Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Name a Child After

Hey guys!  It’s Tuesday, so that means a new list!  I thought this one was really interesting because of how drawn I am to character names.  And really, there are always characters that we admire and look up to.  I’d love to name someone (at least a dog or a fish) after these characters, but I like these enough to consider naming a child one of these as well.  I always play fair, so I split it down the middle between boy and girl names.  Enjoy!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Characters I’d Name a Child After

1. Henry – The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

I have been in love with this name–and this character–for years.  When I saw this topic, this was the first name I thought of.  Henry is a classic name, and this character is the silent-but-strong type.  I love it.

2. Tobias – Divergent by Veronica Roth

I’m going to bet this name shows up on a lot of lists this week.  It’s strong and comes paired with a very sexy namesake.

3. Rhys – A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This is probably the weirdest name of the bunch, but I’ve always been drawn to the name Rhys/Reese/Reece.  Rhys’s character is very similar to that of Henry above, so it’s no wonder I fell in love with him too.

4. Owen – Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

One of my earliest book crushes.  Owen stole my heart and helped me fall in love with this name.

5. Jem – Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

I think I prefer this with the given name of Jeremiah (which is Jem’s given name, right?  It’s been a while since I’ve read this), but the nickname of Jem is cute.

6. Lily – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

As much as I want to name someone after Hermione, I can’t do it.  It’s too odd of a name for me.  So I’m going with the more classic Lily after Harry’s mother.  She’s a great role model as well, smart and kind.

7. Pippa – A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

I remember being in 7th grade and wanting to name a girl Pippa because of this series.  Not that I don’t also like the name Gemma–because I do–but Pippa was my first love when it came to names.

8. Aurora “Rory” – The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

I love how strong the name Rory sounds, but with the beauty of Aurora to be its base.  And this character is so strong and funny.  (While I know this is all fun and games here, this is one I’m legitimately considering for a child.)

9. Juliette – Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I love the name Juliet (thank you Shakespeare!), but Mafi’s character takes it to a new level…and not just with the French ending.  Juliette is strength and beauty.  (Are you noticing a trend yet with my strong-but-pretty names that have a classic edge to them?)

10. Liesel – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

100%, this is going to be a middle name for a girl that I have.  Whether it’s Liesel from this, perhaps my favorite book, or from The Sound of Music, in which I starred as Liesl in high school, this name means the world to me.  And it harkens back to my family’s German roots.

Introversion and Family Get-Togethers

Hey guys!  I think what I’d like to do occasionally is do a piece on being introverted and how that impacts my life because, well, there are a lot of us out there and many of us think we’re alone in these moments.  We’re not.  So, if you’d like to feel like part of the club, read on!

As you (probably) already know, introverts tend to not do well in large crowds.  I say “tend to” because there are actually times I like being in large groups.  I love concerts.  I love teaching.  And I especially love my big, wacky family.

There are over 40 of us aunts, uncles, cousins, and spouses on my mom’s side.  Yes, over 40.  My mom is one of 6 and I have 16 cousins on that side.  Now, add in the fact that many of us are getting old enough to marry and have kids, this clan is growing quickly.  And I love them, I really do.  But goodness, is it starting to get trying.

This weekend, we had our annual fall party.  It started years and years ago as a Halloween party, but when we got too old for costumes that part fell away and it’s basically just been a fall party ever since.  We do a final cook-out of the year, no matter what the weather is, and have fun talking and eating and watching football.  (We’re big on football.)

But for some reason, this year is particularly exhausting for me.  And I think I nailed it down: politics.  I am HUGE on conflict avoidance.  I don’t want to be in the middle of an argument and if I even suspect that you might disagree with me, I will withhold all of my opinions to keep from fanning the flames.  And with this political climate right now, I’m doing a lot of debate dodging.  I practically plug my ears and trill “la-la-la-la.”

At this party, no one really came out and said which presidential candidate they were supporting, which is just fine with me.  I’d rather not know.  But my slightly-redneck family still found ways to bring it up.  Racial charged language, courtesy of one of my more controversial cousins (there’s one in every family).  Senate candidate ads on TV that interrupted our football game and therefore became a topic of conversation.

