Review: Dairy Queen

Title: Dairy Queen (Dairy Queen #1)
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: May 22nd, 2006
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction

Even since her dad hurt his hip, DJ Schwenk has been doing the majority of the work on her family’s dairy farm. She’s put farm work ahead of school and sports, and runs the whole farm with little help from her family. The Schwenk family is full of hard workers who barely speak about things that matter, or even speak at all. While DJ’s younger brother Curtis very rarely talks, her older brothers are no longer on speaking terms with the family. When the rich and popular Brian Nelson is sent to help work on the farm, DJ starts to realize that she is just like a cow, doing exactly what she’s supposed to. DJ sets out to change this by becoming Brian’s trainer, even though he’s the quarterback for the opposing school. While spending time with Brian, DJ starts to realize that her family never talks about anything meaningful. As she struggles with juggling her personal life and her farm work, DJ learns how to speak about the things that matter.

I’d heard a lot of good things about this book and it didn’t disappoint. Murdock did a good job at creating a likable protagonist that was easy to relate to. I really cared for and sympathized with DJ. This book was fun, quirky and unique but addressed some serious issues as well. I’ve read other books that take place on farms where the farm is used for a few jokes about cow poop and then left in the background. I think that this book made good use of the setting and it really made Dairy Queen interesting. Even if you have no interest in football and farming (which both play a big role in this book) you’ll still find yourself interested in DJ and her life in rural Wisconsin.

This book is written as if fifteen-year-old DJ was writing it for an English assignment. I liked the authenticity of the writing style; it felt like it was really written by a teenage girl. However, for some people the writing style might be hard to get into at first, since it can be awkward at times. The one big thing I didn’t like about this book was the cover. It makes it seem like it’s about a book about a hardworking tomboy who runs her family’s dairy farm and loves football. It’s kind of cute, but it just doesn’t seem to fit.

Overall, Dairy Queen is a fun YA read with great characters. I thought that it was a unique book that’s worthy of all the hype. I’ll definitely pick up the sequel, The Off Season.


"But it turns out that even if I don’t talk a lot, when it’s something that matters I still have a lot to say."

Review: The Education of Hailey Kendrick

Title: The Education of Hailey Kendrick
Author: Eileen Cook
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: January 4th, 2011
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction

Hailey Kendrick is the girl who has it all. She’s popular and pretty, has good grades, comes from a good family, goes to an elite school and has the perfect boyfriend. However, things are never as perfect as they seem. Ever since her mother’s death in a freak accident, Hailey has been trying to live as safely as possible. Although she does her best to be the perfect daughter, nothing she does seems to get the attention of her father, who sent her to boarding school after her mother’s death. When Hailey finally does something to get his attention, it is not in the way she always wanted. When Hailey is caught breaking school rules one night, she finds herself losing her boyfriend and most of her friends. She quickly goes from being one of the most popular girls in school to the most hated when the school’s dean punishes everyone in school until Hailey turns in the person who was with that night. After one night changes everything in her life, will Hailey be able to make things right?

A quick light read, The Education of Hailey Kendrick is full of teenage drama that will keep you reading. Overall, I thought it was okay. I was never bored and it succeeded at keeping me interested, but I found myself frustrated with most of the characters throughout the novel. I didn’t feel that sorry for Hailey, since all of her problems were of her own making. Plus, she kept making things worst for herself. However, she was a fairly realistic character, since I knew a lot of people like Hailey in high school. Girls who try too hard to be perfect and are paranoid about any potential danger. I was happy to see her grow throughout the novel. At times Hailey annoyed me, but other times she was very witty and funny. A lot of the characters felt like clichés to me, the most obvious being the spoiled, attention-seeking heiress. Even Drew was very familiar from other YA novels: the outsider who is nothing like the boys the main character usually dates, and is full of wisdom about life. Things were wrapped up too neatly in the end for my taste, but that can be good if you like happy endings. Cook’s writing style was good enough that I would give another one of her books a try, even though I didn’t like this one.

If you like a light and fun novel with lots of drama but a happy ending than this might be for you. However, it just wasn't for me.


"I still think it's a wonderful world."

In My Mailbox (2)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

I just got back from vacation a few hours ago and I'm very happy to be home! My family and I have been camping in Northern Michigan and Northern Ontario (around Lake Superior) for the past two weeks and two days. We started off our trip by visiting my elderly great uncle for a few days, which was terrible, since he is rude, racist, sexist and just mean. I dealt with this by buying a lot of stuff in the US, including some books!

I went to Borders for their closing sale and bought Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Sputnik Sweetheart by Hurkui Murakami and Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I read Imaginary Girls a few days ago and liked it (review on its way.) I've already read Anna and the French Kiss and liked it enough to buy it now that it's out in paper back, and I'm reading Cat's Cradle right now.

I also went to Barnes and Noble for the first time, which was amazing! I bought Markus Zusak's Underdogs, which he wrote prior to The Book Thief and I am the Messenger. The book includes the trilogy about the Wolfe Brothers. I read the first book, Underdog, and really liked it. I also bought The Maze Runner by James Dashner and loved it! Reviews coming for both books. With my receipt they printed a little piece of paper with some book recommendations, based on what I bought. The books recommended were The Scorch Trials by James Dashner, Gone by Michael Grant, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I thought that was very cool- I wish they did that in Canada.  

