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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Home

I was 11 when I first came to Camp Tecumseh.  My only previous camp experience was a few days of Girl Scout camp the previous summer.  At Girl Scout camp, we slept on raised wooden platforms covered by tent flaps.  There were daddy-long-legs everywhere.  On our first night there, another girl in my cabin wet her bed and then woke me up to ask if she could sleep with me.  It was ridiculously hot and there was a burn ban, so we couldn't even have a campfire.  I didn't like the food, so I survived solely on peanut butter for the duration of our stay.  I came away from that experience thinking that camp was awful.

So the next year, when my parents decided to send me for a week at Camp Tecumseh on our neighbors' recommendation, I was prepared for the worst.  But what I found at Tecumseh changed my life forever.

While rustic-looking, the cabins were downright luxurious compared to those tent-covered raised wooden platforms.  I was still a picky eater, but I never went hungry.  The campfires on Sunday and Friday night were amazing--full of goofy songs and hilarious skits, then rounded out by slower songs about faith and friendship.  And the counselors--they were nothing short of amazing.  They were energetic and silly, able to bring even the shyest child (me) out of her shell.  They were so confident and full of life.  They were wise and kind, and excellent listeners.  The devotions and chapels that they led laid the basis for me to develop my own faith.  Their example taught me about accepting and loving myself.  In short, they were everything that I wanted to be.

Here's my brother and me during my second summer at camp, when I was 12.  I kept going to Camp Tecumseh until I was 15.  Some of my most significant memories growing up were made at camp.  I learned more about myself at camp than anywhere else--not just about who I was, but about who I wanted to be.  In the years that followed, I never forgot those lessons.  I waited anxiously for a time when I could return to camp.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I got a job working at a YMCA daycare in Peoria.  I hoped that having worked for the Y would make me more marketable when I applied to be a counselor at Camp Tecumseh the next summer.  Then, during my sophomore year of college, I got to go back to camp on a retreat.

My music service sorority (Tau Beta Sigma) and our brother fraternity (Kappa Kappa Psi) did a weekend retreat at the Camp Tecumseh Leadership Center.  After all our scheduled activities were done, I walked down the dark, winding road into main camp with my friend Jill.  It had been four years since I'd been at camp, but I remembered it like it was yesterday.  She was understandably nervous to wander around in the woods on a cold, dark November night, but I told her that camp was home to me, and I could never be lost there.

After that, I applied to work as a counselor that summer.  During my interview, I told the summer camp director that being a camper at Tecumseh had been the most significant experience of my life, and I wanted to be able to give other kids what my counselors had given me.

1999 was my first summer on staff, and I grew that summer in all the ways that I had hoped, and in others that I would never have been able to predict.  I became, in many ways, the best version of myself.  I never wanted to leave camp.  Never in my life had I felt so at home, so at peace.  I toyed with the idea of leaving college to work year-round at camp, but ultimately decided to continue on my college path.

Back then, I thought that 1999 would be my one summer of glory.  I studied abroad in the spring of 2000 and didn't return to the States until camp was already in session.  But the summer camp director called me up and asked me to return for part of the summer to fill in for another woman who couldn't finish the summer.  (Ben and I watched the staff video from the summer of 2000 last night, which is what brought on some of these reflections.)  After that, I knew I couldn't stay away.  I was back again in 2001 and 2002, and even after Ben and I were engaged and embarking on our epic summer road trip in 2003, we returned to camp to volunteer for a week before setting out.

In the following years, I returned to camp every chance I got.  We came back to visit at Friday night campfires.  I worked some weekends and volunteered on others.  I brought my students on retreats to the Tecumseh Leadership Center.  Bryn spent her first night at camp when she was 9 months old, as part of a retreat that I was chaperoning.  We brought the kids for Family Camp.  Shay rode her first horse when she was 2, and Liam attended his first campfire at 2 months old.

