purely thanks to the Canton Public Library used bookstore.)

Moving on to what I actually read...

Books I read and loved last week:
Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
OMG you guys! This book is so good! It is one of the most original YA books I have ever read. I'll be posting my review later this week. Be prepared for lost of gushing.

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Make sure to read this one rather than listen to the audiobook. It's not that the audio production is bad, it's just that if you listen instead of read, you'll miss out on all of the adorable visual experiences: scrapbook pictures, playlists, drawings, receipts, etc. It wasn't until about halfway through the book that I read a blog review that talked about all of the visual extras when I got wise and checked the book out and read the rest. 

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
Hop! Plop! by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Don't Squish the Sasquatch! by Kent Redeker, illusrated by Bob Staake
Larf by Ashely Spires
What are the odds that I'd get two books about that have to do with a Sasquatch in one week? I didn't even plan it that way! :) I loved both of these books but Larf has a special place in my heart. The story and illustrations are funny and endearing at the same time. I especially loved Larf's Baby Bjorn-like contraption he used to carry his pet rabbit Eric around in.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Babymouse: Beach Babe by Jennifer and Matthew Holm
The Heart and the Bottle is a book that crept up on me. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading and BAM! It hit me. This is one deep, symbolic story that could be used to engage deep discussion in even high school or college classrooms. It read like a heartfelt free verse poem because it was so full of meaning and symbolism.

Audiobooks I finished last week:

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
This is a book I won't forget for a long time. It chronicles the story of a fictional family, told in first person through the character of Lina, as they are taken from their house in the middle of the night and imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD as the country of Lithuania is wiped off the map and annexed as part of the Soviet Union.

Split by Swati Avasthi
Tragic and uplifting, a beautiful yet tormented tale of brotherly love in the wake of leaving their abusive father.   

Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo
An interesting yet gory mystery. The audiobook narrator, Kathleen McInerney, had a strangely comforting voice despite the insidiousness that ran rampant throughout the plot.

Currently reading:
Pushing the Limits by Kate Mcgarry
 Thanks so much to Harlequin Teen for the review copy of this book. I will also be doing a giveaway soon. I'm not that far into the book but it's been engaging in the few pages I've read.

Currently listening:
On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van  Draanen

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why I love my library

I live in southeastern Michigan in the town of Canton, Michigan. It is the busiest single branch library in the state and it is by far one of the best benefits of living in this town.

In addition to having some of the best selection of any library in our area, this summer they seem to have brought in programs that surprise and delight its patrons.

For example, one day I was walking back to my car and stumbled across this gorgeous chalk rendering of my favorite painting of all time: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Then today, this lovely string duo was playing outside the entrance.

What do you love about your library?

Speaking of awesome libraries, another awesome Michigan library, the Troy Public Library came close to closing last year because they needed to raise taxes to keep its doors open. Check out the ingenious way they rallied to keep it a viable part of the community.

ETA: Apparently the Troy library had nothing to do with the campaign shown in the video. Rather than pretend I never posted it, I'll let you watch the video and then read the comment by my first poster to let you draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lazy Days of Summer giveaway hop: SILENCE by Michelle Sagara

This giveaway hop is hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer and Colorimetry.

For my portion of this blog hop I am giving away a finished copy of:
Silence by Michelle Sagara
Series: Queen of the Dead #1
Published: May 1, 2012
Publisher: DAW
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Copy received from publisher

Goodreads summary:
"It began in the graveyard... " 

Ever since her boyfriend Nathan had died in a tragic accident, Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night. During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that's all it was. For Emma, life had stopped with Nathan's death. But tonight was different. Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery. There were two others there--Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags. And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death....

Emma was not quite like others teenagers. It was true that other girls had experienced grief. Other girls had also lost their fathers, or had their boyfriends die in a senseless accident. But though she hadn't known it till that night in the graveyard, unlike those other girls, she could see, touch, and speak with the dead. In fact, Emma could draw upon the essence of the dead to work magic. That was what Necromancers did. But Emma had no desire to be a Necromancer. She just wanted to help the ghosts who walked the streets of Toronto, unable to escape from the land of the living. And that was just as well, because had she chosen the path of the Necromancer, Eric would have had to kill her.