River Song's Diary

I'm a big fan of Doctor Who, and I find that I don't get to blog about it enough since it's not exactly  book related. I was really excited to find this on the BBC Doctor Who site. I've wanted to make my own River Song diary for a while, and this made it very easy!

I printed out the picture given. I actually ended up using much bigger paper than pictured here. 

I brought the printout with me to Dollarama and tried to find a book that would fit. I found an abridged copy of Pride and Prejudice for $1 that was about the same size (it was a bit too small, but that's okay.)

The instructions tell you to tape on the dust jacket, but my Dad is very clever and folded it like so, so that you can slide the front and back covers into each flap. When my Dad was in school, you had to cover your text books with dust jackets, so he knew how to do that. If you have no idea how, you can just tape it like the instructions say. 

I probably could have stopped there, but instead I took off the dust jacket and made some tea in a bowl. Then I dipped the pages (not the cover) into the tea, so that it would look older like River's. 

After that, I left my book out to dry. I didn't want to let it get too big, so I put a stapler on top of it. After it dried (which took a long time) I put the dust jacket back on. 

So there you go, just in time for the new episode today! I'd like to point out that it actually looks better in real life than in the photos. 

#218: Off Beat

Last year, we profiled the prolific Art Beat, probably the biggest festival of the South Bend festival season.  Imagine an artists' tailgate on St. Joseph Street in downtown South Bend, and that's the best comparison for the number--and energy--of booths around.   It lasts from 11:00am-6:00pm this Saturday, and you can spend anywhere from minutes to hours wandering around looking at everything.

Last year, I came, left, returned, spent another hour, and then, wandered home when the artists started closing up their booths.  Six o'clock is a bit early for the day to end, it felt, and I'm glad some others felt similarly....This year, stores across the river from downtown--CircaArts, Inspire Me!, Piser Designs, Junk Evolution/Carpenter Gothic, and Just Goods--will be hosting "Off Beat", a spin-off from the larger event.  It will start at 4:00pm and last until 9:00pm.

I assume it will have a similar atmosphere to the First Fridays celebrations, but some stores, in addition to the extended hours and appetizers, will be hosting artists.  For example, at Marigold's, Tim and Conner MacDonald, two local artists, will be displaying their work.

Check our previous post on ArtBeat for information about where to park and what other events are going on.

#217: The Olive Branch

An Ode to The Olive Branch's Violet Balsamic Vinegar:

I am no cook.
I lack the time, the experience, the fancy ingredients necessary for that recipe.
Yet after a quick stop at a side store in Toscana Park,
I can fool you,
all thanks to its Violet Balsamic Vinegar.

Oil and vinegar come together in this bright idea, 
inspired by similar culinary creativity in larger cities.
Free samples, no rush -- downing Dixie cups of thick yellow-green oil and 18-year-old balsamic,
I criss-cross the store
before finally deciding on the addictive nectar of the gods
Violet Balsamic Vinegar.

Not knowing if or how I would use it,
I surprised myself when the bottle was half gone...

salads, marinades, pasta sauces disappeared fast as well...
anything that this vinegar touched.

Where: Inside Villa Macri's at Toscana Park, 225 Toscana Blvd, Suite #2, Granger
Also locations in Goshen and Shipshewana.
Call: 574.855.1059
When: Mon - Thurs. 10:00 am - 7:00 pm; Fri - Sat. 10:00 am - 8:00 pm; Sun. 12:00 - 6:00 pm

Review: Maine

Title: Maine
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: June 14th, 2011
Genre: Adult Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Chick Lit

When Alice Kelleher’s husband Daniel told her he had won a piece of land in a bet, she had very low expectations about his prize. She was surprised when he showed her the beautiful waterfront property in Maine that was now theirs. Alice’s three children would spend every summer at their summerhouse, which was often full of various relatives. Sixty years later, Alice has been a widow for ten years and the summerhouse is still loved by her family. Her three children and their families each have a designated month to be there, while Alice stays all summer. Alice is eighty-three, and has made a drastic decision about the fate of the summerhouse. Alice can be cruel one moment and charming the next, and has taken refuge in alcohol in the years following her husband’s death. She is completely devoted to the Catholic Church, in part due her regrets from years ago. Kathleen is Alice’s oldest daughter and Daniel’s favourite. However, her and Alice have a very poor relationship. In the ten years since Daniel’s death, Kathleen hasn’t been to Maine. A recovering alcoholic, she lives on a worm farm in California with her partner. Her daughter, Maggie, is 32 and ready to make a major commitment that her slacker boyfriend isn’t willing to make. Ann Marie married into the Kelleher family, and has the best relationship with Alice. She appears to be the perfect wife, mother and grandmother. However, she is filled with frustration when her grown children disappoint her, and distracts herself with her obsession with dollhouses and an inappropriate crush. These four very different women find themselves together in Maine one summer and will have to get past their past feuds.

