Reading Update #16

Standard

SGF Reading Easter

Happy Easter two days ago! How do you like my Sassy Bunny Friend?

Reading Update: As of today, I have read 38 books. Right now I am trying to read the Complete Jennifer A. Nielsen Catalogue (well, not her Infinity Ring novel, because I don’t have time to get up to speed on the rest of the series, which isn’t by her) because she is coming to visit our school in a couple of days. Since I last posted, I read the first book in her Underworld Chronicles series, Elliot and the Goblin War, and the second book in her Ascendance trilogy, The Runaway King.

read16pix

I’m not going to go into too much detail on either book because I plan to do a full review later this week, but they’re good! I’m eager to pick up The Shadow Throne and am trying to decide whether to wait on Elliot and the Pixie Plot before reading the third book, because book 2 is currently checked out by a student.

Looking Ahead: Finish these trilogies, switch to some adult lit.

Reading Update #15

Standard

SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Wednesday, April 16. As of late tonight, I have read 36 books this year. Two of them were picture books (Mouse Paint and Grover’s First Day of School). The third was Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Styxx, a 1008-page behemoth that took me a couple of weeks to polish off. And the fourth was Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince.

18077750 13646858

(Notice any trends in cover design?)

Okay, so Styxx was not an easy book to read. I mean, it was profoundly easy to read, because Kenyon’s a good writer (with caveats to be explained shortly) and I like her voice/style. But it was so brutal. I mentioned some of that last week. And I mean, yes. Obviously reading an account of the life of someone sold into sexual slavery, or of someone who suffers physical and emotional abuse, is going to be rough. But for me, what was really wrenching was how Styxx was so helpless in the face of all this evil that was done to him — by the gods, especially, but also his family. And let’s just put that out here: Betrayal is waaaay up there at the top of my List of Things that Upset Me, and what greater betrayal is there than a family that rejects you for something outside of your control? Even though I knew how this book would end (trust me, once you’ve read a couple Kenyon books, you know how they all end, which is actually a rather lovely and restful thing) my heart just kept breaking for this guy. And that’s the genius of Styxx, because before this book, the rest of the series had trained me to despise him. Well done, Sherrilyn. I really applaud her research and the fact that she refuses to let her series be just paranormal fantasy, or just romance — it’s complex, and thoughtful, and multidimensional. She resists absolutes in a genre that too often embraces them.

I’m going to keep going; I figure if a book’s page count breaks into four digits I can take some more time writing about it, right?

Like AcheronStyxx is really two novels in one. The first 3/4 of the book is a, if you’ll excuse the subgenrefication, historical fantasy. Kenyon paints a vivid picture of a super-ancient Greece, before the fall of Atlantis, and sets it as the stage for a massive mythological melodrama. The gods meddle, the humans react, and innocent lives are caught and buffeted in between. This part of the book is very R-rated, but it in no way qualifies as a romance novel (differing from the bulk of Kenyon’s writing, which are solidly in the romance category although heavily influenced by urban fantasy). Again, like the first portion of Acheron, this part of Styxx is very well written and I found myself completely immersed in the story.

The last part of the book fast-forwards to the early 2000s and the modern-day issues facing the surviving gods, demigods, and other characters. It’s more in the fantasy/action genre, and if you ask me it seems clear that it was written much more quickly and with less love and attention than the rest of the book. We get repeated exposition, clunky dialogue, dropped threads of subplot, and other little messy things that are distracting after the tightly woven fabric of the ancient Greece part of the story. Plus, it’s a rehash — from a different perspective — of events I’d already read in other books from the series, so there was a pervading sense of déjà vu.

It kind of bothered me to have my loyalties shaken up (I’ve been a big Acheron fan, but now? His twin seems the better man, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with that! #bookwormproblems) and I’m still a little confused as to what, exactly, was going on in all the times when Styxx and Acheron had their memories messed with, but this was a good solid 4.5 stars for me. I wouldn’t recommend it to the general public, but if you’ve been a Dark-Hunter series reader, you absolutely have to drop everything and read Styxx now.