Even worse, family politics became a topic of conversation.  My mom and her sisters tend to be somewhat high-drama, in that her youngest sister and sister-in-law didn’t bring enough food today and relied on the older sisters to bail them out.  I have cousins that dislike some of my aunts and uncles and I get dragged into that.  I have cousins (who are siblings) who actually beat on each other because the older one thinks it’s funny.  As an introvert and a bleeding heart, I just can’t get in the middle of this.  While my curiosity usually makes me want to find out what’s going on, I really don’t need to hear all the complaints about this aunt or that cousin.  Because, of course, they smile to each others’ faces and pretend nothing is amiss.  I can’t pretend that well.

Oh, and you know what the worst part of a family gathering is?  The conversations.  It’s always the same questions.  “How’s school?”  “Are you dating anyone?” and “What’s new?”  And once you get through those questions, there is literally nothing anyone knows to ask you next.  I feel completely antisocial if I don’t at least make an attempt to start a conversation, but then I feel so scared to throw a question out there in case it offends someone or makes me seem nosy.  I mean, this is my family.  I don’t want them to go home thinking, “Wow, what’s wrong with Holly?  She was a real witch today.”  Which is kind of dumb because A) they’re my family and know that I’ve been like this forever and B) I really shouldn’t care what they think.  But I also know how my parents and brothers talk about my extended family at home, so I am worried about this.

And on the flip side, I’m disappointed when I get left out of  discussions or jokes.  I do tend to be an observer at times, listening in on other conversations.  I mean yeah, I feel like a creeper when I do it, but I’m not the only one who does.  Plenty of my other cousins do that too.  It actually feels like a high school cafeteria at times, with all of us breaking off to eat with our own cliques.  The “cool aunts/uncles”, the “millennials”, the “kids”, and the “rednecks.”  We’re all in our own little space, and yet we frequently don’t know how to talk to each other.  It kind of weirds me out.

When I got home, I was tense and exhausted.  Normally I’m not this tense from these, but it’s getting worse.  (I think part of the problem is that nearly all of my cousins my age are settling down and having kids whereas I’m a lone rose in a barren field.)  But this is seriously tiring me out and I’m worried about how the holidays are going to be this year.  Thankfully, the election will be over before I see my family again, so maybe that’ll help?  We’ll see.

In the meantime, introverts unite!  Separately, of course.


A Week of Mondays

28958920First Lines: When my phone chimes with a text message on Monday morning, I’m still in that dreamy state between sleep and awake where you can pretty much convince yourself of anything.  Like that a teen Mick Jagger is waiting in your driveway to take you to school.

On one of my latest library runs, I picked up this book in the hopes that it would be a nice change of pace from everything else I’ve been reading lately.  It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I was really excited to see what it was actually going to be like.

After the worst Monday in the history of ever, Ellie just wants a do-over.  I mean, can a day really get any worse than bombing a history quiz, giving the worst election speech ever, looking like a drowned rat in her junior photo, and having her boyfriend break up with her?  Nope.  So she makes a wish to redo it all.  When Ellie’s wish comes true, she knows what she has to do: keep her boyfriend, Tristan, from breaking up with her.  But no matter how many do-overs she gets, Tristan still seems determined to end things.  Will Ellie ever figure out how to fix her relationship or will she be stuck on Monday forever?

(I’m just going to say this now: this book reminded me an awful lot of that Supernatural episode about Tuesdays, “Mystery Spot,” except with a lot less death.  Ok, moving on.)

I have this weird relationship with books that have characters reliving the same day over and over.  The premise always sounds amazing.  Always.  But then when I start reading the book, I get bored fast.  You’d think I’d learn.

At the beginning of the book, I didn’t really like Ellie.  She seemed too self-absorbed and over-achieving.  She’s easily that person who has no free minute to herself because she’s involved in 20 extracurriculars, but claims that she actually likes it that way when she’s really just tearing herself apart.  I had a really tough time finding something about her to connect to.  And I tended to roll my eyes at times because she’s overly dramatic and claims she isn’t.

