How I Came To Sparkle Again – Book Review, Author Interview and Giveaway!

 

I haven’t been reading as much as I like to lately. Life has gotten busy, which usually happens this time of the year. I have to remember to slow down and enjoy the holidays. One of my favorite ways to do that, besides spending time with my family, is to curl up on the couch by the Christmas tree with a fire going in the fireplace….reading a good book.

Before the mad rush to Thanksgiving started, I did get my hands on a great, newly released book and devoured it quickly. How I Came To Sparkle Again, by author Kaya McLaren who wrote Church Of The Dog and On The Divinity of Second Chances was released on October 2, 2012, and is getting great reviews from folks like best-selling authors Kristin Hannah, Susan Wiggs and Nancy Thayer. I can see why.

For me, good books are just like a yummy feast…they are food for my soul. This one has a lot to offer readers in terms of reframing a negative situation and starting over. There are a lot of hope-filled messages to pick up on in between the lines of an entertaining story.

Here’s the skinny:

Jill Anthony spent her young adulthood in the ski town of Sparkle, Colorado.  But more than a decade has passed since she left when, only weeks after a very late miscarriage, she finds her husband in bed with another woman, she flees Austin, Texas for the town she knows:  Sparkle. 

Lisa Carlucci wakes up one morning after another night of meaningless sex, looks in the mirror and realizes that she no longer wants to treat her body like a Holiday Inn. She’s going to hold out for love.  The only problem is, love might come in the form of her ski bum best friend, who lives next door with his ski bum friends in a trailer known as “the Kennel.” 

Cassie Jones, at age ten, has lost her mother to cancer and no longer believes in anything anymore.  She knows her father is desperately worried about her, and she constantly looks for messages from her deceased mother through the heart-shaped rocks they once collected in the streams and hills of Sparkle. 

So yeah, each of Sparkle’s main characters are going through quite a bit. Which may make you believe that the book is heavy. But it’s not. The relationships that develop between all three make for a pretty uplifting story and while it doesn’t have the suspense of a page-turning “who dunnit”, I found myself turning them quickly until I came to the end.

If you are a skier or fan of Colorado (like me!), you are going to love the setting of this book. I wanted to jump in the story on several occasions and soak in the beautiful, winter atmosphere.

I had the fabulous opportunity to ask author Kaya McLaren some questions about the book. If after you read through her answers you want to dive into the book yourself, you’ll be happy to hear this – I have two books to give away to Still Living The Dream readers just in time for the holidays!

Kaya McLaren, author of How I Came To Sparkle Again

Author Interview

1. Where did you find the inspiration for the main character, Jill?

I was living and teaching on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, and by the spring of my first year, I’d pull into the driveway of the school each morning and cry because I didn’t know if I could make it through one more day with the really tough class I had that year. And then I rediscovered skiing. The next year, I got a season pass to Wolf Creek. There, a group of young guys took me under their wing and helped me be a better skier. They were such unlikely angels, but man, they pulled me out of a deep funk and brought me back to life. They absolutely were my angels. So I really wanted to write something that was a tribute to them– something that showed what good friends on snow could do for a girl’s spirit. Woven into that, I had a friend who was an OB/GYN nurse who had a miscarriage, and another friend whose parents were missionaries in Africa and would send out mass emails implying that she wasn’t going to be with them in heaven.

2. Why did you choose a skiing community in Colorado as a setting in the book?

One thing I love about skiing fast is that it forces me to be fully present in any given moment. If my mind wanders, I eat it. Bad. Really bad. So for people like me with really busy minds, doing something at really high speeds can force us to meditate and give us extended moments of peace. I think, too, that mountain communities have always been my home, and yet they are rarely the setting of books. It’s foreign to a lot of people. I wanted to write about my world. It’s full of really great characters– strong, adventurous, courageous people, crazy funny people… people who are stuck in an early moment of their life, and people who are growing.

3. You seem to be deeply moved by the environment. Why are Jill’s surroundings (the snow, change of seasons, small town) so crucial to her healing?

Life is full of cycles– good times and bad times, sickness and health, courage and fear, love and loss, rain and sun, the cycle of the seasons. Nothing lasts. Nature heals me over and over. This world we construct in our culture where we are so important is a little much. When I walk away from it and into nature, I’m reminded of my place in the grand scheme, and how small and temporary I really am. It puts everything else into perspective. Nature is the answer to most of my questions.

4. Tell me about the unique dynamic between Jill and Lisa and the Kennel boys. Is there any hope for guys like Eric and Hans to find love and a lasting relationship?

Occasionally it happens! I see it. It shocks me every time, but yes, it happens. All of the guys I skied with at Wolf Creek are married now. I did not see that coming. But you know, there are people who are damaged in different ways and their capacity to love may be different or take different forms. Who are we to say that lasting relationships are success and a semi-solitary life skiing with friends is not?

5. I found the descriptions and character views of “kidney love” versus “luv” so interesting. How did you come up with this perspective on male/female relationships? Have you experienced “kidney love”?!

I love really easily. Rather, I “luv” really easily. But generosity is more difficult for me. I have non-sexual, non-romantic kidney love for soul sisters and family members. None of the men in my life were around long enough to reach that point. Kidney love takes time.

6. Jill experienced a lot of loss and troubled relationships. Why was her struggle with her parents and the Mormon religion an important part of her story?