Hey, there was another book I read, too. I read The False Prince, the first book in a middle-level/early YA trilogy, because its author, Jennifer A. Nielsen, is coming to my school for an author visit next Thursday. I’m going to try to read all of her books before she comes, if I can pry them out of the hands of our students (ha ha). They’re all pretty quick reads. The False Prince was an action-adventure fairy tale about a bunch of orphans (sorta) sucked into a plot to overthrow (sorta) the kingdom. For most of the book I felt like it was a bit too simple for my tastes, but I kept reminding myself that I was reading a book written for twelve-year-olds. Then as all the loose ends began to knit together, I realized that this was a more sophisticated story than I’d assumed. I mean, I’m an accomplished reader. I knew exactly what was going on with this novel long before it told us. But I still appreciated the cleverness and am excited to see what happens in the other two books.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead: I just finished The False Prince and haven’t started anything new yet. However, the copy of Nielsen’s Elliot and the Goblin War (the first in a trilogy written for upper elementary/lower middle) that I had on hold just came in, so I’ll probably read it this afternoon. I have several adult books waiting in the wings, starting with Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts, but I’m going to try to finish both Nielsen trilogies first in advance of the author visit. I’m trying to land an interview with her, and I feel like I ought to be familiar with her books first. Of course, my brain is now in paranormal romance/urban fantasy mode, thanks to Styxx, so I may succumb to that temptation if a book presents itself at a vulnerable moment.

Reading Update #14

Standard

SGF Reading

This is not being a good several weeks for reading. Or blogging. Sorry.

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, April 10. I am three days late with this update. As of today, I have read 32 out of 52 books — two new ones since the last update.

update14

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi was not a pleasant read, but I’m glad I read it anyway (and I would read more by this author if I found more of her books). It’s a novel — or is it? the lines between fact and fiction are very blurred here — about an Egyptian woman condemned to death for killing her pimp. She is telling her life’s story to a psychologist, showing how she ended up in such a situation, and in doing so casts a light on the darkness that is a poor woman’s life in Egypt. The narrator, Firdaus, is bitter and hard and ready to die. She has learned about man’s worship of money and control, and she has learned the value of her own well-marketed sexuality — and, ultimately, how impossible it is for a woman to have any value in her society. WaPZ is ugly and raw. It’s very short, very direct. It reads so much like the transcript of someone just speaking aloud — someone with no formal education but great innate intelligence — that it’s hard to believe that it is really a work of fiction at all.

The Selection Stories: The Prince & the Guard by Kiera Cass was a nice change of pace from WaPZ. This is the 2.5 book in a highly enjoyable YA trilogy (book 3 comes out this May) and contains two novellas and a sneak peak of the finale. I won’t get into it too much, but the series itself is a bit of a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, and is excellent leisure reading for people who like their fairy tales to have a lot of gray area.

Currently Reading: I am currently reading Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Styxx, the companion novel to the book that launched my paranormal romance habit, Acheron. A word to the wise: the first halves of both books are far from romantic, and are extremely hard on the heart. Acheron and Styxx are identical twins born in a time before the fall of Atlantis — but one of them is the son of a destructive goddess, and their mortal parents reject, to varying degrees, both sons. One is sold into sexual slavery, and the other is subject to dreadful familial abuse, finally culminating in the worst sort of sexual abuse. It is heartsickening, and truly well done, because the protagonist of this book — for whom GREAT sympathy is felt — is the villain of other books in the series, and Kenyon does a marvelous job of bringing him to life. I guess I’m kind of doing my post-read review now, but fear not; the second half of the book, if it mirrors Acheron, will change pace drastically and give me something new to write about.

Looking Ahead: I’m planning to read Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts after Styxx. There are a few YA books that recently came into our library that I’d like to read as well, but I think I’m going to prioritize The False Prince because its author is coming to visit our school in a couple of weeks.

Ninety Minutes of Parenthood: An Idyll

Standard

It is nine o’clock at night. I’d really love to be asleep or, lacking that, curling up with my book in a hot bubble bath for a few minutes. But my husband, who is blessed with the responsibility of teaching 160 twelve-year-olds about Ancient Rome in the morning, is busy preparing an activity, and my eleven-month-old son is unhappy. He’s been a little fussy all day, but now that it is time for bed he’s weepy and can’t be distracted. He is fed, dry, warm, pajamaed, but still miserable. I’ve walked him, bounced him, nursed him, read to him, but still he cries.

