Tag Archives: books

February Book Giveaway

I think I’ll start doing a book giveaway every month, at least until I run out of books to give away. Starting with this book.

Beverly Cleary was a favorite author of mine growing up. Throughout the years, my Dad read pretty much all of the Ramona Quimby books to me. Cleary is one of those rare authors that truly understands how children think. But it wasn’t until I was older that I realized she wrote some young adult (YA) as well.

I don’t know about you, but YA is very hit-or-miss with me. The universal appeal of YA is that while our teenage years are certainly not the best years of our lives, they’re certainly the most vivid. So diving back into that world can be a fun diversion. But all my life I’ve had a lot of trouble finding YA books I could actually relate to, or that even remotely resembled my own teenage experience.

Then, recently, I read this annoying article in which the author confidently writes, “sex, drinking and drugs are part of a teenager’s reality. This isn’t me suggesting every teenager has sex, or drinks, or does drugs — only that it’s there. It exists for them. And some adults may bluster — ‘Bluh, bleh, muh, not my teenager!’ — to which I say, even Amish teenagers deal with this. The Amish. The Amish. So, I’m always dubious of any young adult book that doesn’t at least address one of these three in some way.”

When I read this I rolled my eyes so hard that they were sore for days. If this is what people think the reality of every teenager is, it’s no wonder I could never find YA I could actually relate to.

Anyway. All that to say, I tend to collect YA that addresses what I see as the actual universal feelings of young people. Like when you like a guy more than they like you, or when you’re angry at your mom but can’t fully pinpoint where your feelings stem from, or when things matter enormously but you can’t explain why, or when you like the idea of a guy more than the actual guy, or when you start to discover how big and interesting the world really is.

This compilation by Beverly Cleary addresses all those feelings, and more. It is such a fun read. I recently found a second copy, and decided to give it away to one of my readers.

The compilation includes three books:

Jean and Johnny


The Luckiest Girl

If you’re interested in some fun happy reading, comment below or on Facebook saying you’d like to be entered. You can also mention what your favorite books were as a teenager, if you wish. If you share this post on Facebook or Twitter I’ll give you an extra entry. Just mention in your comment that you shared it.

That’s all for now. Happy Reading!

ETA: Giveaway now closed.

Bookweek Day 3: Why are all the best fantasy writers British?

I don’t have much time today, so this post will be pretty short, but here goes: Why are all the best fantasy writers British?

I made a list the other day. J.M. Barrie, C.S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, J.R.R. Tolkien, A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, and Susanna Clarke are/were all British. Eva Ibbotson and Robin McKinley were both born other places, Austria and America respectively, but then later moved to England.

Of my favorite fantasy writers, only one had no connection to England: Gail Carson Levine is still very American. However, an interesting note about Gail Carson Levine is that, unlike the other writers I mentioned, I just cannot enjoy her work in adulthood the way I could in childhood. Only “Ella Enchanted” really stands the test of time, in my opinion.

I have several theories on this.

First, maybe the British write better fantasy because they have a great cache of folklore to draw from. European Americans haven’t been in America long enough to develop a mythology, unless Paul Bunyan counts. Native Americans haven’t been very well-represented in the publishing world. So maybe the American writers that are getting published don’t have a deep connection to folklore and mythology that would enable them to write it well.

If this is the reason, it makes me wonder if there’s a lot of really good fantasy published in languages I can’t read. Because most civilizations are ancient enough to have really interesting folklore and mythology.

My second theory is that maybe the British are just more comfortable with adults reading positive, uplifting fantasy. American fantasy seems to be either strictly for children (not even young adults), or else really dark. On the other hand, a lot of British fantasy is more like what A.A. Milne wrote in his introduction to Once On A Time:

For whom, then, is the book intended? That is the trouble. Unless I can say, “For those, young or old, who like the things which I like,” I find it difficult to answer. Is it a children’s book? Well, what do we mean by that? Is The Wind in the Willows a children’s book? Is Alice in Wonderland? Is Treasure Island? These are masterpieces which we read with pleasure as children, but with how much more pleasure when we are grown-up. In any case, what do we mean by “children”? A boy of three, a girl of six, a boy of ten, a girl of fourteen – are they all to like the same thing? And is a book “suitable for a boy of twelve” any more likely to please a boy of twelve than a modern novel is likely to please a man of thirty-seven; even if the novel be described truly as “suitable for a man of thirty-seven”? I confess that I cannot grapple with these difficult problems. But I am very sure of this: that no one can write a book which children will like, unless he write it for himself first. That being so, I shall say boldly that this is a story for grown-ups.