I read this book almost entirely at the beach, which was probably the best way to read Maine, since it’s definitely a beach read. The book centres around a dysfunctional Irish Catholic family and their relationships and past mistakes. Of the four main characters, only Maggie was in any way likable. It was frustrating how selfish and bitter the characters could be, but it was still interesting to learn about their pasts. Sullivan did a good job of building suspense about Alice’s past, and the flashbacks throughout the novel did a good job of showing how the family got to be where they are. I was most engaged with the past plotlines, and the book succeeded at making me feel emotional about Daniel’s death at some points. There were too many loose ends as the novel concluded, and a lot of things didn’t feel resolved to me. But, overall, I liked Maine. It’s definitely a good book to read on summer holidays, ideally at the beach. There were some flaws, but I enjoyed it and found myself very interested in the Kelleher family.


“What made people and pleased them, and threatened to ultimately ruin them, was love. Not romantic love, necessarily, but the love of something, the thing that defined your life.”

#216: Third Thursdays

After making itself the destination for the first Friday of the month, downtown South Bend is now trying to take over the Third Thursday as well!  How dare they!  Offer special dining specials, similar to those available during Eat. Drink. Downtown South Bend.

Isn't going out to eat in downtown South Bend supposed to be a guaranteed night of disaster?  No parking, no one but bums around, expensive meals for little food?  What's this with a three-course dinner at Tippecanoe for $30...per couple?!?  Outrageous!  Who would do that?!  And beer sampling is just so trendy now, isn't it?!?!! ... Fiddler's Hearth and LaSalle Grill have already gotten in on that trend, and now, we have to deal with a new brewery in town too?!  Jeeeeeez.

If you want to read more, check it out yourself at the Third Thursdays website.

Review: Beauty Queens

Title: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: May 24th, 2011
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Humour

When the 50 contestants for the annual Miss Teen Dream Pageant set off on a plane ride to Paradise Cove, they expect a few days of tanning, water slides and practicing for the competition. Things do not go as planned when their plane crashes on a deserted island. The fourteen remaining girls have to fight to survive while preparing for the competition. These girls are no strangers to weird diets, but never did they imagine having to eat grubs. Or having to battle vicious snakes and catch fish with hair straighteners. Although the girls appear to be perfect and happy pageant contestants, things are much more complicated than that. Each girl has her secrets. If Miss Hampshire hates beauty pageants so much, then why is she in one? Why does Miss Nebraska wear a purity ring? Does Miss Mississippi love pageants as much as she says she does? Why is Miss Rhode Island so desperate to find her luggage? The girls work together to survive and grow close to one another. As time passes, it becomes clear that the island isn’t as deserted as the girls thought.

I had a lot of fun reading this book! Beauty Queens is a satirical look at what it means to be a girl in the 21st century. Bray pokes fun at the media and consumerism through some footnotes and “Word from your Sponsor” messages. This book is very character driven. Of the remaining girls, the reader gets to know nine of them well. The strong female leads were what I loved most about this book. I pretty much loved them all, although Adina had some moments where she was difficult to like. Some of the girls started off as feeling like huge clichés, but by the end of the novel I felt like I judged them too fast (like Tiara and Shanti.) Bray did a good job at developing all of these characters, and her portrayals of these girls felt very real. She addressed some major issues without it feeling too preachy or forced. My favourite characters were Mary Lou (who really did have a good chance at Miss Congeniality, if you ask me,) and Jennifer, who was a complete badass with a love of comic books. The references to Lost and Doctor Who made me very happy, even if they were only briefly mentioned indirectly. Overall, getting to know these girls was one of the best parts of the novel, for me.

I should say that this book isn’t for everyone. I feel like it might be a little bit too weird for some people. It’s completely over the top at times. There’s an evil dictator called MoMo. There are pirates and reality TV shows. But Beauty Queens is not supposed to be realistic. At times, it was ridiculous, and I loved it. Quirky and entertaining, I think that book was perfect for reading at the beach. A great summer read that can be fun and outrageous, but addresses some bigger issues as well.


"I love you for who you are, not who the world thinks you should be."

#215: Green Drinks

Pardon the week-hiatus, but I'm getting back on the wagon...with a blogpost about "South Bend Green Drinks".  This innovative event is essentially a happy hour for anyone interested in making South Bend more sustainable. 

A slogan South Bend can get behind.

On the third Tuesday of each month, a different local business plays host, and the form of the event changes depending on the location.  For example, August Green Drinks is tonight at Junk Evolution, and each attendee was asked to BYOB or a snack to share.  And as a special draw, South Bend's new brewery, Four Horseman Brewery, is offering samples of their new brews before their tasting room opens to the public on Thursday!

Green Drinks happen across the world, from Argentina to Zambia, and their website advocates, "We have a lively mixture of people from NGOs, academia, government and business. Come along and you'll be made welcome. Just say, "are you green?" and we will look after you and introduce you to whoever is there."

Even if you aren't a vegan or an avid mass transit supporter, you are likely to meet some interesting people like yourself who are finding easy ways to be 'green'.  Like buying beer by the growler, not by the can.  Tonight's event lasts until 8:30 at Junk Evolution, so follow Queen's advice, and get on your bikes and ride.

