Sunday, April 26, 2009

Toll Booths and Fire Proofs

Do you have any idea what 4:30 a.m. looks like? Dark. I have stayed up that late before, but I don't think I've ever seen it from the other side.

My little brother is leaving for Hawaii in a few weeks (he's in the Navy), and this was his last weekend-day off before he leaves. I wanted to be able to spend a little more time with him, but it ended up that I wasn't able to leave until early Saturday morning. It kind of is a beautiful drive, after it gets light enough to see, anyway.

Six hours. The 365 miles from my house to my brother's takes six hours, and $24 in tolls. It's because of all the bridges. (Don't tell Delaware, but I didn't have enough cash on me to pay the toll because I hadn't realized there wasn't an exit before I could stop at an ATM, but the attendant assured me because I stopped, I will only get a bill in the mail and not a ticket.)

Even the Jersey Turnpike is beautifully green in the spring.

That is until you get within spitting distance on NYC. Then all you get is smog and concrete.

Wave to New York!

By the time I crossed the George Washington Bridge into New York State, it was almost 9 a.m. and I was feeling totally lonely. There's only so much Carbon Leaf you can listen to before you need real human interaction. It didn't help that I was passing through Yonkers when Green Day's "All By Myself" came on my iPod and I began thinking about that play "Lost in Yonkers."

Thank heavens my roommate was awake and talked to my until the Connecticut boarder.

How do you know when you've finally reached Connecticut? The beautiful day turns into a misty midnight. Form that point, the fog began to lift and my parents talked to me until I got within ten miles of my brother's house.

I only had about twelve hours to spend with my brother because he had to report on base at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, but we made the best of our time. We went to the Book Barn, this great used bookstore with outbuildings full of books. (This picture is from the Book Barn's website because I forgot to grab my camera.)

Of course we also ate New England seafood and walked along the Mystic harbor. (Sorry, this picture is from last fall because, again, no camera.)

But probably the most fun was being able to meet a bunch of my brother's buddies from the boat. Everybody was getting together this weekend for one last hurrah before being shipped out, so I got to meet a bunch of the people my brother is always telling stories about and have become his family out here. I'm glad I got to meet so many of them before they go 5,000 miles away. We finished off the night with a bonfire and goofing off.

I'm really going to miss my brother because, let's face it, I might love an excuse to go to Hawaii in the next three years, but unless I come into an unexpected inheritance from a long-lost, third-great-aunt's exhusband's cousin twice removed, that is one expensive trip to take. So today I will enjoy the quiet New England spring and get some writing done, drive six more hours, spend $24 more in tolls, and be glad for the time I could spend with my little bro.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

Mission to the Moon: (Book and DVD) Mission to the Moon: by Alan Dyer

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has to be the coolest book I have read in a long time. Last year I thought I had hit space-exploration gold with Team Moon: How 400 000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon, but Mission to the Moon puts Team Moon to shame.

The book itself is a feast for the eyes. Not only is it a collection of the choicest NASA archival photos, but it tells a great story as well. It balances history with modern science, moon-myth with lunar technology. The past and the future collide to explain how the lunar program has developed and where it is going in the years to come. It's like reading an encyclopedia with all the facts but still holds the excitement of going to Cape Canaveral and seeing the American space program in action.

But the jewel of this book is the DVD it comes with. It splices together old NASA reels along with some period documentaries. While it shows Neil Armstrong's famous first steps, it also talks about lift-off, the equipment left behind, splash-down and debriefings. The extras on the DVD go on to document the Apollo 13 disaster (or miracle), astronaut training from the beginning to the present, Earth Rise and some goofy footage of the Apollo 11 crew.

You don't have to be a space nerd to love this book as it appeals to both the novice and the expert alike. If you like history, or if you like science, this book is a great interactive choice for middle-grade readers. And for parents, you could not ask for a better comprehensive product for your money--it is worth three times as much as Simon & Schuster is marketing it for.

View all my reviews.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Memory Lane

I was taking a trip down memory lane today on Goodreads. With her hundreds of book additions every day, Tamora Pierce got me thinking of all the books I read back in middle school, so I started thinking about all of the books I loved back in the day.

