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Latest Writing News…

9 Jan

FastWeb has hired me to write three more nontraditional student columns. Hurrah! Check out my latest article here.

And my piece “Wonder Mold Mother” made Literary Mama’s Best of 2007 Creative Nonfiction list! Check it out here.

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I’m also participating in an online book club for Mother Talk. (I’m “yiddolis.”) We are reviewing Nahid Rachlin’s unforgettable memoir Persian Girls. Check out the lively discussion and reading par-tay here. 

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The Daring Book for Girls

3 Dec

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As a young girl, I always thought boys had all the fun—tying knots, climbing trees, and building camp fires. How I envied the neighborhood boys when I saw them building and racing their pinewood derby cars, setting up tents, playing baseball, or wearing their Boy Scout uniforms covered with merit badges. It just wasn’t fair! I wanted to try all those things, too, but back in the late 70s and early 80s, girls weren’t encouraged to pursue such unlady-like behaviors.

Fortunately, times have changed and with the help of Andrea Buchanan’s and Miriam Peskowitz’s new book The Daring Book for Girls, my daughters and I can bravely participate together in all those bold boyish activities I wanted to do as a girl as well as share all the fun girlish pastimes I enjoyed way back when. Designed to encourage girls of all ages to be adventurous, The Daring Book for Girls was written “for every girl with an independent spirit and a nose for trouble.”

When I received our review copy of The Daring Book for Girls in the mail, my two daughters, ages 8 and 12, saw the glitzy cover of the book and immediately began flipping through the pages. It wasn’t long before they started asking when they could try the various activities inside. Over the next few weeks, I gave each of them different colored sticky notes and asked them to mark the pages that were most appealing to them. I thought the book would be more interesting to my younger daughter, but surprisingly, it was my older daughter who ended up marking over 30 different activities she wanted to try.

For my younger daughter and me, this book has been a particular godsend. Enrolled in year-round school, she has three-week breaks every three months and inevitably comes to me and says, “Mom, I’m bored. I don’t have anything to do!” Now, with The Daring Book for Girls on my bookshelf, within minutes I can find inexpensive, hands-on, non-electronic activities that she and I or she and a friend can instantly engage in.

The Daring Book for Girls has also provided a way for the girls in my family to reconnect. In our busy, media-drenched lives, too frequently we opt for the T.V. or computer screen instead of choosing to interact with one another. The Daring Book for Girls gives us a healthier alternative. Amazingly, both the 8 and 12-year-old can find activities in the book that they both like to do. And I’m armed with easy options that helps ease my mother guilt by getting me more involved with my daughters and doing activities with them that I might not take the time to do otherwise. Making cloth-covered books, identifying birds and playing handclap games are just a few of the activities we have enjoyed so far and I anticipate that this fun-filled resource will be a jumping off point for all kinds of shared adventures in the future. As a mom, I’m trying to become a more daring girl myself and this book is a great way to get my daughters to try new things, too.

Just in time for the holidays, The Daring Book for Girls makes a great gift for the girls in your life. This is a book that is meant to be used and loved. The sturdy binding will hold up on all those outings and excursions. For the price of a DVD or a couple of movie tickets, you can experience the eradication of motherhood guilt, mother/daughter bonding, and the joy of reliving your favorite childhood memories. So dare to live life to the fullest and give yourself and your daughter the priceless gift of togetherness.

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The Historian

24 Oct

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Last night, I dreamed Dracula poisoned my dog. I don’t really have a dog nor do I believe in Dracula, but apparently Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian has left a deeper impression on my subconscious than I realized.

 

Earlier in the evening, I had attended my monthly book club meeting to discuss Kostova’s novel with my friends. Our hostess provided a Hungarian dinner with spicy goulash, a pungent cucumber salad, and a really garlicky flat bread that was enough to protect us all from the local vampires! Yum! For dessert we had apple strudel from the hostess’ favorite German deli. Oh how I love books, food, and friends all mixed together along with such stimulating conversation! It is truly one of the small pleasures of life that I relish.

 

As for the book, I have to say that I didn’t take pleasure in it at first. If I hadn’t been reading it for my book club, I might have lost interest in it, put it down, and never picked it up again. But I was determined to get through the 642 pages in order to preserve my honor with my girlfriends. Thank goodness I persevered because in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this literary novel once I figured out what was going on. The first read through, I was twenty chapters into the book when I realized I was entirely lost. With all the flipping back and forth between characters, locations, and time frames, I didn’t know who was having what experience where. I ended up calling a friend in my book club and she straightened me out. This is definitely not a book one can read in a distracted state of mind I learned—it requires the full attention of the reader. I decided to start all over, this time taking copious notes so I could track the complex plot. Thirty-three pages later, I can say that taking notes was the only way I was able to navigate this book successfully.

 

Having said that, I think the book was well written and the impeccable research was what made the story plausible. For readers who love books, libraries, history and scholarship, this book is for you.  No doubt, the book was demanding in many ways, but this intricacy is what I felt made the read so satisfying for me in the end. Reading two novels back to back, both with nameless protagonists, was taxing on me as a reader, but it really placed me in the protagonist’s shoes. Kostova says she left her protagonist “unnamed as a literary experiment” She “wanted to see if [she] could give her a full personality without the handle of a name.” I think she accomplished that goal successfully.

There were times when I felt the book was overly heavy on the research–like the author was trying to include every fact she had ever uncovered about Vlad Tepes. At times, I found myself wondering, Are all these details necessary and significant? But shortly after asking myself that question, I could see that yes, everything the author included did enhance or propel the plot forward. Personally, I think The Historian is a work of genius. In this day and age, it is rare to find such depth in contemporary fiction. I applaud Kostova wholeheartedly for taking the time to write such a well-researched historical novel.