Green Drinks website:
Click here to sign up for South Bend Green Drinks listserv.
Want to know more about the next meet-up? Visit the Facebook page.

Review: Half Brother

Title: Half Brother
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: August 24th, 2010
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction

In the summer of 1973, Ben Tomlin and his family are moving across the country so that his scientist parents can adopt a baby chimp and raise it as a human. The aim of the project is to raise a chimpanzee as a member of their family and teach it sign language. His mother brings the chimp home when he is 8 days old, and they name him Zan. At first, Ben is jealous of the project and bitter about having to leave Toronto for Victoria. As time passes, he finds himself loving Zan like a brother. As Ben deals with typical problems of a thirteen-year-old (first crushes, fitting in at school and struggling to keep his grades up) he is also becoming very involved in taking care of Zan. When the project doesn’t receive an important grant, the question of what will happen to Zan is raised. To Ben, Zan is family. But to his father, Zan is an animal and a scientific specimen that you shouldn’t become too attached to. Ben would do anything to protect his baby brother, but will it come to that?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started Half Brother. I was a bit worried that it would be too young for me, since Ben is thirteen when the book begins. It didn’t take long for my worries to disappear entirely. I was really impressed with this book. I think it would be perfect for a teen book club, since it raises a lot of questions that would be good for discussion. Oppel addresses ethical issues, the meaning of family, animal rights and what makes us human. Like Ben, as a reader I quickly became attached to Zan. I loved Peter and Ben’s mom the most after him. Ben was a realistic protagonist who I liked overall, although at times his obsession like crush was a bit creepy. However, I loved his loyalty and love for Zan.

Half Brother was a touching and interesting story that really made you think. I enjoyed it and I’d definitely recommend it.


“Sometimes we just listened to the sounds the world was making.”


I'm so bad at making decisions. It took me forever to decide which books to bring on holiday with me, and I could still change my mind at any minute. At the moment, I'm bringing This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, Linger by Maggie Stiefvater, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, City of Glass by Cassandra Clare and Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (on my kobo.) I'm going to be gone for two weeks and two days (we're going to Michigan then to Northern Ontario) and it is very hard to know how many books to bring. If I brought two or three I'd run out of books in the first week and be bored. If I bring four or five, I'll be too busy to read. I just decided to bring as many books as I can fit in my backpack (four and my kobo.) Plus, I have 100 free classics already on my kobo, so I should never be bored, thank goodness.

Review: City of Ashes

Title: City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments #2)
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: March 25th, 2008
Genre: YA, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy

If you haven’t read City of Bones, don’t read this review, as it contains some spoilers.

As the second instalment of The Mortal Instruments series begins, Clary just wants to have a normal life. A few weeks ago, that is exactly what she had. Now Clary knows that she is a Shadowhunter, and has the blood of angel and human. Shadowhunters protect humans from demons and keep peace among the Downworlders. However, even for a Shadowhunter Clary is unusual. She has just learned that the evil Valentine is her father, and her mother is in a coma after being kidnapped by him. She has also just found out that the handsome Jace is actually her brother. Clary had romantic feelings for Jace before she knew they were related, but now things are different. Simon, her best friend for ten years, is interested in her, and Clary decides to pursue a relationship with him. Meanwhile, Jace’s adoptive mother, Maryse, is suspicious about Jace, and believes he is helping Valentine. Someone is killing Downworlder teenagers, and Valentine seems to be at blame. When Valentine steals the Soul-Sword, the second Mortal Instrument, things become even worst for Jace. What is Valentine up to, and what will that mean for Clary and Jace?

I read City of Bones a few months ago, and I thought it was all right. I couldn’t put it down at times and liked the fast paced story line, but there were some flaws that bothered me. It felt like Clare was trying too hard to surprise you with twists, such as Hodge’s betrayal and Jace and Clary being siblings (which weirded me out.) Overall, I wasn’t that impressed, but a few people have told me to keep reading the series, as it gets better. After reading City of Ashes, I agree. Although I liked it overall, I had difficulty getting into this book at first. When Maryse was expressing her doubts about Jace not knowing that Valentine was his father, I agreed with a lot of what she was saying. The whole thing was too farfetched- how did everyone (including the Lightwoods) go all this time without figuring out that the father Jace described wasn’t Michael Wayland? By about page 50, things picked up and I was able to suspend my disbelief. Like the previous book, City of Ashes is fast paced; it actually felt like even more happened than in City of Bones. Although this book is 453 pages, it felt a lot shorter. The fantasy world that Clare has created is fascinating, and it’s one of the things that draws you into City of Ashes.

Some of the characters were great, including Isabelle, Alex, Magnus, Maia and Simon. Simon is probably my favourite character, and I really respected him by the end of the book. He also had some of the best lines. I didn’t like or dislike Clary, and I’m hoping her character will develop more throughout the series. I’m not a big fan of Jace, but I can see his potential to grow to be a character I’ll like. He’s charming, brave and clever but also rude and arrogant. However, I can still see why Clary likes him. I would bet my breakfast that they are not actually siblings, and it feels like the author is just trying to create a forbidden romance to add some drama. And after some angst and yearning, Clary and Jace will learn the truth and be together. What’s supposed to be a plot twist just feels predictable and contrived to me. Of course, I could be completely wrong. I’ll have to wait for the next book to find out.