Ann M. Martin--Yes, I was one of those girls. I read every single Baby-Sitters Club book, and when I was too little to read those books while my sister was reading them, I got all of the Baby-Sitter's Little Sister books. I have also read some of Martin's more powerful stories like Ten Kids, No Pets, and more recently, I was blown away when I read A Corner of the Universe. I remember my fourth-grade teacher reading Ma and Pa Dracula to our class, and I think I still base every vampire book I read against the myths Martin established in that book. Ann M. Martin was a staple of my childhood reading.

Pamela F. Service--Service was really my introduction to science fiction. After reading A Being of Two Minds, I think I went to the library and checked out every one of her books. A few years ago I went on a quest to find a copy of Weirdoes of the Universe Unite, a cooky story of misfits from mythology who gather to save the world. Because the book had been out of print for probably ten years or more, I finally found a used copy for sale online--it was the best 99 cents I have ever spent. Her post-apocalyptic version of Arthurian legend even influence my minor in college.

Caroline B. Cooney--The Face on the Milk Carton was probably the first "romance" novel I ever read. It's not really a romance novel by any stretch of the imagination, but it talks about the main character's decision to have sex, or rather not to have sex. And I think every girl in my seventh-grade class set their VCR to record Kellie Martin play Jennifer/Janie, because who didn't want to see Becca Thatcher play the lead role in a made-for-TV movie? (That was long before her character got killed off on ER but at the same time she was playing Christy.) I tend to turn my nose up at "serial YA fiction," but really, I read just as much of it when I was younger as kids do now.

Beverly Cleary--I always tell people that Cleary saved my life, and that is no exaggeration. I moved half-way though sixth grade and was very lonely and depressed. Then I read Dear Mr. Henshaw and my life changed. For the first time, I could put myself in the shoes of a character and realize I wasn't alone. I proceeded to read every other book Cleary wrote back in the fifties and fell in love with the California Dream when I read The Luckiest Girl and wished that I could be the Sister of the Bride

I mark time with the books I read. I remember certain events in my life in relation to the books I was reading at the time--my dad lost his job at the same time Ramona Quimby's father lost his, our family vacation to Washington, DC, happened the same summer I read my first Mary Higgins Clark book (Stillwatch, which happens to take place in the very city we were visiting), and I remember the Easter of 1993 like it was yesterday because that was when I got the boxed set of the Anne of Green Gables series. I think I have been obsessed with books a lot longer than I realized.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

Okay, so I didn't have peanuts nor Cracker Jacks, but I did attend my first ball game of the season. I'll tell you, I didn't feel too hopeful going into this game as the Marlins are the top seated team in all of MLB while the Nationals are dead last. The Nats, however, game me hope through the first eight innings, and then it just fell apart at the end.

The fun of attending baseball games actually has very little to do with the end score. It's all about getting behind a team and cheering at their good plays, booing bad calls and yelling at visiting team fans who won't shut up. It's about the smell of roasting hot dogs, the sound of thousands of frantic fan, the sight of the crystal-blue sky and the feel of adrenaline pumping past your ears at a million miles an hour. It's about talking stats with one friend while admiring the posterior build of the catcher with another friend.

The boom of the fireworks, the crack of the ball against the bat and the silence of 20,000 people holding their breath during that last desperate play. For the love of the game and for the love atmosphere, I could sit in a ballpark every day through September (keep your fingers crossed for October) and be happy. Nothing could have welcomed in Spring quite like attending a baseball game. Win or lose, may there be many more to come before Fall.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

America's Favorite Past Time

Baseball season is once again in full swing. And I am planning to catch a couple of games this summer. Being in DC offers both good and bad elements to baseball season.

Bad: The Nats are a terrible team. I don't plan on attending any games they will win or even come close to winning.

Good: Tickets are dirt cheap. When you already know the outcome of the game, not many people are willing to pay in excess of ten bucks for a ticket.

Bad: The Sox are in the American League while the Nats are in the National League. This means I won't be able to see the Sox play this summer as I won't be going to Chicago until Labor Day when ticket prices will be well out of my range.

Good: My neighbors have the MLB channel and have promised I can actually watch games. They think my obsession with the Sox is highly entertaining, so they will more than likely spend most of the game watching me watch the game.

Bad: I won't be able to watch the games with my dad, sister or brother.

Good: I will have plenty of excuses to call my dad, sister and brother to discuss plays, stats and standings.