Instead, Eric and his fellow Necromancer hunter Chase found themselves violating every rule they were sworn to follow, becoming part of Emma's group, helping her to stand against those who preyed upon the dead. But whether Emma and her friends could survive such a battle was anyone's guess. And whether Emma could learn to use the magic of the dead against her enemies without herself falling victim to the lure of such power remained to be seen. Eric seemed to think she could, and her living friends would never abandon her. But only time would tell what Emma's true destiny was.... 

Terms andConditions:
Must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address.
To enter, use the Rafflecopter widget

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A trip to the ice cream mecca of... Columbus, Ohio? Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

This past weekend my husband and I drove to Columbus, Ohio for a family wedding which absolutely required a stop at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams - arguably the best ice cream shop in the country. I had heard about Jeni's a few years ago from my friend and teaching colleague who has a severe allergy to MSG and therefore must always be meticulous about ingredients due to the hidden places MSG resides in our food supply without our even knowing it. When she told me that not only could she eat at Jeni's, but that they had the best ice cream she had ever tasted, I knew it was something I had to check out.

I've actually had Jeni's ice cream before because Plum Market in Ann Arbor sells their ice cream for $10 a pint (Yes, you read that measurement correctly. Not $10 for a half-gallon, a pint). I decided to splurge one day and give the Queen City Cayenne a try (chocolate ice cream with a hint of cayenne pepper) and it was a revelation. The texture was perfect and the heat was just enough to tickle the back of your throat.

Seeing as how Jeni's has a bunch of different and unusual flavors, I was excited at the prospect of visiting their actual shop and getting to sample as many as I wanted without having to shell out $10 a pop. So we decided to leave Michigan a couple hours early on Saturday in order to make a Jeni's pit stop before the ceremony at 2:30.

There are actually a few Jeni's locations in the Columbus area, the one closest to the ceremony was in Dublin, and from the nondescript outside (right below an orthodontist's office), no one would expect the party in your mouth you will experience once you walk in the door.
I'm thinking this nondescript exterior is more of a Dublin town rule than something Jeni herself decided on
Once inside, the first thing the girls behind the counter ask is if you want to try some samples, to which I enthusiastically concurred. The first flavor I tried was the wildberry lavender, which tasted exactly the way you would expect it to taste: sweet and creamy and floral. The other flavor I was eager to try was their goat cheese and roasted red cherries, just out of wild curiosity. I am not a fan of goat cheese, I personally think it tastes way too gamey for my liking, the aftertaste akin to sucking on dirty feet, not that I know what dirty feet taste like, but it's what I imagine it would taste like. ;) So I was surprised when there wasn't a hint of gaminess in it, just creamy, sweet and decadent.

In my review of Jenni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, despite my dislike for using cream cheese in all of her at-home bases (which given my discerning palate, I think messes with the pureness of the flavor you're trying to achieve), I have to give Jeni props for all of the experimenting she has done with trying to get just the right creamy texture for her ice creams. Jeni's in-store ice creams do not use cream cheese, instead relying tapioca starch to achieve the right texture, which does not affect the flavor the way the at-home cream cheese base does.

I was extremely impressed with the friendliness and helpfulness of the girls working behind the counter, even going to far as to let me sample from their ice cream sandwiches, which is a much bigger profit loss than a small spoonful of ice cream. Grateful for their generosity at allowing me to sample the sandwiches, and being smitten with the one I tried, I decided I needed to order an orchid vanilla macaroon ice cream sandwich so I could have it all to myself.

