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Hello, friends!

I think I’ve made reasonably good on my early 2015 predictions. I read some YA nonfiction (yay, Romanovs!) I’ve read madly – 115 books and counting! I’m still keeping a log book, and as of about two weeks ago I am a Fancy! New (ish)! Car! Owner! I’ve even examined my relationship with processed foods – my conclusion so far? “When you have a batshitcrazyGoGoGo! kind of year… you eat a lot of processed foods.”

And the trips! I just got back from four nights in San Antonio with my two best friends from high school (and some of their adorable progeny). In April, the boy and I did a DELIGHTFUL week in Kansas City, Missouri with our All Time Favorite Roommate.

Up next…

three nights in Paris (a la Anna and the French Kiss),

three nights in Amsterdam, (a la Postcards from No Man’s Land).

and two nights in Berlin (a la Going Over)

Because of said batshitcrazyGoGoGo year, I have done zero planning. If you have been to any of these cities or have a hypothetical itinerary that’s been burning a hole in your proverbial travel wallet (what does that even mean) please share. Please please. I have a butt ton of book reviews due before I leave and the boy is fi-na-lly finishing school this week, so I think we are both at about 1% brain function and unable of planning our own Tuesday morning, much less a vacation.

But who am I kidding: all I really plan on doing is drinking coffee, eating carbohydrates, and walking around taking pictures with my phone camera. Like a proper American tourist.

Equally exciting? Returning home in a few weeks and OFFICIALLY RESTORING MY LIFE TO NORMALCY

(with a quick break in August to go to the beach).

Phew.

reading wishlist: the rest of 2015

So let me get this straight…

there are books published *after* May 31st, 2015?

You don’t say.

Despite my lack of attention to the entire second half of the year (or, you know, the rest of my life and the world at large), here’s a handful of books that *still* managed to catch my attention.

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I Crawl Through It by A. S. King

I really wish you guys could have been at SLJ Day of Dialog to hear A. S. King talk about feminism. She’s a gem, and I can’t believe it took me so long to discover her work. I’ve heard that I Crawl Through It is pretty weird, even by A. S. King standards, but I remain fearlessly excited to get my hands on it.

The Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos

Hole in My Life is a great book. If some cruel, sadistic individual asked me for a list of Top Ten Favorite Books Ever, I can’t say that Hole in My Life would be at the top of my memory… but then again, I’ve read it probably five or so times and could easily read it five more. It’s just a great book! What can I say? Apparently nothing critical or even somewhat cogent, but what the heck else is new. The Trouble in Me is a second Gantos memoir, which means I am already 100% sold. Even if it’s about teenage boys lighting things on fire.

Addendum: I just learned that Hole in My Life has been optioned for a film…. by Daniel Radcliffe. I’m sure 90% of film options go nowhere, but really now. Daniel. Radcliffe. Yes x 1million

 

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I kind of can’t believe I’m putting a big fat piece of historical fiction on this list, but there you have it. This one is about a fourteen-year-old girl who leaves her family’s Pennsylvania farm to seek a more adventurous life for herself… as a hired servant for a wealthy family in Baltimore. I get the feeling that Joan will be one of those protagonists who is fun to hang out with, with a great sense of humor and an even better voice. Why do I feel this way? I have no idea. I’m in an airport (in Baltimore!) and I’ve been up since 3:30 a.m. This post is about to get pretty weird.

 

The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage

Oh, Mo LoBeau. You are my favorite underage Southern detective, and I am excited to hang out with you again this year.

 

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Hello. Huge Rebecca Stead fangirl in the house. I attempted to take home zero galleys while I was at BEA. I ended up with about 12 because sometimes people at BEA just hand you books, but this was the only one I went for voluntarily. I regret nothing. Except for arranging my summer schedule in such a way that I won’t actually be able to read this one until at least July. What a big mistake.

 

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Soooo… at the end of the day at a certain book event that I have been talking about a lot, there was a really promising panel on nonfiction graphic novels. Really juicy author line-up, great topic. Unfortunately… it went on forever and ever and ever. Way, way over time. Maggie Thrash was last to speak, and bless her soul she spoke (eloquently and compellingly!) for about 45 seconds. It was an amazing moment. Thrash’s book is a graphic memoir about forbidden summer camp love has been on my radar. Seriously now – can you imagine a book more up my alley? I have high hopes for this one. And thanks again, Maggie. You’re really the best.