And then Ben was offered a full-time job at camp.  So now, the home of my heart is my physical home too.

And you know what?  Remember how I felt about the counselors when I was a camper--that they were energetic, inspiring, wise, kind, full of life, faith-full, and accepting.  I still think all of those things about this generation of counselors.  As I look back on my journey from camper to counselor to staff family, I am filled with admiration for the counselors that I have known over the years.  They keep going strong even when it's 110 degrees every day.  They are always smiling, laughing, singing.  The inspire the campers, each other, and even me to grow in confidence and faith.  They give every single kid the best week of their lives.

I am so, so proud to call this place home and to know that I have been part of its history.  Truly, it provides experiences that last a lifetime.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pen to Paper

Excerpt from “Visions and Secrets” in Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist:

“I can remember my mom saying years and years ago that I should think about writing, because it might be the one possible use for the sheer amount of things that go on in my mind at any given time.  I wondered if that was true, and hoped for that, and then at a certain point had almost stopped hoping for that, because I had found my place, I thought.  I had found use and stability in another world, a world of people and ideas and teams and meetings, but what I wanted to be, in a dreamy far-off way, was a writer.

“When I think about my child-self, my little girl memories, all that little girl wanted was to be a storyteller, a poet, a person who gathers and arranges words like some people gather and arrange flowers.  Words are the breakdown through which I see all of life, instead of molecules or notes or chords or colors.  Words in even black and white snakes, back and forth across the page, the portals through which a little girl found a big world, and through which, now, a grown-up girl is trying to pass.

 “When I write, I can see things that I can’t otherwise see, and I can feel things that I can’t otherwise feel.  Things make sense, in flashes and glimpses, in me and around me.  They unravel themselves and line up into black and white rows, and those rows nourish me, sliding down my throat like noodles.”

Last week, I talked to my BFF Melissa on the phone.  Throughout our growing-up years, Melissa and I both wanted to grow up to be writers.  We spent endless summer days scribbling down story ideas on lined paper.  We created entire fantasy worlds for our stories.  She was always my go-to editor and sounding board for story ideas.  We wrote angsty poetry.  We laughed hysterically over the adventures that we created for our most beloved (and comic) characters, Vink and Vonk Voorheis.  We handwrote our stories and then typed them up on my family's old Macintosh computer.  In high school, she read endless iterations of my story about a character named Caitlin McDowell, which I was sure would become my first great novel.

And then we headed off to college.  I started a double-major in English and journalism, and my assignments for all those courses pretty much killed my love of writing.  During my senior year at Butler, I took a creative writing course in which the professor had us write in a journal every day, first for 10 minutes, then working up to 30.  He said that the most reliable way to become a writer was to practice writing, every day.  I used to struggle mightily to write in that journal.  I felt like I never had 10 free minutes, and even when I did, I never knew what to write about.

Aside from the stories I wrote for that course, I haven't really done any creative writing since high school.  This means that my dreams of becoming a famous novelist have pretty much gone by the wayside.  About a year ago, I did dig through an old filing cabinet and reread the unfinished epic of Caitlin McDowell (and laughed at all the 1990s references that it included--such as her stylishly colored scrunchies).  Also last year, I wrote and published my first book, God Can.... not a piece of fiction, but the stories of various members of my fathers' church, written in conjunction with the pastor, Calvin Rychener, and my dad.  We self-published the book, and you can now purchase a copy of it online through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Writing the various chapters of that book reminded me of how much I love to write.  I love losing myself in deciding just the right way to structure a sentence, or how to string sentences together to express my thoughts.  I love playing with the words, and I especially love how when I get in the zone, the right words just seem to flow out, and it's all I can do to keep up and get them on the paper.

But since that project ended, I haven't done any writing.  Of course, we published the book mere weeks before I found out that I was pregnant with Aiden, and then various medical problems kept me from feeling much like myself for the next nine months.  But now that I'm feeling more like "me" again, I've been thinking more and more about words.