This ice cream sandwich was a revelation y'all. I know I keep throwing that word around lately, but I don't even know how else to describe it. Ugandan vanilla ice cream between two almond macaroons, smothered in black currant jam.
I can still taste it right now: orchid vanilla macaroon ice cream sandwich
My husband ordered a cone with a scoop of the brown butter and almond brittle along with the roasted strawberry and buttermilk. Both of these flavors were delicious, but I was in love with the roasted strawberry and buttermilk for one simple reason: it actually tasted like strawberries. It was almost sorbet-like in its flavor and texture, that's how perfectly Jeni's got the essence of strawberry. My whole life I have never liked strawberry ice cream because it always tastes fake. I have yet to experience a strawberry ice cream in my life that didn't taste more like milk and strawberry flavoring than actual strawberries. Jeni's completely changed my mind in my belief that I don't like strawberry ice cream.
Left: views of some of the more unusual flavors Right: my husband's brown butter and almond brittle cone coupled with roasted strawberry buttermilk

After this delicious sweet detour, I've decided that I'd even be willing to spend the ridiculous amount of money it costs to ship Jeni's ice cream to my house. Luckily I can just go to Plum Market in Ann Arbor and spend $10 for a pint every time I'm feeling a hankering, but nothing will ever replicate the experience of making the trip to this ice cream mecca. Well, maybe if I can get my hands on one of those orchid vanilla macaroon ice cream sandwiches at Plum Market...

If you ever find yourself in the Columbus area, do yourself a favor and seek out one of their nine locations (one is actually in the Cleveland area and there are two in Tennessee as well). Your taste buds will thank you.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 7-23-12

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Books I Read Last Week:
The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers by Sheridan D. Blau
I like Blau's ideas of ways to effectively teach whole class texts because for so long, it seems as if English teachers have been living this lie that we think all our students go home and actually read the books we assign them. Why would students do that when they can just come to class and the teacher will tell them exactly what the book means anyway? Blau addresses this dirty little secret of the English teaching world head on and helps teachers find ways to help students make discoveries on their own.

Some Cat! by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt
Adorable story about an adopted cat who must learn to get along with his new family, which includes a pair of curious canines.

The book includes some repetition of the cat's displeasure when he proclaims "Meowwww! Hissssss! Spat!" on several pages. This could be a nice way to show students the difference between using repetition for a purpose and being too repetitive.

I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen
Told from Galileo's perspective as an old man looking back on his life, Bonnie Christensen captures Galileo's accomplishments and struggles with simple words and beautiful pictures that are almost stained-glass-like. 

Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessi Hartland
This charming picture book details the life of "The French Chef" Julia Child in a format similar to a graphic novel. A few people have mentioned that the format and font is a bit confusing, but I found it no more confusing to read than a graphic novel. Yes, a tad cluttered in places, but overall put me in mind of Julia's lovely memoir, My Life in France.

Currently Listening:
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys 
Talk about a lead that pulls you in from the first sentence! I was riveted the second I started listening.

Currently Reading:
Level 2 by  Lenore Appelhans 
I am so excited to be reading this book, you have no idea. My husband and I were in Germany last summer and so we were able to visit with Lenore and her husband Daniel before I flew back home, and in that time, Lenore read me a few paragraphs of Level 2 and I was hooked in those few paragraphs. I've been waiting to read this book for a year now and I'm currently halfway through it. It is amazing y'all. It is truly like nothing I've ever read before. And I'm not just saying that because she's a friend. I really mean this. I can absolutely see this book as a movie. I think once January 15th hits, Lenore's going to be fending off fans with a stick! Can I use any more superlatives here before I sound like a total fangirl? Oh, who am I kidding, I am a total fangirl. :) 

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within by Stephen Fry 
So ummmm... I'm supposed to be reading this book for a poetry class I'm taking right now but I'm totally distracted by Level 2. This is a great book that makes poetry structures like iambic pentameter much more accessible than when I learned about it in high school, so in that regard I'm enjoying it, but it's kind of hard to force yourself to pick this book up when you have an ARC of a friend's debut novel beckoning you to finish it. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Our day trip to Cleveland wouldn't be complete without dinner at a Michael Symon restaurant

It's no secret that I adore Michael Symon. That smile. That laugh. That adorably round head.

