Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: Over My Dead Body

I keep thinking, "when will Kate Klise ever run out of ideas for clever, cheesy puns?" Over My Dead Body is the second in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series written by Kate Klise and delightfully illustrated by her sister, Sarah Klise. These books, like the "Regarding the ..." series, are full of humorous puns, entertaining illustrations, absurd situations and disguised knowledge.

Mr. Dick Tater, director of the International Movement for the Safety & Protection Of Our Kids & Youth (IMSPOOKY), has received a tip that Seymour Hope is living in Ghastly, Illinois, "without the benefit of his parents." He decides he must intervene. Seymour ends up placed in the local orphanage, while I. B. Grumply (elderly writer who has been living in the old Spence Mansion with Seymour) is taken off to the Illinois Home for the Deranged (for claiming to be writing a book with the ghost of Olive C. Spence). Other characters involved in the story include: M. Balm, Judge Claire Voyant, Fay Tality, Mac Awbrah, Cliff Hanger and Shirley U. Jest.

I highly recommend both of the delightful series written and illustrated by the Klise sisters. With simple tales, heavy doses of kid-friendly illustrations, and generous smatterings of humor, these books are sure to appeal to children ages 9-13. For me, it was a light-hearted read when my brain couldn't handle anything more demanding.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Really Scary Shoes

I must apologize for abandoning my blog lately. We had a death in the family last week and I have found it very difficult to sit down and write, despite having loads to say and so much running around my brain that I feel like I need a second head (and at times, feel like I am actually growing a second one).

Last week, Cardiogirl shared a hilarious post about a trendy new shoe which is sort of a combination between a boot and a flip-flop, thus earning the title of "floot". I can guarantee you will never catch me sporting this shoe on my dogs.

This reminded me of some other shoes I came across recently. Trevor is forever requesting an Internet search for various things "scary." A few weeks back, he asked me to search for "scary shoes." He was hoping to find some shoes with skulls and crossbones on them. We did, indeed eventually find some on, but at $60 a pair, I can guarantee you he won't be sporting the scary shoes either.

Before we found the Zappos site, we stumbled upon this little gem. You really must follow the link and enjoy a bit of horrified amusement as you take in the ridiculous HEIGHTS of fashion some people are willing to scale! Now those are some REALLY SCARY SHOES!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review: Death of a Garage Sale Newbie

I was really hoping for great things from Death of a Garage Sale Newbie, by Sharon Dunn. I had noticed the title somewhere on the Internet. My library didn't have it. I ended up purchasing it on Amazon.

I have to admit, I always feel reluctant to write a bad review of a book. I imagine my own written offering being shot down by someone else. It would be hard to read the criticism. And yet, if I really hope to improve my writing, criticism is a genuine path to follow.

This book held a great deal of promise. It suggested the story of four unlikely women, drawn together by their love of a bargain and their enjoyment of garage sales, who find themselves swept into a mystery when one of them makes a casual purchase and discovers something sinister. Sounds like a book right up my alley!

The story itself was good. I wanted to know what had happened to the woman, which purchase had triggered events leading to her death, and who was responsible for the heinous, senseless crime. There were red herrings, side plot lines, suspense and sympathetic characters.

I think I was mostly put off by the forced references to Christianity. Perhaps the author felt compelled to mention her Christian beliefs so that it could be marketed for a Christian audience. However, I prefer to read books where the story comes first. If Christian perspectives and attitudes shine through, then that is a plus (a natural flavoring of a novel written by an author who happens to be a Christian, rather than a "Christian" novel written by a Christian who happens to write books).

At times, the characters' actions threw me for a loop. After Ginger has returned home in a panic from being chased by a suspicious automobile, the husband chooses to insert his dissatisfaction with their marriage, accusing Ginger of failing to support him. I wasn't sure how that could come up in discussion in the midst of that chaos. This characterisation would have been far more logical if the dialogue had followed a phone conversation where the wife verbally belittled her husband's "tinkering" in the garage.

The characters could have been more rounded as well. The college age character is an intelligent cheerleader from a driven family who supposedly bounces continuously and only wants to "marry a cool Christian guy and stay home with her kids." There is a foreign "trophy" girlfriend who speaks broken English and a lawyer who practices environmental law while pining for his down-home Montana roots of dirt-bike riding with his father.

Still, I read clear to the end. It was a mystery that held my attention enough for that. I even embraced the author's theme that bargain hunting is a noble calling, but can, like anything, be taken to extremes that become unhealthy. My greatest wish was that the valuable messages/spiritual truths had been cloaked so much in well-written story that there was no need to tell the reader what those messages were.