I’m lying with him on my bed. The door to the master bathroom is open, and the light is on. My baby keeps pulling away from me to stare at or reach toward that glowing block of light. Sometimes when he’s in a foul mood he can be mollified by presenting him to Mirror Baby, so I pick him up and step toward the bathroom.

As we cross the threshold the tears stop. I can see in the mirror that his eyes are red and swollen, but now he’s grinning. The only problem is, he’s not looking at Mirror Baby. Instead, he’s looking past the mirror to the far end of the bathroom — at what, I’m not sure.

I bounce and talk to him for a few minutes, and when it seems that the storm has passed, take a step out of the bathroom. Instantly he is sobbing again, tears flowing, writhing and reaching past me back into the bathroom. I’m mystified. I offer him music, milk — nothing. He is inconsolable.

So I step back into the bathroom. Peace descends. He smiles. And yet once again Mirror Baby is shunned in favor of… the bathtub?

I look at the tub, then at my blotchy-faced baby boy. He is smiling and babbling as he reaches with one arm toward the tub, his eyes darting between it and one of his bath toys that has fallen to the floor and been forgotten.

“It’s nine o’clock,” I tell him, in case he cares. “Do you really want a bath? This much?

And heaven forgive me, but I’m weighing my desire to make him happy with my lack of desire to set up a bath, get him ready, supervise and bathe him, and clean up afterward. Surely he doesn’t really mean it. Surely we could put this off until tomorrow after work, when I’m not so tired, when I still have my contacts in, when I’m not already dressed and ready for bed.

I try persuading him. “You’re in your pajamas. We just changed your diaper. We’d have to redo all of it. And you hate being dried off. It’s cold in here, do you really want to get all wet?”

“Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit,” he replies, beaming and waving at the shower curtain.

So much for logic.

“Just so you know,” I tell him, “if you really want a bath, you’re going to have to wait in your bed until I get it ready. And you’re not going to like that.” To prove my point, I step out of the bathroom and toward his room. He immediately stretches himself out to his full length, locks every joint in his body, and wails until he can’t catch his breath. I steel myself and deposit my opinionated baby in his crib. He is red up to the edge of his mussed blond curls; even the wet whites of his eyes are bright pink. I can hear him bawling as I pull out the baby bath, set it up in the big tub, and begin running the water. I add some bubbles and his toys, get the temperature right, and set his despised towel on the toilet. Then I take the precaution of removing my pajama pants and placing my own towel close at hand.

When I return to his room, he looks up at me with the face of the hopeful betrayed.

I smile. “Okay then. You wanted a bath; a bath it is.”

He reaches up, and I lift him from his bed. His delight is radiating off him until I stop at the foot of the bed to remove his pajamas and diaper, at which point he realizes that he has reached a new low, that nothing else in his life has ever been so cruel as this moment, that he is this close to paradise and being denied once again, and it takes me three times as long as it ought to undress him because he won’t bend his knees or stop howling.

Finally he’s naked, and I scoop him up and carry him into the bathroom as quickly as I can. The second my bare feet hit the tile, the crying stops. His face is streaked with tears, but it is the face of perfect joy. I kneel down next to the bathtub and he pulls away from me, trying — for all that he can’t yet stand or walk unsupported — to climb over the side of the tub to get in. “Hold your horses,” I scold, get a better grip on him, and lift him into the water.

He smiles, sighs, reaches down under the water to assure himself that his new favorite toy (yes, that toy) is still where he left it, then digs through the bubbles until he finds his bath book. It’s about eight plastic pages long, each with a smiling cartoon dinosaur doing various dinosaurish things, and is one of my son’s most treasured possessions. He recognizes somehow that it is upside-down and rotates it, then opens to the page with the pink pterodactyl. He leans back in the bubbles, turns a page, and coos happily. Like mother, like son: looks like I wasn’t the only one who wanted a bath and a book tonight.

After he finishes reading and I’ve scrubbed everything from the neck down, he switches the book for a cube-shaped squirt toy. This is another favorite. He submerges it between his legs, squishing it with both hands, then raises it just above the water level so that he can see where the hole is. He’ll turn the toy around and around until the hole is aligned correctly, then squirts himself in the belly with it over and over, repeating the process several times. While he is looking down, I take the opportunity to wash his hair. As I’m rinsing his hair, he looks up at the wrong moment and gets a cupful of water to the face. For a moment it looks like his enchantment with the bath has come to a rapid end, but I pat his eyes dry and he returns to his toys.