City of Ashes is a page-turner that makes you want to keep reading until the last page. Fast paced, exciting and full of quick and clever dialogue, this is a sequel that’s better than the original.


"If you really love something, you never try to keep it the way it is forever. You have to let it be free to change."

Top Ten Tuesday (1)


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten Underrated Books. This is a tough one for me, since it feels like all the books I like are popular.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
It feels like fans of John Green are so busy quoting Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska that they forget about his second book, An Abundance of Katherines. Colin is a former child prodigy who is obsessed with anagrams, facts, languages, and girls named Katherine. After being dumped by Katherine number 19, Colin and his best friend go on a road trip, while Colin tries to create a formula that will predict the outcome of a relationship.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I read this for the first time after I turned 12 and loved it! Seventeen-year-old Cassandra lives in the English country side in the 1930's. In her journal, she captures her eccentric family members, her first love and the old castle that she lives in.

Losing Joe's Place by Gordon Korman
One of my favourites from grade school. Jason and his two best friends plan to spend the summer they're 16 at Jason's older brother's apartment in Toronto. The boys are at first overjoyed over their new independence, but soon struggle with keeping jobs, paying the rent, fighting over girls, unexpected house guests and their money hungry land lord.

All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel by Phoebe Stone
A beautiful book about Fiona Hopper and her younger sister Wallace, who is as strange as her name. The sisters live in an old mansion on the edge of town. While Fiona just wants to fit in and dance ballet, Wallace dreams of living in Seattle under a beard of moss and changing her name.

Angel on the Square by Gloria Whelan
A great historical fiction book for younger readers. I was probably about 12 when I first read this and I loved it. Thirteen year old Katya lives in St. Petursburg in the early 1900's. Katya's mother is a lady in waiting for the Emperess, and Katya has always felt safe and happy. As her country is on the brink of a revolution, Katya sees everything she once knew change.

Alice, I Think by Susan Juby
Ever since Alice dressed up as a hobbit for a very first day of school and was teased by her classmates, she has been home schooled. Now Alice is about to start high school and leave home school behind her. Will she be able to survive? This was a quirky coming of age story that's witty and original. I definitely need to re-read it.

Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
Told in notes and letters, Elizabeth's English teacher assigns her to write letters to a complete stranger from another school. Worried about her best friend Celia, who is constantly disappearing, Elizabeth soon becomes friends with her pen pal, Christina, and tells her all about her life.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
In this graphic novel, Marjane tells the story of her youth in Tehran during a tumultuous period of the country's past. This memoir looks at Marjane's early childhood in Iran, until she leaves the country in her early teens. She witnesses the overthrow of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution and Iran's war with Iraq.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Marry Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I am constantly raving to people about how much I love this book but I'm not sure if anyone ever listens. In 1946, Juliet, along with the rest of England, is trying to recover from the war. Looking for a subject for her next writing project, she unexpectedly finds one when she begins correspondence with a group of people from Guernsey. While under German occupation, this group of neighbours created a literary society as a spur of the moment alibi. Through sharing literature, they found a pleasant distraction during the war. Juliet finds herself pulled into their lives and their stories.

Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean
A very enjoyable read bound to make you laugh. Based on the stories from The Vinyl Cafe radio show, this book is made up of short stories about Dave, Morley and their family and friends. Some of the stories are funny, while others are touching.

Beach Reads

I love the beach! I spent pretty much all of this past weekend there with my family, canoeing, swimming and reading. Is it just me, or are books always better when you read them at the beach? Maybe I even would have liked The Pilgrim's Progress if I'd read it with my feet in the sand (completely joking. Worst book ever.)
I'm sure everyone's definition of 'beach read' varies. For me, it's usually a fun read for the beach, or just for summer in general. Some books have summer written all over and some are fun light reads that are perfect for summer holidays. Other books aren't the typical beach read, but I read them for the first time sitting beside a pool or on a friends dock, and always associate them with summer. Some beach reads I like:

Adult Fiction:

  • Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding 

  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

  • The Last Summer (of you & me) by Ann Brashares 

  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert 

  • A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

  • Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin 


  • Losing Forever by Gayle Friesen 

  • The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han 

  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson 

  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Anna Brashres

  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

  • The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot 

  • Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison 

Summer's not over yet! There's still plenty of time for beach side reading. 

#214: Simeri's Old Town Tap

I said goodbye to South Bend at Simeri’s. We drove there past white houses and scruffy parks, past railroad tracks, the old Studebaker buildings, and kids on bikes tearing up cracked sidewalks as the sun went down. I hadn’t been before. Someone had once mentioned a bar with a great patio, and so after dinner I suggested we grab a drink.  It was, in that honest, Midwestern way, exactly as described.  Several people were playing dimly-lit pool in the main room. Several others sat by themselves at the bar. We ordered and headed outside, the only ones sitting around one of the small circular tables on that really great patio. There was music playing on distant speakers, and maybe I’m making this up, but I like to think we heard some Tom Petty, some Elton John.

