Book Review: Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)

This is the last Student-Faculty Book Club book of the year, and I have to admit that I didn’t really like the book at first. I didn’t hate it; I just found it only okay. Code Name Verity is a favorite of one of my students, and I just kept thinking, “why?”  The voice is not engaging; rather, it’s kind of whiny. But, in the second half, the Kitty Hawk half, the story picks up. Maddie’s voice, Kitty Hawk’s voice, is not only engaging but riveting despite her nearly constant blubbering. And, the twist makes the first half make sense; actually it’s a brilliant twist.

I read regularly on the train which means that I often have to close the book at inopportune moments. Usually, this leaves me itching to get back to the book as quickly as possible. With Code Name Verity, it was easy to close the book. I’d leave it for some time before getting back to it. Until the Kitty Hawk section. then, I didn’t want to put it down. As I neared the end, I read walking from the train and finished the the book on my couch at home. Maddie is quite the heroine and “Verity” is clever, even though she does not seem so at first. Stick it out through the “Verity” section; ultimately, the book is worth it.

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Grading Papers

Grading Papers

That handwriting is impossible to read–
The pencil has smudged the words
Out of existence–
Sometimes their pens blot and words
Become blobs, obscuring
Meaning
And then, there are the crossouts, the write-overs,
The                       spots never
Filled in.

The lights are dim in here, aren’t they?
My eyes burn and water, blurring
The page, drowning the cries of Frankenstein who
Has suddenly stabbed Laertes in Elsinore, or of
Hamlet, chasing the creature
Across the frozen tundra to
Raskolnikov’s cell.

It is cold in here, isn’t it? I’ll go get
A sweater, and a cup of tea. Then,
I’ll be ready. Except,
Where did I leave my glasses? And
My pen?
There’s one. –Ah, but it’s red, and
Too upsetting to their
Delicate hearts that i carry with me
As they ponder who is the mad lady hidden
In Pemberly’s attic.
I’d better switch to green, or better yet
Purple for Celie and her sister, Little Nell.

Dear hearts, they’re trying, but when
Offred travels to the Savage Reservation
And meets the Eloi in 1984, my head
Spins and my throat is as dry as
The Sahara where the Little Prince
Cries about his Beloved Country, and it seems like
These papers may never get finished.

Whether you are in the last days, last weeks, or last months of the school year, if you are an English teacher, I am sure you have stacks of papers to grade. Today’s Creative Writing Club prompt was to write an “impossible poem” (See Writer’s Digest prompt for May 1st.) Of course my first thought was finishing all the grading I have to do! As I wrote, the characters started to story hop. I hope you enjoy! Now, back to grading!

Practice What You Preach

I just participated in the most amazing teacher workshop, and all I want to do is write! Through The Academy for Teachers, I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of astute people discussing The Art of the Essay with Jeff Nunokawa from Princeton as our cheer leader and guide. Today was day 2 of 2. I wish there were more.

Last Sunday, I finally sat down to “do my homework” at the last minute, having carefully avoided it for ten days. I knew I wanted to revisit and revise a piece I’d started two years ago about my friend Harry, but I kept putting it off because I was tired, because I had papers to grade, because I had lessons to plan, because, because, because. Finally, I sat down, opened the file, and dug in. Two hours later my husband called to find out how I was doing. I was great! Writing had revived me from the lethargy of winter, the albatross of grading, and the oppression of procrastination.

The other part of our homework I completed this afternoon before the session began: reading essays written by the other teachers attending. Wow. They were powerful–and diverse in both content and style. I couldn’t wait to get there and begin!

And I was not disappointed. We discussed them with care and insight. There is something so exhilarating about intelligent conversation that seeks to understand and build up. This was no show of “how smart I am,” but rather “how good a writer are you”: Let’s discuss this personal, yet universal issue you brought up; let me tell you what I understand from your writing; you can tell me more about the topic or situation. And then, I’ll take note of what I can learn from this exchange, again in both content and style. Isn’t this what we should always be doing?

I am at my best when I do what I ask my students to do– read, write, discuss. So now even though I’m exhausted as I sit on the train home 15 hours after leaving there this morning, I’m writing, to you, and I hope you’ll write too. And we can learn together.

Book Review: A Flaw in the Blood

A Flaw in the Blood

I have read a few of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen as detective series and enjoyed them. This book is in a similar vein. Set at the time of Prince Consort Albert’s death, the atmosphere and prejudices of Victorian London are well depicted. Patrick Fitzgerald and Miss/Dr. Georgiana Armistead run for their lives as they try to unravel why someone is trying to kill them. The two main characters are interesting enough to keep the reader invested in the story and a few of the side characters are delightful. Prince Leopold, for example, is charming! I’m tempted to read a biography of him now. The “bad guy” is a bit too stereotypical for my taste, though he fits the time and the genre, and his power was not sufficiently explained. Queen Victoria was a bit too simpering and whiny too, though more on that later. What really keeps the book from a four star rating, however, is the subtlety of the motives for the murders. The reasons are actually a big deal, but I never felt an “aha! that’s it!” moment. I kept expecting something more. While I could follow it, I’m not sure everyone will “get it,” my students in particular who are always looking for mysteries to read, and I’m always on the lookout for appropriate choices But the twist at the end was well-played which helped change one’s perspective on this representation of Queen Victoria. Overall, it is an enjoyable read, a good escape.