Disclaimer: As a new member of Amazon Associates, I will receive a small fee for any traffic driven to Amazon which results in a sale. My primary goal is ALWAYS to turn others on to reading (not to make a profit).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book Review: The Book Thief

There are times when a book's title pops up so often, that you know that it will be a really good read. I cannot rave about Markus Zusak's The Book Thief enough. It will certainly be on my list of favorite books for 2010 and I am already planning to read the book again in 2011.

Next time, I want to read the book for myself. This time around, I listened to the audio version. It was great to hear it read and the narrator did a fantastic job, but there were so many times when I wanted to stop and ruminate on a passage. Plus, I was frustrated with how long it took me to complete this book because I don't get near enough time to listen to audio books these days. (Also, due to the frequent cursing in German, with English explanations, I couldn't ever listen to it when the little boys were with me - although I did listen when Bryce was in the car.) Still, I don't regret having listened to it first, because when I read the book on my own, I know I will still hear the rich, lyrical voice of the narrator and will follow his pronunciations of the names of places and people.

Liesel Meminger is the book thief. Why does she feel a compulsion to steal books? First, because she loves words and the difference they can make. Second, because in her short nine years, she's already lost her father, mother and brother. Her first theft, a book about grave digging, fell out of the apprentice's pocket and Liesel grabbed it in an urge to hang on to something from the day of her brother's funeral.

As this book, narrated by none other than the weary character of Death, follows Liesel's life, death is everywhere, but so is life and love. I was swept away by the relationships Liesel establishes with her neighbor and best friend, Rudy, the mayor's wife, her foster father and Max Vandenburg. They will forever people the landscape of my mind.

What struck me most profoundly was the faithful rendition of human existence, so full of sorrow, pain and loss, and yet, simultaneously, triumphant! I wish I had the time and energy to give this book a better written review. Alas, I will settle for something another reviewer mentioned on the Amazon site: "If you only read one book in 2010, make it this one!" It will be well worth your time and you will think about this story long after you have put the book down.

Follow this link for a truly well-written review by Janet Maslin in the New York Times. If you follow the Amazon link above, you can also hear the author discuss his writing of the book. Hands down, this has been my favorite book this year!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Quiet, Noisy, Up, Down Mother's Day

For my Mother's Day treat, I received a day or so without small children underfoot. John took Trevor and Sean to visit his parents from Saturday afternoon until tomorrow morning.

Of course, when they are gone, I often feel greatly conflicted about how to spend my time. On the one hand, I would like to claim the time for myself, relaxing with a book or watching movies. But, on the other hand, there are many tasks which are so much easier to tackle without the constant interruptions or offers of help the little boys provide. I had several goals in my head. Indeed far too many goals to accomplish in a little less than 48 hours.

I hoped to put our guest room back in order. This was a bigger job than merely tidying up because we recently had to have quite a bit of work done replacing our heating and air conditioning systems. The access area for all of this work is through a hole in the ceiling of our guest room's walk-in closet.

Sadly, the hole was too small to fit all of the necessary equipment. Thus, the hole was forcibly widened. On Tuesday of this week, another workman came to the house to re-frame the access door and apply new drywall. Anticipating the dust and debris, we had cleared almost every thing out of that closet (all the winter coats, several storage bins, umbrellas, loose and unwanted van parts, and oh, about a thousand shoes ... well, maybe not a thousand).

It took two hours to wipe down and vacuum up all the yuck left from that job, replace every last item to its proper place in the closet and then dust and vacuum the guest room. Of course, with the help of little hands and breaks for wiping bottoms, getting drinks, changing channels, supplying tape, etc. that job would have taken three times as long. I merely cranked up some tunes and set to work.

After I finished, I called my own mother to wish her a happy Mother's Day. I informed her that she could hear my present over the line. It took her a minute. She even said, "I don't hear anything," before she realized that was exactly the point. The quiet and the noise (my own, that is) of today have been bliss.

I didn't want to spend the entire day tackling chores, however, so I went shopping for a Mother's Day gift for myself. I had received a lovely coupon in the mail from J.C. Penney's offering $10 off any purchase of over $10. A few weeks ago, I had even clipped (from their ad) a photo of a beautiful top I would love to wear.

It was a gorgeous day for a drive (it takes a half hour to get to our nearest Penney's store) and I really enjoyed the freedom to just leave the house and drive off on a shopping venture. I even was able to use the road with the round-about, which gives me such pleasure (and a happy smile of nostalgia for Britain).