When you’re young, people tell you that this is the time in your life to be adventurous. To try something different. To move somewhere far away. They say it with good intentions, but under the assumption that your life is always easy to give up or that you don’t yet understand what it means for things to be permanent. I didn’t feel that way when I left South Bend. Over beer and salty popcorn on a warm Indiana night, that assumption, that indulgence, felt almost cruel. 

I’m writing this post three months after that last night in town, in a small coffee shop in San Antonio, Texas. Several posts ago, Tracy mentioned my move and my current job, and I felt compelled to write something more. We started this blog in spirited defiance of those people and publications who might contend that our city is dying.  Along the way, at least for me, it stopped feeling like a crusade and began to feel simply like a lived-in life. So now I just want to say thank you. Thank you South Bend for your Farmer’s Market, your library, and your numerous diners, for your chilly St. Patrick’s Day parades, your dive bars, and your concerts in the park; but most of all, thank you for being that place where I learned what it meant to be a member of a larger community. It’s where I learned, as Tracy once said, to have an appreciation for where I am. Wherever I might be, that’s not something I’m likely to forget.

Simeri’s Old Town Tap
Location: 1505 West Indiana Avenue
Contact: (574) 289-1361
Note #1: On weekends in the summer Simeri’s has live music!
Note #2: I've heard from a regular that the bar menu is apparently quite good.

In My Mailbox (1)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

This is actually my first IMM- I thought it would be fun! This week I had three books on hold for me at my library: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci and Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel. Since I leave on Friday for a two week long vacation, I might not get to all three before I leave, unfortunately. I've heard good things about all three, and I'm really excited for Geektastic, especially for John Green's short story. 

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: MTV Books
Publication Date: February 1st, 1999
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction

In August of 1991 fifteen-year-old Charlie begins writing letters about his life to a stranger who he thinks will listen and understand. He doesn’t want this person to know who he is, so he has changed all the names of the people in his life. Charlie has a tendency to over think things, and prefers to look on from the sidelines than to participate. As he starts high school, he is still trying to get over the recent suicide of his best friend Michael. Charlie soon befriends Patrick and Sam and is introduced to their friends. Their world is one full of sex, drugs, love, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, mixed tapes, and moments that make you feel infinite.

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time when I was about sixteen. I’d heard a lot of people my age say that this was their favourite book, and I thought that it didn’t live up to their praise. It felt like too much happened, as if the writer had tried to fit everything that could happen to a teen in one book. I would have probably given it 3/5 at most. Earlier this summer, I decided to give it another shot, 5 years after I first read it. I was surprised to find myself loving this book. All the things that felt like too much the first time didn’t bother me. This time the events didn’t feel forced. A lot of major issues are addressed but that didn’t stop me from liking Perks. So, there you have another example of me completely disagreeing with my past self about books.

Charlie is easily the most honest and insightful teenage narrator I can think of. He thinks about and questions everything, and looks at things in a unique way. Charlie’s insights are what a lot of people love about this book and why it is so often quoted. He is very naïve and innocent as the novel begins, making his voice distinctive and unlike the average teenager. Sometimes when the writing style in a book is like that I have difficulty getting used to it, but this wasn’t the case with Perks. The writing style reminds me a bit of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Catcher in the Rye. Chbosky was influenced by Holden Caulfield while writing this book, and he pays homage to that by having Charlie read The Catcher in the Rye. Charlie’s English teacher Bill assigns him extra novels to read and write about throughout the school year. Charlie’s favourite book is always the last one he has read, and I liked the discussion of books, movies and music throughout the novel. All those things were a huge part of my teenage years, and I always like to see them mentioned in books. Plus the mere mention of mixed tapes makes me nostalgic.

Charlie’s friends and family felt very realistic to me. I’ve heard some people ask why people like Sam and Patrick would be friends with Charlie, but I think that they liked how different he was and that he listened to them. I’ve also heard people refer to Charlie as a Gary Stu and I completely disagree. Charlie is very flawed and both Bill and Sam point out how he needs to participate and not put others before him. Although there are perks to being a wallflower, Charlie needs to stop watching from the sidelines. The ending was surprising and gave insight on why Charlie is the way he is. After I finished reading this book the second time, I tried to put my finger on what makes this book special. It wasn’t the great quotes or the characters, but how poignant this book is. What makes me love The Perks of Being a Wallflower is how real the emotions in this book feel. A lot of the things that happened to Charlie have never happened to me, but while reading this book it felt as if they had.


"So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be."