However, I did come to like her quirks.  She listens almost exclusively to 60s music and she’s always dreamed of a romantic carnival date.  I mean, not that current teenagers necessarily do either of these, but these quirks made her seem more real.

Finally by just over half the book, I warmed up to Ellie.  By the 4th or 5th Monday, she’s starting to flounder.  You could see the toll of reliving the same day over and over with no one remembering anything having emotional repercussions on her.  And that definitely helped me find some sympathy for her.  (In a way, it even reminded me of like the reverse of 50 First Dates, the way that Adam Sandler has to keep telling Drew Barrymore over and over what’s happened that she doesn’t remember.)

Around the middle of the book, I actually considered putting it down.  It fell into one of my least favorite cliches: How To Keep Your Man Advice.  In this book, they were called Girl Commandments.  It was stupid advice like “be mysterious” and “don’t return his texts right away; make him wait.”  Ok, maybe that kind of stuff works at the beginning of a relationship, but think about Ellie’s position: five months into a relationship suddenly on the rocks.  No.  You can’t suddenly start ignoring texts and answering questions with questions.  Seriously, that makes it look like you’re hiding a cheating scandal or something, not being all cute and mysterious.  Plus, that advice I think only works for certain people.  Above all, you should be yourself and if you’re not comfortable doing that, it’s not the right relationship.  That’s my stance, so books that keep perpetuating this other stuff gets on my nerves.

However, in the name of full-but-spoiler-free disclosure, Ellie does start to come around to my way of thinking.  So by the end, I wasn’t as angry about this cliche as I was earlier.

Honestly, this story doesn’t break any new ground.  Stories that have characters reliving the same day usually follow the same pattern.  The character goes through confusion, excitement, anger, sadness, and acceptance in some way or form.  You can pretty well peg how this story is going to go, even if you can’t figure out all the specifics ahead of time.  And I’m not saying this is a bad thing.  Just be prepared, if you’re looking for something new and exciting.

Overall, it’s kind of a quirky story.  It took me a while to warm up to it, but I eventually started to enjoy myself.

Like a River Glorious (The Gold Seer Trilogy, #2)

f16_likerivergloriousFirst Lines: Sunrise comes late to California.  Even when golden light washes the sky, and the snow-tipped peaks of the Sierra Nevada glow pink as winter roses, we remain in shadow for a spell, dwarfed by the slope of the land.

There’s always something about Rae Carson that draws me back.  After devouring The Girl of Fire and Thorns series, I’ve had to wait patiently for each new Gold Seer book.  But I do keep coming back.  And I’ll explain that more below.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Finally in California territory, Leah Westfall and her friends are ready to settle down and make their fortunes in gold.  Of course, Lee’s abilities make this easier than for other settles hoping to strike it rich.  But while Lee just wants the chance to start over, Uncle Hiram isn’t ready to let go of the one person who could make him as rich as Midas.  Kidnapping and sabotage are the least of what he’s willing to do to keep Lee under his thumb.  His mine is the deepest and one of the most dangerous in the territory, but it’s there that Lee truly learns the meaning of friendship, the full extent of her powers, and the depth of the evil inside her uncle.  To save everyone she loves, Lee just might have to give up that which is most important to her: her freedom.

For those of you familiar with Carson’s writing style, I found this to be very typical of what she’s written before.  The plot isn’t full of action and plot twists, but it always manages to keep you invested in the characters and what is happening.  I hesitate to call it slow because that’s really not the truth, but it’s not always going to throw fight scenes and such at you.  I like that it spent time developing the characters through those slower scenes.  Also, there’s a slow-as-a-moving-glacier romance.  But again, I’m kind of used to that from Carson and it makes sense for the characters.  Nothing about it felt forced or contrived, so it worked.

I really like the focus on the 1849 California Gold Rush because it’s a time that is often overlooked in historical fictions for some reason, even though it’s full of unsavory characters, danger, and fascinating historical tidbits.  Carson does a nice job of making the time period feel realistic and as though we’re actually there.  (That goes for the setting as well.  I’ve never been to California, especially a California full of wilderness, so she did a great job creating that world.)