Unfortunately, once inside the store those positive feelings began to fly away. I really do hate shopping for clothes. I never did locate the pictured top. So many things on the racks today were covered in bold patterns, with funky accessories or gathered waists (like I want to draw attention to that part of my body, thank you, but no thank you). I tried on five items and not one looked even half way acceptable. Plus, it seemed to remind me of the fact that I have put on weight. Erggg!

I decided to change tactics. I looked in the men's department for something for my husband's birthday next month. Alas, that didn't seem to work either, since I was pretty sure he would say he didn't need a thing.

Next, I looked at waffle irons. My own waffle iron (a wedding gift from my grandmother) bit the dust a few months back, after almost 20 years of reliable service. It still worked fine, but it was so covered in gunk from years and years of spraying with cooking oil that it began to look unappetizing.

They had three different options. There was an $80 Belgian waffle machine similar to the ones in hotels (where they flip the thing over) on sale for $30. There was a regular $40 Cuisinart round waffle iron on sale for $30 and there was a Cook's brand small Belgian waffle iron marked down from $50 to $25. I spent probably a good half hour debating myself on this decision.

The first one would be such a great deal, but it would take up so much space in an already crowded kitchen. The second one was closest to the one my grandmother had given me, but the third one would take up the least amount of space and cost the smallest amount of money.

In the end, I didn't go with any of them. I reminded myself that the boys tend to prefer pancakes over waffles. Really, I'm the only one who enjoys making them or eating them. Plus, I really shouldn't even be eating them these days, if I'm going to work off those extra pounds.

Not wanting to leave the store, without using my coupon (that would feel like throwing away money), I made my way to the linen section. We are planning to purchase a twin bed for Sean soon and I might need an additional mattress pad or vinyl protector. Even those were a no-go.

Never fear, however, I finally (after almost an hour of shopping) purchased two new pillows. They were $20, on sale for $11.99. After my $10 off coupon, I paid $2.13. Plus, after returning two unsuitable items to Target, I came home $20 richer.

I do know what inhibited my shopping experience. Last night, after watching "The Notebook" (see, usually I tackle the relaxation first and then hit a frenzy of trying to look like I spent my time more productively), I killed several hours reading the news on-line.

During my browsing, I came across a powerful video called "The Story of Stuff." I watched a clear-cut demonstration of how Americans are caught in a harmful cycle of over-consumption. It was very convicting. Thus, when I went shopping, I didn't really want to buy anything, unless we absolutely needed it. Watch it, yourself, and see if it curbs some of your materialistic impulses!

I also watched several videos from "The Happiness Project," by Gretchen Rubin. I'm hoping to look for the book, next time I am in the library. For now, I have watched ten of her short motivational videos for making 2010 a happier year. You may want to search out her inspirational videos on You Tube, as well.

The third week's goal was to toss and organize. I spent a few hours this evening working on designating things from the little boys' room for our upcoming garage sale. At the moment, the room is cluttered with various piles of clothing. Man, those boys have too much clothing. I am tempted to count up their number of shirts, because I know it has to be over a hundred ... for two little boys. Ridiculous!

For now, I'd better follow her advice from the first week of The Happiness Project. The first month focused on "Energy" and the first week included a reminder that the best source of energy is a good night's sleep. I'm off to pursue that and then hopefully finish the boys' room before they return and decide to have a hey-day destroying all of my nicely folded piles.

It was a really good day, but even good things must come to an end.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review: Dying to Meet You

I have mentioned before that I am a huge fan of the whimsical books of Kate and Sarah Klise. These sisters collaborate to write and illustrate books full of suspense and humor. The tales are told entirely through letters and newspaper articles. Sarah Klise provides illustrations with tremendous kid-appeal.

I was thrilled to discover two new books by the Klise sisters. It appears to be a new series, since the books are numbered. I was able to secure the first one, Dying to Meet You. This series looks to be right up my middle son's alley. Trevor will love these books since they take place in an old haunted house at 43 Old Cemetery Road, Ghastly, Illinois.

The Klise sisters always provide a good laugh with the character names they come up with. This story centers on Ignatius B. Grumply, an author of children's books. He contacts Anita Sale (real estate agent) with a request to rent a quiet bungalow so he can work on his newest release and hopefully end his writer's block. His publisher, Paige Turner, is anxiously awaiting another manuscript.

I.B. Grumply ends up renting the home of Professors Les and Diane Hope who are travelling abroad. He is shocked to discover that they have left behind their son, Seymour Hope, who is residing on the third floor. Seymour tries to convince I.B. that he is cared for by the ghost of the house's original owner, Olive C. Spence. Olive was, of all things, a frustrated author who couldn't find a publisher for her "graphic epistolary mysteries."

