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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

An Oceanic New Year!

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Hello and happy new year, beautiful readers!

Here's where I spent the first week of 2014.... Venice Beach, California, with Ian and our Lil Dude.

It was one of those delightfully random trips...  We wanted to go someplace warm and by the ocean, and we wanted CHEAP plane tickets.  The place that fit this criteria perfectly was Venice Beach... but we didn't know much about it till after we bought the tickets.  We loved it!

There's an amazing bike path along the beach that we followed all the way to Santa Monica Pier, a few miles away.  Along the way were fun playgrounds, every half mile or so.  Lil Dude (above) made sure we stopped at them all.


I hadn't known about Traveling Rings until we stopped our bikes and played on them on the way to Santa Monica. Ian was incredibly good at them (and incredibly sore for days afterward...)

Lil Dude is seriously hot-blooded, and happily splashed around in the freezing cold water for hours on end.  He paused to make sand sculptures... Santa's belly poking through the sand (see above) and a giant hobbit foot (below).  (Lil Dude and Ian, although genetically unrelated, have the SAME HOBBIT FEET!)

The rides at Santa Monica pier were wonderful-- just fifteen bucks for an all-you-can-ride pass for Lil Dude... and there were no lines at all (at least at this time of year on a weekday.)  He was in heaven, and I kept thinking that he was probably having as much fun as he would in a super-expensive, long-lined place like Disney World, but this day was only costing us fifteen bucks and zero stress.

Okay, plus about ten more bucks (for the three of us) for entry to this cute little aquarium under the pier. It was small and cozy and easy for kids to navigate-- more manageable than those gigantic dark aquariums that can feel overwhelming for little kids.

We stayed in an adorable old Craftsman cottage right on a walk street.  I didn't know anything about these walk streets till we got there, but man, am I glad we picked a house right on one.  They're sweet little pedestrian paths that run between gorgeously landscaped yards.

We rode our bikes up and down these walk streets several times a day, and I always felt like I was breezing by botanical gardens.  The trees were all adorned with ornaments and lanterns and wind chimes, like works of art. 

I loved the little courtyard of the cottage we rented (Jhana Cottage of Zen Cottages, through either Air B n b or VRBO.)  There was a cool, giant neon sign as garden art, and a gurgling fountain.  I sipped tea and read and wrote in a lounge chair out there every morning.

One morning we walked around the famous Venice canals, and it reminded me and Ian of a majorly upscale version of the modest canals in our grandparents' trailer park in Fenwick Island (near Ocean City Maryland). Our grandparents lived across the street from each other when we were kids... they were once good friends... but that's a story for another day.

Proof that I was actually there, too, since I'm usually behind the I-phone camera...

*Wishing you a year of oceanic joy, 
and deep 
and soul-filling!*


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Favorite Reads of 2013

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Hello, dear readers!

I was going through my Goodreads list and picked out my reading highlights of the year.  Thought I'd share them with you!  Let me know if you have any recommendations for me... :-)

Middle Grade Books (ages 8-12)

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman-- Hilarious, charming, delicious, tender tale of a girl gourmande who becomes a secret restaurant critic for the biggest newspaper out there.  This would make an excellent read-aloud-- parents and upper-elementary school children will be giggling together through the entire book.  So much fun! (Release date this summer-- I read a review copy.)

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt-- This is a classic with a Newbery *and* Printz Honor.  The story is a beautifully told, multi-layered story of a friendship and civil rights issues in the middle of last century.  Gorgeous, breath-taking ocean setting, complex and funny characters, gorgeous and elegant imagery.  Gary writes with soul-shivering wisdom and a deep sense of the sacred.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage-- A well-deserved Newbery Honor book from last year.  Sheila is simply an amazing story-teller!  The small-town setting is absolutely delightful, the characters are eccentric and thoroughly loveable, and the plot is suspenseful and exciting.  And to top it all off, the story is truly moving, and stays with you.

YA Stand-Alone Books

Backwards by Todd Mitchell-- This was the most imaginative and original YA I've read in a while... and I have to say that as a writer, I was in awe.  This story is told backward, by an enigmatic, supernatural narrator, with mystery after mystery unfolding. It's a page-turner that had me asking myself lots of deep, philosophical questions.  Loved it!

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell-- This book actually lives up to the hype!  Beautiful, moving, funny, poignant romance, unlike any you've read before.  It was set during my own high school years (late eighties, early nineties), which made me love it all the more (though it's relatable to any generation.) The coolest thing is that the guy who is now my husband wooed me with the SAME MIX TAPES that Park gives to Eleanor... really and truly... The Smiths, Joy Division, Elvis Costello, etc.  *happy sigh*

Feed by MT Anderson-- A classic that I've reread several times already.  Brilliant-- this is what dystopian fiction should be-- biting social commentary on where our current society is headed. (And a National Book Award Honor).

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer-- Also brilliant, incredible dystopian fiction which I've read several times.  I love the Latin American setting-- so unusual for this genre.  Printz Honor, Newbery Honor, and National Book Award-- well-deserved shininess!

YA Fantasy trilogies

Flame (third in the Glow series) by Amy Ryan-- Loved this sci-fi series, set on spaceships in the future.  It's wonderfully fast-paced and poses important ethical questions about religion, politics, and society.  (I love my fellow anthropology-majors-turned-writers!)  This was a deeply satisfying conclusion to the series.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (second in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series)-- Not only does Laini Taylor have a wild and wonder-filled imagination, but she's able to transform her vision into mind-bendingly beautiful prose.  I love her unique characters and settings (primarily Prague and Morocco)-- definitely places I love spending time in within my imagination (and in real life.) This book was darker than the first, and completely gripping.

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers (Second in the Grave Mercy series)-- Really unique and imaginative historical fantasy that breaks the mold in a delightful way.  This follows another "assassin-nun"-- one who played a minor role in the first book.  Robin is a masterful story-teller and writer-- it's such a joy to read her elegant-yet-accessible prose and feel swept away in the story.  It's so intelligently written, with wit and feminism and intrigue and meaningful romance.

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (first in the series)-- Smart, believable, action-packed dystopian novel with wonderful characters and romance. I read this after beginning (and abandoning) a string of mediocre dystopian books, and it was an exciting breath of fresh air for me.  Veronica has artfully created a truly vivid and believable world, full of adventure and intrigue.

"Grown-up" Books

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter-- Loved the cover of this book-- even prettier in real life.  Small-town Italy setting-- can't go wrong there.  I love books that go back and forth in time, showing when a character was young and old-- it gives me an expansive feeling and makes me think about life differently.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer-- Another book with a sweeping feel that covered several decades in the four main characters' lives.  There was something so real-feeling and honest about this book, and Meg captured a range of intense emotions so beautifully.... from jealousy to love to nostalgia.  Impressive and engrossing.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman-- Short and strange and creepy and oddly moving.  Neil has such a distinctive style and sensibility-- a simple, matter-of-fact way of writing about the darkest, most surreal, dream-like things.  And somehow, his tales appeal to adults (in books like this) and kids (in books like The Graveyard Book and Coraline).  I'm not quite sure how he pulls it off, but I'm glad he does.

Whew! So that's my list... if you read any of them, I hope you enjoy them, too!