 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Ahem.

Sooooo… during this long haul between last summer’s Landline, I have become a connoisseur of every public interview or piece of writing that Rainbow Rowell has put out there on the interwebs. More than once I heard Rainbow describe her next project as a fantasy YA with a male protagonist. Never did I put two and two together and guess that a Simon Snow book was on its way to me.

I’ll try to contain my emotions somewhat by leaving this at YYYYYYYEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSS PLEAAAAAAAAAAASE.

 

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Speaking of authors who you probably already read and follow and love, Aaron Hartzler of Rapture Practice fame and glory has a YA fiction book coming out this year. I’m interested! What’s it about? I don’t know and I’m on a plane that has no internet connection. So I’m afraid you’ll have to click on the above link and let Amazon do the talking. That is what you came here for – Amazon links, right? By the way, which one of you bought a Vitamix after visiting my site? THANK YOU MUCHLY, I used my Amazon commish to buy a Vitamin D lamp during The Winter that Wouldn’t End.

 

This is what you guys were missing for the last six months, right?

BEA 2015

Four days after The Big Selection Day, I hopped a bus down to NYC for a quick trip to BEA. It was probably an ill-advised trip – yeah, strung-out Jessica, why NOT take a solo jaunt down to the city that doesn’t sleep to attend the craziest book conference available? Ahem. Anyway, I tried to make it as quick and painless as possible, spending one day at SLJ’s Day of Dialog and another on the floor at BEA proper.

 

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I started off my trip with a long, briskly paced walk through Central Park with my cousin the 19-year-old super model. I’ve been to NYC bunches of times but never actually made it to Central Park before? ?? Anyway, we caught up and I took pictures like a dirty rotten tourist and we visited Alice, and then I went back to my hotel room and collapsed.

I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog last year and my previous praise still stands. It’s a fun little event. Brian Selznick started the morning with his keynote address. He posited his last three books – The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck, and the upcoming The Marvels - as a thematic trilogy about the triumph of the story – of triumph over chaos. Is there anything that intrigues and delights me more than a “thematic trilogy?” Possibly not. I promptly began kicking myself for not having read ANY OF THESE THREE BOOKS. Don’t worry – I started reading Hugo two days ago. It’s really good.

The next panel focused on environmental issues in books for children, and featured Paul Fleischman, Louis Sachar, April Pulley Sayre, and Anita Silvey. I want to pause for a moment and try to express how excited my inner 9-year-old was to be in the same room as Louis Sachar. And he even talked about Wayside School and There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom!! WHAT. WHAAAAT. Okay. Anyway. The panelists talked about why they write or illustrate various environmental issues, how they tailor their content to inspire and engage a young audience (rather than scare the crap out of them), and why it’s so dang important. They also talked about how writing about the earth and environment for children is tied intimately to ideas of history and a shared humanity – the “presence of the past,” as a panelist put it so eloquently. Learning about the physical world and how it has changed and will change is also learning about one’s place in the world. It’s not all reduce-reuse-recycle – it’s about community, connectedness, and social responsibility.

The panel on middle school fiction was heavy on the entertainment and the kidlit celeb factor. Lisa Graff! Rebecca Stead! Tim Federle! Luke Reynolds! Rita Garcia-Williams! Embarrassing middle school stories were shared and jokes were had. The more serious discussion, however, reminded me of all of the things I love-love-love about middle school lit – middle school years are about forming identity, saying goodbye to childhood, gaining new levels of awareness, and struggling to understand yourself and to be seen for who you really are. Great middle school books let their protagonists muddle around with these questions, even if the answers are messy and half-formed.

I took fewer notes at the afternoon sessions, as is natural. A. S. King gave this drop-dead astounding luncheon talk about feminism in her life, in her work, and in the world around us. There’s a recap article over on SLJ – still hoping that the full-text or a recording of this one will be made public. Patrick Ness razzled and dazzled all over the YA panel. Publishers pitched their Fall 2015 books, and the last panel of the day went distressingly long. And then, the Big Announcement. I was nervous and so happy. There was some hooting and hollering in the audience, and then wine.

