Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Did Not Finish Chronicles: Rose by Holly Webb

From Goodreads:
Rose isn't like the other orphans at St Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls. Instead of dreaming of getting adopted by loving, wealthy parents, Rose wants to get a job and be independent. She doesn't need anyone but herself. She finds her escape working as a maid for Mr. Fountain, an alchemist. Unable to ignore the magic that flows throughout the grand residence, Rose realizes that just maybe; she might have a little bit of magic in her too. This new series featuring magicians, witches, talking cats, mist-monsters, and friendships will have young readers in a trance.

If the road to hell is paved with adverbs as Stephen King says it is, then reading this book will send you to the fiery depths. I try really hard to avoid snark in my reviews because I know how hard writing is but I'm sorry, excessive use of adverbs is a literary crime I cannot forgive. This book could have been one that I would recommend to students in search of their next Harry Potter fix, but alas, I can't bring myself to recommend it to kids, especially given the fact that even my former sixth graders would not have committed such a writing faux pas as to favor adverbs over strong verbs, which negate the need for adverbs in the first place. Holly Webb did not learn this lesson, stringing endless sentences with adverb after adverb, often unnecessarily, as in this sentence:

"What are you doing in my room?" Rose hissed angrily.

The attribution hissed already demonstrates anger. There is zero need for the adverb angrily to be in that sentence. 

But there was also use of adverbs that, while technically words, just sounded wrong:

Rose peered out the corner of the window at the street below, watching interestedly as two little girls walked past with their nursemaid.

And that was the first sentence. It was at that moment I knew I probably wouldn't be finishing this novel. I mean, yes, interestedly is a word, but it completely halts the flow, something I think a writer would want to get right on her very first sentence of the book. And as I mentioned above, even my former sixth graders would have looked at that first sentence in a rough draft and said, "That just doesn't flow right. I think I need to reword this."

So after reading a little over 100 pages of nonstop adverbs, I decided I just couldn't take it anymore. My frustration and snarkiness was clouding my ability to even follow the plot. But if you're someone who doesn't get bogged down by a writer's craft choices, I imagine that this is a lovely little story; I just couldn't find it because I was too busy hunting for adverbs and trying to come up with ways the author could have reworded the sentence to make it stronger. 

Now some may read this review and say, "Who does she think she is? Her writing isn't exactly Pulitzer Prize worthy." And you're absolutely right. It's not. But as an educated reader, I know a thing or two about published writing, and to me, an editor should have picked up on those excessive adverbs and asked the author to revise for better flow. When I read a published work of fiction, whether it's for adults or children, I want it to read like a published work of fiction instead of something a fourth grader might have written.

Rose by Holly Webb
Expected Publication: September 3, 2013, originally published in the UK on August 6, 2009
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 240
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: ARC received for review from publisher

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

ARC review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

While everyone was lauding Code Name Verity last year, I have to start right off the bat by saying that I didn't connect with it. The book was difficult for me to follow, I think because of all the military jargon. I didn't feel anything for the characters despite their grave circumstances, mostly because I felt like I wasn't really inside the story, I was sort of hovering around the outskirts of it.When many people found themselves sobbing by the end, I felt nothing. And I'm usually a crier. Don't get me wrong, I know what a brilliant and important book Code Name Verity is; I just didn't personally connect with it the way I was hoping I would.

Needless to say, I was nervous (and maybe a little hesitant) to tackle Rose Under Fire, a companion novel to Code Name Verity. But the premise of the story drew me in and I knew I had to give it a go. 

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot and a budding poet. While flying from France to England, Rose is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, a women's concentration camp. Despite Rose's grave circumstances, she manages to find loyalty, friendship, and hope with her fellow prisoners known as the Rabbits, on which the Nazis have performed horrific medical experiments. But hope in a concentration camp isn't the same thing as hope when you're free, as Rose so eloquently puts in her poem "Kite Flying":

Hope has no feathers.
Hope takes flight
Tethered with twine
like a tattered kite,
slave to the wind's 
capricious drift,
eager to soar
but needing a lift.

There's more to that poem, but I'll let you read the rest for yourself. What I especially love about many of Rose's poems is that she uses other poems as inspiration, a mentor-text if you will. In "Kite Flying" Rose uses Emily Dickinson's famous "Hope is the thing with feathers" poem as her muse. 

