Category Archives: My bookshelf

8 YA Books You Should Read Immediately

May 21, 2015

YA COLLAGEPeople ask me things all the time. Things like,

  • Who told you that baby wipe baths are an acceptable alternative to the real thing?
  • Why are you feeding your two-year-old a diet that is 60% condiments?
  • Did you really wake up in the middle of the night because a clown was playing circus music over the baby monitor and drag your husband halfway to the baby’s room before realizing it was a dream?

I’m not going to answer any of those questions. They apply to parenting, and I’m obviously killing it in that department. KILLING it. But there is one question I am always happy to answer.

WHAT SHOULD I READ?

And seriously, don’t ask me if you don’t  want an answer. Because I will give you a recommendation. Or three. And then I’ll probably bring up books every time I see you, so then you’ll be like “Hey, I just asked you the one time so we’d have something to talk about, and now you think we’re having an impromptu book club meeting every time we see each other.”

Sorry about that.

But I’m really not sorry about this list I’m going to give you today. You will LOVE it. It’s a list of novels written for teens* and they’re smart and funny and made me turn green up to my eyeballs because I wished I’d written even just one sentence of them.

*ADULTS. Listen to me. YA novels are for you too. You are going to dive into these and love them because you were once a teenager, and regardless of how magical or horrible your teen years were, I’ll bet you anything you think about them often. And I bet you remember how much you FELT every little thing, and how up and down things were, and how bad and how GOOD it all could be. So take a minute to relive it all, okay? Because I know being an adult can feels like milk toast. Reject the milk toast. But keep saving for retirement, because really. You’re an adult now. You have to do crap like that.

1. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. I’m not even going to tell you about this one, just GO READ IT IMMEDIATELY. Fall in love. Get your heartbroken. Remember what it felt like to be a misfit.

2. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I have to admit I was totally put off by the title. It sounded kind of…cheesy? But I figured 800+ ecstatic Amazon reviews couldn’t be wrong, so I gave it a shot and suddenly I was falling headfirst into Anna’s year in Paris and falling for the divine Etienne and OMG my head exploded. And so did my little sister’s. Really, so so fun.

3. Out of Reachby Carrie Arcos. So smart, so lovely, what a whirlwind. A girl goes looking for her drug addict brother. LOVED this. As I finished the last paragraph I thought “Now THAT’s what a YA novel should be.”

4. Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley. Two stories in one–which I love–and you won’t believe how they tie together. Cullen’s cousin overdoses, his small hometown becomes obsessed with the reappearance of a rare woodpecker, and his 15-year-old brother goes missing. Get ready to stay up late reading.

5. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green. Did you think I’d make this list without one John Green book? No. Heavens no. He’s like YA royalty, and if I ever get the chance to meet him I’ll probably get all sweaty and awkward and before I know it say something ridiculous that I’ll regret for absolutely the rest of my life. But this BOOK! So fun. The premise killed me. And John Greene’s writing is just so damn special. I can’t get over it.

6. Something Real, by Heather Demetrios. This is about a girl whose entire crazy life (she’s one of 13 kids) has been recorded on reality TV. For a few perfect months she gets the chance to live a normal life, but when the cameras come swooping back in she has to decide what she really wants. I’ve basically been singing from the rooftops about this one. SUCH GREAT WRITING. I was so unbelievably sucked in.

7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. You know and LOVE the character in approximately six words. Gorgeous writing, important themes, BEAUTIFUL.

8. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E Smith. Hadley and Oliver meet on a flight to London. She’s flying to attend (reluctantly) her father’s second wedding. And he’s flying…why? Lots of fun.

BONUS: (SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION) Love & Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch. Lina’s had a bad year. The worst, really. And now she’s leaving the shreds of her life to travel halfway across the world to live with a father she just found out about. Oh, and minor detail. He lives right smack dab in the middle of the cemetery. And his past with Lina’s mother? Pretty shady. Part mystery, part ice cream, part love story, I can honestly say I’ve been losing sleep over this story for a good year now. I will be adding a pre-order link the second it’s available, but for now, plan on Spring 2016. And pray I’ll survive this next round of edits!

DOUBLE BONUS: I didn’t list the Michael Vey series because you’ve already read it and are anxiously awaiting book #5, correct? If not, start with Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25. It’s fun, adventure packed, super creative, and wow. That guy really knows what he’s doing. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the over 1,000 Amazon ratings with an average of 4.5 stars.

Happy reading! What YA novels have you loved?

