Saturday, November 29, 2014

Family Movie Review: Penguins of Madagascar

Before we begin, let's get one thing straight.  Penguins possess immeasurable cuteness - even those that are being a tad naughty.  With that said, I took my ten-year-old to see Penguins of Madagascar yesterday.  We all know the adorable penguins, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private, introduced to us in the 2005 DreamWorks film, Madagascar.  They even had their own television show for a while, so a feature film was inevitable. 

I will admit, I was quite excited to see this film, and, if you think that had something to do with the film featuring the voice talent of Benedict Cumberbatch (Agent Classified), you are absolutely correct!  Don't judge me!!!  In addition to Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Conrad Vernon, and Christopher Knights as our lovable penguins, the film also stars John Malkovich as our villain, Dr. Octavius Brine.

Penguins of Madagascar is rated PG for some rude humor and mild action such as animated explosives and cartoon violence.  As far as the rude humor is concerned, younger viewers probably won't get it anyway, so I wouldn't worry about that.  In fact, I don't think anyone will catch ALL the jokes in just one viewing.  There are some very clever lines.  However, if you're looking for a deep, sophisticated plot, you won't find it in this movie, but who cares.  Private finally gets to be the hero and proves his worth as a valued member of the team - and that's reason enough to go see it.  

Overall, this is an action-packed movie suitable for families.  What the story lacks in complexity, it surely makes up for with wit - and cuteness, cannot forget the CUTENESS!      

Friday, November 28, 2014

Raising Tweens, Follow-up Friday

Just over three months into my blog and I figured it was time for a follow-up.  First, this past Tuesday marked the Thanksgiving feast at my sons' school - the one my older son begged me not to volunteer at in Ouch! When Your Child No Longer Wants You Around.  Well, instead of hosting the grades separately like last year, the school held one campus-wide luncheon.  This meant only one thing - I was going to see my son whether he liked it or not.  My son wanted to stay home, but when I absolutely refused such a request, he laid down the ground rules

1. I could not acknowledge him at all, no hello, nothing! (Got it, agreed!)
2. I could not say hello to any of his friends.  (I vetoed this in part explaining that I would only say hello to them as I would any other students, no major scenes - agreed!)
3. And, finally, I could not under any circumstances enter his classroom. (Fine!) 

So, while I was willing to give my tween some space at school, a couple of his teachers and classmates were not!  Two of his teachers, who knew us both well, had different plans.  In the middle of the luncheon, thankfully held on a noisy outside basketball court, both of them at individual times yelled from the serving line to the seats where my son was sitting.  "Hey, Mike, your mom is here!" "Mike, did you know your mom was here?"   His male friends had apparently been briefed of the rules and shyly bowed their heads when they came through the buffet line.  However, his female friends would have none of that.  While my son slumped over in his seat with embarrassment, several giggly girls came up to me and introduced themselves.

Overall, the event went very well. My son got over my presence, even gave a quick "hi" at one point, probably because so many other parents were there and many even ate with their children. I refrained from such a thing.  Although, he has already requested I not attend next year.  Jury is out on that one. 

Now what did my sons eat at this school feast, you ask? You may recall my gripes about my picky eaters in My Biggest Parenting Mistake and Is It Too Late to Fix?  So, when we are faced with events such as this, I have to cringe at the fact that my sons may be living off of bread that day.  My youngest, who came through the line first with the rest of the fifth graders, took some turkey, corn, a roll and one cookie.  He had come prepared, however.  I had packed him some peanut butter crackers and goldfish just in case. My oldest took only the mac-and-cheese and desserts.....lots and lots of desserts.

When it came time for Thanksgiving dinner at my house, my youngest ate some turkey and five or more (I lost count) pumpkin muffins.  My oldest decided to boycott Thanksgiving dinner altogether because "it is cruel to animals."  Now, this was actually music to my ears.  As someone who is making strides toward vegetarianism herself, I can applaud such a stance.  HOWEVER, I do not believe this is the real motive behind his boycott. Why? Because all the other dishes were vegetarian  - he just doesn't like any of them. Early on in the day, my husband declared, "Okay, don't eat the food, but we're not making you anything else." He settled for one pumpkin muffin and a bowl of cereal just before bedtime.

