February Book Bites

I didn’t get as much reading done this month as last month. I spent a lot more time writing, but I did manage to get three books in. Here are February’s mini reviews.

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: I confessed earlier this month that I hadn’t read this book. I finally sat down and read it and…boy, was it a downer. I thought the child narrator was brilliant in the sense that she told the story as it applied to her–meaning the fact that her white lawyer father was defending a black man accused of raping a white girl was of equal importance to what she got to eat for dinner.  The story could have been so preachy, but it wasn’t because it was told through the voice of a kid. I’m glad I read it and I’m putting the movie on my “to watch” list.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: This book was cute. I had really high hopes for it because it got stellar reviews, but I found it tedious to read at times. The narrator is brilliant man who is autistic (although he never labels himself as such) and while his internal dialogue was clever and poignant in the beginning as it laid out exactly the way his mind worked, by the end of the book I found myself skipping sections of his thought processes. Aside from this, the book made some very intelligent observations on people, social expectations and society as a whole while still managing to make me laugh. I plan on reading the sequel.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: I started reading this book on a Friday morning and I finished it…very late Friday night. I stayed up far past my bedtime to find out what happened and my book hangover the next day was worth it. Told by three unreliable female narrators–a drunk, a depressed woman with an anxiety disorder, and an adulteress–this is the kind of book that sort of makes you feel like you’re going crazy along with the characters. It’s very Gone Girl-esque, so if you like that kind of psychological thriller with a little criminal action thrown in, this book is for you.

What did you read this month?

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National Tell A Fairy Tale Day

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Once upon a time…

All the best stories start out that way, right? I love fairy tales, so I can totally get behind Tell a Fairy Tale Day, which is February 26th.

Fairy Tales in their original form, as brought to us by The Brothers Grimm, can be pretty dark and were written to teach lessons to children. Don’t wander off by yourselves, a witch in a candy house might eat you. Watch who you let your hair down for. And for heaven’s sake, don’t take apples from strange old people. 

Despite their dark beginnings, I have a soft spot for these first-version fairy tales. Do I read them to JC at night? Noooo. But I will one day. For now, we stick to the more G-rated versions.

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Not only do I love a good, old-fashioned fairy tale (and we tell a lot of those in my house!) I love all things inspired by fairy tales. I mean, come on. Look where I got married.

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Disney aside, you’ll find plenty of fairy tale-esque things scattered through my home:

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I also enjoy (for the most part) the retellings of Fairy Tales. I’m an avid watcher of ABC’s Once Upon a Time and all the fairy tale incest you’ll find there. Rumpelstiltskin as the Beast and Peter Pan’s son AND Tick Tock Crocodile AND the evil queen’s adopted son’s grandfather? Count me in.

I enjoyed Maleficent, the retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and I’m really looking forward to seeing Into the Woods. There seems to be an abundance of young adult novels that center around the retelling of Snow White and other fairy tales, but I haven’t delved into them yet.

I have read a handful of other YA fairy-tale themed books. The Grimm Curse (Once Upon a Time is Now) by Stephen Carpenter (he also produced the NBC series Grimm which I watched a couple of times and couldn’t get into) is a story about the last living descendant of the Brothers Grimm who discovers that fairy tales are happening in real life a small town in the Northwest. The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer was a cute story about twins who fall into a book of fairy tales–it had a good twist at the end. Peter and the Starcatchers by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry is one of my favorites–it’s a fun origin story of Peter Pan.

Speaking of Peter Pan, two of my favorite retellings are derived from the story of Neverland. The movie Hook is my favorite version of Peter Pan. It does such justice to the original story while creating a whole new level to the tale.

The other is the movie Finding Neverland, which is a very sweet and sad story. If you haven’t watched them, I highly recommend both of them.

Of course, fairy tales are being created all the time. Some of my favorite fantastical books that aren’t based on classic fairy tales:

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Between the Lines by Samantha van Leer and Jodi Picoult (the sequel Off the Pages is coming out in May. You can read an excerpt of it here).

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

And finally, two of my favorite Instagram accounts–@theredwritinghood and @thequotethief–post beautiful pictures with fairy tale/book quotes. Check them out! Some of my favorites:

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@theredwritinghood

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@thequotethief

I think what I love most about fairy tales is their ability to transcend–generations, genres, and medium.

What is your favorite fairy tale? Do you like retellings or do you prefer original stories?

Screened In: Dealing with Screen Time and Preschoolers

I know a lot of screen-free families. I know a lot of families who have hard and fast rules about tablets, iPhones, and screen time.

We are not one of those families. That is not to say we don’t have rules. We do. But when it comes to screen time, we’re not very hardcore. JC mastered my iPhone when he was about a year and a half old. His very first game was called Zoo Train, an app that was worth far more to my sanity than the 99 cents I paid for it. It taught him spelling, matching, and fine motor skills. It also gave my husband and I a chance to eat a meal in a restaurant in peace.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say: children need to learn to sit and behave in restaurants without the help of an electronic. He can do that. In fact, he and I go on what he calls “Mommy & Boy dates” where electronics are banned for both of us. From day one, JC went nearly everywhere with me, and as a result of that, he’s very good in a lot of grown-up places. And because he has those skills, I don’t mind handing over a tablet to let him play games or watch videos.