These books are cute and fun to read. I am anxious for the other library patron to return the second book of this new series, Over My Dead Body. With puns a-plenty, the next book promises more excitement from the haunted house on Cemetery Road as Dick Tater, from the International Movement for the Safety & Protection Of Our Kids & Youth (IMSPOOKY), tries to take control of Seymour's situation. I'm thinking Trevor might just be receiving these two books for his birthday. Shhh - it's a secret.

As a new member of Amazon Affiliates, the links I provide to the Amazon listings of these books will mean that I earn a small percentage of any purchases made by travelling there through my links.

Monday, May 3, 2010

At Least Someone's Writing

I haven't made much progress on my book (a total of 500 words). However, this morning Trevor called me over to his art desk to request my expert transcribing skills. He wrote out the title and filled in all of the dialogue bubbles. Then he dictated the words for each page. Of course, because Trevor is the author, you can expect skeletons and terrifying moments.

(I know where the germ of this idea came from. We watched a movie a few weeks ago on television called, "The Secret of the Mountain." In the movie, a family enters a secret passageway into the mountain and they encountered skeletons.)

He was using a brown colored pencil, so it may be a bit tough to see (if you click on an image, it will enlarge it).

Jack and the Skeleton

Once upon a time, there was a boy and a mountain.

The boy went in the mountain.

He found a big hole to walk into.

He tried to pull some dirt out of the wall.

And then he said, "Oooh, this is BAD!" He heard strange music.

And then he realized that there were skeletons behind him.

He ran so fast that he got away from them.
(I loved this page, with the guy swiping his hand across his brow and saying, "Phew.")

Now he came up to another skeleton.

He was happy to get out.

At least he's working on writing his books! R.L. Stine and Stephen King, watch out!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Declaring my own WeNoFinMo!

Novel writing isn't exactly like completing a puzzle. When I put together a puzzle, I can leave the puzzle pieces off to the side for quite a while and merely pick up the endeavor for five minutes here or there, as time allows. If I go downstairs and think that I can sneak a few, I might set a limited goal of putting 5 to 10 pieces in place. Nothing doing ... no problems (well, that is, if small boys aren't off chucking salt out of the water softener).

However, I have found that when I attempt to snag a half hour or two for working on my novel, it doesn't work. I spend the entire first 30 minutes reminding myself where I am in the process. It is like the picture on the front of the puzzle box fades if I walk away from it and then determining where the pieces go becomes far more of a challenge.

When I participated in NaNoWriMo, back in November, I merely dedicated myself to sit down with the novel every evening until I had completed the 50,000 words of my goal. Most nights, all I re-read was the previous sentence or paragraph. Now, I have to remind myself of where I was at and where I was going.

So, I have decided that the best course of action is to throw myself in to NaNo mode again. Thus, I am declaring the month of May as my own "Wendy's Novel Finishing Month!"

I received this clever, amusing letter from the NaNoWriMo people back in December:

Dear Writer,

I ran into your 2009 NaNoWriMo novel yesterday, and it said that you two are currently "taking a break." I offered my condolences and mentioned that I'd probably be seeing you today. It quickly scribbled out a note for me to give you. The note seemed kind of personal, so I didn't read it. Here it is!

"Hi! Come back to me. I'll be better this time, I promise!"

Okay, so I accidentally read it. Wowza! That book loves you! And this is really none of my business, but if it were my business, I would tell you that you've been smart to let things cool down this month. November was a wild, tumultuous time, filled with expectations and hopes---some met, others unfulfilled. Before any of us had a chance to work out exactly where things stood with our books, the clock ran out and we were swept back into the flow of our busy lives. Our books, meanwhile, have been working themselves into a funk over their plummeting standing on our "recently accessed documents" list.

No pressure, though! You've got a lot on your plate right now, and you can't be expected to drop everything and rush back into the arms of some moony novel you just met last month.

I would, however, love to see you guys get back together in January.

I chuckled, but that was about as far as it went. I have written a total of 2,500 words since November. That is both sad and pathetic. Especially because I actually do have an idea of what the big picture is supposed to look like. I know what happens to bring about the climax. I don't know how it ends, but I have a feeling that will take care of itself once I get closer to the denoument!

Feel free to drop by and hold me accountable. I will try to keep track of the numbers on the side-bar. It was just too good a book to let sit on the back burner for too long. If it helps, picture my rear end with a large "Kick Me ... if I'm not writing" sign on it." Hee-hee.