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I hit BEA proper the next day, but the results were much less exciting. I popped into the YA editor’s buzz panel (Everything Everything looks like the definitive Big Fall Title, FYI) and a panel on ebooks in library collections. I checked in on the state of Hoopla ebooks. I tried to get publishers to talk to me about this little presidential ebook campaign you may have heard of, but it seems everyone is in just as much limbo as we are. I sat down for a quick minute at an adult fic panel moderated by Jami Attenberg (who I kind of adore), accidentally walked into a VIP networking event (where I proceeded to network with a reference librarian… who works in my building),  and then I hopped on the bus to go home.

My not-so-secret reason for attending: I wanted to take the chance to study the fine art of Panel Moderation. Because I am going to be called to the task this coming October. Gulp. Gag. Panic Panic Panic. I took notes! Because that’s the only strategic operative I have in my arsenal. If you’re going to be in the Boston area in October, you should definitely come to this really great event (*cough* it’sbetterthanDayofDialog *cough*) Even if I’m a panicked heaving mess, it will probably be pretty good.

Heaven help me.

reading for the insane: i did, i didn’t

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  • I read first thing in the morning with my coffee, at my favorite bakery before work (with a cup of coffee), and at my favorite Starbucks during my lunch break. Most every work day.
  • Yes, I spent a lot of money on coffee. A lottttttt.
  • I ate the same five or six dinners on repeat. Half of which came directly from Trader Joe’s. Mmm… cabernet pot roast.
  • Actually, I kind of ate the same food every day. Eggs, leftovers, nuts+fruit, dinner, wine+chocolate. Lather rinse repeat.
  • For six weeks, I followed a fairly low-carb meal plan, for mood-control purposes mostly.
  • I gave myself permission to do whatever weird, nerdy thing I wanted to do related to books. Mildly necessary spreadsheets, obsessing over starred reviews (huge shout out to Jennifer Jazwinksi and her constantly updating spreadsheet of starred book wonder. If I could nominate you for sainthood, I would), and a lot of strange things involving index cards
  • Against my better judgement, I signed up for a [fill in the blank with your favorite online conglomerate] Prime account here. I don’t have a car, so I wanted a more time-efficient way to buy things like birthday gifts and watch batteries and more and more and more index cards.
  • I spent a lot of money on index cards.
  • I read on buses, trains, and planes. In airports, backseats, coffee shops, and bars. I read in four different states – Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Massachusetts. Mostly, though, I read on the couch or in my bed.
  • I brought a bag of picturebooks to a friend’s house to watch an NFL playoff game.
  • I gave myself permission to listen to anything that could hold my attention. Some children’s/teen books, yes, but a LOT of podcasts and also some true crime. I don’t know what that says about me, but there you go.
  • I took some personal time, including a day where I read a book for 20 minutes, took a 5 minute break, then picked up a different book for 20 minutes, took a 5 minute break, and did this for pretty much ten straight hours. That was a weird day.
  • I used a time tracking app to keep myself accountable. It was kind of addictive.
  • I tried to keep a 9 p.m. bedtime.
  • I discovered a few good mantras, including “Pressure is a choice,” “Why aren’t you reading a book?” and “You can worry about that in June.”

 

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  • I did not permit myself any exercise-related ambition. The last thing I needed was an injury or to spend my evenings exhausted and strung out on low blood sugar. 30 minutes on the elliptical, four times a week, book in hand. The end.
  • I did not go out much at all.
  • I did not blog. (Which I’m sure you all figured out. Assuming you are all still here. Knock, knock? Any readers left?)
  • I did not write anything for myself.
  • I wrote book reviews, but I did not permit myself to freak out about them. Because who has time for that? (Present Day Jessica: take note) (Present Day Jessica: stop talking to yourself in parentheses)
  • I tried very hard not to worry about my health, about money, or about anything happening after May 2015.
  • I quit Twitter and Facebook for 3-ish months.
  • I didn’t miss it too much.
  • I didn’t always keep my shit together.
  • I didn’t do much other than….. read.

(and it was pretty fun.)

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards 2015

Hey! It’s time for another book award post!

Remember when I used to post these?

(Remember when I used to post anything?)

Well, the 2015 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were announced this past week, and I want to show you who won…

 

because I was a judge!

 

Oh, that was an awkward lead in. But my, oh, my I don’t even know anymore because my life for the past months has been an exhilarating/overwhelming/ridiculous GIANTPILEOFBOOKS. All I do is read-read-read no matter what. Then there were a few weeks in May where I spent 75% of my latent brain power revisiting and recalling what I’d read, while also trying to madly squeeze in JUSTAFEWMORE books. And then, a Saturday sitting in the Palace Road Building of Simmons College (it circles back, everything circles back) with two brilliant opinionated women whose contributions to the field of children’s and young adult literature I can only hope to someday come close to.