 

 

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

January 16, 2014

Into_Thin_Air

I just finished this book today. It’s an old one and I’m sure many of you have read it, but if you haven’t I definitely recommend it. It is the personal account of a journalist who survived the May 1996 disaster that killed a record number of people on Mt. Everest. This book was not light and easy for me to read–there is a lot of details about climbing technique and the names and places are recorded carefully (Jon climbed Everest as part of a journalism assignment)–but it really took me into a different world. It was fascinating to me what people undergo (endangering their lives aside) to ascend Mt. Everest. After reading this I am 110% sure that climbing Everest is not in my future. But reading about it from my warm bed? That I’m up for!

Pregnant Wildebeest Series Part 2: Obsessive Reading

October 19, 2012

I’m going to be totally straight with you: my first trimester sucked.

Friends would call. They’d say things like, “Hey! Haven’t seen you in a while. Do you guys want to go hiking/out for sushi/to a movie?”

And I say, “Gee, I’d love to, but I have to stay home and throw up.”

Actually, I’d lie and say things like: “Sorry, but I really have a lot of work to get done.” Or, “Can’t, I need to work on my ribbon-dancing routine.”

And then I stayed home and cried into my bowl of organic mac and cheese because I was so hungry and nothing would stay down. (Okay, that was just one night.)

(Friends, this is me officially telling you that we still like you. It was just a rough few months.)

And then I stayed home and read. Obsessively. It brought me back to the days when I devoured Goosebumps books under my dad’s book signing table (I could read 1.5 Goosebumps during an average book signing. All I’d have to do is remember the title and page number and I could pick up where I left off at the next book store.)

I’ve alway been a fast reader (and my job necessitates it) but pregnancy has made me a scary-fast reader. One particularly sick week I read 3 books in 4 days. Another night I read a novel (and found its grammatical errors–careful with quotation marks people) in the time it took David to go to a party for a couple of hours and come back. I told David I think I might be a savante.

He said that also explains why I no longer have any contact with the outside world.

Want a list of books to read? Here’s all I can remember from my first trimester reading, and I am sparing you the pregnancy books (mercy):

  • Turn of Mind, by Alice LaPlante (Read this!)
  • Drop City, by T.C. Boyle (All sorts of sexy hippies in this one. Unbelievable writing.)
  • Miserly Moms, by Jonni McCoy (Trying to learn the art of frugality.)
  • The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y.K. Lee (Excellent.)
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness (Book club choice, and very interesting.)
  • Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell (I just realized that the author’s first name is Rainbow. It made me like the book even more.)
  • Maine, by J. Courtney Sullivan (Great.)
  • Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House Into Our Home Sweet Home, by Matthew Batt. (Intimidating.)
  • St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell (Weird. Very weird. You should try it.)
  • The Gap Year, by Sarah Bird. (Enjoyed. Except for all the talk of food. That almost did me in.)
  • Don’t Breathe a Word, by Jennifer McMahon. (This is a book about spooky fairies that I enjoyed. Enough said.)
  • My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), by Toby Devens. (Please don’t ask me why I read this one. I just did. And besides some weirdly off-color language throughout I rather enjoyed it.)
  • The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, by Gary D. Chapman. (I really recommend this.)

And: A sexy book about a cowboy and a woman whose son is deaf. I can’t remember the title, but it had something to do with “Blue.” Google was no help in this matter.

I think it’s time we sign up for Comcast. I could really go for some reality TV right about now.

 

 

 

 

You Have to Read: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

March 27, 2012

This is a weird book.

You still with me? Because I loved it. I absolutely head over heels loved it. I hope I don’t discredit it by saying that it may not be for everyone, but it certainly was for me. This is the story of Rose, who as a 9 year old takes a big bite of her normally cheerful mother’s homemade lemon cake and tastes her mother’s desperation and despair. She has the gift (and curse) of tasting the emotions of the person who prepares her food.

This is a story quite unlike any other. It is classified as magical realism (which is just like it sounds, a novel based in reality with a touch of unrealistic). There’s also a lot of food in it. And I love to hear people talk about food. I love food and I love words, and it fascinates me to hear people describe taste–something I don’t have the ability to do.

Try this book. I found it rather delicious.

 

You Have to Read: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

March 8, 2012

Need something awesome to read? Of course you do. In fact, you’ve probably been reduced to reading things like shampoo bottles and that ancient copy of Body for Life you found laying around (you know you’re only reading it to laugh at the spray-tanned “after” pictures that you secretly find inspirational).

Never fear, the green lemon is here.

With a book I wish I could forget about so I could read it again for the first time. But don’t worry. The second time is also good. And the third. And the fourth? I’m not sure. I’ll let you know.

This is a book that shows every angle. A family’s story from the viewpoint of the grandmother, mother and daughter. These are characters you won’t forget.  This is writing you won’t forget. This is a book you should read.

And can we ooh and aah for a minute over this beautiful artwork? It has taken me ages to post it. Possibly because I am intimidated by how utterly perfect I find it. Snarrfish, you are one of the green lemon’s very best friends.