I think religious upbringing absolutely affects a person’s self-worth. And it could have been countless other denominations or religions. It’s about judgment and acceptance. When things go south, judgment never heals. Only love does. And love is accepting. I picked Mormon parents because I could easily model them after my friend’s parents and get the details right. If my friend had had Baptist parents, I would have picked that. I think it’s an interesting impasse we reach with people we love who think we are going to hell or who think we are brainwashed, or who think they have the answers. It’s heartbreaking. And the things they feel entitled to say in our lowest moments can be atrocious. When everything is going wrong in my friend’s life, a little part of her does question whether this is all happening because she left the church. I was surprised to hear that. I wasn’t raised with religion, so it fascinates me. Sometimes I wish I had the rituals and the community that comes with it, but my capacity for that kind of faith is limited. All the characters and their different approaches to faith are part of me though. Faith or the lack of it absolutely shapes our perceptions of what happens to us and what the opportunities are in any given situation. I think it can affect our resilience, as well as our understanding of what is within the realm of our control and what is not. I don’t know how to tell a story without dealing with a character’s faith. I try to be equal-opportunity about it, because I perceive that faith really works well for a lot of people. I think I’m usually pretty neutrally fascinated about it… unless someone crosses the line and starts talking about gay people going to hell. Many of my friends and family are gay and I assure you, they are good people and absolutely not going to hell.

7. I loved renaissance man and supporting character, Uncle Howard. Did you have an Uncle Howard in your life that this character was based on?

No. I am Uncle Howard. I am the one who over-thinks things, who leads a pretty solitary existence, who offers people books and unsolicited advice that they don’t understand (because advice wasn’t what was needed– after all judgment is an inherent piece of advice). I’m currently reading Siddhartha again because I was curious whether I’d get something entirely different out of it thirty years later. So far, nope. Maybe that means I haven’t grown as much as I thought I had.

8. Things wrapped up pretty neatly for most of the Sparkle characters. Did you consider taking a different approach to the book’s ending? Do you believe in happy endings?

In my original ending, Jill ends up single in her own house. Eric is her friend with benefits who does occasional home repair for her, and Mike is like her platonic husband with whom she has this unconventional family experience. That seemed more realistic to me. I really wanted her to end up single and happy like me. Yes, that’s what I wanted to do– write a book that told the world that you could be a happy, single woman like me. But it was strongly suggested to me that this would not be a satisfying ending to readers, and you know, there really wasn’t much plot in being a single, happy woman. And so now I have a book that says you need to have a man to have a happy ending. It made me really, really uncomfortable at first and I had to make my peace with it. I realized a couple things. First, that I perceived wanting that kind of a happy ending as ridiculous weakness. And only two days ago my friend and fellow author, River Jordan, said to me, “Well, when you’ve had your heart broken a lot, it CAN feel like weakness.” Epiphany. And I realized that everyone wants to be appreciated for who they uniquely are, and comforted, held, and loved, and everyone wants some sizzle in their life, so what is the problem with this ending? There’s no problem. All of that is part of the human experience. And if you read to escape (not everyone does and that’s okay), you want things wrapped up much more neatly than they are in your own life. So there you have it. It’s candy. Enjoy.

9. All your books contain a common theme….second chances. Did you get a second chance that changed your life?

Oh, no, that’s not it. I just think life is a series of mistakes and second chances.

A Giveaway!

How I Came To Sparkle Again is available to purchase at Barnes and Noble, but how about the chance to win a copy of your own?! All you have to do is leave a comment below about what you love about the holidays. Two winners will each receive a copy of the book to enjoy over the holiday season (Christmas tree, couch, cozy slippers and fire in the fireplace must be all provided by you!!) Two winners will be selected at random on 12/2/12 at 11:59 p.m. CST.

Life’s about second chances, right? How about five more chances to win?! You know the drill, leave a separate comment for each that you do below.

  1. Follow me on Pinterest
  2. Follow me on Twitter
  3. Like Still Living The Dream on Facebook
  4. Like author Kaya McLaren on Facebook
  5. Tweet this: “I want to win a copy of the book How I Came To Sparkle Again @jpatrickcomm http://www.stilllivingthedream.com/2012/11/how-i-came-to-sparkle-again-book-review-author-interview-and-giveaway.html”
I received a copy of the book for review purposes only. I did not receive compensation for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Ghost Buddy Children’s Book Series – Mind If I Read Your Mind?

Did you know that Henry Winkler, The Fonz, is an author? Yup! Actor, director, producer and children’s book author…he is one talented guy.

In addition to the series, Hank Zipzer, Henry Winkler along with co-author Lin Oliver have written another children’s book series called Ghost Buddy. You know how I love to read and reading with my children is also very important to me. Not only do I want them to learn to love books as much as I do, but reading together is also a bonding time for us. In the early (and sometimes late!) evening, Jackson and I or Annie and I (or on rare occasions – all three of us together!) will curl up together and read out loud so we can enjoy the story together.

This is one of those series that is perfect for just that.

I love that the character, a sixth grade boy named Billy, is so close to my son’s age. He struggles with shyness and is on the short side. When his blended family moves into a new house in the first book, Zero to Hero, he meets a new friend in his room. The Hoove. Who happens to be a ghost.

Don’t worry. Not scary!! The Hoove is on a mission to help Billy (and in return he helps himself, too). I like that topics like bullying are dealt with in a positive way. My son liked the humor. We both liked that Billy and The Hoove are baseball fans.

