Two Recommendations

I think I’ll key a new saying: “When the writing’s good, the blogging’s bad.”

So, if this blog is any indication, the past couple of weeks have been great writing-wise. (And that is correct.) However, I’ve struggled to get any of my started-and-abandoned blog posts to click.

I’m just going to give a couple of recommendations instead.

First, a movie:

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I already raved about this on Facebook, but it is seriously one of the funniest and best-written rom coms I’ve seen in a long time. Beyond that, it’s set in Scotland [digression: I just found out my best friend is moving to Scotland, which is devastating because I’ll miss her so much, but also awesome because I can start saving for a trip where I’ll have a personal guide]. I’m a bit crazy about Scotland (and many other British-y things), so it was fun seeing all the gorgeous footage of the island of Hegg. Listening to Kelly MacDonald’s delicious accent and looking at David Tennant’s delicious face aren’t hardships, either. Let’s face it: you can’t go wrong with a cow-haunted toilet and lines like, “I’ll just leave it blank for eBay.” (Currently available on Netflix, where I just watched part of it [again] when I should have been packing for a Spring Break! trip with my kids.)

Second, a book:

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On said Spring Break! trip, we had lots of miles to cover in our trusty Kia minivan. I picked up Fake Mustache, or How Jody O’Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame) from the library. It had my three older kids (ages 12, 10, and 9) and I laughing out loud more than once. One of the things I love best about middle grade fiction is its fantastical nature–the kids it’s aimed at are more than willing to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a completely unbelievable story. And as I have a soft spot in my heart for faux facial hair, this book is a clear winner.

What about you? Read or seen any winners lately? I’ve been making my way through the Whitney Awards finalists; there are definitely some winners there. When the writing gets bad, maybe I’ll write a review or two about some of them.

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The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

I picked up my copy of The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (by Jeanne Birdsall) used, at Goodwill or a garage sale. It’s been sitting on my shelf for almost two years, waiting until the perfect moment to be read.

This weekend brought the perfect moment.

I was in the mountains with my extended family for a family reunion. We gathered at my grandparents’ cabin and renewed our bonds with each other by splitting into groups and re-making Johnny Lingo. In our downtime, we went boating and rode the jet skis. I enjoy going on the boat and jet skis occasionally, but it’s not my favorite thing. I was content to let everyone else have a turn and only headed out when one of my kids begged me to take them on a ride.

Instead, I would relax on the deck and visit with aunts, uncles, cousins, and/or their children. Or else I would read.

Thus arose the perfect moment to read about Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty Penderwick. I loved them from the first page. Ms. Birdsall’s writing reminds me very much of Elizabeth Enright (Thimble Summer, Gone Away Lake) and Maud Hart Lovelace (The Betsy-Tacy books) and yet is still fresh and modern.

Even better, she has two other Penderwick books already written! I can’t wait to discover them.

This is definitely going on the ‘read-aloud’ list.

Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

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This book, just like that last one I reviewed, resonated with me.

Unlike the last book, though, the cast of characters is simple and it only took me an hour (or so) to read.

Sharon Creech has another book out, Love That Dog, that I also love and that’s written in a similar style to this one.

Heartbeat is almost a long poem. The way Ms. Creech used the rhythm of the narrative poem, along with the words, truly made the book seem to have a heartbeat. I didn’t notice it while I was reading it, though, as much as afterwards. When I thought about the book, I seemed to think about it in a foot-pounding, heart-beating rhythm.

It’s hard to explain, and I think if I tried I wouldn’t get it right anyway, but she told such a perfect story in such few words, tying together running, art, family, friendship, aging, birthing, and eating an apple into a beautiful circle.

Just thinking about it makes me want to draw a picture (because I don’t run).

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

This is actually a four book series, with the fifth coming out in May, I think. A couple of book club friends recommended them to me, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Perseus Jackson seems to be a magnet for trouble. Between dyslexia and ADHD, school has never been his thing, and he tends to be kicked out of whatever school he’s attending before a year is through. When he turns twelve, the most strange thing of all happens: while on a field trip, one of his teachers turns into a harpy and tries to kill him. Percy is saved by another teacher who throws him a ballpoint pen.

Okay, I realize this sounds confusing. But trust me. Riordan is a great writer and I had no trouble at all suspending my disbelief. Loosely based on various myths and gods, Percy soon discovers his father is Posiedon. From there, he has to battle various mythological monsters–who turn out not to be myths.

One note: there is some mild profanity in book three.

Recommended for ages 8 and up.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

Alcatraz Smedry has a problem. Well, he has lots of problems, actually, but his biggest one seems to be breaking everything he touches. He’s been that way his entire life, bouncing from one foster home to another, “cared for” by his slightly snide case worker, Ms. Fletcher. On his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz receives a gift in the mail from his parents.

Wait a minute. If Alcatraz has parents, why is he living in a foster home?

That question and many others are answered  in this wonderful “fantasy” book by Brandon Sanderson. From breaking things to arriving late to tripping on nothing at all, many talents are used to thwart the evil librarians in their quest to take over the world and subdue the Free Kingdoms.

And not only that: Alcatraz finds his family.

Well, parts of it, anyway.

Publishers Weekly said this book is “like Lemony Snicket and superhero comics rolled into one . . .” A very winning combination indeed.

Highly recommended (along with its sequel, Alcatraz and the Scrivener’s Bones) for ages eight and up.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Let me start out by saying how I excited I was to discover this new author last year. Not only because she writes great books (because she totally does) but because I know her! I feel a teensy bit famous or something. Forget seven degrees from Kevin Bacon–I’m ONE degree from Jessica Day George! She and I played in orchestra together, had the same speech class, and graduated from high school together. We were friendly acquaintances although I was always jealous (in a nice, small way) of her incredibly gorgeous red hair. I wonder: if I had incredibly gorgeous red hair would it make me write great books?

Answer: nope. That part only comes from being talented and working hard, which scientists have shown has no direct correlation to hair color. But I will continue being just a little bit jealous (nicely) and enjoy her magical writing.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Our hero, Galen, comes home from the war–except it isn’t really home, as his entire immediate family perished some way or another in the conflict. He makes his way to the capital city to find the family of his mother’s sister, whom he has never met. This aunt and uncle allow Galen to stay with them, and Galen begins working with his uncle in the palace gardens.

There are differences between the fairy tale I’m familiar with and this retelling, but the story is strongly told. I loved Galen right from the start. I mean, who doesn’t love a man that knits? (My brother knits, and trust me–it’s much manlier than you think.) Jessica also did a great job of giving the princesses–all 12 of them, and all with flower names–distinctive characteristics. Of course, in the end Galen marries Rose, but it wasn’t all just magic that saved the day–besides wool and herbs, Galen uses his brain (!) and the help of the princesses to defeat the King Under Stone and his 12 creepy sons.

Jessica has written three other great books–Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. They are all beautifully written, wonderful fantasy reads. Great job, Jessica!

I recommend this book for ages 8 and up.