July 17, 2015
Within the last two weeks, I read two books about Christian missionaries traveling to alien worlds. I recommend them both. Both are works of fantasy, yet both are grounded in reality, providing wonderful character studies and handling deep philosophical questions.
In The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Peter, an English pastor, is chosen by a powerful multi-national corporation to act as a missionary to the Oasans, people on a planet newly colonized by earth. Peter must leave his beloved wife, Bea, and their cat, Jacob. Bea introduced Peter to Christianity and their marriage has been one of deep love and total companionship. The difficulty of their separation and what it does to their relationship is one of the main focuses of the novel. The “aliens” that Peter ministers to are thirsty for knowledge of Christ, and we wonder why. We also wonder about the powerful muti-national corporation and its motivation for sending Peter. And what about the previous pastor who disappeared? And the linguist who taught the natives English and also disappeared? While the novel is suspenseful, it isn’t action-packed. The stress on Peter and Bea’s relationship also causes stress on their faith, and this is where the book excels. Its examination of love and faith in crisis is fascinating.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is also an examination of faith. Father Emilio Sandoz had it and lost it: why? Father Emilio Sandoz is one of a crew of Jesuit missionaries sent toward Alpha Centauri after radio signals demonstrate that intelligent life exists on a planet in that area of space. Sandoz is the only survivor of the mission. The book alternates between “past” and “present.” In present day, Sandoz is being interrogated by the Jesuits to discover what went wrong. He is accused of some horrible crimes. In alternate chapters, we learn about the discovery of the radio signals, the recruitment of the crew (all wonderful characters, that we readers fall in love with; Sandoz being the most wonderful), the trip across space, until the past meets up with Sandoz’s confessions. What went wrong? How did everyone die? How did Sandoz “go bad” ? This book has action, great characterization, and incredible world building. The author, Mary Doria Russell, has a PhD in biological anthropology, and uses her knowledge well. The development of the setting on the new planet–the cultures and languages and interactions of the races–is brilliant and probably my favorite part of the book.
I was disappointed by the endings of both books. However….
After thinking about the ending of The Book of Strange New Things for several days, I changed my mind. It ends exactly how it should. I didn’t “get” it at first, but I do now.
The Sparrow puts so much emphasis on what went wrong, what horrible thing happened, that its discovery was anti-climactic for me. I still recommend the book.
I highly recommend both books. So, get reading!
June 5, 2015
The Writer’s Voice/Pitch Wars competition featured many talented writers with intriguing concepts. I did not make a team, but I wish good luck to those who did and to their coaches. You can follow the competition at Brenda Drake’s blog.
Many conversations about the contest were on twitter, and I didn’t want to miss out, so I set up a twitter account:
Follow me if you do that sort of thing.
New to twitter, I did a lot of lurking so as not to mess up or offend anyone (sorry if I have!)
Immediately, I learned about #PitMad, a day in which writers pitch their completed novels in 140 characters, all day long. Wow! I should have gotten on twitter a long time ago!
I participated in #PitMad and had some success getting noticed. I’ll be sending out queries over the next few days.
So, though I “lost” on Writer’s Voice, I’m still a winner!
May 21, 2015
Dear Krista, Brenda, Mónica, and Elizabeth,
Ever wonder why Cinderella’s stepsisters were so mean? They’ve been misunderstood. THE STEPSISTERS is a young adult, steampunk Cinderella told in alternating first person by the stepsisters. It is complete at 55,000 words.
Drusilla “Dru” is a mildly autistic, scientifically-minded teen who doesn’t use pronouns. When her father dies, she vows to complete all his laboratory plans and projects. Dru’s younger sister Charlotte “Lottie” is a social fashionista who grieves the death of her father and the loss of the family fortune. Their mother re-marries to save the family from poverty, and they move to a two-room farmhouse where their stepsister Cyntia Rellah runs a messenger pigeon service.
The Rellah farm is near the country palace of the King and Queen, who are expecting a child. For centuries the Royalty of Jacobia have been born with weak hearts because of an ancient curse. A special medicine is no longer available, so the King brings Dru to the royal laboratory to finish her father’s work: discover a new medicine or create a mechanical heart for an infant. As the day of birth draws near, Dru must complete the invention her father began or else the child won’t survive.
Impressed by Lottie’s sense of fashion and magical aura, the Queen entangles her in a quest to find and kill the descendant of the sorceress who placed the curse. Lottie must choose between saving her family or serving the Queen.
The traditional Cinderella tropes are used and transformed in this tale of magic, science and romance.
I teach children’s literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. My adult historical novel, SYNCOPATION: A MEMOIR OF ADELE HUGO was published by Cornerstone Press in 2012. My middle-grade mystery, THE STOLEN GOLDIN VIOLIN, was self-published in 2010. I am a member of SCBWI, AWP and the Historical Novels Society.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
The gondola of the luxury airship Ludtwidge sways gently beneath its hydrogen-filled webwrought balloon. Pilot Brijit Eyre studies the darkness out the bridge window and taps the barometer. Something’s off. She can feel it in the air, in her bones.