I said this with the last book and I’ll say it again.  I know this technically qualifies as a historical fantasy, but I swear that the fantasy is really no big deal.  Like, it’s definitely a driver for the plot, but as for how often it shows up in the story?  It’s remarkably little, I feel like.  It’s more historical than anything else.

Oh, and I definitely adore the characters.  Lee has grown on me.  (I didn’t like her so much in the first book.)  But it’s the minor characters (Jefferson, Becky, Major, Jasper, Henry, Tom, etc.) who have completely won me over.  The character development in this book is fantastic because they all feel unique and real.  They all have little moments to shine.

Depending on your temperament and personality, this next bit may be a make-or-break moment.  This book left me hopping mad.  I mean, spitting nails and breathing fire angry.  Part of that is my personality.  To avoid spoilers, I can’t go too far into it.  But let’s just say that when civil liberties are brought into question (yes, even in 1849), I tend to have a very quick and very fiery reaction.  I understand that it was a different time, historically, but it doesn’t stop me from being angered by it.  I spent at least a third of the book fired up over this.

I read a couple of reviews after I finished this that kind of make sense, so I think they’re worth repeating.  One review mentioned how the plot of this book is virtually the same as the previous book.  And that’s true.  It’s all about trying to escape Uncle Hiram’s grasp.  The other point is that there are historical inaccuracies when it comes to the treatment of Native Americans in this book.  And that’s because history is way worse than this book portrayed it.

Overall, this book will throw some weird things your way, but it’s really good.  You’ll quickly become invested in the characters and the action will always keep you guessing.  Surprises are a frequent occurrence.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Read Because of Recommendations

Hey guys!  So this week’s Top Ten is actually kind of a tricky one.  I tend to be a loner when it comes to books because, frankly, I know what I like and someone recommending books will have to convince me that they are truly giving me something I would like.  (I’m quite stubborn about it, really.  I drag my feet if I have the chance.)  So picking books that have been recommended to me?  A bit challenging.  But I rose to it.  Sort of.  These may not actually be my “top ten” books, but they are 10 books that have been recommended to me.

toptentuesdayTop Ten Books I’ve Read Based on Recommendations

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I’ve sold my heart and soul to this series since I first read it last summer on the recommendation of my hairdresser.  (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)  She’d gotten hooked on the show and was working her way through the first book when she told me I absolutely had to read it.  Being history and a love story, I was in.  …And then I never left.  (I’m currently rereading Dragonfly in Amber, which is why I haven’t posted any new reviews lately.  Sorry, not sorry.)

2. The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

This recommendation came from readers like you!  (Now I sound like a PBS commercial.)  But truly, it did.  When I read A Thousand Nights and didn’t really like it, a lot of people sent me comments telling me to try this book.  And boy, were you guys right!

3. This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Is it a recommendation if Uppercase sent it to me?  I’m going to say yes.  Because hey, now that I owned the book, I had to read it, right?  And it was pretty good.  It definitely helped my faith in these book boxes.

4. And I Darken by Kiersten White

Ok, again, does it count if like, the author keeps recommending it?  I follow Kiersten on Twitter and she kept going on and on and on about this book because she was so excited about it.  And then she started posting all the positive reviews and I had to check it out, you know?

5. The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

This was recommended by a teacher at school because we do a Holocaust unit and this was one of her favorites.  So I decided to read it to give my students the chance to read a wider variety of books and I ended up really liking this one.

6. Story Thieves by James Riley

A student of mine loaned me this book about 5 days before the end of the school year, telling me I had to read it.  He was a super sweet kid and I couldn’t disappoint him.  So I read it.  And it was ok.

7. Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney

When you teach, you frequently have a certain number of books to choose from, basically the ones the school already owns.  We have tons of this book and a few teachers had said it was really good.  So I read it to see if it would be interesting for my students.  And I really liked it.