Yesterday Was a Bad Day, But I Do Love Book Club

October 21, 2011

Some days just don’t work. Yesterday was one of those days.

It started at 3:30 AM when Giacomo (our 12 lb. shihtzu with an Italian name) started wigging out. The day before I’d taken him to the groomers/vet and asked them to check and clean out his ears because I’d noticed he was shaking his head. They ended up finding 2 foxtails (the plant kind) in his left ear that have been there since who knows when, and causing him all kinds of pain. They ended up having to put him under to remove them.

When David picked Giacomo up at the end of the day he was a bit woozy, which I have to admit was kind of nice because normally he is racing through the house terrorizing pens, couches, house guests, and any unfortunate bug who manages to get in his way, like some kind of miniature godzilla. However, in the middle of the night he started crying and getting upset. David had a long day of work ahead so I decided to just get up with him and let him terrorize for a while so at least one of us could sleep.

At 6:00 AM I decided to go to my Body Combat class at Dash. I normally love this class–it makes me feel rather tough–but I was so off my game. Now I was the woozy one. I seriously considered ducking out early a few times but I stayed with it.

By the time I got home at 7:30 David was heading off to work and I got back in bed. I didn’t wake up until 11:30 and even then felt really crappy. I had a late breakfast, and forgot to eat much of a lunch. Then for dinner I decided to make Skinnytaste’s Slow Cooked Sweet Barbacoa Pork, which sounded amazing. However, there was a bit of a meat error: apparently a pork roast and a pork tenderloin are two very different things. That meat would not shred. I was really bugged. I was already feeling really crappy, and this minor annoyance turned me into what Jack Sparrow (and my husband) would call

A Terrible Beasty.

Finally it was book club time. David suggested I stay home (perhaps to minimize the effect my terrible mood was going to have on the world), but I insisted I had to go.

Oh  I love book club. I need that girl time every month.

Here are the things our club talked about last night:

  • Ghosts
  • Squash
  • Weird stuff we’ve done under anesthesia
  • High school boys who were creepy
  • Whipped cream
  • Psychics
  • Blogs we hate because the girls who write them weigh 90 lbs and make gigantic chocolate cakes every day
  • Whether or not dressing as Lucy and Ethel in the factory scene works for a Halloween party themed “1940′s Hollywood Red Carpet”
  • Which of our friends had the scariest big sister in the history of the world
  • Who hates dressing up for Halloween
  • What to call cookie dough dip made out of chickpeas (it was delicious)
  • How Ali Fife’s brother looks like Jesus
  • Medical literature
  • Pinterest
  • Over the counter drugs
  • Illegal drugs
  • Whether or not we are part of the “cool group” at work/school
  • Weddings we didn’t love
  • Mothers in law
  • How your astrology sign affects your sex life
  • Socks

Oh yeah, and:

  • Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden (If you have not read this, then 1) go get it, 2) cancel everything else this weekend. That is all I’m going to say.)

Book club makes everything right.

By the time I got home I was only a moderate beasty. And that is a huge improvement. But at 10:30 PM I was starving. I hadn’t eaten my protein. I hadn’t had my water. I hadn’t eaten regularly, and I really hadn’t had a great breakfast. I ended up eating a couple of pork tacos and some highly salted rice crisps. This morning I woke up with a stomach ache and awful heartburn.

Which means that today I must TRY AGAIN.

Thank heavens every day is a new chance.

“She Tried to Be Good”: Pulp Fiction Covers & Contest

September 7, 2011

Every writer has their inspiration. For some it may be the work of Dickens. For others, a particularly well-crafted work of macaroni art. But a select few, through no fault of their own, seem to find all manner of inspiration in 1950’s pulp fiction novel covers.

I happen to be one of those writers.

In fact, at the moment I am typing away under a large picture entitled “The Original Pulp Fiction Collection.” It is a framed photo of 5 Pulp Fiction covers titled Love & Marriage. It brings me no end of joy.

Perhaps you don’t know what Pulp Fiction is. Let me enlighten you.

Pulp Fiction refers to a collection of literature that spanned the first half of the 20th century. This was cheap and dirty literature, called “pulp” because of the inexpensive wood pulp paper the novels were printed on. A good one cost you 10 cents. A really good one could be as much as 25 cents. They multiplied like ants in American newsstands and were soon hidden under mattresses all across the country. They were dramatic, racy, shocking, and all around delicious.

I must admit I’ve never read one.

But that really doesn’t hinder my enjoyment. Because what I really love about these novels are their covers. They are bright, cheap looking, racy, colorful, and downright delicious. In fact, the covers were so important that it became common practice for an artist to create a cover then ask a writer to come up with a story to go with it. Their titles make me laugh. Their descriptions make me laugh harder, and their pricing make me absolutely giddy. Let me give you a sampling.