This morning the Christmas magic, or lies depending on your viewpoint, continued at our house, at least for another year. Last night we had the annual arrival of our Elf on a Shelf named Noel. Sporting his new sleeveless winter parka my son discovered him this morning and has been talking to him ever since, catching him up on all the happenings of the previous months.  It's too adorable for words and I wish I had a hidden video camera set up to capture the moment.  And while I mourned the inevitable end of believing in Santa last week in Why Santa Made Me Cry Yesterday, seeing how giddy with excitement he was this morning at the elf's timely arrival, made my heart melt.   I think more than Santa, my youngest will miss Noel.

So, there you have it, a little bit of catch-up for you.  I hope my U.S. readers had a great Thanksgiving and wish all my readers a wonderful holiday season to come.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

My twelve-year old son and I went to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I today.  First, I'll admit that this is one series where I actually think the movies are better than the books - a rarity in my opinion. However, Mockingjay (the novel) was my least favorite of the three books in The Hunger Games trilogy.  So, prior to seeing the movie, I was a little skeptical that filmmakers decided to break the final book into two parts (a blockbuster trend these days.) However, this movie did not disappoint and left us both on the edge of our seats.  

The cast is superb and the film was true to the novel.  Elizabeth Banks (Effie) and Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) offer comic relief and remain two of my favorite characters in the series. However, I am going to caution you greatly!  This film squeaked by with a PG-13 rating and by "squeaked by" I mean please use your utmost discretion when allowing those younger than 13 to see it.  In fact, although the entire series is marketed as young adult science fiction, parents should be leery of allowing those under 13 to see any of the movies in the trilogy. They are all unsettling on multiple levels.  However, Mockingjay is particularly disturbing. The images go beyond fantasy violence into very realistic and graphic war violence.  There are a number of horrific scenes including those depicting injured and dying civilians and decaying corpses in mass graves.  In addition, there are so many contextual themes that younger audiences won't grasp I don't see the point in taking them. I think the most disconcerting part for my son (without giving away too much) was the physical and mental demise of one of the leading characters.  It was understandably difficult to watch. 

If you've seen the first two and enjoyed them, you will definitely like this film adaptation as well.  At one point toward the end of the film, my son turned to me and said, "Wow, this is intense!"  Intense is an understatement. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Off the Shelf: Discovering an Unfamiliar Author (Book Review)

I was unsuccessful at the library the other day - the books on my to-read list were all checked out.  So I decided to use this as an opportunity to read an author I was unfamiliar with.  As I was perusing the shelves of "New and Popular" books, I happened upon the latest by David Guterson, Problems with People, a collection of short stories.  Guterson is best known for his novel Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) which was adapted into a film in 1999.  Having heard many wonderful things about that novel, I went to see if it was available for check-out and, when it wasn't, I figured I'd give this one a try.  I haven't read many collections of short stories since my college days, but recall them giving me a good feel for an author's style. 

Problems with People
In Problems with People Guterson lives up to his reputation as a master of prose.  It is a sentimental, often humorous look into the psyches of very believable characters and dissects what makes each of them tick including crazy obsessions, family dynamics, estranged relationships, and reconciling with the past.

Each of the ten short stories had elements I enjoyed, particularly characters that I could relate to on some level and sympathize with. Most of the stories (no, not all) quickly grabbed my interest. However, what bothered me about the collection was that each short, perhaps with the exception of "Krassavitseh" and "Hush," ended abruptly, too abruptly, making the stories feel incomplete. They left me longing for just a few more pages to provide proper closure.  Also, the stories were predictable leaving much to be desired in terms of plot. 