Throughout the story Rose's poetry is what sustains her and her fellow prisoners and even keeps them alive on a few occasions. I think this poetry connection is what immediately allowed me to feel for Rose as the protagonist when I couldn't feel for the characters in Code Name Verity. And this is a very different story than Wein's first novel. But if you think it will be impossible to love Rose Under Fire as much as Code Name Verity, you would be wrong. This book is equally as compelling, both emotionally and intellectually. And reading about the horrors Rose and especially her fellow prisoners had to endure at the hand of their captors, was both heartbreaking and hopeful, knowing that despite the inhumanity, there was still kindness and hope to be found -- eager to soar, but needing a lift.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Expected Publication: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Hyperion
Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: ARC received at ALA

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 8-26-13

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

Last week I finished reading:

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein 
If you think it will be impossible to love Rose Under Fire as much as Code Name Verity, you would be wrong. This book is equally as compelling, both emotionally and intellectually. I personally found myself even more emotionally invested in this book than CNV

Graphic novels I finished:
Squish: Captain Disaster by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm
Around the World by Matt Phelan
Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City's Most Colorful Neighborhoods by Florent Chavouet

I finished listening:

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt
*Sigh* I'm gonna be *that* person again. The one who just couldn't connect with a book that everyone else loved. With the exception of Charlotte's Web and The One and Only Ivan, animal fantasy and me generally don't mesh well.

Picture books I read and enjoyed last week:

The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman
Papa's Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
I am putting both of these books in the "Caldecott contenders" category. In fact, I'm starting to read so many beautiful 2013 picture books that I decided to make a "Caldecott contenders" shelf on Goodreads.

Currently reading:

Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney
I'm not that far into this one but I'm already loving the magical realism, the art, the dance, and the Parisian setting. Speaking of Starry Night(s), check out my post from yesterday about my ten year odyssey to see my favorite painting of all time: Starry Night by Van Gogh

Currently listening:

Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

Current giveaways:
The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand
Infinityglass by Myra McEntire
Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J. Craughwell

Other posts from last week:
Starry Night: A Near Ten Year Odyssey
Big Gay Ice Cream: My new favorite food destination in NYC
The Year of Shadows blog tour

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Starry Night: A Near Ten Year Odyssey

I've never been an artistic person, in the visual arts sense. I can't draw to save my life. So I always dreaded art class in school. During my sophomore year of high school, I had to take an art credit so I took a basic intro to art class. All my friends were taking cool classes like pottery, but I was stuck in remedial art.

That semester I was introduced to the works of Vincent Van Gogh and I was immediately captivated. His Starry Night painting was so expressive and full of swirling emotion that when given the opportunity to complete a post-impressionism crayon-resist painting, I chose Starry Night as my muse.

Now to say my version was good would be to laugh in the face of a brilliant artist like Van Gogh, and yet, I was very proud of how "not terrible" it turned out because, up until that point, my artistic endeavors often left me feeling like I wanted to cry due to my absolute lack of talent. So Starry Night has always had a special place in my heart for that reason.
I am not an artist. So I was very proud of my attempt at Van Gogh's Starry Night my sophomore year of high school

Back in 2004 when my husband and I were living in Germany we had the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam and I was excited about getting the chance to visit the Van Gogh Museum to actually see Starry Night in person. So as we're walking around the museum, I'm just waiting any second to turn a corner and have it appear to me, choir of angels and a dreamlike vision where everything is blurred out except for the beautiful painting I've been waiting to see come into focus. Except it never did. We walked through the entire museum and never saw Starry Night. So my husband and I walked up to a docent and were like, "So yeah, where's Starry Night?" 

He looked at us as if to say, "Don't you know anything?" But instead just said. "It's not here."

Ummm... Okay. "So where is it then?"

"The Museum of Modern Art in New York."

You mean to tell me that Van Gogh's most famous painting isn't even in his own museum? Oh the injustice. But fear not! Four years later, my husband and I were going to New York City, so of course a visit to MoMA was a must on the list.

Except for one problem. Starry Night wasn't there.

Guess where it was?

On loan to the freakin' Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam!!!!

Seriously? The universe just didn't want me to see that painting for whatever reason.

But finally, finally this summer after almost ten years of trying to see it, we returned to MoMA and happened upon this thing of wonder and beauty, replete with angel choir and dreamlike tunnel-vision:

Some things are just worth waiting for.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Big Gay Ice Cream: My new favorite food destination in New York City

I remember watching one of those Food Network/Cooking Channel shows a few years ago that talks about really cool places to eat across the country - something like The Best Thing I Ever Ate or Unique Eats, one of those two, I can't remember which. What I DO remember is that they featured a food truck called Big Gay Ice Cream that served grown-up soft serve. There was one cone that they featured that sounded so delicious AND seditious that I knew my next trip to NYC would include a cone at the Big Gay Ice Cream truck.