This one is my absolute favorites and hangs on my wall for all to see. There are so many things I love about it that I’m not sure where to start. Here we have the typical Tall Dark & Handsome (alternately known as black-haired Ken doll) hoisting a buxom blonde whose blouse seems to be coming undone. There’s even a hint of a bed which suggests hanky panky. But not too luridly. This novel screams “sexy with a moral.” And who doesn’t like their morals sexy.

This one is a close second. I love the delicate pink blossoms and whimsical daisies that suggest vitality, youth and spring. I love that she is pink-cheeked with love while Tall Dark & Handsome is completely out of place in their pastoral haven, decked out in a jacket and tie. I also find the pipe to be a nice touch that brings a touch of class to the scene. I try to model my own love affair after this image.

First off, the title is a homerun. Because if there’s one time in your life that should be downright shameless it’s your honeymoon. Obviously this author gets that. I love her gigantic lacy boobs, the placement of her left hand, and the way Tall Dark & Handsome stands shaving in the background in a wife beater and high waisted trousers. Please, let us never be parted.

This cover and I have a history. But I just saw the book’s subtitle for the first time and immediately started howling. In fact, David just asked why I was “cackling” and after I showed him made several remarks over the next twenty minutes or so along the lines of “Where did I find you? You’re perfect for me.”

BTW – THIS IS WHERE THE CONTEST COMES IN!

I made the mistake of taking a journal with this cover on my study abroad to London with a very conservative Christian school. I made a bigger mistake when I accidentally left it out in the common area of our house’s living room.  Unfortunately, it was found and deemed trash. If only they could have read all the sultry details inside.

I AM GIVING AWAY THIS SAUCY LITTLE JOURNAL TODAY.

(Guaranteed to up the sauciness factor of your life by at least 17%).

To enter, post a comment to this post. To enter multiple times subscribe to my  blog via twitter, facebook, email or RSS feed (located under “Subscription Options.”

Oh I love you Green Lemon readers. I will announce the winner on Friday.

Now here’s a title I can work with. It’s more like a challenge. I also love the diversity of our characters. We have a blonde AND a brunette. And, I’m not sure, but one of the Tall Dark & Handsome’s appears to be a redhead. This is obviously a very progressive novel

You have no idea how badly I want a copy of this. First off, the dress is fabulous. So is her dreamy, faraway look. And the brilliance of the three ghosty heads (are they triplets?) adds all kinds of mystery. And what is she writing? So many questions and so few answers.

This one speaks for itself. Please notice the authorship.

Men didn’t marry her kind. The mirror affect is positively alluring. I can hardly tear my gaze away. And look at the drama captured in that one claw-like hand. How does she destroy everything she loves? And why is that man so angry?

There are 38 words on this cover. That’s longer than a dissertation I once wrote on the aspirations of potato bugs. Please notice that this one had not just 3 printings, but 3 LARGE printings.

And finally:

Ohy, the irony. This girl is clearly no bar of Ivory Soap. And what horrific tragedy affected her hair but missed her brows entirely?

I’m sorry I’m not more sophisticated. Some of you may be thinking along with my husband “Where did I find her?” And to that, I would respond 7th grade gym class and www.thegreenlemon.com respectively.

Don’t forget to enter the contest!

 

Deliciously Girly: Nine Chick Lit Novels I Loved

August 24, 2011

It’s like reality TV without the shame. It’s like calling your best friend to gossip for hours. It’s like reading—in pink. Yes, I’m talking about Chick Lit.

I don’t read a lot of it. Call me snobby, but after years of voracious reading I have little patience with anything I deem so-so. And I’ve found most Chick Lit to be so-so. But every so often I’ve found a gem that has put me on Reading Cloud Nine.

Chick Lit novels get a bad rap for their “light” or “fluffy” content. But I’ve found several that are riveting, insightful, and downright delicious. And there’s nothing wrong with reading something that doesn’t leave you sniveling in the bathtub over a devastating ending.

I’m not saying you’re off the hook for reading more substantial books: autobiographies, memoirs, classics, and really good fiction. But just because Chick Lit books are generally more cupcake than bran muffin doesn’t mean they don’t have their place in a healthy reading diet.

This list constitutes 100% of the chick lit books I have made it through (sure sign that I liked them).

1. Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding

I think about this book at least once a week. The first time I read it I was in high school and I recruited a friend to guide me around the halls between classes so I could read during every free second I had. Good law it is funny. And if you haven’t watched the movie yet, then PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER and go rent it. (Yes, that was yelling.) The second book, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, is just as awesome as the first (particularly the jail/tampon scene—trust me) but the second movie is an absolute abomination. Don’t see it.