Last year, my friend Melissa also wrote her first novel.  I was incredibly wowed by her stories of the entire process, with all of her research into the book industry and learning about what it takes to be published.  I believe I currently remain the only reader of her first novel.... but for the record, I thought it was fantastic.  She has now put that project aside and told me last week that she has started working on another story.  She talked about how she feels like right now, she just needs to practice her writing, to get back to the place where she truly loved getting those words down on paper.

That really resonated with me. I miss creating those words.  I miss pouring myself out on paper.  As I turned that conversation with Melissa over and over in my mind, I felt passionately that I wanted to start writing again.  I decided to return to that old college exercise of at least 10 minutes a day, whether I actually had anything to say or not.

Of course, that was a little over a week ago, and I haven't managed to put pen to paper yet.  As I have been sitting and writing this, Shay has interrupted me at least eight times ("Mommy, aren't you done YET??"), Bryn has come in three times to tell me that she needs me, and Ben has gently inquired as to when I will be ready to put the kids to bed.  At this particular moment, Shay is hanging on to my arm and Bryn is standing behind my chair.  So getting back to writing may not be as easy as I would hope.  But I share this with all of you (if anyone out there is still reading?) in the hopes that you will all hold me accountable. 

Excerpt from “Visions and Secrets” in Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist:
"For me, to write is an act of rebellion, an uprising against that part of me that needs to be responsible, helpful, adaptive.  It is one of the first things, maybe the very first thing, that is entirely my own, that doesn't help anyone, doesn't make anyone else's life easier, doesn't facilitate or provide structure or administrative support for anyone else.  I've always been a team player, a utility player, a workhorse, and to do something sheerly out of a deep love for the act itself feels foreign and vaguely scandalous.  It feels, I'm realizing, selfish.

"But little by little, when I start where I'm stuck, over and over and over, getting stuck and unstuck, something cracks through, and life reveals itself to me like a scroll unfurling, and I write about it.  I struggle against myself, and I write about it.  I feel afraid and crazy, and I write about it.  I don't figure out the solution in any tidy way, and I don't have a sharp and clever revelation, but bit by bit, writing is starting to worm its way into the dailiness of my life and is creating a home there.  It is becoming less and less of a strange distant dream and more and more of the actual way I live."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Book #35 of 2012: "Black Heart" by Holly Black

I just finished Black Heart, the third book in Holly Black's "Curse Workers" trilogy.  I read White Cat last year and Red Glove earlier this month.  I doubt that anyone will read this book that hasn't read the previous two, so I'll keep my comments brief.

Overall, I was pleased with how well the series tied up some of my questions from the previous two books.  Unfortunately, the third book introduced several new conflicts that it left unresolved.  I felt like the ending, especially, left it wide open for another book--but I haven't heard of any plans for that.

In Black Heart, teenage curse worker Cassel Sharpe continues to grapple with where to place his loyalties--with the mob or with the federal agents, or with only himself?  He truly wants to do good, but the people in his life keep conspiring to use him to futher their own ends.  I thought this passage summed up the main idea quite well:

"I don't know if I'm being set up.  I don't know who the good guys are anymore.

"I thought that the people I grew up around--mostly criminals--were different from regular people.  Certainly different from cops, from federal agents with their shiny badges.  I thought grifters and con men were just born bad.  I thought there was some inner flaw in us.  Something corrupt that meant that we'd never be like other people--that the best we could do is ape them.

"But now I wonder--what if everyone is pretty much the same and it's just a thousand small choices that add up to the person you are?  No good or evil, no black and white, no inner demons or angels whispering the right answers in our ears like it's some cosmic SAT test.  Just us, hour by hour, minute by minute, day by day, making the best choices we can.

