Baby’s Book of the Week: I Like it When…/Me gusta cuando…

babysbookoftheweek

The last three nights, my baby has been obsessed with Mary Murphy’s bilingual book I Like it When…/Me gusta cuando… My husband was born and raised in Mexico, so it’s very important to us that our daughter learns Spanish. We have several books that are in Spanish or have both English and Spanish translations. We like this book because Mommy can read the English parts and then Daddy reads the Spanish parts. I Like it When… had been part of Baby’s bedtime routine for a long time, but there is a renewed interest in it this week. As soon as I read the last page, Baby says, “ma ma,” short for “mas” (which means “more” in Spanish). I’m not even exaggerating when I say I read it eight times in a row last night! Baby giggled each time I started reading the first page again – which, of course, makes it all worthwhile.

imageI Like it When…/Me gusta cuando… is a board book featuring illustrations of a big and little penguin. The illustrations are lively and bold – only the colors red, blue, green, yellow, black, and white are used. The little penguin lists things he or she likes doing throughout the day with the big penguin. These are things like dancing together, reading stories, eating new foods, holding hands, and saying good night. Since this is the bilingual version, each page is translated into Spanish as well. “I like it when we play peekaboo. Boo! Me gusta cuando jugamos al escondite. Bu!” It’s a simple book, but an instant favorite.

Other Spanish/bilingual Books Baby Loves:

  • Opuestos and Buenas Noches a Todos by Sandra Boynton. These translations of Opposites and The Going to Bed Book are must-haves at our house.
  • I Love My Daddy Because/Quiero a mi papa Porque by Laurel Porter-Gaylord, illustrated by Ashley Wolff. This book features great illustrations of baby animals interacting with their daddies in the wild. image

Current Read: The Kingdom of Little Wounds

imageMe, a week and a half ago: Hm, this book sounds like something I would love. It’s a mix of historical fiction, fairytale, and mystery. Oh, and it’s a 2014 Printz award nominee? It must have great writing.

Me, days later: Ugh, this book is going nowhere…and gross, did I really just read that? Didn’t it say this was Young Adult? Yikes. I’m not sure this book is for me.

I really wanted to like The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal. The blurb was great. Or rather, the blurb was the best part about it. Here, read about the book first, and then I’ll tell you why it missed the mark for me.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion.image

Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem—and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

I’m struggling to get through this book. I have considered abandoning it on several occasions, but then I think, if I just read a bit further, maybe it will get better. I’m now 48% of the way though and the book hasn’t gotten any better. Here are a few issues I have with the book:

  1. It’s labeled YA, but it shouldn’t be. Even though I’m not a teenager and am technically mature enough to handle the content of this book, I was still surprised at the sexually graphic scenes included. I would not want my child reading this book and can only imagine the phone calls from concerned parents if I were to use this book in the classroom. I’m all for celebrating everyone’s freedom to read and understand some teens wouldn’t have a problem with this book, but I also believe in age-appropriate content. This book feels very adult.
  2. There are too many points of view. The book changes narrators in each chapter, but I don’t know who the protagonist is, or who I’m supposed to care about. There is a king who spends a lot of time on the toilet, a servant who lies to get herself ahead, a mute servant who is treated like she’s less than human, and two ambitious courtiers who are trying to gain power (one of whom stores gems inside his royal jewels, if you know what I mean). No one is very “likable.” They seem petty and self-serving instead of complex and interesting. The POV is odd, too, because it’s not really first person. It’s like first person, but then an omniscient presence creeps in every so often and tells us things that the character wouldn’t know. This feels like a mistake to me. Like an editor should have told the author that the point of view needs more consistency.
  3. The plot drags on with very little action. I feel like I’ve been reading and reading and nothing is happening (I’ve already spent over a week on it). The story is getting more and more depressing at this point. If something interesting doesn’t happen soon, I’m going to give up on this book.

What do you think, should I keep reading to find out why this book was a Printz nominee, or simply give up?