2. The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel, by Lauren Weisberger

Okay, fine, so you’ve all seen the movie. But have you read the book? I’m not a particularly fashionable girl, so all the brand-dropping didn’t set my heart a flutter, but this book was great. Andrea, an ambitious but hopelessly style-less young woman become assistant to the terrifying dictator of Runway Magazine—Amanda Priestly. If you thought your boss was bad, read this. The villain is glorious—she makes you want to pull your perfectly highlighted hair out, and the book doesn’t get all wrapped up in a nice, neat package at the end, which I always like.

 3. Something Borrowed /  Something Blue, by Emily Giffin

I read Something Borrowed in about 4 hours. I could not stop reading it. Yes, this is chick lit. But this feels like smart chick lit. I didn’t know if I agreed with anything that was going on in this book (“good girl” Rachel White finds herself entangled with the fiancée of her best but sickeningly overshadowing friend Darcy) and that’s what made it so delicious. Something Blue is also excellent—I might have liked it even better than Something Borrowed. It picks up with Darcy’s side of the story, somehow showing a story you thought you knew in a totally different light.

4. The Nanny Diaries, by Emma Mclaughlin & Nicola Kraus

I read this while working as a nanny so I probably enjoyed this more than I should have, but my goodness this is great. This gives a glimpse into the bizarre world of Manhattan social-light child-rearing. Great characters, great plot, dreamy boyfriend, and some really annoying protagonists. Loved it.

 5. You’ll Never Nanny in this town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny, by Suzanne Hansen

This is a fun read. It’s an autobiography of a woman who was a “nanny to the stars” in LA. Every chapter is headed with celebrity parenting quotes that will make you gasp with righteous indignation. You get all the juicy details of who was great, who was horrifying, and just how awesome the DeVito family is.

 6. Good in Bed, by Jennifer Weiner

Cannie is a late 20 something who after breaking up with her loser boyfriend learns he is writing an article about her using lines such as “loving a larger woman is an act of courage in our world.” She’s devastated, but manages to pull off a pretty awesome comeback.

 7. In Her Shoes, (also) by Jennifer Weiner

You’ve probably seen this movie too. This is a story of two very different sisters—one a beautiful train wreck, the other a practical, unhappy lawyer. When their sisterly bond is devastated by an act of betrayal they both have to find their way.

 8. Little Earthquakes, (yes, another one) by Jennifer Weiner

This is Chick Lit for mothers. Three women meet in a prenatal yoga class and despite their differences become fast friends. Ayinde is a gorgeous, ambitious biracial woman married to an NBA player who she suspects of cheating. Becky is an overweight chef with a mother in law from you-know-where. Kelly, is a super-organized idealist with problems in her past. Their group is joined by Lia, a once-famous actress who leaves her husband unexpectedly. Every single one of their stories could be a book in their own, bring them together, you get Chick Lit magic.

 9. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything: A Novel, by Janelle Brown

This is the story of 3 women—a mother and 2 daughters—trying to survive Silicon Valley. When the family patriarch’s business goes public he announces to his wife that he is leaving her for her tennis partner. Meanwhile, 20 something daughter Margaret struggles to drag herself (and her gigantic credit card debt) into an ideal Hollywood lifestyle, and 14 year old Lizzie gets introduced to the world of men (via other 14 year old boys.) It was either the great story or the picture of the sundae on the front, but I couldn‘t put this one down.

 

Now go get yourself something with frosting, chocolate, sprinkles and/or ice cream and indulge in a little Chick Lit.  It’s good to be a girl. And PLEASE, leave me some recommendations for good chick lit. I am tapped out.

You Have to Read: “One Day” by David Nicholls

August 7, 2011

Right now I feel like I’m made of brownie. Gooey, warm and a tiny bit sad. (Does chocolate taste melancholy to anyone but me?)

Only really good love stories give me this feeling. And I just finished one. It’s called One Day, by David Nicholls.

I just finished the book in a bubble bath (I’ve got to stop doing these, you should see all the library books I’ve ruined), and the ending was so good that even though my water drained and I was sitting in a chilly, empty tub for the last 10 pages I couldn’t move. I had to finish it.

Now that’s a story.

I was drawn to this book by its concept. It is the story of a relationship between two people, Emma and Dexter. But this isn’t your average boy meets girl. Instead of telling what happened (A), which led to (B) and ultimately ended in (C), this story is told over a 20 year span, but only on one day of every year, July 15.

I loved the feeling of being thrown into the story, every July 15, and being made to figure out what was going on. I loved how witty and interesting the characters were. And I loved how real it felt. This is the story not only of a relationship, but of how life turns out different than you’d always imagined. And how you cope with the expectations of who you once thought you’d be.