A few years have passed however, and Big Gay Ice Cream has had such a cult following and has been so popular that they ended up opening two brick-and-mortar shops around New York City.
From food truck to brick-and-mortar. This is their West Village location.
That is a fabulous unicorn

Big Gay Ice Cream has many comically named menu items such as the Monday Sundae, the Mexican Affo'gay'to, and the Bea Aruthr. But I was there for one thing: The Salty Pimp. Because really, it isn't very often that you get to go up to a food counter and say, "Two Salty Pimps please." That was quite awkward to say the least. But in the most awesome way possible. In fact, we'll have to say that it was awksome, a word coined by Carrie Harris's husband Andy at her Bad Hair Day event at Nicola's back in November. Because really, it's moments like ordering an ice cream cone called the Salty Pimp that are both awkward and awesome, therefore, awksome.

Big Gay menu
I'm here for one thing: The Salty Pimp

But despite the awkward name, the cone lived up to its cult following. That first bite was heaven. Vanilla soft-serve topped with dulce de leche, sea salt and then dipped in chocolate. I'm not generally a fan of soft-serve ice cream, but that's only because it's not usually coated in dulce de leche, sprinkled with sea salt and then dipped in chocolate. The sea salt balanced out the sweet of the chocolate and dulce de leche making this perfection in the form of soft-serve.
Behold: The Salty Pimp
Me enjoying my Salty Pimp - wow was that ever awkward to say ;)

So if you ever find yourself in New York City and have a hankering for ice cream, look no further than Big Gay Ice Cream. You'll be glad you did. And probably want to visit multiple times. In fact, maybe you should just look for a hotel nearby, just to be safe.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

THE YEAR OF SHADOWS Blog Tour, Day 4: From Band Nerd to Writer (+ giveaway)

I am so excited to have Claire Legrand, author of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls and now her new book The Year of Shadows, guest post on my blog today. And I especially love that she's talking about a topic that we have in common: our musical backgrounds. I wasn't in the band like Claire was, but I played piano for 13 years, so I was absolutely drawn to the musical setting and backstory to this novel:

Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.

Her mother left, her neglectful father -- the maestro of a failing orchestra -- has moved her and her grandmother into his dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.

Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help -- if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on.

Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living . . . and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving.

One of my favorite passages in the whole book is when Olivia is describing the feeling you get when you hear a good piece of music for the first time. It's my favorite because, as a music lover, I've never had someone describe this feeling so accurately.

It's this strange feeling, when you hear a good piece of music. It starts out kind of shaky, this hot, heavy knot in your chest. At first it's tiny, like a spot of light in a dark room, but then it builds, pouring through you. And the next thing you know everything from your forehead down to your fingers and toes is on fire. You feel like the hot, heavy knot in your chest is turning into a bubble. It's full of everything good in the world, and if you don't do something - if you don't run or dance or shout to everyone in the world about this music you've just heard - it'll explode.

But you're not here to find out what I think. You're here to read Claire's thoughts, so take it away Claire...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Clear Your Shelf giveaway hop

For my portion of this blog hop I am giving away a copy of :

Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J. Craughwell
Published: September 18, 2012
Publisher: Quirk Books
Format: Hardcover
Pages:  256
Genre: Nonfiction
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Copy provided by publisher

Goodreads Summary:
This culinary biography recounts the 1784 deal that Thomas Jefferson struck with his slaves, James Hemings. The founding father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose”— to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom. 

Thus began one of the strangest partnerships in United States history. As Hemings apprenticed under master French chefs, Jefferson studied the cultivation of French crops (especially grapes for winemaking) so the might be replicated in American agriculture. The two men returned home with such marvels as pasta, French fries, Champagne, macaroni and cheese, crème brûlée, and a host of other treats. This narrative history tells the story of their remarkable adventure—and even includes a few of their favorite recipes!

Terms and conditions:
Must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address
One winner will be selected
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter

It's Monday! What are you reading? 8-19-13

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

I had quite a productive reading week last week.

I finished reading:
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden
Wonderful graphic memoir about the author's birthright trip to Israel and dealing with her conflicting emotions about the political situation there. 

Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire by Tom Romano
A writing book that will compel you to change and action in your own teaching. A must-read. 

I finished listening:

Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas
I wasn't bowled over by this book. The writing was lovely, but nothing really jumped out at me as memorable.

I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High by Tony Danza
Tony Danza definitely has the heart of a teacher. I have to admit I was quite dubious of his intentions through most of this book but he eventually proved his honor. I can't say I agreed with everything he did, but at the end of the day, he is a champion for teachers and he wants our country to start treating them like the professionals they are. I'm looking forward to his keynote address at NCTE this year.

A couple picture books I particularly enjoyed reading last week:

Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, illustrated by A.G. Ford
America the Beautiful: Together We Stand Katharine Lee Bates, various illustrators

Last week I reviewed:

Reality Boy by A.S. King

Currently (still) reading:

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Currently listening:

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Current giveaway:

Infinityglass by Myra McEntire