Here’s the skinny about the second book in the series, Mind If I Read Your Mind:

Billy and Hoover are back in the hilarious new series from bestselling authors Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver! It’s time for Moorepark Middle School’s annual Speak Out Challenge, and Billy Broccoli thinks he’s got it made. With his best friend Hoover Porterhouse—the ghost with the most—by his side, Billy’s got the competition in the bag. Who wouldn’t vote for a demonstration on mind reading? But when Billy lands a spot on the sixth-grade team, he starts spending more time with his new teammates than he does with Hoover. And the Hoove plays second fiddle to no one! If Billy’s not careful, his secret weapon might just vanish into thin air, leaving Billy to pick up the pieces of a demonstration-day disaster!

Check out this trailer to get a closer look!

The writers have hit the nail on the head, dealing with topics that kids this age are going through. But they’ve done it in a very entertaining way. As a parent, I know that my kids are hearing a message about how to deal with struggles in a positive way. But because the message is hidden between a great storyline and jokes…they think they just are enjoying a great story and time with mom. (And yes, even though the main character in this series is a boy, my six-year-old daughter enjoyed the stories, too!)

We love to read at all times of the day, but in the evening…as things start to settle down, I find it to be the perfect time to spend quiet moments to together. Many times when Jackson and I will start reading together, he’ll share something that is troubling him or that is weighing heavy on his mind. Books often help break the ice that have lead to great discussions between us.

But the best part about finding a book like Mind If I Read Your Mind that we can enjoy together is when we laugh out loud at the same time.

What do you like best about reading together with your kids? What books do you enjoy?

I was given a copy of Zero to Hero and Mind If I Read Your Mind to review. I didn’t receive any other compensation and all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Valuing Our Teachers And Mission Possible Book Giveaway

Back to School
It’s almost time for the kids to go back to school. As an active parent in my children’s elementary school (I’ve served in several volunteer positions including homeroom parent and on the PTO Board) I don’t view September (when my kids start spending all day in school instead of at home during the summer months) a time when my schedule “frees up.”
Busy Schedules
In fact, I’m getting ready to be busier than ever and am currently working on back to school events for parents including Meet the Teacher, Kindergarten back to school breakfast and a Homeroom Parent/Teacher social….all taking place the first week of school.
Budget Cuts
I’ve watched budget cuts in my school district drastically change (or cut) school programs that my children love (and need). Frustrated, I have taken action by becoming extremely involved at a school level to support my childrens’ teachers and administration; raising money and parent involvement so that the cuts are not as painful to those in the classroom.
Burned Out
There is nothing sadder to me then to see a teacher who originally dedicated his or her career (that comes with long hours and low pay) to educating children because they believe in the power and importance of what they are doing … give up. But I understand. Budget cuts lead to stagnation, being unable to accomplish one’s job at a high level, which is one of the greatest sources of low teacher morale.
What Do We Do?
So why does our country treat teaching so differently than it does other professions? Why do they make so much less than other professionals, but expected to move mountains with few (and always decreasing) resources? And why do we, as parents, accept mediocrity in education when we can have so much more?
Answers
Recently, I read Mission Possible: How the Secrets of Success Academies Can Work in Any School by Eva Moskowitz and Arin Lavinia. In it, Arin, a literacy expert and Eva, the Founder and CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools, offer ideas for principals, teachers, parents and school reformers to improve teaching in learning. Based on concepts and best practices from the Success Academies, the book outlines ways schools can be more successful and I am FIRED UP.

Eva Moskowitz

Eva’s first charter school, Success Academy Harlem 1, quickly emerged as one of the top performing schools in New York State and was featured in The Lottery and Waiting for Superman. Today they have 3,500 students attending nine schools. Five more schools are expected to open this summer and they plan to eventually run 40 K-8th schools with 25,000 students.
High Demand
Last year 9,000 parents entered the lottery for 900 spots at their schools and they expect 15,000 to enter this year for 1,200 spots. So they realize that there are many other students, parents and educators across the nation hungry for more in terms of what their educational system can offer. That’s why they outlined their concepts in the book and dvd; giving people specific action items to make a positive difference.
Food For Thought
Some of the things Eva and Arin believe (backed up by success in the Success Academy schools) that particular struck me include:
  1. focus on the grown-ups, not the kids. Success Academy teachers “get extraordinary amounts of training, time and resources to develop their professional skills…coaching and mentoring to a degree unheard of in regular public schools.”
  2. do things FAST (their core value). This concept includes both education for the children and development and feedback for the teachers.
  3. partnerships with parents
Some of the things I, as a PTO board member, will be advocating for are:
  1. more books for the library AND the classrooms
  2. more quality field trips to make learning fun
  3. a commitment to recess/outdoor play to exercise kids’ bodies as well as their minds
  4. more time for teacher planning and development
But there is SO much more. I love how they refer to their students as scholars, their teachers as professors and their grades as class of x (the date that particular class will graduate from high school. This is done even for those in kindergarten!)
This book has so many practical ideas, backed by research and success in their schools and demonstrated on the dvd, you really have to get it your hands to see what it’s all about. To learn more about Mission Possible and how to buy the book, you can visit them on their website or on facebook.  Are you an educator or parent with questions for Eva? I encourage you to visit with her on twitter.
Mission Possible Book and DVD Giveaway
But you know that I’m going to give you a chance to win a copy, right? To win a copy of the book Mission Possible (which includes a dvd) all you have to do is leave a comment below about why you think this country treats teaching so differently than it does other professions. I’ll be picking a winner by random on August 9, 2012. Open to those in the U.S. only.
 