 

It’s been a wild ride. I feel like I say that a lot. Maybe my life is just a series of wild rides? Maybe yours is too? But this was a really one-of-a-kind ride. Trying hard not to be a romantic sap about it all, but the experience of altering the terrain of my everyday life to accommodate such an enormously daunting task was just profound. Difficult and exhausting and intimidating, too… but also such a pleasure, to be given permission to let everything else fall away but books. Like an intense semester at grad school – a six-credit class with no papers and a huge, looming final you know you can’t be 100% prepared for, but your only homework is reading.

 

There were books and books and books and books. And then there were nine.

 

And I love them all. I do, I do.

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Picturebook Award

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee


Picturebook Honors

It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee

Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

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Fiction Award

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell


Fiction Honors

Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

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Nonfiction Award

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Nonfiction Honors

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

 

30

I can’t believe I am 30 years old.

I also can’t believe this is only my third post of the year.

So far, 2015 is filled with unbelievable things. Mainly 105 inches of snow and the subsequent meltdown of my beloved public transportation system. Life in Boston has been just so very disrupted for so many weeks that I’m finding 40 degree weather fairly unbelievable. Sun melting snow weather. Gloves optional weather. I-saw-a-human-wearing-shorts-out-of-doors weather. Cah-razy.

It’s warming up, and I’m as old as the hills. I’ve been writing these little birthday ditties for 6 years now, maybe longer. I don’t ever feel like I have anything cogent to say about aging except that it’s happening. I really do try to wake up every morning and have a good day, a productive day, a day that I’m proud of; whether I succeed or not, those days string into years, and here I am looking at thirty of them.

The older I get, the more I [fill in the blank].

The older I get, the less I [fill in the blank].

I could fill in those blanks for a few thousand words, but they would be a few thousand navel-gazing words that would all add up to this: your life looks different from different angles. I’m not exactly thrilled to be 30 – mostly because I am female in modern America which means everyone is monitoring both my declining physical appearance and the relative shriveled-up-ness of my ovaries with even more scrutiny than usual. Everyone including myself.

I do worry about my skin and my hair and my other body parts, but I worry more about my time. Now that I am into another decade, I fear that hanging onto time will become an increasingly slippery task. Time will become more precious to me and more easily wasted. When I was 22, 23, 24, time felt a little more elastic, a little more forgiving. I am 30 now.  If I make a poor choice in how to appropriate my personal resources – if I neglect or destroy my health, my career, a relationship, I’m running out of days to try it all again. These are worries for thirty-year-olds and now I am a thirty-year-old so here I am.

In the mornings, though, when I wake up in my tiny apartment, I’m not usually worrying about that shit. I’m thinking about my day and about what I’d like to accomplish. I’m thinking about how closely I’ll be able to stick to my routine, or how I might like to tweak things. I’m thinking about the book I’m reading, or the book I just finished, or the book I might read next. The older I get, the more I figure out about myself. The older I get, the more comfortable I am taking the reigns. I steer my days the way I want them to go. I’m hoping this means that my years will go the way I want them to as well.

The older I get, the more faith I have that my days, weeks, months, years will be good ones. If that’s the difference between being a 20-something and a 30-something, then I’m pretty okay about that.

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 29 | 28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 24

her life with snow

Two years ago to the day, I wrote a little post about some snow we had in Boston.

Yeah, it was a lot of snow. They shut the MBTA system completely, for the first time since the Blizzard of 1978. Records, perhaps, were broken. I honestly can’t remember, because I’m from Michigan, y’all. It’s snow – it shows up, it sticks around, and eventually it’s 90 degrees and humid. If you’re lucky, you get a day off of work – otherwise, shovel out your car and hit the slippery and potentially deadly road. Snow is snow is snow.

Unless, of course it’s 2015 and you live in Boston and suddenly snow is just YOUR LIFE. FOREVER. IT WILL NEVER STOP.