Speaking of which: I think there is a difference between zoning out in front of a movie or TV show and playing an educational game on a screen. In fact, JC spends very little time “zoning out”. For the most part, he watches educational shows. In fact, last week he told me his favorite part of Curious George was in between the cartoons when they show real kids doing experiments related to the show. I have to pay close attention to those parts because he often wants to replicate them.

JC knows his way around my phone, iPad and computer. Does he have access to the internet? No. Of course not. I might not be hardcore about screen time, but I am about screen content. JC is very used to hearing, “that’s not age appropriate for you” and he is pretty good about policing himself. Big no-no’s in our house include videos with train crashes and Disney “big kid” shows (the last thing I need is a four-year old with a tween attitude). He loves watching videos of steam trains on YouTube–and there are a surprising amount of them available. YouTube launched their YouTube Kids app today on android platforms, and I can’t wait to try it out.

I think because screen time isn’t a fight in our house, we have an easier time: JC knows when to turn off the TV in the mornings and (for the most part) doesn’t put up a fight when game time is over.

My husband and I made these choices for our family knowing the experts recommend. JC plays outside, builds train tracks, reads books. Although we have relaxed screen rules, screen time is not the majority–or, I think, the highlight–of his day. A few days ago I read JC some eBooks on my iPad. He liked them, sat and listened, and when we were done said, “that was nice, but can we read some REAL books now?” It’s moments like those that let me know I’m striking the right balance in our world.

Sharing is caring: what are the screen rules in your house?

Today is Not That Day.

One day, I’ll pee alone.

One day I will be able to eat a sandwich and be seated the WHOLE TIME. One day I’ll be able to sit and write for more than 10 minutes at a time without rising to fetch a drink of milk, find a Lego piece or rescue a train that has been de-railed.

Today is not that day.

Today is the day that I appeal to the parenting gods: give me patience. Give me a kind voice when my child asks me for the THOUSANDTH time, “want to talk about steam trains?” Help me remember that nothing is more important than responding with enthusiasm when he says, “will you come hang out in my room with me?” even though I want to shut myself in a dark, silent closet and binge eat Tagalongs. Help me celebrate the day, not just try to survive it. Because one day, he won’t want to talk, he won’t ask, and he won’t follow me around.

But today is not that day.

The Hardest Part of Being a Writer

weird writer

Hello, friends. I missed you last week and I apologize for the lack of blog posts. My novel, The Goldens, is finally at the stage where I can start shopping it around so I spent all my free time last week hammering away at a query letter to send to publishers and agents.

I have, at least in my opinion, reached the hardest part of being a writer. For me, it’s not thinking up new ideas, finding time to write (although I do admit that is a major challenge) or even finishing a piece. The hardest part starts once it’s done.

Because once I’ve finally finished a piece and spent hours finding the right words and the order to put them in, I have to succinctly sum it up in one paragraph and make it sound so appealing in that handful of sentences that someone will actually want to read it. And frankly, I’m terrible at it.

To put it nicely, I’m verbose. To put it other ways, I’m long-winded. No matter how you say it, I don’t do short. So query letters are the bane of my literary existence.

But–thanks to gallons of Pepsi, pounds of animal crackers and the support of someone who has managed to snag that elusive book deal–it’s done. Done and sent off into the world.

Which brings me to the second and third hardest parts of being a writer: the waiting, and the imminent rejection. Because there will be rejection. Hopefully, there will be acceptance as well, but part of this process is growing a thick skin and preparing to hear (what will hopefully be a gentle and kind) “no thank you”. And in the mean time…you just keep writing.

Sharing is caring: what is the hardest part of your job?

10 Things I Love About Motherhood

Mama Kat is up to her Writer Workshop shenanigans again! Up today: 10 things I love about motherhood.

10. How it’s changed the way I look at my husband. He doesn’t understand it, but when I watch him playing with our kid I find him more attractive than ever.

9. That I get to re-read and re-watch all my favorite childhood books and shows. Fraggle Rock, anyone?

8. That it makes things I used to take for granted–like 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep–a special and magical gift.

7. Playing in the sand.

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sandy little boy feet

6. The grin I get when my early-bird son notices I’m awake. He is always so  happy to see me in the mornings.

5. Getting to tick off the inches on his growth chart. It’s bittersweet that he grows so fast, but I know some moms don’t get the luxury of a healthy, growing kid.

4. An unprompted “I love you, mom”.

3. Seeing Walt Disney World through my kid’s eyes.

2. Bedtime and the bliss of seeing my son’s eyes shut sleepily, knowing we have made it through another day.

1. This.

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What tickles you about motherhood?

Confession: I Haven’t Read…

Being a big book person and reader, when the news broke yesterday that Harper Lee was publishing a second novel this summer, I got no less than half a dozen texts/e-mails about it.

Have you heard? Are you excited? What do you think it will be about?  My friends all wanted to know what I thought about the big news. And all I could say on the subject was…

I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. <hangs head in shame.>

Somehow I made it through my education without reading this pivotal novel–an impressive fact considering I have a degree in English.

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I am shamefaced and hiding behind my book.

I decided to remedy the situation and pulled the book off my bookshelf to begin reading immediately (because yes, somehow I have a well-read copy of it on my shelves. I can’t even explain myself). And I also e-mailed my 8th grade English teacher (because I’m totally friends with her on Facebook) to find out how I managed to miss reading it.

Confession time: what super famous or popular book haven’t YOU read?