Tags: books

A Spirit of Christmas

I don't usually read a lot of the category holiday books, but this Christmas I have and every one I've read has been fantastic. Margot Early's A Spirit of Christmas might just be her best book to date. It's Dickens' A Christmas Carol told in Harlequin Everlasting format with the heroine as Scrooge and a story that brought tears to my eyes more than once.
Early is probably the only author who can make me care about a heartless former brothel owner whose only care is money. Early doesn't pull punches with her Scrooge. If you want proof that your characters can do anything with the proper motivation, read this book. With every horrible selfish act Keti Whitechapel committed, I found my heart breaking more for her and that heartbreak turned her happy ending into something even more special than Early always delivers.

I finished The Golden Compass and I'm still not seeing what caused the controversy. Maybe it's because I'm not Catholic. I loved the book and will definitely read the rest of the trilogy. Hopefully though I don't have more dreams about my family becoming warrior bears. Ugh.

The Golden Compass

I haven't read the book. But my kids are doing a book review and commentary on all the controversy in the paper this month.
One of my editors accused the paper of being liberal because we've covered teen pregnancy and this book and drug testing.
Strange.
I spend a lot of time covering the first amendment with my kids. I never thought of the first amendment as liberal.
The review is written by two Christian students. (I suppose the problem might have come along when I said if the author said he wanted to do away with God, he wasn't strictly speaking Christianity since most practicing religious students on our campus share the same God.) Basically the girls stake the stand that the book is amazing and everyone should read it regardless of beliefs because it's being talked about so much right now with the movie and that you can't have any kind of legitimate discussion about the controversy without reading the book. Makes sense to me. Our audience is 14-18-yr-old kids. If a book changes their core beliefs about God, their relationship with God isn't all that strong.
Of course, I've never seen a book do that. In fact, I've only seen the opposite. See, teenagers are pretty smart. When they read something they disagree with, they're pretty darn good at defending their beliefs. And in defending their beliefs, they actually become stronger. Amazingly enough by hearing other view points, they grow as people.
The book is on my TBR.
I hope students take our review to heart and read it too.

Books and writing


Finished Karen Templeton's Dear Santa tonight. It's perfect.
If you like Jennifer Crusie's romances (Bet Me, Fast Women, all her Temptations), you'll love Templeton. She makes you laugh and leaves you with that ahhhh! feeling when you reach the end. I can't wait for next book in the series.

Revisions: Working on conflicts today and I think I like what I've got. It's time to write now. I spent the evening cruising youtube looking for the perfect "feel" for my story, Second Chance Hero. I found photos for my main characters and lots of videos that make me happy.

The inspiration for my hero: David Martinez


The inspiration for my heroine: Lil Palmer


The inspiration for my villain: Degas


I'm going to have so much fun with these revisions. Hopefully I get them out the door before the end of Christmas Break.

Sick weekend

So I was supposed to have a cram packed weekend of UIL activities and conference planning.
Instead, I was sick.
I tried to tough it out for about ten minutes yesterday morning, but my body figured out what I was up to and walloped me over the head with a loud "Oh no you don't."
The one good thing from it, once I could see straight, I had time to read.
I finished Extras. The Uglies series is one of the best I've read in a long time. The kids enjoy them and they make them think. Really think, not the pretend analysis BS they've been programmed to believe is really thinking.
I swear, the next Big Brother type series should deal with the world and how we've trained the last two generations to believe if it's not tested, it's not worth learning. That type of thinking has led to a group of kids who can't write without formulas, can't read without a list of questions at the end of each passage. They're fitness tested, drug tested, education tested. Before long, it'll be DNA tested, genetics tested. Who knows what else will be tested?!?
My school's been in an uproar all week over a proposed schedule for next year. Change always freaks people out, and this new idea certainly has some issues, but nothing we can't figure out if we work together.
But instead two of the English teachers had their students write letters to the board. They said students could write either side, but since they spent several minutes explaining how terrible the new schedule was for everyone, the views in the letters were somewhat skewed.
Our new schedule comes about because our state has decided all students must take and pass four years of the big four. Not a bad idea, really, except the legislature truly believes every student in public education can take and pass Chemistry, Physics and Pre-Cal or better. They believe the only reason all students don't take and pass those courses now is because of our low expectations.
So we have the new 4*4 schedule, and we're going to work with it because as teachers we must.
BUT
our administration quickly saw the 4*4 along with all the other credits students had to have would kill electives and Career and Tech classes if they didn't step in. Thus the new schedule.
Which makes sense to me. Especially since when it was given out, we were told it wasn't set in stone, we were still working on it to make it fit our campus. How often do teachers actually get a chance to work on something to help work it out? Here was our chance, and we're blowing it.
On Friday the new view I heard from the disgruntled teachers was move all extra-curriculars to after school.
All of them.
I tried to bite my tongue, but I'm pretty sure I said something along the lines of my elective class and others like it taught students more about real life than anything they were learning in AP whatever it was the person speaking taught.
Grrrr. After I got angry, I realized saying that kid of thing only served to make things worse. We can work together as a campus and make this work or we can bicker and bitch and it'll be miserable.
I choose working together. I hope I'm not alone. Because it's going to take every teacher I know to keep this generation of kids from being an uber-tested bunch of kids who don't care about anything unless they get a score for caring.

Disappointed

Eclipse wasn't that great. It wasn't terrible, but Bella didn't really grow any. She went back to the person she was in Twilight and stayed there. :-( My students LOVE the book. It's hands down their favorite.
Strange.
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School Tours

Got home last night at 8:40 and I'm still exhausted. Organizing a group of adults into something like this might be the hardest thing I've ever done.