Those are my theories. Feel free to insert your own. I’ll be over here trying to figure out if it’s feasible to move to England.

Bookweek Day 2: On Reading Diaries

This is my current collection of other people’s diaries. I find them at garage sales sometimes.

It’s absolutely fascinating to me what makes people choose to write down one thing and not another. A diary must be the closest thing to glimpsing the actual inside of a person’s brain.

Mostly, I’ve found, people write down astonishingly boring things about themselves. Linda came at 9:00 to clean house. We left at 1:00 to drive to Olympia. Beautiful day! Beautiful trip! Got to Stephanie’s a little ahead of time.

And then every once in a while you’ll find a humorous story, but not be quite certain whether or not the diary writer was trying to be funny:

Took my antibiotics and went to Dr. Wilde for a root canal. Debated with him whether it was the same tooth Dr. Parley had done the root canal on last  year. He had x-rays to prove that was a different tooth. I was angry and unconvinced but I guess I must have been wrong; so I paid $159.50 today. I think he must have been right but in my own mind I felt sure it was the same tooth. I was quite upset about it the rest of the day.

I was telling my friend Esta about my fascination with diaries, and she suggested that I read the diaries of Anne Lindbergh. She then loaned me Bring Me a Unicorn, the first one.

Anne Morrow began compiling her diaries and letters when she was in her 60s. In the introduction, she gave a very thoughtful explanation for why she compiled diaries and letters instead of going for the more traditional autobiography format.

Since autobiography has always been favorite reading for me, quite naturally I considered using this form. To write an autobiography would mean sifting, picking and choosing, shaping and cutting, and then putting the material into orderly chapters, finished portraits, and polished phrases. There is much to recommend such a process. …But there are certain drawbacks. What remains in the end is the point of view of a mature person only. At best–and its “best” is very good indeed–an autobiography reveals a glimpse of life seen at the end of a telescope, from a single stance, that of a woman in the last third of life. 

…Once started on the painful journey toward honesty, with the passage of time one has increasingly the desire not to gloss over, not to foster illusions or to create fixed images, inasmuch as this is humanly possible. One wants to be an honest witness to the life one has lived and the struggle one has made to find oneself and one’s work, and to relate oneself to others and the world.

So I decided on publishing some of the diaries, along with letters, as a more truthful presentation of those years. 

She later added,

Diaries are written for oneself and reveal the writer as he is when alone.

Fascinating, right?

Of course, Anne left a lot of the boring parts of her diaries out, and she really was a great writer who lived an interesting life, so there really isn’t any comparing her book to the diary of Beulah from Washington that I found at a garage sale. Except for that “diaries are written for oneself and reveal the writer as he is when alone” bit.

I’ve read Bring Me a Unicorn and Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead. And of course I’ve read classics like The Diary of Anne Frank and Zlata’s Diary. I don’t gobble up diaries the way I gobble up fiction, but I’m still very much interested in recommendations. I think I’ll do L.M.Montgomery next.

Ten Books that have Stayed With Me in Some Way

In no particular order, the 10 that popped into my head are:

1. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Peter_Pan_And_Wendy_3_by_GiacobinoPicture credit: http://giacobino.deviantart.com/

2. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

It was a bit of a serendipity, the way I came to read and love this book. It happened like this:

I was 19 years old and living in Virginia when I decided to take my SAT. I signed up to go through the four-hour ordeal on a Saturday, the day before a big trip I had planned.

The most interesting section of the SAT (and of course the part I did best at) was the reading comprehension bit. I opened the little booklet, and there was a full-page excerpt of a book called The Moonstone. I read the little blurb at the top, which went something like:

This is the story of a stolen diamond that was inherited by Rachael Verinder, a young English woman. The night of her 18’th birthday, the diamond was stolen from her.

A little thrill went through me at the words “stolen diamond.”