For more chances, leave a separate comment for each of the following you do:
  1. Follow me on Pinterest
  2. Follow me on Twitter
  3. Like Still Living The Dream on Facebook
  4. Like Eva Moskowitz on Facebook
  5. Follow Eva Moskowitz on Twitter
I was compensated for this post but all opinions expressed are my own.
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Butterfly Book Review, Author Interview and Giveaway!

I was recently given the opportunity to review the New York Times bestselling novel by Kathryn Harvey called “Butterfly”. Published in 1988, it was recently re-released along with the sequels Stars and Private Entrance. Engaging and well-written, it was a steamy read with a great story line that kept me intrigued until the end.

Here’s the skinny:

Above an exclusive men’s store on Rodeo Drive there is a private club called Butterfly, where women are free to act out their secret erotic fantasies. Only the most beautiful and powerful women in Beverly Hills are invited to join …Jessica–The lawyer, who longs for the days when men were men, and women dressed to please them. Trudie–The builder, who wants a man who will challenge her-all of her-with no holds barred. Linda–The surgeon, who uses masks to unmask the desires she hides even from herself. But the most mysterious of them all is the woman who created Butterfly. She has changed her name, her accent, even her face to hide her true identity. And now she is about to reveal everything to realize the dream that has driven her since childhood–the secret obsession that will carry her beyond ecstasy, or destroy her and everyone around her!

Me, Debi and Teri discussing Butterfly!

After finishing Butterfly, I immediately bought the second and third novels in the trilogy; Stars and Private Entrance. I told my friends Debi and Teri about them and after we all had the chance to digest what we read, we had an impromptu get together to discuss what we thought and put together some questions for the author.

Teri and I loved them. The many different story lines and constant shift from present to past kept us on our toes and engaged. Debi liked them but was distracted by the themes of abandonment and verbal abuse. We all agreed that the female characters were very dimensional. Strong and driven, but often very sad.

We can’t go into many details about the storyline. Anything we say could be a potential spoiler because of how the books are written. What I will say is that while the books are sexual in nature, there are many stories that unfold that offer so much more than descriptive sex scenes. We all considered the books to fall almost into the mystery genre…with enough spice to keep things fired up! We felt the best way to give you a taste of what’s to come is to tease you with the questions we had for the author after we read the book and her answers!

About Barbara Wood (Kathryn Harvey)

Born in England, she immigrated to the U.S. with her family and attended high school and college in Southern California. She sold her first novel, Hounds and Jackels, in 1976 and has written 25 books to date. Under the pen name, Kathryn Harvey, Barbara wrote “Butterfly”, “Stars” and “Private Entrance”,  a trilogy quite different from her other novels. Her newest historical novel, The Divining, was published in June.

Still Living The Dream (SLTD): What inspired the books/trilogy? It’s quite a departure from your other books!

Kathryn Harvey: The idea for Butterfly came from a board game friends and I had invented for our personal amusement. We designed a board with squares, we had little movers, we rolled dice and we drew cards. The game was about women’s sexual fantasies, and we each contributed fantasies on the cards, plus “men.” (Mostly in the form of movie stars).  Some of the fantasies were basic, but most were elaborate and sounded like romance novels. One evening in the middle of a game, one of my friends said, “How come men have such easy access to sex? They can buy it whenever they want. But what’s out there for women?” Another player said, “Wow, a really neat bordello for women.” And I added, “I’d be there in a flash.” Mind you, we were all happily married and just speculating. But the idea had been planted.  I did not set out to write a trilogy. After Butterfly, I went back to writing historicals, but then two more inspirations for Kathryn Harvey followed and voila! I had a trilogy.

SLTD: Why bordellos for women in all three books? Do these places exist? 

Kathryn Harvey: Alas, I have never visited or even heard of a bordello for women. As I said above, some friends and I speculated on What if ….?  I did recently hear a famous “madam” talk about possibly opening such an establishment in Nevada, for women, but the way she described it, the place sounded unspeakably seedy. Women don’t want seedy. We want fantasy, elegance, role-playing. At least most of the women I have talked to on the subject. Let’s face it, men and women are wired differently. And I love it!  Why brothels in all three books? Why not?  It’s a fun concept to play around with. And do these high end places exist? If they did, would I be sitting here right now in my tattered bathrobe and big fluffy slippers, thinking about the litter box I have to clean?  Amazingly, I still get mail from readers asking me for the exact address of Butterfly because they can’t find it!

SLTD: In your bio, you mentioned that you  frequently base characters on real people. Is anybody real in Butterfly?

Kathryn Harvey: Certainly, but I can’t say who!

SLTD: Come on! How about Danny? Is he based on anyone specific?

Kathryn Harvey: No, although for a physical model I kept a picture of dishy Eric Roberts on my desk.

SLTD: Was there an evangelist there when JFK was shot? Any historical significance to any of these characters?

Kathryn Harvey: If there was, I don’t know. I just thought it was a great platform to show off how opportunistic Danny was – using such a national tragedy for his own gain. The JFK assassination was a big thing in my own life, and the story was set in Texas, so it just sort of happened that way.