"The thought is horrifying.  If that's true, then there's no right choice.  There's just choice."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Mysteries of Newborns

Having a newborn raises causes the contemplation of many interesting mysteries of life.  Of course, the hours spent semi-conscious in the middle of the night are an excellent time for this contemplation.  Over the course of the last month, I have spent some serious time considering these questions:

How did a 22.25 inch baby fit inside me?  While holding Aiden in the hospital, I just kept marveling at his length and thinking how scrunched up he must have been to fit in my belly.  No wonder I felt like he was constantly kicking me!

How is it possible that I birthed a 9 pound baby, plus all the other gunk that comes out during the birth process, yet when I stepped on the scale when coming home from the hospital, I had only lost 6 pounds?

Speaking of the less-than-impressive weight loss, what is the proper response to give my daughters when they say, "Mommy, why is your belly still big?"  The whole "9 months on, 9 months off" concept is lost on them.

Is it possible that even though he tested fine at the hospital, my baby might be suffering from some kind of hearing loss?  Because, really, I don't understand how he sleeps through the ruckus of his three older siblings chasing each other around all day.  Not to mention the fact that he snoozes through meals in the camp dining hall.  (The answer to this burning question, I suspect, has something to do with him having gotten used to these noises in utero.  But still.  I hear them every day and I still think they're loud!)

And if he can sleep through all that noise during the day, why is it that he's wide awake in the middle of the night?  Is it too quiet for him?  Do I need to leave the TV on for him or something?  If so, do I actually want to go down that road?  In short.... why, oh why, have all of my babies had their days and nights mixed up?  Mommy wants to sleep!

How can someone that little produce so much poop?

How has the last month gotten away from me so fast?  I have yet to mail thank you notes for all the sweet gifts that people have sent us (and we do appreciate them very much!), and I haven't had time to design a birth announcement yet (much less print, stuff, address, and mail them).

On that note, how has the entire summer gotten away from me?  It's already halfway through Week 6 of summer camp (of 9 total weeks) and I feel like I've hardly been at camp at all.  I don't even know the names of any of this year's new counselors yet, and they'll be going home soon!  And my kids start back to school in less than a month.  How did I spend the entire school year waiting for summer, only to have it flash by so quickly?

Today, Aiden is officially one month old.  I simply cannot fathom how the last month has flown by so quickly, particularly when the previous 9 months seemed to drag on forever.  Aiden is doing absolutely great: eating heartily, bulking up his skinny little body, sleeping well (at least during the day), and tolerating the constant affection from his brother and sisters.  I'm slowly starting to feel like a normal human again.  My varicose veins have mostly deflated, and I can move around without pain now.  I'm still awfully weak, as my muscles kind of atrophied during those 13 weeks stuck in bed, but as long as I remember to take it relatively easy, I do okay.  I've actually watched my kids solo several days this week, trying to work up to when I have to be a full-time human again when our wonderful sitter heads back to school this fall.  I even made a solo outing with my four kids on Saturday, taking them on Baby's First Trip to the Zoo (which he slept through).  In short, life is starting to return to normal around here... whatever "normal" looks like for a family with 4 kids ages 6 and under!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book #34 of 2012: "Anna and the French Kiss" by Stephanie Perkins

You know that expression, "Don't judge a book by its cover"?  I'm thinking that I need to implement a new truism, something along the lines of "don't dismiss a book based on its title."  Stephanie Perkins' first novel, Anna and the French Kiss, came highly recommended by my friend Leah.  She usually likes all the same books as I do.  At least three times (that we know of), one of us has tried to check out a book from our local library, only to discover that the other one had it at that time.  And she said I would love this book.  But I was skeptical.  The title made it seem fluffy, silly.  And okay, yes, it's aimed at teenagers.  But even as an actual teenager, I would have hesitated to read it based on the title.  Call me shallow.  Maybe I just want people to think I read more highbrow stuff than I actually do.  But anyway, I digress.