Then I read the excerpt. It was narrated by a man named Gabriel Betteredge, who was Miss Verinder’s butler. He was such a funny character, and had a strange obsession with the book Robinson Crusoe. He said, in essence, “I’m going to write down how the diamond was stolen.” And then, having come to that conclusion, the excerpt ended.

I hurriedly tried to remember the name of the author, Wilkie Collins Wilkie Collins Wilkie Collins, and got on with the test. The thing is timed, see, so you have to be careful about dawdling over fascinating excerpts.

By the time the test was over I had forgotten both the author’s name and the title of the book. Not that I had time to think about it much. I was too busy getting ready to leave on my trip, sleeping, boarding a plane, and flying to Colorado.

When I got to Colorado Dad and Ben met me at the airport with our van. They had driven out to help me gather all the belongs I had left in the area from when I lived there, and then we were all going to drive to Oregon together for Ben’s graduation.

That evening we got a motel in Canon City, the town I used to live in, and settled down for a bit of a rest. I sat in a chair. Dad relaxed on one of the beds and opened a book.

“What’s that you’re reading?” I asked.

“It’s a book Amy picked up somewhere,” said Dad. “It’s called The Moonstone.”

3. Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

 stargirl_by_inkyfridays-d4oj5n7Picture credit: http://inkyfridays.deviantart.com/

4. Howl’s moving castle, by Diana Wynne Jones


Picture credit: http://yenefer.deviantart.com/

5. The blue castle, by L.M. Montgomery


Picture credit: twogranniesandanaxe.tumblr.com

6. I capture the castle, by Dodie Smith

I guess I’m just really drawn to books with “castle” in the title. This book is about a dirt-poor family of fascinating characters that lived in a castle in 1920’s England. The cleverness and humor of this book astounds me.

7. Love of Seven Dolls, by Paul Gallico


8. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

I can’t even explain why I like this book. It is dark and weird but absolutely enthralling. I think it stuck with me because it was so different from anything I had ever read before.

9. The Personality of a House, by Emily Post


I found this book in the library at Bridgewater College, and couldn’t put it down. It’s somewhat outdated (it advises that you decorate in colors that complement your skin tone) but also the most timeless book on decorating I have ever discovered.

I ended up buying my own copy for more money than I have ever spent on a book before.

10. Once on a Time, by A.A. Milne


Picture credit: http://odelialeaf.com/

What books have stuck with you?


Thoughts About Books: Plot Twists

Most of my interesting moments this summer are happening vicariously through the books I read.

The thing I’ve noticed about books is, whether they’re good or bad, deep or fluffy, long or short, literary or popular, they all get me thinking about ideas that I want to share on my blog.

I’ve thought about doing book reviews on here, but often the books I read are ones that you guys either won’t want to read or won’t be able to get a copy of, due to my acquiring them at a garage sales.

So instead, I give you “Thoughts About Books,” a general conglomeration of the things that I think about, sparked by the books I read.

This book, “Beneath the Glitter,” is a very fluffy book about two girls who got famous doing beauty videos on you-tube, and now live in LA and live extremely glamorous lives. It was just what I expected it to be–kind of dumb and poorly written, but fun and glamorous, like watching chick flicks with great fashion.

But there was a twist at the end.

It was a confusing twist, sloppily tacked on like an afterthought. Someone was plotting to steal someone else’s money, and the wrong people were blamed, and it was all very dramatic and ended suddenly with no one sure who the real thieves were.

Time to buy the sequel, I guess.

It absolutely did not fit into the plot, clarify anything for the reader, or enhance the quality of the novel one iota. I was left thinking, “why on earth did the authors feel the need to add this twist to the end?”

It reminded me of another book I read recently. “Inferno,” by Dan Brown.

“Inferno” was a fascinating read for the first 4/5ths of the novel. People were chasing people. People found ingenious ways to escape. People were trying to unravel this mystery involving Dante’s “Inferno,” and several other ancient works of art, including paintings and buildings and I don’t remember what all. The author is really one fantastic researcher.

But then, the last 5th of the novel involved plot twists. One after another after another. I can only think of one that actually clarified what had happened earlier, advanced the plot, and added depth to the characters. The other plot twists were merely sensation devices.

In the end, the bad guy won, except there weren’t really any bad guys after all, just misunderstandings. And all the chases and escapes need not have happened at all. All for the sake of the plot twists.