SLTD: Why did the main characters come from Texas? (Being from Houston, we are really interested in your connection to our state!)

Kathryn Harvey: It just happened that at time I had a very charismatic Texan in my life whom I met through a friend. I was helping him with a book he was writing and he really rubbed off on me. I had just started Butterfly and I was sort of searching for my antagonist, and this friend was regaling us with tales of Texas (he was a professor at USC who had long ago trained as a tent preacher). So I patterned Danny’s life, his colorful speech, and his mannerisms after this really Texan Texan.

SLTD: The male characters in the book range from pretty questionable to downright evil. Why?

Kathryn Harvey: Strong villains make for strong heroines. Nice and likeable men don’t pose much of a challenge to my main female characters. I like my ladies to work for their rewards.

SLTD: I’m already on the third book and there’s a lot of abandonment throughout all three. Did you experience this?

Kathryn Harvey: Not abandonment per se but I had a very lonely childhood. We were immigrants in Southern California and we moved around a lot. I never formed close friendships. I had no cousins or other relatives. I suppose that loneliness translates into abandonment in my characters. I never really noticed this! Interesting observation.

SLTD: How do you keep all the characters and different story lines of each straight? There were so many in each book (which we thought made the story very dynamic) but it was hard for the reader to know who was who at times. Butterfly clients, Beverly’s current friends, Beverly’s past friends, Beverly’s real family, Danny’s people…

Kathryn Harvey: I keep detailed and extensive outlines and biographies on each character. I assign colors to each, also, so that when I make notes I can tell immediately who I am talking about. I always have lots of characters in my books. I guess I like having a lot of people around me.

SLTD: How did you come up with the symbol of the butterfly?

Kathryn Harvey: I wanted something feminine, pretty, visually captivating and memorable. I first came up with a rose, but then I thought a flower stays in one spot and I wanted the symbol to also represent freedom and liberation. Hence the butterfly.

SLTD: Which of the women did you most identify with?

Kathryn Harvey: I identify a little with each of them because I put some of myself in each character I create. Naturally, I identify mostly with the tall, leggy blondes.

SLTD: Do you compare this book with the 50 shades books?

Kathryn Harvey: I haven’t read the 50 Shades books so I can’t make a comparison.

A GIVEAWAY!! 

Intrigued?! I hope so! But I won’t leave you hanging. How about the chance to win TWO copies of Butterfly (one for you and one for a friend). All you have to do is leave a comment below and you are entered. A winner will be chosen at random on July 25, 2012, at 11:59 CST.

Want more chances to win? Leave a separate comment for each you do below!

  1. Like Still Living The Dream on facebook
  2. Follow me on twitter
  3. Follow me on Pinterest
  4. Tweet this giveaway with this language: “I want to win two copies of the NY Times best-selling novel, Butterfly @jpatrickcomm http://www.stilllivingthedream.com/2012/07/butterfly-book-review-author-interview-and-giveaway.html”

I was given a copy of Butterfly for review purposes but no other compensation was received. In fact, I purchased Stars and Private Entrance on my own because I was hooked on the trilogy! All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Houston Summer Reading Programs For Kids

My kids and I love to read, especially while on vacation. So we went to the public library to check out some books and find out what’s going on there over the next couple of months. We are looking forward to catching a couple of author visits, a magic and juggling show and even a visit from a crocodile. (What?!!)

We also picked up information about the summer reading program they have there. Additionally, there are a few other places around town offering incentives to read during the summer break. Here’s the skinny on what we’ve found so far.

1. Barnes and Noble: Read any 8 books and record them in the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Imagination’s Destination Journal. Bring the completed journal back to the store by September 4, 2012, and choose a free book from the list. (The program is aimed at those entering first through sixth grades).

2. Half Price Books: Kids ages 14 and under can earn $5.00 to spend at Half Price Books by reading 15 minutes each day for a month. After kids log 300 minutes, bring in the completed log to the store to get your reward. One reader per age group each month gets a top reader prize as well: a $20 Half Price Books gift card.

3. HEB: Kids in Texas who read 10 books and log them on the HEB Summer Reading Club form can receive a prize (looks like it might be a t-shirt). Just mail the form to the HEBuddy 2012 Summer Reading Program , 10530 Sentinel, San Antonio, Texas 78217 by October 1, 2012, and they’ll mail the prize to you.

4. Harris County Public Library: The “Get A Clue” Program this year is for kids, teens and adults. You register online here. Children will get a cool ‘Get a Clue @ HCPL’ wristband just for registering and children who read or listen to 10 books or log 500 minutes of reading/listening time will receive a free book, teens who read or listen to 5 books or log 600 minutes of reading/listening time will get a USB flashdrive wristband and adults who read or listen to 5 books or log 600 minutes will be entered in random drawings to win a Kindle Fire, a Nook Tablet or a $30.00 bookstore gift card at conclusion of the program.

Of course, the real prize is becoming a better reader. Watching my kids enjoy a good book makes my heart smile!

Do you know of any other reading programs?

 

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50 Shades of Grey – A “sorta” Review

 

I must have been living under a literary rock recently because when I was visiting with a friend a few weeks ago she mentioned this book and I hadn’t heard about it.

I read just about anything I can get my hands on from historical fiction to chick lit…Harry Potter to The Hunger Games….I love to read. So when Sheri said, “you should check out this book, 50 Shades of Grey, I heard it was good,” I filed it mentally for the next time I was at the library or book store.