A couple of lines made my heart stop. More than a few made me laugh. And all of it entertained me. I couldn’t put it down. It was unexpected and refreshing and delightful and…gritty. Did I use that word yet?

But don’t take my word for it, check out this review by Tony Parsons:

A totally brilliant book about the heart breaking gap between the way we were and the way we are… The best weird love story since The Time Traveler’s Wife. Every reader will fall in love with it. And every writer will wish they had written it.

I can tell you one thing, this writer sure wishes she’d written it.

 

Bad Fiction Contest

July 28, 2011

One day while working my way through one of my dad’s work storage rooms (aka, a room of things he can’t get rid of for sentimental/monetary value but may secretly wish  would be blown away like Dorothy’s house in Wizard of Oz) I came across a stack of papers that took me off task.

Okay, that’s not hard to do.

It was a print up of entries for a contest called  the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Each entry was one horribly inflated, engorged, overworked sentence and I realized what it was: a bad fiction contest. Namely, a bad opening sentence contest. And the contest was inspired and named for the famous opening line to Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s book Paul Clifford: “It was a dark and stormy night…”

Okay, I only knew that from Charlie Brown.

I was ecstatic. I love literature. I love good literature. And I love bad literature. And a contest like this was right up my ally. In fact, my husband has a tiny notebook that fits in his church jacket so I can write bad novel opening lines for him during church. (Sorry, we’re trying to grow up.)

A friend recently sent me an article about this year’s winner. Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wisconsin won with this tiny display of literary atrocity:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

I know. Such talent.

While mine pale in comparison I thought I’d share a few of my bad fiction starters:

#1. A cloud settled over the humid church, and the sound of old ladies flapping their fans masked a growing sense of danger; it was only a matter of time.

#2. As he emerged from the pool, water dripping off him like a broken strand of pearls, the woman thought, what have I done?

#3. The sweet puddle of melted ice cream had attracted dozen of ants and insects, much like Sara’s ability to attract despicable men.

Vote on your favorite in the comments please. Or, better yet, add your own.

You Have to Read: “A Girl Named Zippy” by Haven Kimmel

July 27, 2011

I have an announcement.

And who better to bring you this news than Microsoft Clip Image 427772 “Man in Suit Cheering Into Megaphone.”

You see what I mean.

But here it is: I’m going to be recommending books, and lots of them, right here on The Green Lemon.

My reasons for this are 1) I read an unbelievable amount of books, 2) I am always looking for people to force my book recommendations on, and 3) here you are.

I’m not promising a strict dedication to this new venture, say every Wednesday or twice a month, because if there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that the best way for me to not do something is to claim that I will do it religiously. Some of you may remember the promise I made a few months back to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And the 3 month void of silence that immediately followed.

I’m starting with something random, but lovely nonetheless.

My book club chose this book last summer. I downloaded it on my iPod and listened to it while taking long, exuberant walks around the neighborhood. This wasn’t my cleverest idea because 1) It made me laugh so hard and so often that I looked like a lunatic, and 2) laughing made my walks less exuberant and less of a rationale for why I could eat an extra Knock Em Naked Brownie.

A Girl Called Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, is a memoir, told through Haven Kimmel’s 3rd grade self, and each chapter is a mini novella about her growing up years. It’s the story of a uniquely magical childhood. I know, normally we’re not interested in that sort of thing. Give us danger, give us grief, give us horror, but whatever you do, don’t give us magical.

But Zippy surprised me, because in each of these little stories she tells about her tiny town, horrible hair and sometimes downright unlovable parents you somehow get that little ache in the back of your throat that reminds you of how good life really can be. And it is so funny. There have been about 7 books that have made me laugh like this.

Take Zippy’s view on Jesus:

“Everyone around me was flat-out in love with him, and who wouldn’t be? He was good with animals, he loved his mother, and he wasn’t afraid of blind people.”

Amen, sister.

Equally as good is Haven Kimmel’s follow up book She Got Up Off the Couch and Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana.

This is the story of Zippy’s mother, who one day after years of hiding from her depression on the couch with a cardboard box of novels and 100 extra pounds, decides to make a change. And off she goes.

Please read these. Or even better, listen to them. If you walk by my house cackling like a lunatic I will at least give you the benefit of the doubt.

10 Classic Novels You Might Actually Like

March 17, 2011

By the time I turned 11 I had read hundreds of childrens books (including a staggering amount from the Goosebumps series), and was ready to move on to bigger and better things. I picked up Gone With the Wind and the rest was history.