 

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You guys can read the news – I’ll spare you the play by play – but there is just so much. So much! The Boy has had 10 snow days, I’ve had 4, and they’re talking about another storm this weekend. I stopped caring about accumulation a week or so ago – once you hit 3 feet on the ground, does another foot really make a difference? I’m more concerned about my poor dear MBTA, which seems to be just barely clinging to life. I used to rely on public transit to get me to work in a reasonable amount of time under semi-dignified circumstances. Ever since The Snow, all I’m gunning for is Eventually Arriving at Work/Home. Not spending the night sleeping in my office. Not spending the night sleeping in a stalled train. In attempt to mitigate my public transportation rage (which is transitioning quickly to straight-up anxiety), I’ve been doing a lot of walking around in the snow, which is… ah… challenging. Some sidewalks are shoveled well, some are shoveled barely, and some are covered with an inch of solid ice. Snow plows turn street corners into impassable mountains of snow – that eventually melt into slushy swamps that one must ford in order to… stand directly in the way of traffic that couldn’t really see you around the remaining snow mountains. Check out this clever Boston city maze by Bikeyface to get a taste of what it’s like on the ground.

I’m incredibly grateful that I rent an apartment, and even more grateful to the owners in my building who have shoveled, salted, sanded, and paid a guy in a tiny snow plow to scoop out  a clear exit from my building. I’m grateful to have a job where my supervisor is flexible and understanding when the trains just don’t show up. Every day I pat Past Jessica on the back for dropping big bucks last year on snow boots that, at the time, felt like a luxury but are now making it possible for me to exist in this frozen wasteland of a city. Thank you, thank you Bean Boots.

I’m not getting to the gym. I’m spending way too much time cooped up with my darling husband and my completely obnoxious darling cat and we are driving each other a bit insane. But the power’s stayed on, I’ve got heat, I’ve got coffee, I’ve got food and wine and books. During the Great Blizzard of 2013, I laid about my underheated apartment and read Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina. During the SnowiestMFingFebruaryInTheHistoryofBoston, I laid about my adequately heated apartment and read the entirely enjoyable sequel. It’s good and it’s long and I have enough pages left to get me through the next XXX inches of snow.

I mean, assuming I survive.

 

 

reading rockstar

This morning I woke up to a foot-ish of snow and the cold, hard reality that my employer was expecting me to show up at work. Also, a post-Super Bowl Too Much Food&Drink Not Enough Sleep situation. Read: grumpy as hell.

I did, however, make it into the office in time to watch the webcast of  the ALA Youth Media Awards. And wow, what a crazy set of awards. There were upsets! Some well-deserving sleepers! Some books I really disliked taking home gold medals! An arguably YA graphic novel on the Caldecott list, a graphic novel on the Newbery list, and six (SIX!!) Caldecott honors that still somehow managed to skip some of my 2014 favorites. Definitely a wild ride.

Now, because I am having such a crummy day, I am going to divert your attention from the authors and illustrators who put forth such an amazing crop of children’s and young adult literature this past year and brag SHAMELESSLY about how many of these freaking award books I have read. Seriously. Reader, I killed it.

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  • I read the Newbery Medal winner – The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – and both honor books.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Author Award winner – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – and one honor.
  • I read the Coretta Scott King Illustrator winner – Firebird by Christopher Myers and Misty Copeland – and one honor.
  • I read the Schneider Family Book Award for middle school readers – Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.
  • I read the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award – Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales.
  • I did not read the Stonewall Book Award winner – This Day in June by Gayle E. Pittman – but I did read two of the three honor books.
  • I did not read the Geisel Winner – You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant – but I did read one of the two honor books.
  • I read the William C. Morris award winner – Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – and one other honor book.

 

The only categories I completely whiffed on were the Pura Belpre Author Award and my beloved Alex List. Brag, braggity brag brag BRAG… but this is likely the only year this will happen, so thank you for indulging my self-indulgence and CHEERS to another great year of books!

 

in 2015

 

The Boy and I returned from our family vacation on January 3rd. We caught an early flight, so I spent most of the day napping and watching House Hunters. Not exactly seizing the new year. In fact, it is the 21st as I write this and am currently seizing very little. 2015 definitely didn’t start on the 1st – I was on vacation for heaven’s sake! I thought it would start after I met a post-vacation deadline, but then I couldn’t make the deadline and it’s really better I don’t talk about that. Then I threw a baby shower, and now that my immediate concerns have ended the month is halfway done. 2015 should be starting annnnnny minute now.