Just a few days later I was at Barnes and Noble and saw the stand with all three books in the trilogy (in paperback) and picked up the first one without reading the back cover.

And the ladies at the register started giggling.

“So is the book that good?” I asked.

“Uh, yeah – you could say that,” one said and started giggling again.

“So your saying it’s a funny book?” I asked – confused by their response.

“Um, m’am, it’s kinda what you call ‘Mommy Porn’”, she said using air quotes.

And sure enough – on the back cover the genre is spelled out in black and white “Erotic Romance – Mature Audience”.

Well then. Let’s go read porn, I guess.

Then, as if the rock had been lifted, I started hearing about the book EVERYWHERE I went. Women of all ages talking about it in the grocery store, at the nail salon, at kids’ sporting events. Saturday Night Live even had a skit on it for Mother’s Day and a lady in her fifties at Target told me it saved her marriage.

Surely you’ve heard about it by now. But have you read it? I have. Quite the little page turner. Written by EL James, it’s not the most well-written book I’ve ever encountered, but it kept me reading.

Maybe because of  the VERY descriptive sex scenes every 10 to 20 pages?

Here’s the deal:

Christian Grey, a very wealthy and young business-owner is interviewed by literature student Anastasia Steele for a college paper. An instant attraction between the two ignites an interesting relationship based on sex. He’s looking for a submissive (contract and all!) to take part in his sexual fantasies, she’s looking for a more traditional relationship. You can see where the conflict comes in.

Basically boy meets girl. Boy wants to chain up girl. Girl’s kinda ok with that, but wants to snuggle, too.

Happens all the time, right?!

This (and the other two that follow; 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed) are a great Kindle or Nook purchase because if you pull out the paperback at the beach you’ll have an instant book club meeting with any woman around and most likely get a smirk from any man close by!

I’m not gonna lie, ya’ll. I was at Costco yesterday and bought the next two books. And so did the lady standing in line in front of me. And the lady standing behind me.

I’ve heard they are making it into a movie.

What do you think of the series? Did you read it yet? Will you?

 

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Why I love Poet Miller Williams

When I was a freshman in college I met a girl named Angie. And she was so cool. She had this wild, long curly hair and beautiful smile and we loved listening to Carole King records and drinking tea and talking about books we loved.

She lived in the same dorm as I did, just down the hall. Late one night she came running to my room and started banging on my door with her wild hair pulled back in a half-hazard pony tail and one of those million dollar English literature text books open to a page somewhere in the middle.

“Oh, Jenn. I just read this poem and it made me think of you and your pappa.”

This is before cell phones and personal computers and the internet and texting….and I’m so glad. Because nothing could have beat that moment. The two of us standing in the hallway in the middle of the night reading this poem, tears running down both of our faces.

A Poem for Emily by Miller Williams

Small fact and fingers and farthest one from me,

a hand’s width and two generations away,

in this still present I am fifty-three.

You are not yet a full day.

 

When I am sixty-three, when you are ten,

and you are neither closer nor as far,

your arms will fill with what you know by then,

the arithmetic and love we do and are.

 

When I by blood and luck am eighty-six

and you are someplace else and thirty-three

believing in sex and god and politics

with children who look not at all like me,

 

sometime I know you will have read them this

so they will know I love them and say so

and love their mother. Child, whatever is

is always or never was. Long ago,

 

a day I watched awhile beside your bed,

I wrote this down, a thing that might be kept

awhile, to tell you what I would have said

when you were who knows what I was dead

which is I stood and loved you while you slept.

 

The line that made her think of me and my grandpa with whom I had a close relationship with and  died when he was 53, was “the arithmetic we do and are”. Like many other things, Pappa was the one who taught me my times tables. I had such a hard time learning them until Pappa sat me down at his big dining room table. I remember the smile of pride that ran across his face when the trick to multiplying numbers by 9 finally clicked and I “got it”.

Several years later Angie had transferred to another school but my love for literature and poetry grew. English had become my second major and I was estactic to hear that Miller Williams would be visiting our small college campus. I sat in the back of the lecture hall that night and listened to him recite his beautiful work including The Curator (about the “unseen” collection at The Hermitage in Leningrad during the war) one of my favorites. But it was A Poem for Emily that made me weep again. To hear it in his voice….undescribable.

And I remember thinking…I wish Angie was here.

I met him that night. I waited for all the freshmen to file past him first (attendance for them was probably required for English 101) and then pulled out the poem I had copied down in my journal several years back and told him, “I know you wrote this for Emily, but I felt like it was written for me.”

He kindly signed my book and thanked me. I wondered if he knew how his worked had touched me. I’d love to hear him recite his work again some day. And I’d love to bring Angie.

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Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: Rated PG-13 – Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

Directed by Gary Ross. Opens March 23, 2012.

 Let me start by saying that I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in about five minutes. Well – maybe 10. Written for the tween/teen age set (Scholastic recommends the series for ages 12 and up), many of my adult friends devoured each book and passed along their dog-earred, tattered copies to others while they read the next one in the series as feverishly as I did.

When my ten-year-old son asked to read The Hunger Games, I let him….despite the pretty unsettling premise of the book (12 poverty-stricken “districts” (cities in a postapocalyptic  world) select two 12-18 year-olds, a girl and a boy, to serve as tributes in an annual event (Survivor reality show-style) where they fight to the death to the delight of the privilaged people who reside in the Capitol.)