8. Partials by Dan Wells

My college bestie had been trying for years to get me to read this.  I mean it.  If there’s anyone who should know what I would like, it’s her.  But when it came to trusting her judgment on this one?  I kept putting it off.  And then she proved me wrong when I read it and really enjoyed it.

9. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter

Another book recommendation from a teacher at school because we had to teach something.  Not the greatest, but it had its moments.

10. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Honestly, I can’t even remember who recommended this to me except that one of my students read it around the same time I did and another teacher at school had read it shortly before me.  Whoever recommended it, I totally didn’t like it.  You cannot mess with my favorite characters like that.  Nope, nope, nope.

Thoughts on the Language of Women

Truly, this isn’t what you think it is.  (Ok, maybe it is a little.  But I’m going to try avoiding touching politics as much as I can.  That stink doesn’t wash off with soap once you touch it.)

Look, I’m an English teacher.  One of the things I teach in my class is the difference between connotation and denotation.  (If you need a refresher, denotation is the dictionary definition of the word while connotation is basically the emotional ties we put to a word.)  For example, the word “nice” typically means something is acceptable, pretty, or it’s another word for kind.  To me, it has negative connotations.  Think about it.  When you hear someone say, “Oh, that’s nice,” or “Isn’t she nice?” it usually comes out sounding either like a filler word because someone isn’t actually paying attention or it sounds sarcastic.  Maybe it just happened that as a kid, people called me nice a lot or just said “That’s nice” a lot and I got sick of it.  Who knows?

I explain that to get to my real point: language has meaning.  We’re (of course) hearing about all this stuff now with Donald Trump’s utterly disgusting comments about women.

Unfortunately, getting rid of talk like that is not the only issue we have when it comes to language targeted at women.  It drives me crazy how society talks to women/girls.  And I’m about to give you a few examples.

Mommy porn.”  Seriously, what is that supposed to imply?  When it’s applied to books such as Fifty Shades of Grey, sure, I can see where maybe that applies (even if I still abhor the phrase).  I just saw an article online about how books about mothers leaving their families is the new “mommy porn.”  This phrase, to me, is so many shades of wrong.  The connotation of “porn” is not a positive one; you can be arrested for downloading or creating your own.  It’s considered dirty and something to not be shared with others in polite society.  So why is that applied to books that women enjoy?  Why aren’t superhero movies or James Bond movies referred to as “Daddy porn?”  (Think about that one for a moment.)

I just don’t understand why things that women enjoy are given such awful nicknames.  Chick flick.  Chick lit.  Mommy porn.  Why aren’t women allowed to enjoy these things without the stigma that accompanies them from language like this?  The older I get, the less I find myself caring.  I admit to reading historical romances at least once a month.  I admit to loving romantic comedies as my favorite genre.  People who use these terms frustrate me to no end.

I can feel myself getting fired up, so I’m going to limit myself to one more example.

Well, aren’t you pretty!”  Girls, how many times growing up did we hear about how pretty we looked?  (Picture holidays where you were reunited with family you hadn’t seen in months.)  Now boys, how many times did you hear growing up how handsome you were?  I’m going to guess it’s a far smaller number than it is for girls.

I feel that to some extent, I was able to miss out on a lot of that.  I grew up as a tomboy.  I wore t-shirts from the boys’ section and kept my hair in a ponytail as much as possible.  I wasn’t your stereotypical little girl frolicking in a pretty dress with her hair in ringlets.  (I wouldn’t even let my mom get close to me with a dress, let alone a curling iron.)  Still, that doesn’t mean I didn’t (and still do) hear it.  I actually probably hear it more at 25 from guys flirting with me than I did at 10 from relatives.  And it feels 20 times creepier now that it did coming from my relatives.

Pro-tip: that’s actually how I weed out guys to date.  If they seem focused on my looks rather than my intelligence or my interests, he’s out the door.  Some appreciation is great, but a continual focus on it is not.