#213: On the River

Ever wish you lived in South Beach instead of South Bend?  Well, for one weekend a year, on an unused plot overlooking downtown, On the River brings the beach to the Bend.  This event, begun in 2008, is a fundraiser for the Center for the Homeless and has grown into one of the biggest summer festivals in the city.
As opposed to many events, which tend to be either family-oriented or beer tent-oriented (and not even trying with the hard-to-please teen crowd), the multiple nights of On the River allows everyone* to enjoy the novelty of a sand beach and palm trees in DTSB.  Each night features a  DJ and live music, volleyball and cornhole, and tropical drinks and food, although on Teen night, the daiquiris are virgin and "Freaky Tiki Punch" is not available.  Family Day on Saturday afternoon gives kids the chance to build sand castles and enjoy a variety of carnival activities in an alcohol-free environment... more than you can say for most beaches on Lake Michigan.  Tonight's 21+ Beach Bash kicks off in only a few hours, and get your crew there early for the volleyball or cornhole tournament (3:00 and 5:30 pm start, respectively).
21+ Beach Bash
New this year was In the River, an organized group paddle of the St. Joe Saturday morning.  Organizers were aiming to get 200 boats out on the river.  Look for the follow-up to see if they made their goal!
When: Friday, August 5, 6:00-11:00 pm (Teen Night); Saturday, August 6, 11:00 am-3:00pm (Family Day), 3:00-11:00pm (Beach Bash)
Where: near Colfax Ave. Bridge on the east side of the St. Joe River, across from the Century Center
For tickets, to register for the tournaments, and for more information about parking and what to bring, visit

*Except for Senior night.  Perhaps it's the heat, the skill needed to maneuver on sand, or the loud music, but it would be great to welcome South Bend's eldest out to enjoy the beach!

#212: Lincoln Highway Adventure

Yup, it's First Friday again -- this month's theme: "The Dog Days of Summer".  Get downtown tonight to take advantage of the late hours and special dining deals.  Pets are welcome too -- check for information about all the events occurring tonight.

One special event is using tonight as its kick off -- the Lincoln Highway Adventure.  In April, we highlighted Jeff Blair's objective to walk the length of Indiana's Lincoln Highway, and this post drew my attention to the historical value of South Bend's Lincolnway, part of America's first transcontinental highway.  I didn't get a chance to walk along with Jeff Blair as he crossed through Indiana, but since then, I started to notice the blue "historical highway" signs along this main artery in town, and this weekend offers another opportunity to explore where else this road leads.

The Lincoln Highway Adventure takes participants across the northern part of the state, beginning in South Bend and through New Carlisle, LaPorte, Valparaiso, and Dyer (1913 route) and back to Plymouth (1928 route).  At each stop, registered participants can get their "passport" stamped, geo-cache and answer trivia questions, scavenger hunt style.  Those who complete the route will be entered to win prizes at the end of the day.

Tonight, to kick-off the event, there is a classic car cruise-in on W. Washington St. in downtown South Bend.  Everyone is welcome to vote for prize-winning cars, such as "Best in Show" and "People's Choice".
At the cruise-in
At the cruise-in
For more information, or to register your car for either event, visit the website

#211: Urban Adventure Games

While this is a retroactive post for this event, the Urban Adventure Games a) are too fun, b) support our mission to "have appreciation for where you are" too closely, and c) draw too much of the community for us not to highlight them.

The last weekend of July, when South Bend is often at its hottest and muggiest, teams gather together to race around the city, attempting to complete a set of challenges in 3.5 hours.   These tasks range from ziplining across the St. Joe to making paper airplanes on Notre Dame's campus to counting the number of doorposts in the new Kroc Center.  Biking and foot are the only transportation permitted.

Sound crazy?  It is.

The Urban Adventure games are unlike any other "race" in South Bend.  Part strategy, part teamwork, all good.  It's like a South Bend version of Nickelodean's "Wild n Crazy Kids".  Visit the website to learn more about the four different divisions of races and the rules for the event.  There's no faster way to see all parts of the city, as well as meet as many volunteers at all the stations, than through this event.
At the Cove, teams strategize during the 30 minute planning period before the start of the physical race.

The date for the 2012 Urban Adventure Games has already been scheduled for July 28, so mark your calendars and start training now!

We're back!

Loyal readers, we're happy to say that we're back on the blogging bandwagon.  During July, we travelled and developed new appreciation for hiking, busking, and postcard writing, respectively. 
Definitely not South Bend.
Our blogforce is normally three strong, with guest posts peppered in, but one of us has now relocated to the Lone Star state to join the forces of America's educators in San Antonio, TX.  She promises to incorporate South Bend into lessons, whether it's by learning how to approximate the number of festivals that occur in the month of June (probably in the hundreds, right?) or teaching 4th graders to submit editorials to national publications criticizing the criteria use to designate a city as dying. 

The beauty of the Internet allows for remote blogging, and we welcome submissions for guest posts.  Contact us at  And with about 150 posts to go, we're still working through all the suggestions that have been offered -- thank you for your tips and keep sending them in!