My propensity for curling up with a good book led to a major in English Literature (which I fought for a few semesters, all the while knowing exactly what I’d end up studying), where I read an awful.lot.of.books. Most of them classics. And that’s what this post is for—to encourage and inspire you to broaden your horizons with some really great literature.

I know classics can be tough, but they can also be extremely rewarding, and they’re called classics for a reason—they’ve got substance, memorable characters, very exciting plots, and some fabulous prose. They’ll challenge you, entertain you, teach you, and make you smarter. And with all that, they’re worth the extra effort. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.

I read this for the first time in 6th grade and loved it. Loved it. The whole Southern belle thing really intrigued me, and even though you kind of hate Scarlett, you can’t help but be engrossed by her story. This takes place during the civil war in the south. Get ready for a long read but a good one.

2. The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck.

This book was pretty darn fascinating to me. This is a look at Chinese culture beyond Amy Tan, and while it made me terribly angry at parts, I really enjoyed it.

3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

Epic story about the great depression. David has strict orders to put this by my bedside every night if I ever get Alzheimer’s, so that I can read it afresh every day. If there is a book I want to read for the first time again, this is it. It is absolutely stunning.

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This feels like a crazy party. It’s set in America’s “Jazz Age” and is a whole different world.

5. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

I really have read about 6 times. Love it. Go slow so you get the humor. I particularly love the ridiculous mother. And check out Kitty. You know people like this.

6. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston.

This is an important book for both African American and female literature. This is the life story of an African American woman, told through her marriages to 3 different men. Different kind of book. Very interesting.

7. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.

Sexy, mysterious, classic. And it was my uber conservative late grandmother’s favorite book, which is quite interesting.

8. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

This is dark, very dark. But worth reading.

9. The Portrait of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.

I love Oscar Wilde, and this is a great, shorter read with plenty for you to think about. I’d tell you more but I don’t want to give anything away. Just read this. And bask in the language! (See why I majored in English Lit?)

10. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

I’m reading this mystery right now. I keep thinking “Man, this guy is clever!” and then I remember, oh yeah. It’s Dickens.

Before you run out to the library or Barnes and Noble, here are a few tips for keeping your interest going while reading these or other classic novels:

  • Use your resources. Older English is harder to understand, and that’s not because you’re dumb, it’s because we live in 2011.  Use cliffnotes, sparknotes, Wikipedia, whatever to help you out. Don’t let the language bog you down so that you lose the plot.
  • Use the footnotes. Most versions of classic novels will have footnotes that really can help you understand what you’re reading—they’ll tell you what the author is referring to.
  • Go slow. Take your time. You’re not going to get through this book like a Meg Cabot book.
  • Relate it to you. One thing I’ve learned from classic literature—people haven’t really changed much over the years. While their society and culture may be extremely different that ours, these books are about people that you will relate to.

Happy reading!

 

 

How to Start a Succesful Book Club + 11 Good Reads

January 6, 2011

In January 2010 I started a book club with a group of friends who had been meaning to get around to it for months. It combines two of my favorite things (Oprah, you’re not the only one who gets to have these)—girls’ night out, and reading, and it is really one of the best nights of the month.  In 2010 we met 11 times at 11 different houses and read some fascinating books. So I’m going to give you a rundown on organizing a book club, and then also some good book club picks.

How to Start a Book Club

1.       Find some people that are really interested.

You could have as few as three or four, or as many as twelve to fifteen. Just make sure there will be a good, strong core of people who will read and show up every month. There are about a dozen girls who consistently show up to ours with another dozen who showed up every once in a while the first few times but never really took.

2.       Communicate well, by Facebook or email.

All of our book club members are on Facebook, so I just send out a mass message to everyone, reminding everyone where and when our next meeting will be and our month’s selection. It’s also nice to have a little pre-meeting discussion about the book.

3.       Set a regular, monthly date.

We meet every second Wednesday of the month at 7:00 PM, although occasionally we have switched to Thursday nights. If you have a regular night then you know to never schedule anything then. If you meet less than once a month your club might lose momentum.

4.       Pick a President to lead your book discussion.

Because I organized the first meeting I was elected President. President doesn’t really mean much, but it’s just good to have someone who directs the discussion and checks in with everyone during the month to make sure they know where the meeting will be.

Our book discussions are pretty loose—if a discussion guide is not included at the end of the book (it oftentimes is) then I look up the Readers Guide or Book Club Guide online. Sometimes they are located on the publisher’s website, but oftentimes they have been reprinted by book club websites or individuals who have read the book. A simple Google search should find it for you.  Especially popular books may have amateur discussion guides circulating the Internet, so make sure you get the real one, which is put together by the book’s publisher and reviewed by the book’s author. They generally have more interesting questions.