The life of a baseball fanatic has its ups and downs, but mostly it's just about the love of the game.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

For every-day girls with every-day issues

My Big Nose & Other Natural Disasters My Big Nose & Other Natural Disasters by Sydney-Louise Salter Husseman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I approached this book a little differently as I read it aloud with my roommate, and I can't imagine having read it any other way. It was so much fun to read this book with a friend and be able to share our own stories of poor self-image, lousy boy experiences and horrific summer jobs. We could totally relate to this book, and not because we had experienced some trauma that had a profound effect on our lives, but because we are every-day girls who deal with every-day life.

Jory Michaels has a problem, and it's as plain as the nose on her face, mostly because it is the nose on her face. Her two best friends have emerged from their ugly-duckling phases and are now beautiful, confident young women ready to take senior year by storm. Her little brother Finn is a soccer star two years her junior who managed to score a date to senior prom when he was still a freshman. Her mom is perfectly proportioned, her dad is a workaholic and everyone around her knows where they are going in life. If only Jory's massive shnoz and perpetual virginity would stop getting in her way.

Her summer plan includes finding summer employment to pay for a nose job, discovering a passion and having sex. But it won't be that easy when she is a horrible driver and the only job she can find is delivering cakes. Not to mention that when water skiing, yoga, soccer, reading and classical music fail to perk Jory's interest, she begins to run out of things to become passionate about. Then her best friend starts hanging out with the guy she has been crushing on for twelve months, six days and however many hours, and the only boy who seems to be taking any notice of Jory is a juvenile delinquent with a super-snout of his own.

Sure there are times when I wished Jory would shut up about her nose and get more supportive friends, and don't even get me started on her superficial mother. But isn't that how life is? We get fixated on something so securely that we can't see past it and we let it rule our lives--that is part of human nature.

At a time when YA fiction has been flooded with books about beautiful, aloof, perfect girls, Sydney Salter has written a heartwarming books about an ordinary girl with ordinary problems yet managed to make an extraordinary novel. Full for laugh-out-loud funny moments, hide-under-the-covers embarrassing moments and call-your-mom-to-tell-her-you-love-her moments, My Big Nose stands out from the crowd.

View all my reviews.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bridges and books—the prefect combination

I didn’t think I looked like a New Yorker—I don’t have the posh stylings of a Manhatten diva, nor do I have the big hair of a flashy girl from Queens. But I must have some look that screams “City Girl!” because, despite the iPod that was permanently embedded in my ear and my horrible hair thanks to the hair dryer I left sitting on my bathroom counter at home, four people stopped me to ask for directions. Yes, four. In two days. Maybe I just look approachable? Or maybe I walk with confidence? Really, I only knew where I was going because I was constantly referencing my new cell phone’s GPS feature—God bless you Verizon!

My trip to New York City this weekend was all about books. Traveling alone meant I could actually sit in cafes and parks and write whenever I wanted, and I think I filled half a pocket notebook with the most random story ideas and research notes. I wanted some me-time to read a few of the books that have taken over my desk as well as make a quick (ha!) trip to my book Mecca—The Strand—because their book bags are the perfect size with the perfect give, but after four years of constant use and abuse, my old bag deserves a long, quiet retirement. Check out all the loot I got.

Really, this trip was just a poorly veiled excuse to meet my online book buddy Lisa McMann. While there were tons of people at the Books of Wonder event, I did have a chance to actually talk to Lisa for a while. We’ve been exchanging book recommendations for years now (I can’t believe it’s actually been years), so I couldn’t pass up the chance to meet her in person. But after a couple weeks on tour, Lisa had been smiling so much it looked like it actually hurt. When I asked if we could get a picture, I told her smiling was not necessary. It’s too bad the first picture was so blurry, because we looked fierce.

Only I’m not such a good actress, and I totally lost it for the second picture and ended up with crazy eyes.

I also wanted to spend some time in Brooklyn on this trip. It is no secret that I’ve had a preoccupation with that borough since reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in high school. But my previous trips to NYC have been with people who don't share my odd little obsession. I have now eaten, shopped and explored a couple little corners of Brooklyn, complete with a hike across the Brooklyn Bridge.

I am a happy tourist, I mean, just look at that bridge-blown hair and squinty eyes. Can't you just tell that I have wanted to walk across that bridge for ten years? I am such a nerd.