Overall, the collection does a wonderful job of portraying everyday nuances of people's struggles and personality quirks.  It is a quick read that you can break up by story and read in between other novels or zip through them all at once. I recommend the collection to fans of adult literary fiction who may be looking for a casual read.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why Santa Made Me Cry Yesterday

I stopped by the mall yesterday, more to kill time than anything else.  I immediately noticed the Christmas decorations were already up - which is fine, I guess.  When I was a child retailers waited for after Thanksgiving, not anymore. However, I wasn't expecting Santa Claus would already be stationed on his sleigh in the middle of the circular atrium of the massive, two-story shopping complex.  Now, before I go any further, let me just say that YOUR mall might have a Santa, but my mall has THE Santa (okay, honestly, it is two different guys, but they are so genuine it's hard to tell them apart.) I've been taking my kids to see "him" for the last twelve years.  

As I walked past Santa and spotted a child on his lap, I lost it.  I absolutely lost it.  Right there - in the middle of the mall - I am digging in my purse for my sunglasses to hide the tears that were now swelling in my eyes. I understand that I am an emotional mess due to hormones (thank you perimenopause,) but seeing this small, innocent child on Santa's lap made me realize that my boys are really growing up.  With that comes the realization that Santa is not a real-life figure, AND, let's face it, the loss of innocence on a much grander scale.  

My youngest son is currently the age my older one was when he figured it out and I feel MY time of having young children who believe in Santa is coming to a close.  It was two years ago just before Christmas and I remember very clearly him asking me (we were standing in the garage after just coming home from school) "Mom, is there really a Santa?" We had our little talk that involved me explaining that Santa is an old tradition that symbolizes the magic of the season and that he represents Saint Nicholas, who WAS a real person. Then I recall him digging further. "What else isn't true?" he asked.  Yep, right there in my garage, the truth about the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny - all of it - spilled out.  It was an emotional conversation that ended in teary-eyes and hugs. My son knew right there, a major part of childhood was over.  And, I knew it too.  I remember the last thing I said to him.  "You breath a word of this to your brother, even a slight hint, and you'll be grounded until you graduate college!" 

Last year's visit to Santa was very special because I really suspected it would be our last.  But, it looks like I may squeak by with one more year.  

Visit with Santa 2013

I know more and more parents are deciding not to foster the Santa Claus tradition. Many simply because they do not want to lie to their child.  I really value that viewpoint.  But, what I value more is how special Christmas Eve is when my sons put reindeer food outside, track Santa on the Internet, and even receive a video message from the big guy himself!  However, nothing compares to the memories I have of my sons' faces and voices in the morning filled with excitement that Santa had come! The absolute, pure joy in their eyes is unforgettable.  So, I guess you can say what I really treasure is the magic of it all.  While I am dreading the realization of no Santa by my youngest, I wouldn't change a thing.  I can't imagine not having those amazing memories of my children at Christmas time.

Related Article: The Truth about Santa for Parents and Children

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Biggest Parenting Mistake and Is it Too Late to Fix?

Everyday of my life, I ask myself the same critical question?  Is it too late for me to correct my biggest parenting mistake?  I recently saw this video of Stephen Fry reading the book You Have to Fucking Eat by Adam Mansbach about the trials and tribulations of parenting picky eaters and knew I had to journal my own experiences.

I have spoken to other parents who suffer similar frustrations regarding their child's diet, so I know I am not alone, but dang it sure feels like it when I watch other children eating seaweed and sushi packed in their school lunch.  Okay, I get it, I don't eat seaweed and barely touch sushi, so I understand that my children are unlikely to grow up eating it either.

BUT, I do eat salads, eggplant parm, and seafood. So why don't my kids?  For years the pediatrician would ask if my sons are getting 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  A week maybe, not a day! He has stopped asking me that question, probably for his own sanity.