Book Review: Blood of the Fey

I’ve been remiss lately in posting, but I return with some book reviews of what I’ve read so far in my 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge.

Blood of the FeyBlood of the Fey by Alessa Ellefson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Let me preface my review by saying I love Arthurian legend stories, both traditional, contemporary, and influenced by, and I was excited by the title and premise of this one. I really wanted to like it. However, I found this book annoying after the first chapter or two. The premise of a contemporary underground Knights of the Round Table protecting the world from the Fey is good. I love the idea of this high school for pages, squires, and knights underneath Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin. However, the characterizations fall far short. Morgan is ostensibly a smart girl, but she never seems to learn anything about herself or her surroundings. Time and again, she expects different reactions from people than what they’ve ever given her before. And she never asks the the right questions. Most of her questions are one form or another of “why me?” When she goes to the secret school for knights, she refuses to believe anything anyone tells her about knights, fairies, and powers despite her classes and first hand knowledge. As she sees more, she seems to learn less. She continues to react as if none of it is real, and then is astonished by the results. She continues to flout the rules and regulations and takes them as a personal affront, and then is angry beyond thought when she is discovered. Had this happened once or twice and then had she learned to modify her behavior even just a little bit, her character would have been more believable and sympathetic.

I had almost forgotten about Morgan’s “guardian angel,” the voice she hears inside her head. He comes and goes with no regularity, so it is easy to forget about him. And he disappears from the story for chapters on end, especially at the end (like everyone else). Is he good or evil? Is he Catholic or Fey? Why does he abandon her for long stretches of time, particularly when she needs help most? What is the point of this character? Perhaps more will be revealed about him in future books in the series. I’ll never know

In addition, the way her friends and enemies seem to know all about her but share nothing with her is unrealistic. For example, her nemesis Daniel would surely throw her Fey connection in her face if indeed everyone knows as Irene contends. Her good friends Jack and Bri tell her almost nothing and cannot believe she doesn’t know anything about their world. I can believe that when she first arrives, but soon after, that line falls flat. They too should learn a little and realize that Morgan doesn’t know their rites and rituals. As for her roommate Keva, I still don’t understand why she would hang out with them at all after the first few moments when everyone would have to have realized that Morgan and Arthur do not have the best relationship. But, at least she is fairly true to her character of wanting to be near the “royalty” of the school throughout. And then all her friends pretty much disappear from the narrative.

Another inconsistency is that Morgan, who is not supposed to be on her own at all, goes off alone again and again. She fights person after creature after creature, breaking school rules all the while. This holds true for the genre, which I’d put as young adult fantasy than fantasy, but she learns nothing from each successive encounter. And her worst punishment for her flouting the rules is essentially “go to your room.” Then she faces the worst demons on her own–including one she, who believes nothing she is told about the school and has not even been in the school for a year, foretells returning yet the learned professors and knights cannot see the signs of.

Finally, the “twist” that is held back until the very end is no surprise at all, especially given the title. Morgan should gradually figure out her ancestry instead of continually whining that people don’t like her and life is unfair. The knights, professors, and other students should grow and learn from each other and from her as well.

Ultimately, the book was unsatisfying. There are too many gaps, inconsistencies, or unbelievable instances (and I do not mean fairies, power, or magic). I will not continue with the series which saddens me. I do love a good fantasy series, especially Arthurian.

View all my reviews

Halloween: Sew Fun!

Zoning out one day a few weeks ago, I scrolled through the promotions tab of my e-mail to see an announcement from JoAnn Fabric that their Halloween fabrics were 50% off. And, that got me thinking…wouldn’t it be fun to make a Halloween skirt to wear to work? One Sunday, my mom and I went to the store, and I found some fun black and gray zombie fabric. Two yards plus a zipper and I was ready to make myself an A-line skirt.

Over the summer, I had googled how to make an A-line skirt pattern and found plenty of tutorials on how to measure and draft a pattern. Then, because it was already too late to go to the store for pattern paper, I kept surfing and found a video of how to make an A-line without drafting a pattern. By using a skirt you have that you know fits, you can create your own skirt without all the math involved in drafting your own pattern. I have unfortunately lost the link I used. If the directions that follow sound like you, put a link in the comments. I’ll give a shout out if the video I saw was yours!