Anyway, I said all that to say this.  When I was in college, I had a professor who happened to noticed that when she spent time with her niece and nephew, she asked her nephew questions about what he liked and just told her niece how nice she looked.  She knew all about her nephew’s interest in firetrucks and sports, but didn’t know as much about what her niece liked.  (These kids were between about 5-7.)  So as an experiment, she flip flopped those one day.  And the results were awesome.  She asked her niece about sports and her interests and the little girl opened right up, talking about how t-ball was going.  With her nephew, she told him how handsome he looked in his outfit and the boy got really quiet and confused.  There was nothing for him to respond to and anyway, he didn’t know what to say.

We talk to women/girls differently that we do to men/boys.  And for all of you who don’t think it matters, it does.  Because if we were to ever start referring to action movies as “Daddy porn” or “dude flicks”, you can bet the backlash would be swift.  If we only talked to men about how handsome they were, backlash would ensue.  But for some reason, it’s ok to talk to/about women this way.

And I’m fed up with it.

All We Have Left

23347746First Lines: Travis draws my face into his chest as the smoke engulfs us.

When I saw this book at a Barnes & Noble, I knew I had to read it.  I’m so thrilled that we’ve finally gotten to the point where people are starting to write 9/11 stories for a new generation.  My middle schoolers were all born after 2001, so they have no concept of how big of a deal this single day was.  When we read Code Orange (which is set in NYC, 2003), I have to actually teach them about 9/11.

I’m just going to copy the description from Goodreads for this one: Now:
Sixteen-year-old Jesse is used to living with the echoes of the past. Her older brother died in the September 11th attacks, and her dad has filled their home with anger and grief. When Jesse gets caught up with the wrong crowd, one momentary hate-fueled decision turns her life upside down. The only way to make amends is to face the past, starting Jesse on a journey that will reveal the truth about how her brother died.

In 2001, sixteen-year-old Alia is proud to be Muslim… it’s being a teenager that she finds difficult. After being grounded for a stupid mistake, Alia is determined to show her parents that that they must respect her choices. She’ll start by confronting her father at his office in downtown Manhattan, putting Alia in danger she never could have imagined. When the planes collide into the Twin Towers Alia is trapped inside one of the buildings. In the final hours she meets a boy who will change everything for her as the flames rage around them . . .

Interweaving stories past and present, full of heartbreak and hope, two girls come of age in an instant, learning that both hate and love have the power to reverberate into the future and beyond.

So as this says, the story alternates between Alia’s story in 2001 and Jesse’s story in 2016.  And for the most part, that works pretty well.  They have pretty parallel experiences that go well with this.  What I mean by that is they both experience the same emotions around the same time, so you don’t get all worked up for one and then mellow out for the other before flipping back.

Alia’s story felt hauntingly authentic.  I remember enough of 9/11 to remember some of the stories I heard from those early days.  Alia’s account shows the early calm, the rising panic, and the unending terror of realizing just how bad things are.  I can just picture the people who went through the exact same thing.  It’s scary.  And, with our hindsight, heartbreaking.  We know how bad it is; we know just how much worse it’s going to get.

Jesse’s story is just as compelling as Alia’s in its own way.  (I wasn’t expecting that.)  Jesse has lived most of her life hearing about the evil Muslims and how they’re all out to kill us, thanks to her father who can’t deal with the death of his eldest son.  When Jesse acts on that anger, she learns quickly the consequences of her actions and how all of us are just people trying to live our lives.  Just because we look the same or have the same religious beliefs as someone who has committed atrocities doesn’t mean we have the same radical notions.  It was really touching and a wonderful message to put out there.

This story was utterly beautiful…but I can’t give it 5 roses for one reason: I nearly didn’t get through the beginning.  The first few days that I was reading this, I just couldn’t get into it.  Both Alia and Jesse harbor a lot of anger and it underlines everything they do.  I have a hard time getting into stories that use anger that much that soon.  It gives me nothing to relate to because, quite frankly, I’m big on conflict avoidance.  If you work me into it slowly, like over the course of the story, I’m fine.  I see why the conflict exists.  But to tell me straight off that a character resents their parent for X, Y, or Z, I just can’t do it.  I almost quit this book until I finally got a hand-hold on it when the first plane hit.

But truly, once the story gets going, it is beautiful and a definite recommendation from me.  Very poignant.