Not only was Anna and the French Kiss recommended by a friend, but it was also named one NPR's "Best Teen Reads" of 2010 and was on YALSA's "Best Fiction for Young Adults" list in 2012.  And while I am not a teen/young adult, I do want to be a librarian for that age group, so I decided I really needed to check it out.  And I am SO GLAD that I did.

Stephanie Perkins had me enchanted from the very first chapter.  Though I was hesitant to start, I couldn't put it down once I started reading.  I tore through it in just over a day.  I enjoyed it so much that I almost (almost) didn't mind staying up for half the night with a fussy baby.  This book was simply delicious.  Within minutes of finishing it, I was checking out Stephanie Perkins' website, then running searches of the catalogs of libraries in my area to figure out where I can get my hands on her next book, Lola and the Boy Next Door (also not the greatest title I've ever heard, but I don't care).

The basic storyline of Anna is quite simple.  Anna Oliphant's father has enrolled her in a French boarding school for her senior year of high school, much against her own wishes.  So she finds herself in Paris, not knowing a single person or able to speak any French, far away from her best friend and her love interest back home in Atlanta.  Thankfully, she is befriended by the nice girl next door, who introduces her to Etienne St. Clair, a British/American/French classmate.  Anna quickly develops a huge crush on St. Clair, who unfortunately already has a serious girlfriend.  But more importantly, Anna and St. Clair become the best of friends.  Over the course of their tumultuous senior year, the two of them help each other through problems with friends, family, and other romantic interests.  They help each other to overcome their fears, and they explore Paris together.

This book made me want to hop on the next flight to Paris, to eat crepes and go sightseeing.  It reminded me vividly of everything I loved (and also everything I feared) about studying abroad.  I was immediately transported back to those days of trying to maintain relationships at home via email and home while being half a world away.  I remembered exploring new places, trying new foods, and making new friends, all the while knowing that my time there was limited.  While I was studying in Ireland, my best friend Melissa studied abroad in Paris, and I was able to visit her there and have her show me some of her favorite spots in the city.  Nearly all of those places appeared in Anna and the French Kiss, and it inspired great memories of Melissa and I wandering the streets of Paris (and enjoying banana and Nutella crepes, which happen to be my favorite as well as Anna's in the book).

The strength of the memories that this book inspired is proof of how true-to-life its story and characters are.  I found the characters to be both lovable and completely realistic.  I loved the narrator's voice--I would have definitely wanted to be friends with her.  Their conversations were witty and funny and real.  Ladies, check this book out for a delightful reminder of what it's like to fall in love for the first time.

Books #28 and 33 of 2012: "Chains" and "Forge" by Laurie Halse Anderson

Yesterday I finished reading my 33rd book of 2012, Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson.  It is the sequel to her book Chains, which I read last month.  Chains was one of the featured books in our local Teen Read Week 2011, and it's been on my "to read" list since then.

These books were very unlike anything I'd usually pick up.  They are meticulously researched historical fiction.  Set during the Revolutionary War, they tell the story of two slaves, Isabel and Curzon.  As America fights to gain its freedom, these two young slaves also struggle to gain their own.  When Chains begins, Isabel's mistress has just died.  The mistress freed Isabel and her 5-year-old sister, Ruth, in her will.... but the soliciter has left town due to the war, and her next of kin denies any knowledge of that arrangement, and he sells the two girls to make a profit for himself.  Isabel and Ruth are relocated to New York with their new household.

In New York, Isabel meets Curzon, whose master signs him up to fight in the Revolutionary War in his place, promising Curzon freedom at the end of his enlistment.  Isabel's new master is loyal to the King of England, and Curzon tries to persuade Isabel to spy for the Americans, telling her that if she provides valuable information for them, the army generals can help her gain her freedom.  Both Isabel and Curzon are sorely disappointed, though.  Isabel does provide the rebels with information, but they do nothing for her in return.  Her mistress sends Ruth away, and Isabel tries to escape to find Ruth.  When Isabel is caught, her mistress brands her face as a punishment.  Meanwhile, the British defeat the Americans, and Curzon is imprisoned and nearly starved to death with the rest of his regiment.