“Betti, change course 5 degrees north-northwest. Alec, get a mech-pigeon ready.”
Captain Eyre flips a valve. Steam hisses through a pipe, moving the engine to full throttle.
The Ludtwidge uses a Steppe steam engine. Instead of creating steam by burning coal or gas, Steppe engines use the flameless heat of firestones. A vast improvement over past airship engines. Flame and hydrogen are a deadly combination.
In the largest cabin of the Ludtwidge, inventor Sir Ernest Steppe lies on his bunk, melting into sleep.
His daughter Dru holds her hat, which begins to fly. She yells at Ernest. No, it isn’t Dru. It’s the Queen. She’s angry at Ernest. He hasn’t done what he should’ve done. Is it about Dru’s engagement to the Prince? He dreads explaining the situation to his wife. The Queen expands to twice her size. Her red hair ignites into flames. She leans over—
Ernest wakes when his body hits the floor. The airship’s gondola rocks. The floor tilts. He slides from one side of the cabin to the other.
Ernest grabs the porthole’s raised edges and pulls himself up. Rain pelts the glass. Lighting flickers in the distance. Thunder rumbles.
Ernest puts on his shoes and heads to the engine room.
March 14, 2015
To celebrate Pi Day, I’ve written a poem about pie, using pi. I’m not much of a poet, as you will see, but it is fun to do something a little different. Each line of my poem has the number of words for the first nine digits of pi:
There they lie.
blueberry and chocolate hazelnut
baked for an adult gathering
a dinner party to which I was not invited
not for me but eaten by me
and well worth the punishment
March 6, 2015
For the past several years, my ladies book club has decide to spend the months of December and January reading children’s novels that have a chance at the Newbery Medal. We do a bit of research, come up with about 15 to 20 titles, then share the books. We meet in January and talk about our favorites. The Newbery Medal is announced at the end of January.
This year, the book I liked most was Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. The story is about an autistic girl and her dog. It is a beautiful, beautiful book. I was extremely disappointed when the Newbery Medal was awarded to Kwame Alexander’s Crossover, a book I hadn’t even heard of.
Well, I just finished reading Crossover, and I am delighted that it won the award. It is a wonderful novel-in-verse about two African American brothers who love basketball. I’m not male, I’m not African American, and I don’t much like basketball. It doesn’t matter! The story is brilliant and the writing inspired. Alexander’s poetry jumps off the page and sings in your head. Some poetry you have to read aloud to hear it as poetry, but I could hear the cadence and the rhymes in my head even in silent reading.
Crossover is not only a book for people who love to read, it is a book that will appeal to those who hardly ever read. So, hats off to Kwame Alexander and the Newbery Award committee. Great book. Great choice.
January 27, 2015
I’m back for another semester of Children’s Literature. This is what my students will be reading:
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I teach this every semester. It is a great book.
Choice books. My students will read one from each genre:
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell: In the early 1800s a Native American girl and her brother struggle to survive when left behind on an island off the coast of California.
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: Two children living on the prairie in nineteenth century America anticipate a new mother when their father begins corresponding with a woman from Maine.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: A collection of free-verse poems describe a young girl during the Great Depression struggling with poverty, dust, guilt and loss.
Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: A boy, the lone survivor of a plane crash, struggles to survive in the Canadian wilderness.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George: A boy leaves his over-crowded New York apartment to spend a winter, alone, in the Catskill Mountains.
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary: With creativity and humor, Ramona deals with a babysitter, a bully, and a dad who is going back to school.
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson: After reading a poem and thinking about hope, a sixth-grade girl examines anew the world around her: her brother’s deafness, her mother’s fears, her friends’ faith, as well as a school bully and his victim.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: In an imaginary medieval land, a thief is released from prison on the condition that he find, for the king, a legendary jewel hidden in a maze beneath a river.
The Ear, the Eye, the Arm by Nancy Farmer: In 2213 Mozambique, three siblings leave their protected home, are kidnapped, and have a series of dangerous adventures.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: On his eleventh birthday, Will learns he is an immortal Old One, and the only one who can find the six signs that will turn back the rising of the dark forces in the world.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: The classic story of friendship between a pig and a spider.
Holes by Louis Sachar: In the past, a man is cursed and a teacher becomes an outlaw. In the present, a boy struggles to survive a juvenile detention center in the desert.
Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt: In a medieval-like land, a boy visits his relatives in a town that is famous for the monster than lives on its mountain.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: A girl, whose mother left her and her father, moves and makes friends with the help of a dog.
They’ll read two other choice books, based on an author and a theme. It is my first time using some of the books listed above. I’m excited for discussions, activities, and to see what my students think of the different books. We’re off to another great semester!