 

I’ve discovered after searching around on the internet that Elizabeth Kostova is a woman after my own heart. She pursued an MFA while she was writing The Historian! One of my friends mentioned that she thought she was a mother of three children, too which would definitely place her on my nomination list for the Brainy Mama Hall of Fame. I’d love to meet this woman sometime. I wonder if she’s coming to Denver anytime soon?

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Apparently, it took Kostova ten years to write this book so it sounds like she is a “slow cooker” writer like me. I’m always interested in the process of writing and this is what Kostova said about her experience in writing The Historian:

 I just wrote whenever I could. Each day, I looked at the next day’s schedule and tried to figure out where I could find time to write. Sometimes that was 20 minutes in a day, and I wrote what I could get done in 20 minutes. Sometimes that was four hours, and that was blissful. I really had to learn to be very flexible.I think in a way that was a great lesson for me.

Sometimes I had to get up very early in the morning. One summer, I was working hard and I wrote from 5 to 7:30 every morning. Often I wrote late at night. For instance, if I was on a trip I took a notebook and wrote a scene or two long hand. I wrote in waiting rooms, doctors’ offices, red lights… wherever I could. 

I love it! (We could be kindred writing spirits, Elizabeth and I!) She also enjoys reading many of the same authors I do and seems to have a similar reading style to mine. She says:

I’m always reading something. I’m kind of an undisciplined reader in that I’m always reading three or four things. I read rather slowly. I tend to read for craft and for the pleasure of language as much story.

Kostova is only four years older than me and has led the enviable traveling and scholarly life that I’ve always dreamed of. (Sigh!) But she has also paid the price to write an engaging novel and that is inspiring to me. Her efforts paid off with a 2 million dollar contract, movie rights, and her book translated into 28 languages. I’m not fond of gore or horror, but Kostova’s suspenseful, tasteful, and historical novel turned out to be the perfect intellectual read for October.

  

Maximum Ride: A Lot of Hype, a Little Thrill

21 Aug

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Call me faint-hearted, but I don’t like roller coasters. Several summers ago, I caved in to my teenage son’s plea to join him on Dueling Dragons at Universal Studios. Everyone disembarking from the ride couldn’t stop raving about what they had just experienced. It must be enjoyable, I reasoned as I waited in the long, twisting lines. My son reassured me the ride would be fabulous, but after a nearly 2 ½ minute ride, I came to the conclusion that hurtling along at 55 mph and plunging 125 feet while zero-g-forces threatened to implode my skull was not for me. My risk taking son on the other hand, couldn’t get enough.

 

When I received my complimentary copy of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports in the mail, I was eager for the opportunity to read the latest and greatest in young adult science fiction. As an avid reader of young adult literature (but totally unfamiliar with James Patterson,) I had high expectations. The reviews were glowing, the praise almost exorbitant with the book jacket claiming “James Patterson has called Maximum Ride the best story he’s ever written.” A bit doubtful, I picked up the book, curious to see if indeed Patterson’s third book in the series, a fast-paced story about six bird kids fighting back against their evil-scientist creators, would sustain my interest.

It didn’t take me long to realize that 60-year-old Patterson is a “literary machine” who knows exactly how to effectively reach his intended audience. The author has sold more than 135 million books during his 30-year career and has recently turned to writing for young adults in the hope that he can turn them on to reading. In fact, the dedication page in this book reads: “for everybody out there who might love books, if they were given books that loved them back”—a worthy and admirable goal for any author.

Obviously, Patterson has taken great care to make sure that this series captures the interest of reluctant or non-readers. Although the book is just over 400 pages, his two-page chapters cater to those with short attention spans. The trendy, flippant, disrespectful, and sarcastic voices of his main characters echo the collective voice of contemporary teens. Maximum Ride’s characters are also hip techies who use laptops and wireless internet to communicate their plight to kids all over the world. In fact, Patterson has ingeniously given one of his characters a real blog and maintains a website where Maximum Ride fans can congregate on the web. The events in the story are eerily placed smack dab in the context of today’s cultural, biological, and technological challenges. The violent fighting scenes, written like a movie screenplay, are sure to satisfy those who crave action. Patterson’s “got a really good gut for what’s going to work…a feeling for things that are going to interest people.” And what kid hasn’t dreamed of flying or taking on the world? Patterson plays into this desire because he knows “when you’re a kid with wings, anything is possible.”

But even though I found the premise of the book interesting—the ethics surrounding the idea of recombinant life forms—I have to admit I found myself distracted and uninspired by the voice in this work. At times, my reading felt like a bumpy and uneven ride as I tried to hold onto the plot and dialogue through clumsy scene changes  and point of view. Bored with weak adjectives (such as “freaking”), the standard use of expletives, predictable plot, and lackluster characters, I truly wanted to care about Max and her flock, but after 400 pages devoid of sensory imagery and detail, I put the book down impassively.

 

Frankly, I have to voice my dissent. I believe there are better young adult science fiction books out there that are more compelling and more worthy of young people’s time. Jeanne DuPrau’s trilogy—The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, and The Prophet of Yonwood—come to mind as do Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Like Patterson, I want kids to find books that speak to them. Clearly, the Harry Potter craze has shown that our young people have it in them to stick with challenging reads and longer chapter books when they are mesmerized by excellent writing. Still, in spite of its faults, the Maximum Ride series will probably continue to attract readers who prefer ease, entertainment, and accessibility. And who knows? It may be the beckoning portal or nudge that leads some kids to venture further into the realm of literacy. 

Even if I don’t like roller coasters, I acknowledge that there are many who do. For those looking for a quick, action-packed read, Patterson’s Maximum Ride series just might be the ticket to “the best movie you’ll read all summer.”

This review is sponsored by Mother Talk.