When my sons were babies and toddlers they ate most everything: meatballs my mom would bring home from the Italian restaurant she worked at, steamed zucchini in tomato sauce, homemade mashed sweet potatoes.  My God, they ate sandwiches!!! Grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly, turkey and cheese.  Now? Nothing! Sandwiches are not even open for discussion. My oldest choked (gagged, really) ever so slightly on his sandwich in Kindergarten and that was the end of that.  He is now 12 and only this past summer have I gotten him to try subs - only made fresh at a deli, not by yours truly - and only a few bites.

My younger son loves bread.  Bread lathered with butter.   He also loves cheese.  But heaven forbid I try to put the two ingredients together.

So when did it all change?  I can almost pinpoint the exact moments in time.  We were at my friend's house for lunch.  My oldest was about 3 years old.  My friend prepared a lovely spread for the grown-ups and said she made Kraft Mac-and-Cheese for my son.  Does he like that?  Well, hmmm, don't know, he's never had it before.  I guess we can give it a try.  And there you have it folks, one bad move on my part and the rest is history.  For my younger son I think it was Wendy's nuggets - you know, grandma wanted to take him for a treat.  Crap!  My son will never eat real food again.

However, I'm not saying my sons are all about junk food.  They're really not.  In fact there are still only two fast-food chains they will frequent and only one or two items they will have off the menu. (It stinks that McDonald's won't make pancakes all day.)  I'm very good about limiting fast-food to once or twice a month, not including pizza - we're not including pizza in that category, are we?  If we are, I'm really screwed!!  Soda? Nope, they don't drink it. And my cupboards aren't filled with donuts, cookies, and chips. All junk food is deliberately rationed.  I figure if they're not going to eat their veggies, then they sure as hell aren't getting potato chips and Coke.  My youngest doesn't even particularly like sweets and typically turns down dessert, even ice cream!  He doesn't love ice-cream!!  I didn't know that was even possible.

Now besides their diet not being the most nutritious, this whole picky eating phenomenon causes other day-to-day stresses as well.  For example, do you think I can make A dinner, I mean one meal that everyone is going to eat?  That happens once or twice a week IF I'M LUCKY!   This whole role of short -order cook and making multiple meals is my biggest regret and is the root of all of this mess.  I've noticed over the years little bouts of improvements here and there mixed in with many setbacks. Each son will enter a phase of trying something new and liking it, but, soon, even the once beloved food will become taboo!

I know I have only myself to blame (and a few co-conspirators) that I make more than one dinner. Just the other day a couple of moms berated me for doing such a thing.  "I make one meal and if they don't like it they go to bed hungry," one mom told me.  But maybe their kids don't get "hangry" like mine do.  Sure all hungry kids get cranky, but mine have a full blown hangry episode - it's a real thing - Google it!

As a family we are even limited to restaurants and vacations based on whether or not there will be food available that my sons will eat.  Who goes on a cruise and can't find something they like to eat?  My sons, that's who!  Last summer we walked miles and miles in 100 degree temps in D.C. just to find a darn Wendy's. We never did find one.

More importantly, there is the whole connection between diet and health and even behavior.  Last year a friend gave me the book What's Eating Your Child? by Kelly Dofman. MS, LND. It provided tons of advice and I still refer back to it from time to time. I recommend this book to all new parents who are trying to avoid health and behavior issues related to food commonly found in children today.  The sooner you start understanding the connection between food and your children's health and behavior the better. Unfortunately, for me it was  a day late and a dollar short.  Of all the parenting books I read when my sons were newborns, I wish I had read this one! 

Hindsight is 20/20 and all I can say to new parents is NEVER set a precedent of making alternate meals for your children, avoid the bad stuff for as long as possible, and know the relationship between food and your child's development and behavior.  If I had it all to do over again, my children would eat seaweed and salmon, carrots with orange glaze sauce, and breaded brussel sprouts.  The only version of mac-and-cheese that would cross their lips would be the homemade kind and chicken nuggets would be cut and prepared fresh by me.  But, is it too late?  Is it something I just have to hope they outgrow? Without reminding me that I've completely failed as a parent, please comment below if you have any suggestions that will help!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Don't Be Afraid to Give YOURSELF a Pep Talk

I would definitely be considered a people-person and an extrovert, but, at the same time, I am also a home-body.  See the problem? I've spent my entire life with these two conflicting personality traits.