Chains ends with Isabel's daring escape from her master and rescue of Curzon from the prison.  Forge picks up a few months later.  Curzon has re-enlisted in the army, and his regiment is sent to Valley Forge.  After months of nearly starving and nearly freezing with the rest of the troops, Curzon's old master reappears and forces him back into slavery, ignoring the promise that he made to free Curzon at the end of his previous enlistment.  Isabel has also been recaptured, and she is purchased by Curzon's master, who then fits her neck with an iron collar to keep her from running away again.  Again, the two plot to escape.

I don't read historical fiction (or actual history) very often, as it tends to be drier than the dystopian books I usually pick.  While it is true that I did not tear through either Chains or Forge  as fast as I do other books, I did find them to be very interesting.  Over and over again, I was hit by injustice of it all.  Both Isabel and Curzon were promised freedom within the law, and both were repeatedly oppressed.  I kept wanting to help them, but in reality, they had nowhere to turn.  At that time in history, slavery was legal in all 13 colonies, so even if they managed to escape, they still had nowhere to go.  There was nowhere that they could run and be safe, and no one that they could turn to for help.  Even those who sympathized with the slaves' situation could do little to help them because of the laws of the time.

I would highly recommend the Seeds of American trilogy (to be completed with the forthcoming Ashes, due to be published on Feburary 5, 2013) to anyone who is interested in history.  It would be a fantastic addition to the curriculum for a history class (or an interdisciplinary English class!), particularly at the middle school or freshman level.  The books have a question/answer session in the back, and Anderson provides plenty of references and recommendations for further research and reading.  Every chapter begins with a quote from a soldier, slave, or other historical figure from the Revolution.  These books bring both the American Revolution and American slavery into a context that teens will be able to relate to.  I don't know how many kids (or adults) would pick this trilogy up as a "pleasure read," but I would say that it's definitely worth it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Books #14, #16, and #32 of 2012: "Shiver," "Linger," and "Forever"

   
I've been waiting to review The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater until I finished the entire thing.  I read Shiver (book #14 of 2012) back in May, followed closely by Linger (book #16), but then I had to wait until my local library ordered a copy of Forever (book #32) to finish up the trilogy.  It was well worth the wait!

I initially was not thrilled with Shiver and primarily persisted with the trilogy because 1) I hate to leave a series unfinished and 2) my friend Andrea swore that the other two books were fantastic.  I'm very glad to have stuck with it, as I really enjoyed both Linger and Forever.

When I first read Shiver (published 2009), I felt like it was somewhat of a Twilight (published 2005) knock-off.  The story centers around Grace, who is, for all appearances, a normal human teenage girl... aside from her obsession with the wolves that live in the woods behind her house.  She feels a particular attachment to a yellow-eyed wolf.  The wolves of Mercy Falls are not just average wolves though; they are humans trapped in wolf bodies.  The yellow-eyed wolf is Sam Roth, and he and Grace fall in love during one of his shifts back into his human body.

Side note: I'm not very up on my werewolf lore.  The creatures in Stiefvater's books are usually just referred to as "wolves," but occassionally she calls them "werewolves."  Her wolves possess no special powers, aside from their bites being able to cause other humans to shift into wolves.  When they're in wolf form, their minds are completely "wolfish;" they act completely as animals and are unable to remember their human selves.  I'm not sure if this qualifies them as "werewolves" or not.