He’s all clean now, but there is still water in the tub, which means that bathtime isn’t over. His facial expression changes from glee to grim determination, and I scoot back as far as I can from the side of the tub as the Great Kicking begins. He kicks and kicks with a singleness of purpose that seems a little bizarre on his sweet baby face. The sudsy water flies, first jumping just a few inches within the baby bath, and then leaping in great two-foot-tall tsunamis out of his bath, sloshing over the side of the big tub and onto the linoleum. I keep one hand on his back (he’s really rocking now and would kick himself right over if I didn’t) while mopping up water with the other. My glasses are spotted with water; my hair is wet. Only experience and finely honed powers of anticipation keep my shirt from getting drenched, but it soon begins to feel a little damp, too.

Splash! Splash! Splash! The only thing that makes him pause is when he manages to splash himself in the face; he doesn’t like that, but it isn’t enough to dissuade him. When the water hits him between the eyes, he stops and glowers a bit at his feet, as if to tell them not to do that again, and then returns to the task at hand. The water level in the baby bath drops rapidly. Almost no bubbles remain. One of his bath toys has been completely evicted, carried away in the wake of a particularly enthusiastic kick. “Yeeeeeeee!” he yells at one point, telling the faucet who’s boss, his excited voice echoing off the tile and no doubt waking the neighbors.

I’m trying to dry off my glasses enough to see as he splashes a big one right into my face. He laughs, amply avenged for the hair-rinsing incident.

Before long, he is victorious over the bath. The water is all but gone, kicked out of the baby bath and down the drain or into the bath mat. His skin is getting chilly and his hair is plastered down against his scalp, straight as a pin for the few minutes until it dries. I get his towel into position and apologize to him preemptively; he truly hates being toweled off. He is still smiling as I lift him out of the tub and into his towel, but I’ve no sooner wrapped it around him than he is looking me in the eyes, indignant, yelling.

“It’s hard to look suitably angry when you’re wrapped in a ducky towel,” I tell him, drying him off as quickly as possible. He complains at top volume as I re-diaper him, to the point that his daddy comes upstairs to see why I’m pulling off all the baby’s toenails. By some miracle of parental tag-teaming we get him back into his pajamas as he twists and turns. I forgo brushing his hair in favor of offering him some milk, figuring that crazy hair in the morning is a price we’re all happy to pay.

The milk does the trick. My exhausted boy snuggles into the crook of my arm and drinks his fill. I shift him out of my arms and onto the bed just long enough to set the bottle down, and he immediately rolls over onto his stomach and is fast asleep. When I carry him into his room at 10:30 and lay him down in his crib, he doesn’t stir and will sleep peacefully until morning.

Yearbook 2013-14: Mischief Managed

Standard

 

 

 

As of about 4 PM on April 1, the 2013-14 yearbook was complete and sent to the printers.

bookprogress

Custom cover art by Meredith Fern Messinger:

cover

 

Spreads by a staff of fifteen, plus Ryan and myself:

yearbook thumbnails

 

At the very last minute, I discovered extra space in the 8th grade section, so I ran a report of 8th graders who had no candids in the book and went on a mission. I pulled as many of them as possible from class, convinced them to do funny poses, and took their pictures. Then Ryan used his Advanced Photoshop Ninja Skills to cut them out from their backgrounds, and I stayed up until after midnight making the page on the right below. Glad I did. They’re going to like it:

26-27b

This was definitely a “building year” for yearbook, at least for me. I got off to a late start, didn’t do the best possible job acquiring staff, and really did a lot of last-minute learning on the job. Now that it is behind me, and I have some breathing room, I have SO many ideas for the future. And I just found out that we have some money to work with, so I’m excited about updating our equipment and getting some new “toys”. I want to add a signature to our book so we have some room to design instead of just cramming as much as possible into the space we have, and I think we want to buy or build some sort of green screen for cutouts. We need a telephoto zoom, too, for sporting events. I’ve started collecting ideas on a Pinterest board and am going to get all my foundations taken care of this spring, instead of next fall, so that we can hit the ground running and do an amazing job with the 2014-15 book. That said, I’m very pleased with the way this one turned out, all things considered!