I've spent the last two days inside the house supervising some renovations. Four entire rooms of furniture had to be removed to leave the floors completely bare.  I was in the midst of this chaos yesterday when a friend called to ask if I could attend a last minute meeting today to discuss the Thanksgiving celebration at school - which I am already committed to helping out with.  I texted her a picture of my house - or rather the patio where all my furniture was being stored.  In addition, I have books and knickknacks all over the master bedroom and office.  Therefore, no, tomorrow morning will not be a good time for me to go to a meeting.  I seriously need to get this house back in order and go grocery shopping and clean and do laundry and cook a real dinner - the first one in a few nights thanks to soccer and limited access to my kitchen.

So you see, attending an 8:15 a.m. meeting the following morning was the furthest thing from my mind.   I was planning on staying home and putting my house back together after two days of chaos. While I am not a neat-freak, having a house in complete disarray is stressful for me and I longed to have the normalcy back in my home.

Plus, ugh, I don't know the other moms.  Am I up for meeting new people? I am feeling fat and frumpy,  I have a headache, and just got my period.  There, is that enough excuses not to go?

Last night, before going to bed and with my realization that I was simply avoiding this meeting for bogus reasons, I texted my friend and said I probably wouldn't be there but confirmed the time and place just in case........

When I woke up this morning, I gave myself "a talking to." Get up, go take a shower, put on some decent clothes and go to this darn meeting!  After getting dressed, scratch that, after finding a pair of pants I could breath in, I drove the boys to school and then proceeded to another campus where the meeting was being held. I met my friend in the parking lot and was immediately glad I attended. Not only did I get to see her, but guess what?  The other moms were really nice.  I actually had fun!

I felt much better after leaving the meeting.  Of course, I still had to go grocery shopping and when I got home I had to begin to tackle the mess in the house and do all those other things I mentioned, but I just felt more alive and awake.  I was actually less stressed and overwhelmed and in a better position to tackle all the chores.

This was not the case of me being unable to say no.  This was me coming up with excuses not to do something because I didn't want to put myself out there.  As soon as I realized this, I knew I had to force myself to go.  It's often easy to give others a pep talk, but it's usually difficult to grant ourselves the same words of encouragement.  This is definitely getting easier with age.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Off the Shelf: A Modern Day Romeo and Juliet (Book Review)

I usually wouldn't write back-to-back reviews on the same author, but damn, Rainbow Rowell writes the sweetest coming-of-age novels ever!  Maybe because the book is set during the same era I grew up in, but Eleanor and Park was every bit as good as I heard it was.  As I read this book, I would not only tear-up but would also smile - literally grin from ear to ear - at the sweetness.  The novel also deals with heavier social issues such as poverty, domestic abuse, and the plight of abused women.

Eleanor, the new girl in town, comes from a troubled home.  In addition, she has problems fitting in at school because she looks and dresses differently than the popular kids. As our protagonist, Eleanor is pathetic, at times lovable and witty, but screwed up (understandably) and there were moments I wanted to slap some sense into her.  

When popular boy, Park, takes notice of Eleanor, we are left with a most unlikely love story which made the novel endearing. Eleanor inadvertently teaches Park how to be his own person - a very difficult accomplishment for any adolescent.  Park with his punk style and black eyeliner was absolutely  my favorite character.  

I highly recommend this book to all teens and adults who enjoy young adult fiction.  Those of you who grew up in the 80s will experience an additional connection with the content, but, regardless, this is a timeless story of ill-fated love.  Rowell is a master of young adult novels writing beautiful and complicated characters for her readers to become thoroughly engrossed in. 