Review: Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth

Title: Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth (Tales of Terror #3)
Author: Chris Priestley
Illustrator: David Roberts
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: October 5th, 2009
Genre: YA, Horror, Short Stories

Robert Harper is about to take his first ever train ride by himself to his new school in London. Before he boards the train, his stepmother has a premonition that Robert is in danger. Although he enjoys supernatural books, Robert is a rational boy and does not believe in such things as visions. He ignores her warning and boards the train. Not long into his journey, Robert falls asleep, only to wake up and find that all the other passengers are in a deep sleep. Across from him now is a pretty young woman dressed all in white. The train has stopped at the mouth of a tunnel, and the Woman in White suggests that she tell some Robert stories to pass the time. These stories are unlike anything Robert has heard before and he finds himself haunted by these tales. Although he expected an uneventful train ride, Robert is about to have a journey he will never forget.

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth is a example of why it can be good to judge a book by its cover. A good cover can lead you to reading a book you would never have read before. I would never have bought this book if the cover hadn’t been so intriguing. This book is the third in the series, but they’re non sequential and you can start wherever you like. The illustrations by David Roberts are beautiful and do a great job of capturing the overall mood and atmosphere of the book. There are 9 short stories told throughout, all creepy tales featuring children. My favourite was “Gerald” which was the first story to really make my stomach twist (this might be because it was the first one that I read at night.) I didn’t find any of the stories to be excessively frightening or gruesome. They were just scary enough to keep you on the edge of your seat and make you a bit jumpy. Which is very good, since I once had to sleep with the lights on after my brother explained to me what happens in Paranormal Activity.
I’ve found that a bad ending can completely ruin a book for you, even if you loved everything up until the conclusion. It isn’t very often that I read a book where I love the ending so much that it takes me from liking a book to loving it. I should say that the whole of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth did not have the same effect on me that its last few pages did. I liked it a lot, although I was slightly bored once or twice, but the rest of the book didn’t cast the same spell over me that it’s ending did.

Overall, I am very glad that this book has such a beautiful cover that caught my eye. A very enjoyable read that is probably going to make it slightly difficult for me to fall asleep tonight.



This week, everyone in the Harry Potter community is excited about Pottermore! Back in June, it was announced that J.K. Rowling had a new project that was not a book. Over a few days, coordinates were given to multiple fansites, and if you put the coordinates into the map given, you would find a letter. The letters unscrambled to spell Pottermore. A website of the same name opened, and it lead to a youtube page which counted down to Jo's announcement. On June 23rd, I woke up early (for me) at 7am EST to see what Jo had to announce. 

With the promise that on July 31st we would learn how 1 million fans would be given early access to the site, everyone went to on Sunday, to learn that every day for the next 7 days a clue would be given at a certain time. Every day the clue would pertain to a different book, starting with Philosopher's Stone. An example would be something like "How many spellbooks did Harry have to buy in The Chamber of Secrets? Multiply that number by 32." Once you have that number, you put it after the URL to be redirected to a site where you will find the magic quill, and then click on it be able to register. You only have a limited time to do this, of course. You can see a list of all the questions so far here.

I feel asleep around 1 on the 31st, and decided to try my best for August 1st. I started checking the site at 7pm EST (midnight in London) and feel asleep at 1:30am. Luckily, my cat woke me up a little before 6 am, and I managed to register. You have to confirm your e-mail within the next 48 hours, then wait a few weeks for your "owl" to come, and you can officially use the site. Everyone can use the site on October 1st. 

Pottermore will replace the promised encyclopedia by providing new stories and background information. The site itself is free, but you will have to pay for Harry Potter e-books and audiobooks. Everyone will be sorted into a house, and you can guarantee that more than a few people will be upset when they're sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor (or whatever.) Honestly, I'd be very happy to be in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. I wouldn't be upset if I was placed into Slytherin or Hufflepuff, just confused, since neither really fit for me. The upside of not being placed in Gryffindor is that you get to learn new information about your house. 

Some people are making multiple accounts and selling them on ebay. These accounts are invalid, and can be terminated by the site. You're not allowed to make multiple accounts or sell them. I've seen people making multiples for fictional characters, which is ridiculous. It would really suck if a big fan didn't get to take part in the beta testing all because someone registered themselves plus Kurt and Blaine. Also, it isn't smart to give someone you don't know your personal information for them to register you. 

I'm really excited for this site! I think it's going to be beautiful and a lot of fun. I can't wait to get my owl! Plus, I just read on mugglenet that the next clue will be revealed in the next 3 hours! Good luck everyone!  

The Arthur Conan Doyle Room in the Toronto Reference Library

Back in May I went to see the Toronto Reference Library's Arthur Conan Doyle Collection.  I actually had no idea that this was in Toronto until I saw it on tumblr in December or so. The collection features  Doyle's books in many editions, as well as Sherlock Holmes parodies, comics, abridged versions, film adaptations and books about Doyle and his novels. The room pays homage to Doyle's most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. Set up to look like 221B Baker Street, the room features Holmes memorabilia, and items such as deer hats and violin cases. 

The room is on the 5th floor of the Toronto Reference Library, at 789 Yonge Street. It is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 2 to 4pm or by appointment. If you go, I'd recommend going downstairs to the library's book shop, Book Ends, which is also open at that time. I've bought some really good books there for very cheap. Other than specially priced books, no single item is over one dollar. 

The collection had so many cool books and collectables, and I think any fan of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes would love it. So, thus ends another tale of fun times at the library.