I’m not taking on any traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2015. No one little word (which really just reminds me of Skyrim, actually). No 30 before 30. Ignoring the chance to turn over a new leaf is a bit out of character, but I suspect that 2015 will be a bit of a wild ride. I’m sure I won’t be able to resist the siren song of self-improvement as the year moves on, so I’m bowing out of the NYR game in favor of whatever small goals I dream up for myself over the course of the year.

So I won’t be Resolving in 2015, but I won’t be sitting on the couch all year, either. Well, actually, I probably will be sitting on the couch all year, so never mind. Anyway, here’s what I will be up to in 2015.

 

Reading some YA nonfiction

Yes, I have returned yet again to the Cybils YA nonfiction committee, but after two years as a Round One judge I am trying my hand at Round Two! For the layman, this means that instead of reading a butt-ton of nonfiction books between October and December 31st, I waited for Round One to do their thing. Now, my first order of 2015 business is to read the seven nominees! Don’t worry,  I’m not waiting to “settle in” with 2015 to get this one going; I’m a book and a half away from the finish line. Check back with the Cybils folks on Valentine’s Day to see which of the seven we select!

 

Examining my relationship with processed foods

I’m not going as far as to call this one a New Year’s Diet or anything, but I’m pretty much always on a never-ending quest to find Peace with Eating. In an ideal world, everything that I ingest would be healthful, delicious, quick-ish to prepare, and produced in a manner that doesn’t offend my morals. While also fitting into my budget. Easy as pie. Once in awhile pie. Not every weekend pie.

Anyway, this year I’d like to winnow away at my processed food consumption. Processed foods are quick-ish but not usually healthful, and after reading Salt Sugar Fat I’d really rather not actively give my paycheck away to giant corporations who have hired scientists to engineer their products in such a way that my powerful human sensory system overrides my pitiful stores of willpower to just keeeeep eating until I am obese and die. Also: processed foods? Rarely as delicious as you thought they’d be. Right now I’m being mindful of my current habits and making small changes – swapping out my usual afternoon Triscuits and cheese for some nuts or deviled eggs, for example. I might go cold turkey later in the year, but for now I think the slow and observant track is working out okay.

Buying a car

We’ve been enjoying car-free living for two years now. I like not paying for gas or emergency car repairs or emergency save-my-stranded-husband-from-the-side-of-the-road repairs or car insurance. I like not worrying about any of that at all. However, we moved to our new neighborhood knowing that we’d be a little farther away from some of our favorite parts (and people) of Boston, so we’ve been stashing $$ away since then. And now that our third car-less winter has arrived… well, it’s time. I’m looking forward to feeling more mobile, to carrying fewer belongings on my elderly aching back, and to taking some New England excursions in 2015.

(Learning to be a badass city driver? Not looking forward to that so much…)

 

Taking some trips

New year, new stash of vacation days. Last year we took it reasonably easy, travel-wise, both to spend some extra time with family and to save money for some more ambitious travel plans. If we can strategically apply those vacation days and stashed dollars, 2015 might be the year of another Big Trip. But we’d also like to spend a week in the Kansas City area to visit Favorite Roommate and The Boy’s little brother, hit the beach with my family, bus down to New York for a weekend or two, and mayyyyyybe visit my friends and her already-year-old-baby in San Antonio. So what I am saying is we’ll be headed some places.

 

Keeping a Log Book

Okay, so this one is kiiiiind of like a New Year’s Resolution. Except that it’s easy, fun, and serves no significant daily function. As a calendar connoisseur, I’ve been intrigued by Austin Kleon’s concept of a personal log book for quite some time now. I’m actually pretty sure I read that original post, back in the day, so we are talking five years now. Anyway, The Boy was buying his own work planner online so I asked if he would buy me a smaller version, and here I am – logging away. It’s like a journal… but simpler, more fun, and without room for the “woe is me” that usually comes pouring out when I try to keep a proper diary. I’m digging it.

Reading Like an Absolutely Insane Person

If you are wondering why I am not posting on this blog in 2015, it is because I am busy reading.

If you are wondering why I can’t seem to string a sentence together, it is because I am busy reading.

If you are wondering why the above log book photo does not include anything about reading, I would encourage you to shove it but I am too busy reading. And I promise, I was reading – both days.

If you see me in the wild and I look as though I have not showered for a week, that is because I hate showering. And also, I am too busy to shower. Because I am reading.