In all seriousness, though, I have to stop developing crushes on Rowell's leading male characters. PLEASE tell me where these guys were in my high school days!

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: Opinions Requested

Back in August I started on a journey of becoming a stay-at-home mom to school-aged children after being in the workforce for years. I didn't really have any plans or specific goals in mind when I started this blog.  But that was just the point, wasn't it?  I love the fact that I do not have any cold hard rules.  I can literally do "this" anyway I want.

After all, I started this blog as a way to not only express myself  but also to connect with other people who have similar interests and life stories.  What I've discovered (self-discovery is good, right?) is that I not only rekindled my love of reading over the last 18 months or so, but also my passion for sharing books with others. That was the main reason I started writing book reviews as part of my blog in the first place.  If one person reads a book they otherwise would not have because of one of my reviews, I have succeeded.

The book reviews I have written so far seem to get a fair amount of attention.  I was ecstatic to learn that the world of readers isn't dead.  So, I'm thinking about creating a second blog just for my book reviews.   Those of you in the blogging community know what a major decision it is to start ONE blog, let alone having two to keep up with. However, I am certainly writing more book reviews than I anticipated - which means, "Yay for me, I'm getting the time to read!"  In fact, I've already created a separate page on my original blog just for my reviews (Book and Movie Reviews) to help readers find them more easily. Perhaps separating the two blogs altogether will keep posts more organized and blogs more subject specific. 

So.......what do you think?  Split into two blogs or stay with the one? Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.  And, as always, thanks for reading and thanks for your part in my journey. 


P.S. You know when you pick up a stray cat - and then you name it - there's no turning back, right? You WILL be taking the cat home with you for good.  Well, I'm already brainstorming names for the new blog.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Family Movie Review: Big Hero 6

The best thing about animated movies these days, is that they are as much for adults as they are for children. Big Hero 6, based on original Marvel characters, opened in theaters last Friday.  It's about an orphaned boy-genius named Hiro whose robotic invention lands him a spot in the same prestigious technology university his brother attends.  However, the story quickly takes off when Hiro's brother tragically dies.

The only comfort to Hiro during this tremendous time of loss is his brother's very own robotic creation, Baymax, whose sole purpose is to be the best health care provider possible (yes, I'm serious!)  He will stop at nothing to ensure the physical and mental health of Hiro.  And, when distraught Hiro goes after the villain that stole his invention, Baymax becomes a very unlikely and, unquestionably, the most adorable hero ever! Your children will love him! I loved him!!

From car chases to high-flying acrobatics, this movie is packed with action, plus, tons of laughs.  However, I am not going to lie to you.  It also tugged on the heart strings.  In fact, at one point in the movie, (promise, no spoilers) the packed theater went completely quiet and there were definitely some teary-eyes (mine included.)

My 10-year-old son and I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and there were several teenagers in the theater as well who were NOT there with younger siblings.  Like I said, this movie is a great watch for all appropriate audiences.  The film is rated PG for "action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements." 

Watch official trailer here

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Off the Shelf: A Heartwarming Look Into the World of Fandom (Book Review)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
A friend of mine, a librarian actually, recently suggested to me the book Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, a novel that has flown under my radar.  I already had Fangirl on my list and was intrigued to discover they are by the same author.  I recently picked up both novels at the library and since Fangirl is a 14 day borrow, I went with that one first.  Two days! Done, in two days.  

Maybe the reason I enjoyed this book so much is because I can relate to the world of fandom.  In fact, while I sit here typing, I'm staring down at my Harry Potter wand pen sitting on my desk.   Yesterday, I nudged my son to do his current event homework on the new 'wizard chambers' at the Georgian House Hotel in London - because how cool is that!! I totally get the online fan clubs, the standing in line to watch the midnight premieres and the comic-con craze (although sadly I've never been to either.) However, what I have been completely oblivious to is the phenomenon of fanfiction. Up until reading this book, I thought all the re-writes my younger son does of Tolkien was just some cute hobby.  Nope - it is a legitimate Internet craze.