Current Read: The First Five Pages

imageOnce you’ve written the rough draft of a novel, it’s hard to figure out what to do next. It’s a ROUGH draft, after all. It’s a long way from a finished product. How are you supposed to go about refining it? I’ve searched on the web for editing and revising advice and techniques, but I still felt lost. During a recent trip the library though, I came across a book that finally seemed useful to me. The book is called The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, written by Noah Lukeman.

Back of the Book Blurb:

Whether you are a novice writer or a veteran who has already had your work published, rejection is often a frustrating reality. Literary agents and editors receive and reject hundreds of manuscripts each month. While it’s the job of these publishing professionals to be discriminating, it’s the job of the writer to produce a manuscript that immediately stands out among the vast competition. And those outstanding qualities, says New York literary agent Noah Lukeman, have to be apparent from the first five pages.image

The First Five Pages reveals the necessary elements of good writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, journalism, or poetry, and points out errors to be avoided, such as a weak opening hook, overuse of adjectives and adverbs, flat or forced metaphors or similes, melodramatic, commonplace or confusing dialogue, undeveloped characterizations and lifeless settings, uneven pacing and lack of progression.

With exercises at the end of each chapter, this invaluable reference will allow novelists, journalists, poets and screenwriters alike to improve their technique as they learn to eliminate even the most subtle mistakes that are cause for rejection. The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher–and more successful–level.

If you’re looking for a book that helps you plot, plan, and write a novel, this book isn’t for you! This book is more about how to strengthen your writing once you’ve put in the hard work. Even though I don’t plan on submitting my novel to an agent or publisher (I know my work isn’t strong enough), I still want to complete it to the best of my abilities. I like this book because I’m able to focus on topics where I want to improve but skim through other sections that I feel more confident about. For instance, I know that writers need to stick to a consistent point of view and narrative style, but I have a bad habit of using too many adverbs in my writing. I’m over two-thirds of the way through the 200 page book, and I’ve already flagged several exercises and tips that I want to apply to my own novel. I need to fix my overuse of adverbs and adjectives, and choose interesting, specific words and active verbs. So if you’ve got a novel manuscript sitting around and you can’t figure out how to refine it, this just might be the next book you need to pick up.

Do you have any books (or websites) on editing and revising that you would recommend?

Current Read: I’ll Give You The Sun

imageFinally! Here’s a book I’m really excited to share with you: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. It’s Young Adult fiction and pretty spectacular. Despite the fact that the book has several ridiculous coincidences, talking ghosts, and a cliche British bad boy, this book still manages to feel real and honest.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.image

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

For me, the realness and honesty comes from the fact that our main characters and narrators, Jude and Noah, are dealing with true dilemmas: What does it mean to be that girl? Is it rape if I never said no? How do I handle guilt and grief? How do you continue on when you lose someone you love, but you didn’t have a chance to say goodbye? Will my family and friends still love me if I’m gay? Am I special or just weird? What if my parents get a divorce? Do my parents love my sibling more than me? These are relatable issues that teens (and even adults) can empathize with and learn from. This is exactly the kind of book today’s youth needs.

Jude and Noah were very real to me. They were more than words on a page. While at first I was drawn to Noah, Jude quickly won me over once I found out more of her story. The long chapters alternated between Jude and Noah’s point of view, and also from different ages. This allowed the author to reveal the different things each twin knew (or didn’t know) at the time. I found Nelson’s writing easy to read. It had moments of poignancy – like when you find out how the title of the book comes into play – as well as humor, suspense, and even a little romance. I highly recommend this novel and am looking forward to reading more works by Jandy Nelson in the future.

What are you currently reading?

Current Read: A Breath of Snow and Ashes

imageAnother Monday has come and gone, so I’m tackling Current Read Monday on Wednesday instead. This week, I am picking up a book I started quite some time ago and never completed. I started out 2015 enthralled by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The books are long (usually over 850 pages), but action-packed.