January 20, 2015
Today is my older brother’s birthday. David would have been 51. He died on January 10, 2015. From his obituary:
David Richard Caulfield, 50, of Bloomington, died Saturday while out for a run. He was an avid runner and tri-athlete, an Indiana University alumnus and sports fan, and an aficionado of Marvel comics. A history enthusiast, David was following his long-time dream of earning a PhD. He was a graduate student and had an assistantship with Indiana University’s School of Education. David always made sure the people closest to him felt loved. He will be sorely missed by many. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Caulfield Funeral / Education Fund at http://www.gofundme.com/k123l8
David and I did not agree on very many things and we didn’t always get along, but his death has left a hole in my life and sadness in my heart. His life ended much too early. I hope he is finding peace and happiness in his new adventure.
Happy Birthday, David.
January 1, 2015
In 2014, I read 119 books. Some were children’s books which is part of the reason that number is so high. Also, my house isn’t very clean.
Many of the books were good, but not many were great. Putting this list together was difficult. If I named only the great books, my list would be too short. If I named all of the good books, the list would be too long. I decided to go for diversity of genre, subject and audience. The books are grouped by intended audience, in the order I read them.
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
I love the way the author uses the classic novel Treasure Island in this story of a brother and sister who live with their lying, oft-depressed grandmother for reasons they don’t quite understand–at least not at first.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The deportation of the Jews from Denmark during WWII, as narrated by 10-year-old Annemarie, whose best friend is Jewish. The innocence of her voice and the simple yet suspenseful plot has made this story a classic.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ella (Cinderella) is cursed by a fairy with the gift of obedience, making Ella a slave to the whims of others. Ella is a great character and her quest for self-determination makes this a perfect book for young people.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Multiple story lines that blend together to perfection. Well-crafted characters, exciting action, and a strong message. Funny too.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose, obsessed with homonyms and rules, is misunderstood by her classmates and her father, but not by her dog, Rain/Reign. When Rain goes missing in a storm, Rose has the skills needed to find him, but what she finds will surprise you. Beautiful, beautiful book. My vote for this year’s Newbery Award (not that I have a vote. . . )
Young Adult Books:
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
“Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.” I read this so long ago, I had to take this blurb from the author’s website. I remember loving the characters, the horses, the slow-build romance, and the intense suspense.
Cress by Marissa Meyer
Third book in the Lunar Chronicles series, using Rapunzel as its fairy-tale base. Cress is a prisoner, not in a tall tower, but in a satellite. I love the character of Cress, possibly because she reminds me of me. I laughed a lot. Cannot wait for the last in the series, Winter, out in fall 2015. The prequel, Fairest is out in Feb 2015. (The order of this makes me crazy, but that is for another blog.)
Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire
Set in the last years of the Russian monarchy, Egg and Spoon is a fanciful mix of history, folklore, philosophy, childhood fantasy, silliness, and very clever writing.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
In order to attend the school he wants in the fall, mildly autistic Marcelo must work in the mail room of his father’s law firm. His father, impatient and unsympathetic to his son’s issues, wants Marcelo to experience “the real world.” Marcelo learns a great deal about life, his family, and what he, himself, is capable of.
Silverblind by Tina Connolly
This world is alive with fantastical creatures, fey magic, and disturbing technologies. The main character, half-fey Dorie, is delightful and complex, and the romance flows easily within the greater plot (saving the fey world) which is well paced and suspenseful. Themes such as the environment and women’s rights are integral but not didactic.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Exciting and suspenseful story of one fictional man’s life growing up in North Korea. What I liked most about this was the main character and the way he sees the world. A different mindset than I’m used to.
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Funny. Very, very funny. If you don’t know, “redshirts” are characters in Star Trek who don’t live to the end of the episode. Scalzi introduces us to characters in a Star Trek-like world who realize this is happening and what they do to avoid becoming a “redshirt.”
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The fictionalized story of real-life suffragist/abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Gremke and their wholly fictional slave, Handful. Why had I never heard of these women? Their story is fascinating, painful, and inspiring.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Raised in the foster care system, Victoria won’t allow anyone close to her. She uses her knowledge of the language of flowers to help others, until she meets a man who also knows that language. Victoria’s character is absorbing and the mystery of her past intriguing.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
A psychologically scarred young woman cares for a physically scarred, wheelchair-bound man. The two fall in love. Will her love be enough to stop him from his desire to commit suicide? Moyes handles difficult issues deftly. A great book for book clubs because of the discussion it promotes.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A female scientist is sent by her pharmaceutical company to a lab in the Amazon rainforest, after the death of her colleague there, to bring a renegade scientist and her discoveries back to civilization. What amazed me most was how Patchett was able to manipulate and alter my perspectives of the people and events as the story progressed. The ending is perfection.
The Cuckoo’s Calling / The Silkwork by Robert Galbraith
What holds these detective stories above the pack is the depth of the characterization. The stories are complicated, suspenseful and, in places, funny. Galbraith is really JK Rowling, so the level of writing should be no surprise.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
This isn’t the long-awaited final book in Rothfuss’s trilogy, but it does come from the same world. Auri, a minor character in his other books, is the only character in this novel. Although light on plot, Auri is such a compelling character that the book works. Rothfuss’s prose is so beautiful, you might weep.
If you decide to read any of these books because I recommended them, let me know what you think. Happy New Year!