Fangirl is about twin sisters, Cath and Wren, who set off for freshmen year of college.  Cath is a successful fanfiction writer of a popular series, (think Harry Potter with a touch of Twilight thrown in) but struggles with her confidence and belief that she can actually write anything original herself. It touches on their estranged relationship with their mother and all the abandonment issues that come along with having an absent parent, while their unstable father tries to hold it all together.

For me the best part of the plot was the young-love story between Cath and...well, don't want to spoil that for you.  But, I will say, this love-interest of hers kind of made me wish I went to school in Nebraska!  Rowell does a wonderful job of writing this amazingly sweet relationship.

There's a lot going on in this story and momentum stays strong throughout.  However, I kept waiting for the big climax to happen.  Well, instead of one defining moment, there are several small a-ha moments throughout the novel which helps move the plot forward and keeps the reader's attention.

Personally, I can't say I'm interested in reading any fanfiction (unless written by my son), despite agreeing that it is an interesting culture in and of itself.  I would just pick it apart and be resentful - guess I'm too loyal to the real authors.

Fangirl is a light, easy read and completely relatable.  Those who "get" the whole world of fandom will appreciate it the most, but, I also think this is a great read for all teens and adults who enjoy YA novels.    

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Off the Shelf: The Book I Was So Excited to Read! (Book Review)

Some of you may have wondered which book it was that I was so eager to read in For the Love of Books.  Well, it was none other than The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. And, in case you didn't already know, Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling - the best author of our time - and clearly I am not worthy of writing a "review" per se, but rather a "why I couldn't wait to read this book" post.

Let's go back to the first in the Cormoran Strike crime fiction series, The Cuckoo's Calling.  It was around the time that Galbraith was revealed as Rowling that I found my sons older and more independent leaving me much sought after time to read again. The Cuckoo's Calling was one of the first books I grabbed!  I'll admit, the start of this novel was a little slow getting into, but once I did, I was completely enthralled with it. So, naturally, I could not wait for the sequel.

The Silkworm is the second in the Cormoran Strike series.  This one grabbed me quicker than the first  because I already had established a connection and an attachment to the main characters. Strike is a private detective and veteran Afghan War hero (and amputee) with the British Special Intelligence Branch. His secretary and partner-in-training, Robin, proves once again to be competent and crucial to solving the case.  I enjoy how the personal lives of these characters intertwine with the story and how the sexual tension between the two of them helps fuel the book's forward motion.

The Silkworm is an intelligent crime novel that will have you so anxious to solve the case, it will be difficult to put the book down.  I feel I should go back and re-read it again now that I'm no longer speed reading to get to the climax. The best part in the overall experience of the novel is that the case is not solved until the very end of the book - such a welcome relief from others I've read where I figure out the outcome halfway through. This one will have you evaluating suspects and evidence on each page until the very end.

One of the biggest complaints I have on other books is that the author leaves holes in the story.  Well, I certainly cannot say that about The Silkworm.  Every angle, every small detail is covered.  If you are a fan of sophisticated crime fiction, this series is for you!

And on a side-note, I don't think I can ever wear silk again. 

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Teach Your Children to Respect Animals.....or I Will!

Earlier this morning I left my house to go on a walk around the neighborhood.  I noticed two couples on the sidewalk just ahead of me along with a child about three years old.  The two husbands were busy chatting as were the two moms.  As I approached, I noticed the little boy was stomping his feet repeatedly at something in the grass.  Neither the moms nor the dads were paying ANY attention to this. CLEARLY the child was attempting to step on some LIVING thing.

When I got within five feet of the boy my eyes quickly searched the grass where he was stepping and there it was - a turtle hatchling no bigger than a silver dollar.  Since the parents were still not paying any attention to this situation, I scooped up the baby turtle and showed it to the boy explaining what it was and that it wouldn't hurt him and he needed to be gentle with it.  The parents at this point, who I do NOT know, still did not stop and at least see why this stranger - ME - was talking to their son.