Suzanne Collins wrote the books without use of profanity, there isn’t any excessive sexuality and (odd for the fact that you know going in to it that 23 people will “probably” die) the book does not “dwell” on the violence.  We actually had a couple of really cool conversations about abuse of power and how someone can stand up against what is wrong, even if they are young they can make a difference and that hope in a grime situation is pretty powerful.

And Thursday night, together, we went to the press screening. And I don’t regret my decision to take him.

Our verdict of the movie? They did well.

I had high expectations for this film and I didn’t walk away disappointed. As with any film  that comes out with this much hype, there are always going to be a  couple of misses. And I’ll get to those.

But first, the best…..

Those who read the book will be happy that the events in the movie were pretty spot-on to the book. But even if you go see the film without first reading the story I believe you will both enjoy and understand it fully. With that said, I do think you’ll want to go home and read the book directly after you see the film.

I loved the way the capitol’s extravagance, exploitation and decadence was displayed through clothing (look for this movie to come home a winner in costume design during awards season) and characters such as a Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks) and Emcee Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci (I just love his sparkly blue suit and wig and his big, fake teeth!). The contrast of the bright colors and over-done make-up on Capitol dwellers to the drabness of the clothing worn by those in the districts speaks volumes.

The settings were perfect. Again, the drabness of the districts showed the distress and poverty and the futuristic Capitol punctuated the abuse of the power and the descrepency between the haves and have-nots.

Character-wise – Jennifer Lawrence carried this film to the top….a great choice to play Katniss. Her ability to portray both the character’s toughness and tenderness was impressive. (Spoiler-alert) The scene where Katniss lays ally tribute Rue to rest, a very pivotal and emotional point in the film, was very well done. (Lots of tears shed from movie goers during this scene.)

Haymitch, District 12‘s mentor, was not a likeable character in the book but I found myself drawn to him in the movie. Played by Woody Harrelson, he was very kind to Katniss and Peeta, and at times even funny. Even with flask in hand, Harrelson didn’t seem to be the out-of-control, former Games winner depicted in the book.

Now, the not-so hot…..

The beginning of the film, which showed District 12 getting ready for the reaping (the day when the two people are selected each year for the Games) was shot in that artsy-fartsy “close-up and lots of camera movement” way that film critics love but just made me dizzy. I know it was meant to make the audience feel the chaos of the district and the distress of the day itself, but I was afraid if it continued, I’d have to ask my friend Stacey who was sitting by me for a peppermint to ease my queasy stomach.

Thankfully (spoiler alert) once Katniss volunteered to take her sister’s Prim’s place (who was initially selected) and got on the train to the capitol they widened up the camera angle and the jiggling settled down.

Cinna, District 12‘s appointed clothing designer for the Games and the pomp and circumstance that took place beforehand was played by Lenny Kravitz. This good guy from the Capitol was a favorite character of mine in the book and I liked him in the movie but his presence wasn’t as significant which disappointed me. And when he first met Katniss in the film I thought he went in for a hug with a little too much “I don’t just like you, I like-like you” zeal. I was so glad they didn’t go there!

I wasn’t  really impressed with Sienca Crane’s, the Gamemaker, performance. He didn’t appear menancing, even with his crazy beard and while I know he was supposed to be a flawed character, his performance for me was just luke warm throughout the entire film.

Donald Sutherland on the other hand, cast in the role of President Snow, made only brief appearances in this film but each time his quiet and calm  demeanor made me shiver. He’s all over the second book and so I look forward to his performance in the next movie (word on the street is that it is due to come out fall 2013… a long time to wait!)

Make no mistake. This film is violent. While some deaths are not shown or shot from a distance, some scenes are intense and a few disturbing. If you are taking some younger folks to the show, some head-turning points that I remember best are:

1. Before the Games when Katniss watched past Games footage in her hotel room.

2. At the beginning of the Games when several tributes are killed at once.

3. The death during the bee scene.

4. At the end of the Games.

But the important point to remember here is that there aren’t any real winners in the arena. There’s no evil vs. good war going on in the field, it’s in the Capitol and on the streets of the districts.  Each player is scared (even the career tributes from the more privilaged districts) and doesn’t really want to be there. And each player killed is a loss that is grieved. This movie does NOT glorify death nor does it encourage killing.

My son, who loved the book, said the movie was great but that is was “scary” (seeing the concept come to life).

Should you take your 10 or 11-year old? While I certainly stand by my decision to take mine…it’s a good one to make for yourself based on your child’s ability (and desire) to digest a story like this. There is a lot to be learned here and great opportunity for parents to have meaningful discussions with their tweens, but not worth the price if your child is not ready emotionally for a concept like this.

Should you go? Yes! And then come back here and tell me what you thought!

Disclaimer: I was given the opportunity to review this movie by attending a complimentary press screening. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wanda and the Oblahlahs – A Children’s Book Review & Author Appearance Schedule!

Since I was a young child, I’ve loved to read. Trips to the library were such a treat and I remember being able to select two books from the book store to take on our summer vacation each year. It was so thrilling to open up a new story and take the journey with the characters.

For me reading was and still is such an escape. And I learn so much from the stories I read and the characters I meet. One of the greatest joys of being a mom has been to pass on my love of reading to my children and I’m so happy that they love a good book as much as I do. That’s way I get excited when a new book comes out that is entertaining AND teaches a lesson at the same time.