Anyway, Grace's blind and overwhelming love of Sam (who is a tortured soul that would much rather be human than wolf and frequently ponders the morality involved in making wolves) initially seemed to be a very Bella-and-Edward storyline.  The story started to get more interesting with the introduction of Isabel Culpeper, a hard-edged, cynical girl who discovers the secret of the wolves after her brother Jack is bitten.  In Shiver, the narration switches back and forth between the voices of Sam and Grace, but I didn't feel like either of their voices was particularly distinctive.  In Linger, Sam and Grace continue as narrators, but the voices of Isabel and new wolf Cole are also added to the mix.  In my opinion, Isabel and Cole are both far more interesting characters than Sam and Grace, although Sam and Grace both get a lot more interesting after the first book as well.  We learn that Grace was bitten by wolves as a child, and the consequences of that come to fruition in Linger.  In Forever, Sam grapples with the origins of his wolfishness, wondering at his foster father's motivations in changing him in the first place.  Throughout the trilogy, the characters try to discover what causes the wolves to shift from human to animal and if there might be a cure for their condition.

I really enjoyed this trilogy and chafed with impatience to get my hands on the third book.  I especially liked Cole's cynical yet scientific voice.  While I did still have unanswered questions at the end of the trilogy, I think that in this case, that enhanced my enjoyment of the books.  These books are a must-read for anyone who liked the Twilight series, or anyone who enjoys the recent trend in the supernatural in YA lit.  Two thumbs up for the trilogy as a whole!  I'm planning to read more of Maggie Stiefvater in the future, including her Books of Faerie trilogy (Lament, Ballad, and Requiem--although the third one will be published in 2013, so I'll probably wait until then to read them, as it makes me crazy when I start a trilogy that I can't finish) and The Scorpio Races (which I've heard touted as the new must-read book for anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games).  Stay tuned for future reviews!


Book #31 of 2012: "Red Glove" by Holly Black

The first book I read in July was Holly Black's Red Glove, which is the sequel to her White Cat.  These books and her recently published Black Heart comprise the Curse Workers trilogy.

I read White Cat last year for one of my librarian master's classes.  I have to admit that I didn't really like it.  In my review of the books I read in 2011, I described it by saying, "While this is the first book in a series, I spent most of the book feeling like I had jumped in in the middle of a story, trying to figure out what in the heck was going on. It's about magicians, who can control thoughts, dreams, and actions by just touching your skin. Lots going on, and I felt like I didn't really get with the program until the very end."  However, I am very glad that I stuck with the series and continued to the second book, because it was much better (or maybe it was just that I understood the premise when starting this book).

Cassel Sharpe was born into a family of curse workers, but he didn't think that he had any powers himself.  In White Cat, he learns that he has been repeatedly "worked" by his brothers to help them in their dealings with what is essentially magical mafia... and his memories have been erased each time, so he has no recollection of what he has done.  Red Glove picks up where White Cat left off.  While Cassel manages to save two lives and semi-redeem one of his brothers in White Cat, he has to deal with the fallout of these actions in Red Glove.  Both the mob and the feds try to bribe/blackmail him into using his powers to work for them.  He is manipulated into investigating his brother's murder--which leads him to discover several murders that he himself has committed (and have been erased from his memory).  Meanwhile, the government is trying to pass a new law that will require all "workers" to be identified--a serious invasion of privacy.

I had a hard time mastering all the characters in the first book, but thankfully, very few new characters were introduced in this one, so I felt like they were much better developed.  It was also helpful that Cassel actually knows what's going on around him during this book, since his memory loss made the first book even more confusing.  Cassel truly wants to do the right thing, to protect his family and his friends, but he's faced with a lot of choices that offer no good alternative.  Everyone in his life seems to believe that he's dangerous and dark at heart, so I'll be very interested to see how his character turns out in Black Heart.  My favorite thing about this book was Holly Black's writing, which includes a lot of sarcasm and funny one-liners in Cassel's voice.  Her Modern Faerie Tale trilogy (Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside) is also on my "to read" list.

Overall, I'd recommend the Curse Workers trilogy to anyone who thinks they might be intrigued by a story of magic and the mob.  I'd forewarn you that the start of the series is a little rough, but the second book is well worth it.  Stay tuned to hear how I like the trilogy's conclusion...