I'm not sure if it is because I've been in childcare and education nearly my entire life, but I guess I just don't have a problem correcting another child's behavior, particularly if a living being is at risk of getting harmed. I've told kids not to throw rocks at ducks in the park, to stop chasing the squirrels, and to pet a dog gently -  all while parents are sitting right there watching and not doing anything! And, while I know that this drives some people crazy, I really don't care.  If you're not going to tell your child to stop harassing an animal, then I will!

Children need to learn to respect nature, and they need us to show them how. Just like you would teach a young child not to approach a strange dog, you also need to teach them kindness and compassion for all creatures. I don't care if YOU don't like snakes, do not pass that dislike on to your children.  Please teach your children to have respect for all living things.  Our Earth depends on it!

The best part of living where I do is the wildlife.  However, with living in an area like this comes the responsibility to care for its native inhabitants.  It is truly spectacular and while I don't have the space to show you too many photos, here are a few of the wonderful creatures we share our backyard with. As for my little turtle friend from this morning's walk, I safely transported him to the pond just a little bit down the road.   
Black Racer

Great-horned Owl

Monday, November 3, 2014

For the Love of Books

When my sons were toddlers and preschoolers we spent countless mornings at the local public library checking out material and attending story time.  However, once my sons started school and I returned to full-time employment, we turned more toward our local book store and, in more recent years, to e-books for mere convenience.  Now that I'm home again, one of my favorite past-times while my sons are at school is once again perusing the library shelves.  Often I'm there to checkout a specific book one of my sons wants or return due items.  Other times I love to just explore the shelves looking for an interesting read.

Just today I did a catalog search for two books on my "want to read" list.  Disappointed that neither book was available and not having any luck looking for random material to bring home, I turned to gather my belongings and leave.  Then, in a moment of complete optimism, I returned to the catalog and looked up the one book that I've hopelessly scanned for countless other times in the last several weeks. I've already been on the wait-list for the electronic copy for months, so I didn't bother to place a hold on the hard copy as well.   When the inquiry results came up, I had to blink hard to make sure I was seeing clearly. Could it be?

The results revealed there were TWO copies in the 'New and Popular' section near the entrance to the library.  Since I was using a computer at the far back of the library, I knew I had to move quickly! As fast as I could move my legs without running, I made a mad dash toward the front of the library maneuvering around several senior citizens (apparently the library is THE hot spot for this demographic!) taking care not to knock any of them down. 

When I finally reached my destination, my eyes scanned the spines for the author.  I nearly bumped right into a very large man who happened to be standing right in front of the shelf that held the book. I glanced up and saw ONE remaining copy of the book - my book - sitting there.  Oh no! Could I have come this far only to fail, what if he looks up and grabs it? This was not a risk I was willing to take. Without hesitation, but with a quick, "Excuse me,"  I reached across the man and snatched it!  There it was.  In. My. Hand.

Found this quote by David Foster Wallace online and it made me laugh. 

My smile was suspiciously a mile wide and my face must have looked like the bird that ate the canary. I actually felt giddy.  My heart was racing and my palms sweaty.  I felt like I was holding top secret material and would now need to escape the KGB.   Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I held the book close to my chest, hiding its cover, and looked around to see if anyone was eyeing me as I quickly went to check out.  I had at least 30 minutes until I needed to leave to go get my sons at school, but something inside me just wanted out of that library.  I had visions of being stopped by a librarian and being told that there had been a terrible mistake but THAT book was not supposed to be on the shelf.  I wasn't taking any chances.

When I reached my car I placed the book on the passenger seat and locked all the doors. I peeled out of the parking lot - my mission a success!

Now, I bet you're wondering what book had me this excited.  Well, I guess you'll just have to wait for my next book review. Until then, here's hoping you find your love of books at a library near you! 

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