The basic premise of the series is that nurse Claire, who is vacationing with her husband in the Scottish Highlands following their service in WWII, encounters a stone circle that sends her back in time to 1743. In order to protect herself from notorious Captain Jack Randall, Claire agrees to marry Jamie Fraser, a Scottish clansman she meets while trying to escape Randall’s clutches. She spends the first novel attempting to return to the stone circle, her own time, and her rightful husband. However, that proves difficult – it’s not like she can just drive back to the circle! She’s almost hanged as a witch, oh and most importantly for the series, she starts to fall in love with her new Scottish husband.

On the author’s website, Gabaldon says, “these novels are Big, Fat, Historical Fiction” which also include “history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…” So, you really get it all with this series! I’m currently reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes, the sixth novel in the series (there are eight, so far).

Goodreads Book Blurb:image
A Breath of Snow and Ashes continues the extraordinary story of 18th-century Scotsman Jamie Fraser and his 20th-century wife, Claire.

The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest.

With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the backcountry and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence — with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie’s death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future.

I thought Outlander was unexpectedly fantastic, the second book was great, the third book was wonderful (I gave it five stars), and then the books started getting a little more drawn out and boring. I mean, how many ridiculous things can happen to one couple?! The first few books had plots that kept moving towards an end, while the books after had too many characters to keep track of and had segments of excitement that were quickly forgotten about. It took until about 70% of the way through A Breath of Snow and Ashes before I was hooked and wanted to keep reading. Now, it just keeps getting better and better. Which means, of course, that I’ll probably want to keep reading the rest of the series! Darn you, Diana Gabaldon!

Have you tackled any of the Outlander novels? What did you think?

Five Star Books of 2015

imageI reserve the five star rating on Goodreads for books I truly loved. Books that hooked me and I couldn’t put down. Books I had a connection with, characters I loved or enjoyed, and plots that were unexpected. These are books I’d read again. These are books I’d recommend to others (and then feel heartbroken if that person didn’t love the book as much as I did!).

This year, I marked seven books (out of 54 total) worthy of five stars. Here they are, listed in no particular order:

1. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (a re-read)
2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
3. The Martian by Andy Weir
4. Every Day by David Levithan (a re-read)
5. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
6. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
7. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

imageIf you have been on the fence about any of these titles, I would highly recommend reading them. Especially The Martian. And Every Day. And The Night Circus. And Graceling. And Fangirl. And…you get the picture. They’re all marvelous.

What were your favorite books to read this year?

Baby’s Book of the Week: Dr. Seuss’s ABC

babysbookoftheweekDuring our most recent trip to the library, Baby thought it would spice things up to walk down the aisles and pull books from the shelves at random! This kept me on my toes, but also introduced us to some cute books we might not have noticed otherwise. We read Where Do Balloons Go? by author and actor Jamie Lee Curtis and Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants – which is just such a great title! At home, Baby has been really into Dr. Seuss’s ABC book. I have to read it over and over, and it is a bit of a tongue twister, let me tell you.

imageLike all Dr. Seuss books, the ABC book has great rhythm, rhyme, and (most importantly for an alphabet book) alliteration. “Big A. Little a. What begins with A? Aunt Annie’s alligator. A….a…..A.” Each letter of the alphabet has several examples of words beginning with that letter. Some are normal; for example, the letter B is for barber, baby, bubbles, and a bumblebee. However, some are silly or even made up. For instance, the letter Z is for the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz. The illustrations are classically Seuss, with simple pops of color. This is a book both parents and children can enjoy.

This Week’s Honorable Mention:
The Christmas Story by Jane Werner Watsonimage

This is a Little Golden Book, originally published in 1952. As the title suggests, it tells the story of Jesus’s birth. My daughter received this book as a gift from her great-grandmother. The first day she got it, Baby carried it around the house for hours. People tried to read it to her, but she wouldn’t have any of that! Weeks later, I still haven’t been able to read more than the first few pages to her. She just likes to carry it around. Sometimes she will sit and flip through the pages on her own. This is okay. I know she’ll read it some day. I’m sure we will pull it out every Christmas. For now, I’m glad to see that she isn’t trying to eat the book or rip the pages. She’s learning to treat books nicely, and that’s an important skill, too.