Book #30 of 2012: "Just Listen" by Sarah Dessen

My last book in June was Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.  I've already read and reviewed quite a few Sarah Dessen books this year (Along for the Ride, Someone Like You, Dreamland, and What Happened to Goodbye), so I'll keep this short and sweet.

High school junior Annabel Greene starts the school year as a loner.  Something happened to her over the summer--something that she refuses to talk or even think about, something that turned her best friend Sophie completely against her, something that led her to isolate herself and basically become a social outcast.  Annabel does local modelling and has been in several commercials and ad campaigns, but she can't seem to reconcile the happy-looking girl in the ads to her real, lonely, sad self.

One day, after her vicious ex-best friend launches a particularly nasty verbal attack at her, Annabel ends up in conversation with Owen, a giant of a young man who is constantly plugged in to his iPod and is known for his anger management issues.  The two develop an unlikely friendship, and Annabel begins to catch Owen's tendency for radical honesty.  Eventually, Annabel has to deal with things that haunt her, including the painful dynamics of her family, the traumatic event in her summer, and her seeming inability to hold on to friendships.

I really enjoyed this book.  I felt like it had a heavier subject than some of Dessen's other novels, yet it wasn't depressing like Dreamland.  I'd definitely recommend it to any chick lit reader.

Book #29 of 2012: "Feed" by M.T. Anderson

Attempting to catch up on my blog posts....
My 29th book of 2012 was Feed by M.T. Anderson.  I read it in June, actually starting it while I was in the hospital having Aiden and finishing it up later that week (during some of my many sleepless nights).  This book came highly recommended by many of my former students at University High School, and it's also a National Book Award Finalist.

Feed takes place sometime in the unspecified future.  The vast majority of people have a "feed" implanted in their brains during infancy and are therefore connected to an unending stream of information for their entire lives.  Major corporations dominate both the feed and the educational system, so everyone is constantly inundated by advertisements and marketing.  In turn, this leads to extreme materialism.  People constantly order new goods over their feeds, and with fashions changing every few days (or hours), consumerism is overwhelming.  People can chat with each other over their feeds, making actual out-loud conversation unnecessary.  Parties often involve everyone watching the same program on their own feeds, following ads to check out new products, or everyone dancing to their own music, which only they can hear over their feed.  No one actually needs to learn to read or write, as everything can be sent over the feeds, which have audio.  Actual learning is unnecessary as well, as all information can be accessed on the feed any time, so what's the point in knowing it on your own?  Some websites even allow users to go into "mal" (malfunction), which is basically a high where the brain is temporarily scrambled.  As you might imagine, this type of society leads to very simplistic, shallow, unintelligent, consumeristic living.

The book begins with teenager narrator Titus describing a trip with his friends, saying, "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."  During their trip to the moon, Titus and his friends are "hacked," meaning that their feeds are compromised and they have to be hospitalized for repairs.  However, Titus also meets a girl named Violet.  She opposes the feed and actually cares about what's happening in the world around her.  It is through Violet's dialogue that the reader actually learns about the state of the world, which is apparently both at war and self-destructing environmentally, but the details are sketchy at best, because the narrator (Titus) is uninterested in these things.

While I understand that Anderson wrote this book in Titus's voice (meaning that the entire thing is shallow, simplistic, slangy, and rambling) to demonstrate what society has devolved to as a result of the feed, I really disliked the writing.  Ben read about a page over my shoulder and declared that he felt like he was getting dumber with every word he read--which, was, of course, Anderson's point in writing that way.... but gosh, was it annoying.  I felt like I had to slog through the entire thing.  While the story carried some very interesting commentary and predictions about our current and future societies, the voice in which it was written just made it too hard for me to enjoy.  Thumbs-up on the ideas of the story; thumbs-down on the actual reading experience.