I began thinking about other books I’ve read. It’s amazing how many of the “bestseller” “food for the masses” type books end in huge plot twists. I’ve read two Jodi Picoult books, which did this to such a degree that I concluded she must do it in all her books.

Other books do it as well, though not as bad as Picoult and Brown. The most popular ending twist is the “wrongful death” twist, where you expect one main character to die and then the other main character dies instead, or something similar. This is so common that I’ve found myself, a page and a half before the unexpected death, suddenly realizing who’s gonna die.

Is the new formula for popular books “exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, plot twist?”

I don’t understand. Sure, give me an occasional plot twist that adds depth and clarity, but spare me the contrived tacked-on creations that are merely sensation devices and add nothing to the message the novel is trying to convey.

Thank you.

10 Quirky Things I Do that Make Me Feel Cool


I’ve noticed, throughout my short life, that most people think they are weird.

Often, people will say things like, “I am obsessed with olives.” Then they’ll say, “I know, I’m weird.” But you can tell that they’re not putting themselves down, they think that this quirk makes them unique and interesting.

For a long time I put many random things about myself on my blog. Things like, “I love to clean out hairbrushes.” Every time I did I thought, “someone is going to read this and think I’m so unique and interesting.”

Well today I thought of something quirky that I do, and how it makes me feel cool. I thought, “I haven’t posted for a while. Why don’t I post a list of random things I do that make me feel cool, even if they aren’t really that cool at all?”

1. I Read

I guess reading isn’t quirky, but I like to take it up a notch and read while standing in line or stuck in traffic. Then it looks like, not only am I smart and well-read, but I ALSO manage time well. No one needs to know that I go home and waste time reading about celebrities on the internet.

2. I drink tea

Obviously, tea is the drink of the refined and the artsy. I used to go so far as to bring pretty teacups saucers and teapots into class with me which made me feel SO cool, but eventually I got lazy and started using mugs.

Random fact: I once decided to do a blog post on why tea is better then coffee, but I obviously never did.

3. I watch VHS tapes instead of DVD’s or movies downloaded from the internet.

I’m not sure why this makes me feel so cool. Maybe because of all the money I save. Maybe because I can quote old classics like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” while my friends can only quote “27 Dresses” and “The Hunger Games.” Maybe because I’ve boughten into the notion that retro is automatically cool.

Another random fact: I also once decided to do a post on why VHS tapes are better than DVD’s.

4. I drive slow.

Think of it this way. Most people have to wait until they’re elderly to discover how much more fun (and safe) it is to drive slower than faster. I got to join the club at a young age.

Or…maybe I had a driver’s ed teacher that told me I was a terrible driver and now, even five years later, I’m still paranoid.

But still, if there’s no one on the road and I don’t have to be anywhere fast, I slow down to 30 mph and roll down the windows and blast the radio and for some reason I feel like that is the epitome of cool.

Oh yeah, that reminds me…

5. I listen to the radio

I don’t like to spend money on music and I like the surprise of not knowing what will come on next and I like listening to people that talk on the radio and say random things like “men eat more potato chips than women do.”

I once read this book called How To Say Goodbye In Robot, and the two main characters were obsessed with listening to the radio. They were really cool, and so now that I listen to the radio I feel like I’m as cool as they are, only not quite, because the radio stations I listen to aren’t quite as cool as theirs were.

6. I am not glued to my cell phone.

If I’m in a group of people and they’re all getting on their phones, I start feeling holier-then-thou. Like, “I can have a meaningful conversation without being glued to some impersonal device.” But then when I get home and dig my phone out from under a pile of clothes and books I have no texts, though I’ll probably have a voicemail from someone saying “how come you never have your phone on you???”

7. I write letters to people longhand.

8. I dream every night and remember them if I try.

One year I wrote down 365 dreams. If I had two dreams in one night I couldn’t count them as separate dreams unless I woke up between them.

9. Sometimes I use the home phone to call my cell phone and then I put one phone up to each ear and I talk and my voice echoes back to me multiple times and for some reason I think that is so much fun.

10. I like fairy tales.

I mean, I really love fairy tales.

I have seven books of fairy tales, and eleven books that have some fairy tales and some folklore, and a book of Arabian folklore, and a book of African American folklore, which adds up to twenty books.

That is not counting the novels that are re-tellings of fairy tales.