Our district is a choice school district. Students get to choose which junior high and high school they go to, and we all have different programs to offer. The theory is competition will make the schools better. We've been doing this for ten years, and so far, not only is the theory dead wrong, it's also dangerous. Some might disagree, but our schools have actually segregated because of choice. Seems a little backwards to me.

What I'm reading: The second in Jennifer Armintrout's vampire series. I waited a long time to read it because the blood and gore in book one made me little sick, but the story was fantastic and I want to know what happens next, especially with the whole EVIL vampire turned human.

AMAZING BOOK

My students have been raving about the Twilight series for months now, but I'm just now getting around to reading them. Twilight was good, but I didn't see how the kids could possibly think it was better than Harry Potter. Then I started New Moon yesterday. OMG. The book blows everything I've read recently completely out of the water and I've read plenty of good books recently. The conflict is unbelievably intense. I can't wait to read Eclipse now. If you haven't read the books, all I can say is you're definitely missing out.

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Two great books

The first great book I read this week was no big surprise. Rachel Gibson rarely disappoints me,and her Tangled up in You has earned its way onto my keeper shelf with its great characters, strong plot, laugh out loud and hand me a box of Kleenex moments. In case you can't tell, I thoroughly enjoyed it. :-)




Then there was the surprise.
I stopped by the North Richland Hills B&N Dallas Writers Workshop booksigning to say hi to Rosemary Clement Moore and to buy Candy Havens' book since I missed Candy when she was here for my local RWA meeting in April. Rosemary was gone, so I waited in line to say hi to Candy, and while I was in line, the guy sitting next to Candy talked the entire time. And the whole time he talked, I laughed.
Now, I'll be honest. I'm easy. It's not great feat to make me laugh. But when I turned my head and saw DH crack a smile, I thought Okay, I'm buying this guy's book.
So I started looking.
And this campy cover grabbed me:





I'd heard A. Lee Martinez's name before, but this was the first time I'd seen him or his books. Gil's All Fright Diner is delightfully ridiculous. The writing amazing. The descriptions bring every single moment to life, which is saying something for a book like this. I read it out loud to dh from the B&N to the Dallas West End, and he laughed with me. There's no way I can possibly explain what a miracle that is, so suffice it to say NEVER before has dh answered yes when I asked do you want me to keep reading. I'll be buying the rest of Martinez's books. I might try to find Gil's on audio because the prose lends itself to audio.


Revised to add:
I FINISHED the first round of new revisions on one of the requests. The book's not ready to go yet because I completely rewrote the end, but I LOVE it now. Woo Hoo!
DD's watching Boston win and going crazy right now.
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Reading Lessons 2

"Miss, Miss, which book should I read?"
Her hard New York accent sounds across the room as she gazes at the overfull bookcase in my room.
She knows my answer without looking, but still she turns to me and waits.
"Whichever you want. You choose."
Her hand inches toward the new book I placed there only yesterday. Its cover screams NYT Bestseller. National Book Award. Publisher's Weekly Best Book of the Year! I understand why she's drawn to it.
"Is this one good?"
I smile and shrug. "You decide."
She takes the book and then walks with me to our other classroom, happy, I'm sure, with her new reading material...even though I stopped reading it after five chapters. I did flip to the end to see how things turned out, but the overwhelming sadness of the story held little appeal for me. Before she took it, it sat between Picoult's My Sister's Keeper and The House of Sand and Fog. Both amazing books. Both too sad for me. But not for several of my students who have read and loved them.
While teaching my students about reading for FUN, I often find myself having to explain the concept of subjectivity  and reading tastes. Often they believe that just because they only like to read non-fiction, sci. fi., romance, (insert whatever other genre) that something's wrong with them. That they're "broken." They don't understand that a good book to me might not be a good book to them.
It makes me think of all the horrible reviews I've read over the years of books I LOVE.
I hope when they leave my classroom, they'll look at the library with the same kind of wonder and awe I still feel when I find myself standing in the stacks searching for my newest find.
Speaking of which, I just started Twilight and WHOA! It'll definitely be making its way to the newsroom bookshelf.

(no subject)

He trudges into the classroom, back slightly bent under the weight of a full back pack, long bangs hanging in his eyes, those covered eyes gazing at the floor.
“I hate this book.”
I barely hear his voice over the cattle call sounds of classes passing, but the dejected way he lifted the paperback clutched in his hand helped me understand his words.
His shuffling steps continued on to the class but stopped abruptly at my words. “So stop reading it.”
Slinging his hair out of his eyes, he shot me a confused look. “I can’t. You make us read.”
“You’re required to read but that,” I pointed to the book I couldn’t really see, “isn’t required reading.”

Every year I give the same old speech to my students: “You want to be a great writer? READ. Read everything. Newspapers, magazines, the back of the cereal box. Whatever.” And every year I hear the long, low grumble of a class filled with kids who think I'm crazy.
They don’t know how to read for fun. Somewhere between fourth and eighth grade books become about as interesting as watching mosquitoes fly into a bug zapper on a warm spring night.
I tell my kids life’s too short for bad books, but sometimes, I don’t think they get it. They don’t understand the real magic of the library. The endless aisles of books to dip into. For some reason boys have a harder time than girls finding books they enjoy.
My goal this year is to get them to try a little bit of everything:
Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Stephen King--anything, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Chocolate War, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Philip Pullman, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Last Picture Show, The Kite Runner…and that’s just fiction. Somewhere on those shelves is a book that will capture them, pull them in, take them away to a world they don't realize exists. A book they’ll enjoy reading just because. No tests. No symbolism or metaphor or irony. No vocab tests or AP timed writings or five paragraph essays on what the author meant or character analysis.
I’m sure I won’t find 100% success on this mission of mine, but I’m going to try. And when that boy who sneered at the novel in his hand today finds the book he loves, I’ll write about that too.