Wanda's author Joe Sutton with grand daughter, Mallory and daughter, Gretchen

A great children’s book that does just that is being released in September 2011 by Bright Sky Press called Wanda and The Oblahlahs. It was actually written 35-years ago by Houston-based author Joe Sutton and illustrated by his sister, Jane Sutton Frawley. When Joe was a young parent he struggled with getting his daughters to throw out their chewing gum at night. He developed this story  to help entertain and teach his daughters “a well disguised lesson” – to mind your parents!

Joe’s entertaining story was discovered recently, tucked away safely in his attic, by his daughter Megan. The family decided to share the story with children all over the world and give a significant portion of book sale proceeds to help children who may not have loving families to share stories with them through the non-profit organization, Children At Risk.

I read the book to Annie and Jackson and they loved it. Wanda loves to chew gum but hates to throw it out each night at bedtime. One night when she has a babysitter who doesn’t know the rule, she keeps her gum in her mouth during the night. She learns the consequences of disobeying when the Oblahlahs come to visit her…and WON’T LEAVE!

Annie laughed a lot and I really loved the illustrations and after I read the book, Annie (who is just five and can’t read yet) “read” it back to me…and she almost had it spot-on. Which tells me a couple things.

1. my child is brilliant :)

2. the story kept her interest, was easy enough for her to understand and was relevant to “her world”

The book can be purchased through Bright Sky Press and Houston-area bookstores in September 2011; however Joe will be visiting several bookstores for book reading and signings this summer:

  • July 18: 2:30 p.m. – Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diane Lane, Houston, TX 77062
  • July 20: 10:30 a.m. – Discovery Green 1500 McKinney St. Downtown Houston (reading and foam party!)
  • July 29: 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. – The Woodlands Children’s Museum 4775 W. Panther Creek Dr. #280
  • August 9: 11:00 a.m. – Barbara Bush Branch Library 6817 Cypresswood Dr Spring, TX 77379
  • September 22: 10:00 a.m. – Blue Willow Bookshop 14532 Memorial Dr. Houston, TX 77079

Guess what? There is also an exciting contest! Visit my good friend Lori at A Day in Motherhood before July 20 because she is giving away an awesome prize pack which includes: A Wanda and the Oblahlah’s Book, a pack of Sugarless gum, aWanda water bottle and a Wanda insulated lunch bag. Pretty awesome, right?

She has a second contest and the winner of this one (Houston area residents only) will be treated to a guest appearance by Wanda author Joe Sutton and his daughter. Joe will come to the winner’s child’s birthday party, Moms Club Meeting, Scouts Troop Meeting, and so on and do a personal reading to the children.

I want to win this so don’t enter.

Just kidding, you can enter – but don’t win.

Ok, you can win…but if you do, can you invite me to the reading?

Thanks! You’re so awesome like that!

 I received a copy of the book, Wanda and the Oblahlahs to review but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Remember The Choose Your Own Adventure Books?! A Giveaway!

They’re still around and popular! When my nine-year-old son, Jackson checked several of them out at the public library a couple weeks ago and I got so excited. I love the warning at the front of every story:

Beware and Warning!

This book is different from other books. You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens in this story. There are dangers, choices, adventures and consequences. YOU must use all of your numerous talents and much of your enormous intelligence. The wrong decision could end in disaster-even death! But don’t despair. At anytime, YOU can go back and make another choice, alter the path of your story and change its result.

It’s like the show “Survivor” only you don’t have to worry about scorpions or cockroaches and you can sleep in the comfort of your own bed!

Jackson’s Mystery of the Maya book by R.A. Montgomery has 39 different endings depending on the choices you make (i.e. at the end of page six you have to decide whether to a.) visit Dr. Lopez and turn to page 7 or b.) go right to Chichen Itza and turn to page 38.)

You know how I love books so I was very happy to hear that Frito-Lay  is partnering with the Choose Your Own Adventure series. During this promotion, families will be able to purchase Frito-Lay Variety Packs that will have a code on the packaging to download one of three original digital Choose Your Own Adventure books online; Pirate, Time Travel or Safari. How fun is that?

Since the Variety Packs are perfect for packing a family picnic lunch for the beach…how neat is it that you can score a free book to read as well? Since we are enrolled in several reading programs this summer, we’ll be keeping track of all the Choose Your Own Adventure books we read. The local bookstores and public library all give rewards for reading books during the break.

So look for these displays in your store when you pick up some snacks and score some free books.

Speaking of FREE, how about – oh I don’t know… A GIVEAWAY??!!

I have a $25 gift card and a boxed set of Choose Your Own Adventure books for one, lucky Still Living The Dream reader. Drop me a comment to enter and get an extra chance for each of the five items you do from the list below! Hurry, though. The giveaway will end on July 21, 2011 at 11:59 p.m.

  • Follow me on Twitter at @jpatrickcomm
  • Follow me via Google Friend Connect
  • Sign up to receive Still Living The Dream posts via email (see top of this blog)
  • “Like” Still Living The Dream on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Still-Living-The-Dream/179737685406056
  • Tweet this giveaway using the following language: “Win a $25 gift card and a boxed set of Choose Your Own Adventure books at http://bit.ly/oDW5G2 @jpatrickcomm”
This review was made possible by MomSpark Media. I was given a Choose Your Own Adventure Book and Frito-Lay Variety Packs in return for posting information about this promotion. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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