Mad reading. If nothing else, 2015 will be a year of mad, mad reading. Can’t wait to tell y’all all about it.

 

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

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#1 The Magicians series by Lev Grossman

Oh boy. Here’s a review that has been a long time coming. Almost an entire calendar year coming!

I read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians at the tail end of December, just as I was finishing up my end-of-the-year book awards, my Cybils reading, a spate of professional reviews. I was also coming off my second listen-through of Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords. This is all to say: I was busy and doing a lot of required reading…. but despite having read through the series twice in 2014, I was sorely tempted to jump right back into Westeros, just because it was a comfortable place to be.

I resisted the urge for a number of reasons – instead, I was just an angry little reading thing. Nothing seemed fun. Nothing suited. It was a very slumpy time, and while I’ve come to accept the fact that, oh, human life does not always adhere to whatever superhuman standards I set for myself, it still unsettles me, to feel so adrift. Like a habitual, every day runner slowed down by an injury. Rest is good. Necessary. But also distressing.

Some people run marathons. Some people read marathons.

Anyway, I chanced upon The Magicians through my beloved Overdrive app, and my slump dissolved. It was one of those reading experiences that Reader Me (and probably Reader You) lives for – the complete immersion, the instant investment, the can’t-stop-reading feeling.

You know what I’m talking about. It’s better than almost anything.

Quentin Coldwater is a high achieving 17-year-old with a tendency toward angst. Or clinical depression. One of the two. His life’s primary joy is reading fantasy novels, specifically the series Fillory and Further… which is really just an alternate imagining of The Chronicles of Narnia. Quentin’s ennui is lifted temporarily when he is tapped to enroll in a secret college. A college for magicians. The boy who wanted nothing more than to live in a fantasy novel… gets to live in a fantasy novel.

Yes. It’s Harry Potter in college.

But probably not in the ways you think.

Lately, I have been attracted to books that blur genre lines. I’ve been a bit of a genre-nerd for some time now – all of my favorite literary questions are about narrative structure, reader expectations, and canonicity. What books do we get to call “literary” and what books do we not? Why do so many YA books have bad parents? What is the difference between an adult book about teens and a YA book about teens? What is the difference between a book teens like and a book adults like?

Genre-bending books, by their very nature, present these genre questions on a platter, almost requiring that you consider them as you read. The Magicians straddles the line between fantasy and realism. The narrative sticks closely to Quentin’s perspective – the book is missing that charming storytelling narrative distance that fantasy-lovers (like Quentin) adore. The result is a book that feels very different than a fantasy novel (especially a children’s fantasy), which may put off those actually looking for a “Harry Potter in college” reading experience.

What’s left is a very realistic coming of age novel about fantastic events.

As a girl who loves realism and is dipping her toes into fantasy, this combination basically flipped my lid. I was tickled. 100% delighted. I loved how awkward and unfocused and stumbling Quentin was, how he makes friends in an organic but occasionally painful way that took me right back to college. He whines. He pouts. He makes bad choices. He doesn’t quite know what he wants from the world. But really – who does?

But I was also quite taken by… well… all the magic. In the world of The Magicians, bagic isn’t a mystical ability, bestowed upon you at birth. Magic is an academic discipline and practice. A science. An art. Only the best and brightest can hope to practice it well and safely, but even the best and brightest college students are still college students. Quentin and his friends are intoxicated by the prestige and the secrecy and the endless possibilities that their field presents. Magic big and deep and encompassing and so, so powerful – Quentin and his friends learn just how powerful in some seriously painful ways.

This is also the rare fantasy series that doesn’t lose a bit of steam as the trilogy rolls along. I loved The Magicians, but then The Magician King introduces a second narrator whose story I found even more compelling than Quentin’s. The Magician’s Land was a bit slower – not quite as electrifying – but the conclusion was just so, so satisfying to me.

So yes, I’m glad I stopped reading Game of Thrones for a few minutes – long enough to find a new series to love. The surface parallels between the two series are pretty nonexistent. I’m definitely not claiming that fans of GoT will love this, but I found Grossman’s world-building just as thorough and inventive, his characters just as tortured and complex, and the Big Fat Ideas just as free-flying and immersive and wonderful. Like GoT, this series just transports me. Like GoT, I’ll be re-reading The Magicians for a long time.

~ You made it! The end! Merry Christmas! I’m officially On Vacation until January, but I will be back in the New Year! ~