Simply lay the skirt down on the doubled fabric and mark one inch all around. There’s your pattern. The blogger went on to show how to split the back and put in a zipper in the center back and a simple rolled waistband, but as I looked at the skirt I was using as a pattern, I noticed that the zipper was on the side. Why should I go to the trouble of splitting the back? Why not just put the zipper on the side? I did and was very happy with the results. This gave me the confidence to make a Halloween skirt even though I did not have much time. Luckily, I also realized that I shouldn’t just double the fabric because I didn’t want the zombies on the back to be upside down. Instead I cut one piece, then laid it down on the rest of the uncut fabric and used it as a template for the back.

Again, I’m very happy with the results. Because at my school the students do not come in on Halloween (it’s a faculty conference day), I wore my zombie skirt yesterday. At first, many students did not notice the zombies, but then, wow! Lots of laughter and Walking Dead references! And when students asked where I got a skirt like that, I answered, “I made it. It’s easy, and if you learn how to sew, you can have a zombie skirt too for less than $20.” Needless to say they were impressed, but I hope some were also inspired to try.

Then, after work, I went to an art opening and out to dinner. But this is New York, so no need to explain why I was wearing zombies. I look forward to pulling the skirt out again next year!

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No Time to Read? Read This!

In our busy, busy world, some people find it hard to find the time to read. While I can’t understand this personally, I can help them out! Recently, I took on a challenge to write 18 word stories. It was a challenge to get a story arc into just 18 words, but the experience was fun. Even though I didn’t win publication, I enjoyed the writing. I hope you enjoy these micro-micro-minis: something to read when there’s no time!

1. Warning Sign

The wheelbarrow tilted against the barn door told Norah the drought continued. Sven would be hungry again tonight.

2. Love on the Dice

The deliberate way he counted the Yahtzee dice showed Milo that James might yet make a good husband.

3. Velveteen’s Nephew

The polka-dotted bunny slipped his bonds and tumbled away from her homespun dress: looking for love, finding mud.

4. Inspiration

“Down the rabbit hole,” Lewis swore as he watched his prized marble disappear. Suddenly, he had an idea!

Solitude/Companionship

I’m sitting on a bench on Central Park West, under a spreading tree whose green leaves are starting to yellow and fall. There are plenty still providing shade and shelter from their lofty boughs, but there is also a carpet of dry, brown leaves on the cobblestones below. The temperature feels like summer; the air smells like fall. It is as if the climate is currently of two minds and cannot decide which way to go. Only the waning afternoon sun gives the advantage to autumn.

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Similarly, I was thinking today of two competing attitudes that complement and contradict each other in our quest for creativity; solitude and companionship. Obviously there are times when we need solitude. We need to sit ourselves down at that desk or kitchen table or library cubicle and pound the words out, or at that easel or at that sewing machine, etc. etc. You get the picture. Creativity requires us to be by ourselves frequently to actually create, but conversely, you can’t do it alone. In the simplest of terms, once we share our work with the world, it and by extension we, are no longer alone, but more than that, our creative juices are stimulated by being with other people. The experiences we have in the world ignite a creative fire within us that we must fan until we can produce an explosion of writing, painting, sculpting, sewing,…

I think the toughest part is knowing when we need each of the two states: remembering to disconnect from the world from time to time to be with ourselves and our own creative fire and also pushing ourselves to get up and get out to mix with people and try new things to rebuild the fire within.

Autumn is a lovely time to build a fire. Don’t hibernate yet; get out there and collect that firewood.

Writing/Not Writing

I haven’t written much here lately, but I’ve been writing. Sort of. Or well, rather I’ve been starting many things. You see, I’ve started having my students draft and free write on a more regular basis this year, and I’ve been writing alongside them. We respond to poetry and prose and sometimes simple statements or questions. Sometimes, I share my work with them; sometimes I do not. I want them to value their own thoughts, so I do not default to sharing with them first. I let them share their ideas. But I do let them see me write, and every so often, I put something I scribbled out with them up on the Smart Board and let them see me do some preliminary revisions.–More of a “this is how revision is done” thing than a “this is what I think about the topic” thing–They can see me write and hear my words without me telling them that this is what one should think about this topic. It’s still early, so it’s hard to tell how well it’s working with their writing, but I do know that they are not as reticent about writing as they were in the beginning of the year because they are seeing it as a class work activity rather than a big assessment. That in and of itself is the beginning of a win.

As for me and my writing, this activity has left me with the beginnings of many pieces and ideas jotted down for others. Despite the fact that the real season is autumn, it feels like spring in my writing life–planting seeds that I hope will germinate and come to fruition. I hope you don’t feel neglected, and I hope you’ll stay with me through the planting season and will be around to see what has grown.

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