Sometimes the discussion points or questions are very long and complicated, so if there is an awkward pause after I get through reading one of them, I like to rephrase it, or pick out a point or two that was interesting and let the conversation flow.

5.      Switch off hosting.

Every month our meeting is held at a different member’s house. This is fun because we get to see everyone’s homes and get to know each other better. The host also provides some kind of refreshments. At my first meeting I made crepes (this was really something of a bribe to get everyone there), and at my second hosting I made a giant lemon cake. Other favorite treats of mine have been cupcakes, cranberry coffee cake, and ice cream sundaes.

We generally just pick a host for the next meeting at the end of every book club discussion, but occasionally we’ll plan ahead a few months.

6.       Choose good books—knowing that some are better than others for discussing.

This is kind of a “duh” point, but of course is very important as it’s the main reason for the club! And remember to choose books that will be good for discussion—just because a book is good doesn’t mean it is going to be interesting to talk about! Because every group is different, notice which types of books are received well by the group.

So how do you choose good books? Here are a few ideas:

A. Watch for “buzz books”. There are always books circulating out there that everyone is talking about. Keep an ear out and write down titles you come across during the month.

B. Have everyone come up with a few books they’re interested in then bring the books or titles to a meeting and make a list of the ones the group is interested in.

C. Branch out with your selections—while fiction is a general favorite, try non-fiction and memoirs. You may be surprised how much you like these other types of books.

D. Peruse Book Club Websites. Here are a few of my favorites:

Complete List of Oprah’s Book Club Selections

Book Movement—I like the “Book Club favorites” list. These are rated by book clubs and can give you a feel for their general appeal and discuss-ability.

Litlovers.com

Amazon Listmania! These are lists of books put together by Amazon reviewers. If you type book club lists into Amazon’s search you should end up with a bunch of lists people have put together and then see how these books were rated by other readers. Amazon is just amazing. If I could have unlimited money anywhere I think it would be there. Or Costco.

I also found this little gem—a great list on a public library’s website.

What We Read in 2010—as best as I can remember, which is not very well

JanuaryThe Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

This was an excellent first choice. Everyone loved it and it made for great discussion.

FebruaryThe Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine.

This one was tougher to get through,  but was very interesting and again made for interesting discussion. I don’t think I would have ever read a book like this if not for the club and I was glad to read it.

MarchThe Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent.

This is a historical novel about the Salem Witch Trials. This book was well received but unfortunately I was not at the discussion!

April–Between Friends, by Kristy Kiernan.

This looked like a lighter, chick-lit ‘ish book,  but turned out to provide some of the best discussion we’ve had to date.

MayThe Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

This is such a hugely successful book, and it did not disappoint. This provided some passionate conversation something along the lines of Jacob vs. Edward, and almost everyone loved it.

JuneThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson.

I’m not sure what to say about this one. Again, it is a huge book, and the back story about its author is interesting, and it has quite the plot, but no one tells you it is going to be extremely disturbing. So, for fear of ruining the book—there are many disturbing scenes about murder and rape.

This made for a just an okay discussion, half the group had stopped reading it at the first scary scene, so it ended up that the rest of the club just retold the story for them. Definitely mixed reviews, although the plot is captivating.

JulyA Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, by Haven Kimmel.

This was our first memoir and probably my favorite selection so far. The writer is hysterical and somehow manages to give both a wildly exaggerated and wildly accurate look at Small town, America. I listened to this one on disc while exercising and basically spent the whole month laughing as I jogged through my neighborhood.

However, this was not the general consensus.  Many of the club members did not like that the book did not have an overall plot, like fiction novels do. It is more a series of amusing stories, and I’ve found our club does not love short stories or memoirs like it likes a good fiction novel. I guess we’re excitement junkies.

AugustThe Imperfectionists: A Novel, by Tom Rachman.

This is an interesting book that is more character than plot driven. It tells the story of an English newspaper in Rome and the many people who are involved in it. As a whole the club didn’t love it, but it was much better received than I thought it would be. Probably not the best book for discussion.

September—I think we skipped a month.

OctoberSecond Glance: A Novel, by Jodi Picoult.

This was a great choice. Picoult’s writing and stories are excellent and the group loved this one. This was a good Halloween ghost story.

NovemberHolidays on Ice, by David Sedaris.

We chose something fun and funny for the holidays. If you haven’t read David Sedaris please read him now. He writes humorous personal essays. Our favorite story was “SantaLand,” and “Dinah, the Christmas Whore.” I brought audio of Sedaris reading his essay and we played a couple of them.

DecemberYear of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks.

We’ll be discussing this next week, but so far so good. This is historical fiction at its most entertaining! We chose this one because of its awesome recommendations and because we hear it’s a bit sexy—and there’s nothing our book club loves more than a few sexy twists!