So when I told my husband I wanted to drive to Cleveland for the day to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I had an ulterior motive: it was also to eat at yet another one of my favorite Iron Chef's restaurants. I have eaten at his Detroit restaurant, Roast, on three different occasions, and each time it was a revelation. I don't just adore Michael Symon the person, I adore his food.

So after spending the afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we then proceeded to drive a few miles south to the adorably quaint Tremont neighborhood to have dinner at Lolita. Can I just say how much I was smitten with this neighborhood? The houses were old but well cared for, and small mom and pop run businesses dotted the blocks among the modest, character-filled homes.

When we arrived at Lolita there was already a line out the door of people waiting to get in. Thank goodness we had reservations! But would you expect anything different from a Michael Symon restaurant on a Saturday evening?

You can tell I'm very excited.
Once inside, the space had an industrial yet homey feel. The bar looked into the open kitchen where the chefs, instead of wearing pretentious chef whites, don a much more practical, yet blue collar ensemble of a navy shirt with a baseball cap. Pretty much the exact thing Symon wore when competing in Next Iron Chef, though Symon doesn't need a baseball cap, what with him having no hair and all :)

Inside Lolita
I started my evening with the Lolita bellini which is described as something totally different on the website cocktail menu so I'm trying to remember all that was in it: Champagne, Belgian lambic, lemon, and something else - something with violet in the name... hmmm... well, anyway, whatever it was, it was delicious. Tart and bitter and sweet all at the same time. I had two of them. :)

My husband inside Lolita. I caught him mid-chew.
For an appetizer we decided to try something safe and something daring (I wanted to try two daring dishes, but The Hubs wouldn't go for it). For the safe dish, we ordered braised meatballs. For the daring dish I really wanted to try the roasted bone marrow, but my husband wasn't having any of that, so we decided to go for the crispy pig tails and ears instead. 
The braised meatballs were nothing to write home about. They were good, but not memorable; a dish that I'm sure was put on the menu to appease picky eaters. But can I just say that the crispy pig tails and ears were out of this world? It was the perfect example of what Symon talks about all the time when he refers the need for balance in a dish: a balance of flavors, tastes, and textures. In this dish, the richness of the fennel-onion agrodolce (sweet and sour glaze) was cut into by the tangy pickled chiles, and then of course you have the crisp texture of the pig tails and ears.

For the main dish I ordered the Buccatini which had pulled pork, pancetta, egg yolk and pecorino cheese. 
 Luscious is probably the best word to describe this pasta. I can still remember the tastes and textures of it in my mouth. 

 I also ordered a side of polenta to go with my pasta because I have had the polenta at Roast and it is rich and creamy and wonderfully decadent. The polenta at Lolita, while included the same ingredients, was not as enjoyable as the polenta at Roast. Lolita's version was much more cream-of-wheat-like. It felt like I was eating cereal instead of polenta. The flavor was good, it just didn't feel like a dinner dish to me.

My husband ordered the hanger steak with a Gorgonzola fondue, pickled onions, arugula and tomatoes which he enjoyed despite not being a fan of Gorgonzola cheese.

For dessert we shared the chocolate pot de creme with whipped cream and a salted caramel sauce on top. 
It was good, but I thought there was a bit too much salt on the top.  I'm one who usually enjoys a sprinkling of salt over top of a dessert, but this time it was a tad too much.

Overall, Lolita was an enjoyable meal, and if it was the only Michael Symon restaurant I had ever visited, I'm sure it would be one of my favorite restaurant meals, but having eaten at Roast, I'm content knowing that my favorite Michael Symon restaurant resides in my own hometown. 
Ending our enjoyable evening in Celeveland
Still, whether you find yourself in Cleveland or Detroit, I highly recommend making a pilgrimage to one of Michael Symon's eateries: