Review: The Diviners

Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 18th, 2012
Genre: YA, Paranormal Fantasy

Evie O’Neil has always known that she is just too much for Zenith Ohio, and that couldn’t be clearer than when she has to leave her small town in a hurry after offending a powerful family. But Evie’s punishment could not suit her better: she gets to stay with her Uncle in New York City. The year is 1926 and Evie is a true modern girl, with her bobbed hair and bad drinking habits, prohibition be damned. Helping her uncle at his museum near Central Park, The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, Evie can’t help but be drawn to some of her Uncle’s interests, such as the belief in people with special abilities. For a long time, Evie has been able to read objects to learn personal things about the people they belong to. So far, this has just been good for party tricks (and for getting Evie in trouble) but when a young girl is brutally murdered and found in the Hudson River, Evie’s ability might prove to be useful. The murderer has used symbols from the occult, but nothing quite makes sense. As Evie immerses herself in the case while taking advantage of New York City, this quick talking, fun-having girl finds herself enwrapped in ghost story and a mystery.

I first read Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty nearly nine years ago, and fell deeply in love with it, and the following books in the series. It was for that reason that I picked up The Diviners by Libba Bray, although the fact that it is a supernatural tale set in prohibition New York also caught my attention. Evie is a modern girl: a flapper who likes to party. Full of wit and hidden depth, she’s a great lead character. The narrative also looks into the perspective of many other characters throughout the story, and all of these characters felt full fleshed and convincing. Evie leaves her small town for the most happening place in the world, New York City. There she intends to make full use of the glamour and glitz of city life, but her special ability and connections manage to get her involved with solving a mystery. This book is a bit of a brick, at nearly 600 pages. For the most part it was quick moving and the bulk didn’t make it drag along or feel long. It was well written and clearly thoroughly researched, full of excitement and suspense even though the reader knows who the murderer is from the start. In a world full of people with unexplainable abilities, the world building in The Diviners was one of its strongest points. The characters and the setting also added so much to the novel. I do wish that this was a stand alone novel, because at this point I don’t really see the point of a series, unlike with The Name of the Star. I also thought that the story ended abruptly and that the end was not as strong as the rest of the book. This book is perfect for Halloween, since it was creepy enough to have me hearing every little noise in my house and feeling anxious. While, for me, nothing can compare to the Gemma Doyle books, The Diviners was a promising start to the series, set in a fascinating time period in a city where anything can happen.


“She knew what it was to wait for someone who would never come home. She knew that grief, like a scar, faded but never really went away.”

Autumn chill

autumn chill
and the tug of past lives . . . 
blissfully I arrive
at this, my latest state
of imperfection

Simply Haiku, Winter 2009

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

Review: The Stonekeeper (Amulet Vol. 1)

Title: The Stonekeeper (Amulet Vol. 1)
Author: Kazu Kabuishi
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Publication Date: January 1st, 2008
Genre: Junior Fiction, Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Two years after the death of their father, Emily and Navin move into the countryside with their mother into an old house in the family. Some quick investigations of the house lead the family to the room of Emily’s Great-Grandfather, who went missing years ago. When Emily finds a mysterious amulet, she secretly takes it. When her mother is taken by a monster, Emily will have to use the amulet to save her. With Navin, Emily enters an impossible world where only she has the power to save her mother and the whole world. With a rabbit robot called Miskit, Emily will have to take the power of the amulet if she wants to reunite her family. While the power of the amulet can do great things, Emily will have to stop it from taking power over her. I’ve been on a graphic novel kick lately, and this is one of the best ones I’ve read. Beautifully drawn, the story sucks you in from the very beginning, with an emotional start and a quick moving plot. I know some parents stick up their nose at graphic novels, but this book is perfect for young reluctant readers. Original and exciting, this story features characters with depth and an interesting story, and it will all take you not quite half an hour to read. Even with so much packed into such a little book, The Stonekeeper does what it set out to do perfectly: tell a story.


In My Mailbox (49)

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.

Although I wasn't going to originally, I ended up buying Who Could It Be At This Hour (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket. The book is part of a new series from the perspective of a young Lemony Snicket, before all that Baudelaire orphan business. 

Sort of a boring week for me, book wise. I took out the second and third books in the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi early in the week and have already read and returned them. I'm really enjoying this series so far and think that they're a really fun and quick read. 

To make up for this not so good IMM, here are some Halloween pictures. 

This is me last weekend. I was sort of Hermione, since I had the Gryffindor robes and the time turner, but I didn't do the hair and I'm wearing a beanie because it was cold.

This is my cat, who I very quickly dressed up as Princess Lei, in the costume I had for my build a bear. Her name is Penny Lane and she is not happy with me right now.

So Happy Halloween everyone! Feel free to comment with what books you recieved this week and what you're dressing up for for Halloween, if you are. 

Autumn wind

I rarely write haiku—the tanka form seems to fit me better—but every now and then I guess I want to say a little less.

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

autumn wind
the whole earth woven
into my hair

—Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine, 2011

Shepherd's Pie

I told my friend Kaylie today that I go on and off with cooking: I love it for a week, would rather avoid it for a week, and then go back to loving it for a week. This recipe for shepherd's pie is perfect for both kinds of weeks. If you're in the mood to cook, make the mashed potatoes from scratch and use fresh, chopped vegetables. If you're loathing the kitchen, use instant mashed potatoes and frozen vegetables.

Either way, this recipe has a pleasantly short ingredient list, comes together in a flash, and provides a meaty, substantial meal that will keep you full.

Shepherd's Pie
adapted from Real Simple magazine, January 2010

5 medium red potatoes, quartered
1 T butter
1/4 cup milk
spoonful of sour cream
OR equivalent amount of instant mashed potatoes (about 4 cups prepared)

1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
16-ounce bag frozen mixed veggies (ours had corn, lima beans, peas, and carrots)
OR 2 cups fresh, chopped veggies of your choice

Preheat oven to 400*F.

Boil potatoes for about 15 minutes or until fork-tender or prepare instant mashed potatoes.

Meanwhile, brown ground beef. Add Worcestershire sauce and ketchup (use more for more of a saucy meat mixture, less for a mixture that is only lightly flavored), and season with S&P. Stir in mixed veggies. Pour into a 9x13 baking dish.

Drain potatoes; return to pot. Add butter, milk, and sour cream, and mash until desired consistency (add more milk for a creamier mash). Spoon mashed potatoes onto ground-beef mixture and spread until covered.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tops of potatoes are nicely browned.

Review: A Moveable Feast

Title: A Moveable Feast
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: 1964
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

In this fictionalized memoir, Ernest Hemingway tells stories from his first years in Paris as a blooming writer, spending his days writing in cafes and his nights in love with his first wife, Hadley. With Paris of the 1920’s as the backdrop, Hemingway remembers trying to make ends meet in the City of Lights. One of the Lost Generation, Hemingway tells stories of the people who mattered to him, such as Sylvia Beach and her beloved bookshop, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and Scott Fitzgerald.

I bought this book from Shakespeare & Company in Paris, for fairly obvious reasons since the older version of the shop and its owner are on the cover. Before I left, I’d asked someone if it was a cliché to read Hemingway in Paris, and I had been told that it definitely was. All the same, I bought it anyway and read most of this book in my hostel, in cafes and even in Luxembourg Gardens. It might be a bit of a cliché, but I was the only person I saw reading Hemingway, the majority of people reading 50 Shades of Grey. There really is no better place to read this book, and it really added to my enjoyment of Paris and to reading A Moveable Feast. It was interesting to see Hemingway’s Paris in the backdrop of my Paris, and to see other writers from his perspective. I love how Hemingway breaks all the rules your grade school teacher told you about writing, and how he does so beautifully. The chapters read like short stories, and are all written very simply. Some of the stories towards the end dragged on a little, although I’m not sure if these were part of every edition or just included in mine. If you have absolutely no interest in Paris, Hemingway, or any of the writers he knew, then this book isn't for you. However, if you hold any interest in these things, A Moveable Feast is worth checking out. Whether you already love Paris and Hemingway or not, this is a great little book and perhaps a good introduction to Hemingway. Just like the city he loved, Hemingway’s writing is a moveable feast.


“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

Blogging: A Love-Hate Relationship

Claire, you have this completely annoying habit of obsessing over your blog for a few weeks (even posting multiple times a day sometimes) and then throwing yourself into an I-hate-blogging, blogging-stinks, who-do-I-think-I-am-anyway-Naomi-Davis? mood that lasts until you remember some things.
I'm going to list those things for you now.
You will do well to remember them.

1. You are Claire Ford and no one else. You cook and dress and write with your own unique style. That is all you can ask of yourself. That is all anyone expects of you anyway.

2. Your best ideas come when you forget about following the trends.

3. Your best ideas come when you have an open notebook and an uncapped pen on your person. Record everything you feel the need to record. This is how you sort your thoughts. This is how you clear your mind.

4. True, you prefer handwritten letters to emails and feel much more accomplished after three hours of reading a printed book than after three hours of scrolling through a blog. But you also have to live in the twenty-first century. Embrace the technology. Use it for good.

5. You're going to write anyway. Your mind doesn't survive otherwise. Why not share those writings? get feedback? fuel a conversation?

6. Claire, you have marvelous friends. Reach out to them. You need them and they need you. It's collaboration, remember?

7. Let's face it: You're much better at expressing yourself in writing than in spoken words. Use this blog as a platform to practice sharing yourself with others. Find the interesting things about yourself and write about them. What makes you you? Be interested in yourself and others will be interested in you.

What in the world are tanka?

A few weeks ago, a fellow writer-blogger asked me what a tanka is. For those perusing this blog who may be unfamiliar with the term, and also wondering what it is that I've been posting, a tanka is a "short poem" with a long, interesting history. The word is used in both the singular and plural (poem and poems) and applies to both genre and form. Its Japanese origins and relationship with waka, translating to "Japanese song," go back around 1300 years or so; the more-familiar haiku is several centuries younger.

In English, tanka consist of five fairly brief lines. There have been some colorful discussions, maybe small wars, in the English-language tanka (ELT) community over the exact particulars of the ELT form. An ELT isn't just any five-line poem, that's for sure, but it's tough to define in a meant-to-be-brief blog post. There are certain characteristics, to do with both structure and flavor, that seem to make it what it is. By the way, a 31-syllable poem is not a good or accurate description; the use of as many as 31 English syllables can result in fairly cumbersome tanka. Japanese tanka cannot simply be mimicked in other languages. Perhaps "we" shouldn't even call our non-Japanese versions "tanka," but here we are. To learn more, as well as read lots of examples, check out several of the sidebar links I've provided in this blog. 

Current ELT writing styles are all over the place. Myself, I'm most drawn to those poems that are lithe, concise yet lyrical, deceptively simple, and fresh, and that make use of natural contemporary speech. I attempt to write the bulk of my own in a "traditional" short-long-short-long-long line-length pattern, though my subject matter and approach may not always be thought of as traditional.

At any rate, the worldwide ELT community seems to have expanded fairly rapidly over the past several years. Composing tanka can be a challenging yet addictive pastime.

P.S. Quite a few small, quality journals exist that either are dedicated to ELT or otherwise feature it. Still, the time may be ripe for additional tanka-friendly 'zines, especially since one not long ago shut its doors and another one or two have been on hiatus. Anyone out there up for the task?

Addie: Seven Months Old

Looking much more clean-cut after her first haircut from Mom.
Flips from back to belly sometime during each night.
Still sleeping 12+ hours every night (what a blessing for a mom who very much needs her sleep!).
Recognized by others by her characteristic loud clicking noises she makes with her tongue.
Also her spitting. And pretend talking.
Becoming quite the bouncer while sitting down. Has begun scooting ever so slightly. Crawling soon!
Gobbles up applesauce, sweet potatoes, and bananas, but does not like peas.
Is ticklish on the bottoms of her feet and on her ribs.
Misses Dad when he's away at work and school, but grins so big when he comes through the front door.
Holds her bottles all by herself; loves being able to choose when to take breaks from eating to jabber.
Scored some great new clothes at Kid to Kid!
Enjoys completely soiling the outfits Mom works so hard to put together (when does potty training start?).
Already a little social butterfly, grinning from ear to ear when anyone looks her way, especially kids her age.
Doesn't hate tummy time so much anymore. So ready to crawl and scoot and move already.
Recognizes her aunts and uncle (and grandparents!) on the iPad screen during Facetime.
Very interested in the textures around her (e.g. carpet, upholstered furniture, brick walls).
Has mastered the art of picking up objects with both hands.
Turns the pages of her storybooks by herself, Mom's favorite of Addie's latest accomplishments.

Looks so beautiful in our at-home family photo session with Brooke Schultz Photography.
These pictures are a mother's dream. I never tire of the way I become swollen with pride when I look at my little family, my pride and joy, my life's work.
See the rest of the pictures on Brooke's blog.

In My Mailbox (48)

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 swore to myself I wouldn't buy any books this week and I didn't, although it was a close call. I was going to buy this lovely copy of the The Spiderwick Chronicles (books one through five). There was some water damage, so I ended getting it for free, thus never technically bought any books this week. I've never read the series or seen the movie, but I've always wanted to. 

Library books! I'm starting to worry that I've taken out more than I can handle. I have The Last Letter For Your Lover by JoJo Moyes, The Anne Frank House Authorized Biography by Sidney Jacobson, The Stone Keeper (Amulet) by Kazu Kabuishi, The Kill Order by James Dashner, When the War Began by John Marsden, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and Volumes 3 and 4 of Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya. All of my holds just came in at once! The Amulet books are supposed to be very good graphic novels. I've read the other books in The Maze Runner series and am looking forward to the prequel, The Kill Order. Jellicoe Road and Where the War Began were both recommended to me. The beautiful mug pictured was made for me by my friend Nicole. 

What was in your mailbox this week? 

Shakespeare & Company, Paris

I think you could safely say that Shakespeare & Company in Paris is the most famous bookstore in the world. Selling English books, Shakespeare & Company is tucked away on Rue de la Bûcherie, just across from Notre Dame in the 5th Arrondissement on the left bank. This store was opened by George Whitman in 1951, named in honour of Sylvia Beach's famous bookshop, which was a second home to writers like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. Beach's shop was closed during the German Occupation.

The shop is now owned by Sylvia Beach Whitman, George Whitman's daughter. George himself died in December of 2011. The shop famously allows writers to live in the shop in exchange for work. It also has a great reading room as well an antiquarian room. I bought a postcard, a Shakespeare & Company blank journal for my friend and a copy of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. You can see some more pictures here. I've been wanting to go to this shop for ages and it definitely lived up to the hype, although it was ridiculously busy. I wouldn't recommend going on a rainy day and it might be smart to head over right as it opens. While you will have to be sure to check out everyone's favourites like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, don't forget about the bookshop with a big name when you're in Paris. You can watch an amazing video here and find the shop in movies like Midnight in Paris and Julie and Julia and read about it in Anna and the French Kiss. 

The outline

the outline
of its wounded body—
this fit of rain
not bold enough
to wash it from my mind

Modern English Tanka, Autumn 2008

I still can see it.

Review: Fire Spell

Title: Fire Spell
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: September 13th, 2012
Genre: Junior Fiction, Fantasy

The year is 1860, and a young Clara Wintermute is looking forward to her twelfth birthday party, in which a puppeteer is coming to create a magical puppet show for Clara and her friends. While the puppet show will be enchanting, Clara is more excited to see the two children who help with the puppet show. They are unlike anyone Clara has ever met, and she actually feels like they genuinely like her, unlike her other friends. For Clara is a very lonely little girl, and it feels as if the ghosts of her deceased siblings are everywhere she goes. After the puppet show, Clara Wintermute goes missing. Parsefall and Lizzie Rose, the two orphans who worked as puppeteers, might be the only ones who can save Clara. Tied to Clara’s fate are two dangerous magicians, caught in an age-old battle for power. Amidst the grey world of Victorian London, three children will have to confront magic and ancient curses.

I bought this book at Foyles in London, mainly because Stacey from Pretty Books had heard it was good, and because it looked like the perfect book to buy in London, with Big Ben and St. Paul’s on the cover. I actually read this book in Paris and I quickly got wrapped up in it. I adore the cover art, and the novel as a whole captures and even lives up to the eerie and beautiful picture depicted. I loved the atmosphere presented in the novel, and how Victorian customs, especially pertaining to death, were dealt with in the novel. It was well-researched and interesting historical fiction. The story takes us into the minds of various different characters, from the rich to the poor, the good to the evil. All the characters were all well written and intriguing, and it was nice to see London of the mid 19th century from the perspective of characters from different social standings. Even as I spent my days in Paris I found my mind being drawn back to this book, which I was reading at night. It was well written with a fast moving and unique plot. In the middle I was feeling a little let down, wishing there had been more explanation as to why Grissini did what he did to Clara. In the end, I was very happy with the ending and how the novel took you there. Full of spells, puppetry and impossibilities, Fire Spell was enjoyable read for lovers of fantasy.


Film Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower 
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Production Company: Summit Entertainment
Release Date: September 28th, 2012
Genre: Drama

Not long after the suicide of his best friend, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is starting high school and couldn’t be more friendless. In his letters to someone he doesn’t even know, Charlie reveals his fears and innermost thoughts. When he becomes friends with the exciting duo of Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), Charlie is introduced to a world of the typical teenage rites of passage, from first kisses to first time doing drugs, but he also finds people who don’t see him as just a wallflower to look past. Based on the 1999 novel of the same name, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, which isn’t something that happens very often. For book to movie adaptations, there are always two ways to judge them: both as a stand-alone film and as a retelling of the novel. Just looking at it as a movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the best teen movie I’ve seen in ages, and is not comparable to anything else. Taking an epistolary novel and turning it into a film is always difficult, but Perks manages to pull it off. The acting was very well done, and the actors helped make a very emotional film that had a strong affect on me. The three leads were just phenomenal: Emma Watson’s expression alone sometimes were enough to break your heart and Ezra Miller made Patrick hilarious, while also showing how he was the rock of the group and how he tried to hide his own pain. Charlie is a very difficult character to pull off, mainly due to how emotional and passive he is, but I think that Logan Lerman did a great job. I thought that the film spoke truthfully about high school, and even though Perks is set in the early 1990’s the story is still relevant today, although mixed tapes are out. It really was just a beautiful film that could make you feel the full gamut of emotions.

As an adaptation of a much-loved novel, I thought that Perks was one of the best I’ve seen. Of course, not everything is included in the film, like with any book turned into a movie. You could look at this as a good thing in a way, since one of the main criticisms of this book is that too many things happen to the characters, to the point that it feels unrealistic. Having loved many books that have been made into films, I long ago accepted that not everything can make it into a film. Not only that, but things that work on the page don’t necessarily work on the screen. It’s been a year since I read the book, but it was mainly little things that were removed, such as the reading of the poem, with one of the bigger things omitted being part of Charlie’s sister’s storyline. Most of the things I can think of that were not included didn’t really tie into the main plotline, or wouldn’t have worked as well in the film. Some things, mainly conversations, were added to the film and we also got to learn more details about characters. Most importantly, the film beautifully captured the spirit of the book, which is a difficult thing to translate onto film since the entire book is told through letters. There were parts that worked better on film than in the book, in my opinion, such as the ending and the “infinite” scenes. Overall, this was a great film that I would recommend to everyone, whether you read and liked the book or not. If you have only seen the movie and enjoyed it, then I would definitely recommend reading the book, which is always a different experience and will add so much to the story and characters you already know. I only wish that every book I love could be made into a movie that is directed by the author. The Perks of Being a Wallflower stayed true to the book in creating a film that makes you want to laugh and cry.


In My Mailbox (47)

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.

While I withstood temptation by spending hours at Indigo and not buying anything, I made up for it this weekend. My parent's friend has a cottage we like to visit, and it happens to be near some shops I really like. I bought The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which I've been meaning to read for a while. 

On the way home we returned to The World's Smallest Bookstore, which I've spoken about before (x). Books are self serve and $3 each, so I got carried away. I bought Exiles from Paradise: Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald by Sara Mayfield, This Side of Paradise and The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'm a bit unsure about the last book, since I didn't enjoy Love in the Time of Cholera.

Library books! My hold on The Diviners by Libba Bray came in, and I'll hopefully get to this one soon. My hold on the second book in the Fruits Basket series by Natsuki Takaya also came in. I read the first book the other day and am currently watching the anime and I'm really loving it. This is my first manga ever. 

What books did you receive this past week? 

Left alone

He will miss 
      the seasonal change,
      subtle as it will be:
      the first two waves of chill. 

He will leave
      when humid air still knocks
      against skin like angry beads
      and the jasmine draws in
      its final bees for the year— 

And will be gone
      while the oleander begin
      their hibernating droop
      and the hibiscus expose
      frameworks of thinning bones. 

He will not know
      the needle’s drill into
      tame, unsuspecting flesh,
      or the restive landscape
      of waiting for results— 

But will return
      in time to witness
      the expected conflagration:
      scarlet berries on the yaupon. 

Loch Raven Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2005

The berries on our city yaupon tree (pictured) would turn bright red during November. Here in this rustic place where we now live, the clump of native yaupon by our driveway already is loaded with red berries.

Bookish Halloween Costumes

When making your costume selection for this years Halloween party, why not go literary? Here's a list that will hopefully help you pick and make your costume for Halloween this year.

Just For You
Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. The crown is easy enough to make, and if you're older and having difficulties finding a white onesie, you could always use white pants and a sweater. This instructable can help you make an awesome hat for your costume. You can also find instructions for the full costume here. This is a good choice for someone who lives somewhere colder (like me), especially for trick or treating. 

Madeline from The Madeline Books by John Bemelmans Marciano. She may be small, but inside she's big! You could always search thrift stores to make this costume, or, if you're crafty, make your own. You can find a tutorial here.

The Paper Bag Princess from The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. This is probably the cheapest costume on the list. I've seen a few people do this costume over the years, and where I live the book is very well known so everyone gets it. You can find a good example here. Plus, you can always wear clothes underneath.

Amelia Bedelia from the Amelia Bedilia books by Peggy Parish and Herman Parish. She might not be the best maid in the world, but she sure can bake a pie! You can find a no-sew costume here (you could also use flowers from a dollar store lei instead of making your own) or another version here.

Pippi from the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. You can see a particularly good one here.

Peter Pan from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. Halloween is best for the young at heart, so there's really no better costume than Peter Pan. You can find a tutorial here.

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. While not everyone would have got this costume last year, now everyone will. This site has a lot of different videos on how to do her hair and makeup. You can also see a good costume here. You can make your own bow and arrow here and the Mockingjay pin can be found online from Waterstones, Amazon Canada or Amazon USA.

Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The girl of Scott's dreams, Ramona changes her hair colour every few weeks, so you'll have a lot of choices. This costume can be made mostly by throwing together things from thrift stores. You can see a very good costume here. You can learn how to make your own bag here, hammer here and goggles here. I've also seen foam hammers at Dollarama, which could easily be spray painted to look like Ramona's.

Waldo from Where's Waldo by Martin Hanford. This one's fairly easy if you can find a white and red striped shirt and glasses. You can find a simple tutorial here.

Holden Caulfield from The Catcher and the Rye by J.D. Salinger. If you can find a red hunting cap and a baseball glove, you're half way there. You can see a good costume here. Picture by westwolf270.

For Groups 

The Gang from The Magic School Bus by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen. There's someone for everyone: Ms Frizzle, Liz, Dorothy Ann, Phoebe, Carlos, Arnold, Keesha, Ralphie, Tim, Wanda and the Bus. A large group did this in my high school, and it was awesome. This could be made mostly using thrift store clothes for the kids and Ms Frizzle. Liz could be made just by wearing all green, painting your face and make a tale, felt horns with a head band and felt spikes for your back. Bus could be made by doing something like this. You can see a tutorial here.

The Cat, Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. You can see different Cat in the Hat costumes here. Don't forget Thing 1 and Thing 2! You can learn how to make the costumes here.

Various characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. While these costumes are based more on the movie than the book, there always fun and everyone will recognize them. Here is a tutorial for the an Oompa Loompa, Veruca, Violet and Mike. You can see Willy Wonka himself here.

Various characters from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This site for the book has great ideas and examples. You can also find help for the Alice costume here. You could also go all out by doing this.

Various characters from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. If you’re depressed that you’ll never be able to dress up for another movie/book release, then there’s always Halloween. There are so many characters to choose from; the possibilities are endless. From the trio, Snape, Luna, Voldemort, Moaning Myrtle, Hedwig and The Fat Lady, you could be anyone. I bought my Gryffindor robes just from Costco, and I'm sure you can find them now at most places (the official WB ones are very expensive.) You can find lots of interesting things here.

Dorothy, The Tin Woodman, The Scarecrow and The Lion from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. You can learn how to make Dorothy's ruby slippers here, although in the book they were actually silver. You can get some help here.

Good luck and Happy Halloween!

Being imperfect and unsafe: two essays

Something I've finally learned in life is to try a little less and stay a little mussed up (well, I may have gone overboard with the last part). I enjoy discovering beauty in the rustic or ramshackle, in plants some may call weeds, in things or even people discarded by others. And I'm drawn to poetry that may be a wee bit askew, while shedding light on our imperfect selves.

Thought I'd share this link to a lovely brief essay by Erin Coughlin Hollowell: "The Art of Imperfection in Poetry (and in life)" (with her permission). And here's another essay from her Being Poetry blog that I can identify with, about neat poems versus those with ragged edges: "Headfirst into the Picture Window—Risk in Writing."

Review: The Casual Vacancy

Title: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: September 27th, 2012
Genre: Fiction

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the residents of the small town of Pagford are shaken. Barry was a father, a husband, a friend. But at the same time, others in this seemingly ideal English town are secretly less than devastated about Barry’s death. Now that Barry is gone, his former seat on the parish council is open. With an election in the works for Pagford, the town finds itself divided. Barry was a crusader for the people living in the Fields, the poor development that is technically part of the principality of Pagford, but still looked down on. Now that Barry is gone, the fate of the Fields and the addiction clinic are in peril. For people like sixteen-year-old Krystal Weedon, Barry was someone who believed in her and saw the best in her, when to everyone else she was just the daughter of a druggie and a prostitute. To others, Krystal is just another reason Pagford should have nothing to do with the Fields and its residents. As the election looms over the small town, each candidate has a different motif for running and each has their secrets. Through the eyes of the many different residents of a small English town, The Casual Vacancy looks at poverty, secrecy and the gaping hole left in a town by one man.

This is J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults and her first book outside of the Harry Potter series, which was obviously what brought about her fame and success. Before you start reading this book, if you choose to, you should come in with no expectations and forget about the name on the cover. To enjoy this book, I really think you have to let go of Harry Potter for at least a few days and take The Casual Vacancy for what it is. Initially, I was under the impression that this book was a murder mystery, which made sense to me based on Harry Potter. It did not take me long to figure out that this was not a mystery. I quickly chose to forget everything I thought I knew about J.K. Rowling as a writer and pretend this book had been written by anyone else. The only thing that this novel and Harry Potter have in common is that they are both very good. While I would say that some of the strongest aspects of the Harry Potter books are the construction of plot and the world building, that’s not the case for The Casual Vacancy. World building is more important in fantasy, and the plot isn’t what drags you into this book, unlike Harry Potter. Like in Harry Potter, the characters were what made me love this book, but in a completely different way. While the Harry Potter books were very much about the internal battle between good and evil in all of us, I think everyone had characters that they loved, even if they were flawed. Any of the characters in The Casual Vacancy would give you reason to detest them, but I thought they were all very real. I was impressed with the honesty it would have taken when writing the many characters in this novel, and even admired how Rowling wasn’t afraid to show the very worst parts of people, without apologies.

I’m a fairly big fan of the Harry Potter books, but somehow I was still impressed by the writing in The Casual Vacancy. There were honestly a few parts where I would put the book down and curse, because the writing was just so good at times. It reminded me more of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach or even The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I was very impressed and easily engrossed in the story. I was also impressed by how smoothly the novel transitioned through the different characters’ narratives. The multiple third person perspectives were handled expertly, and having so many characters could have easily made this book fall flat. Another one of its strongpoints was the deep emotional effect it had, and how well it presented the issues that were at the heart of the novel. This is really a novel about poverty and prejudice and Rowling dealt with important issues that were obviously very important to her very well. After finishing this book I felt sort of like I had been punched in the stomach, in the most heart breaking way. That sounds like a bad thing, but this is the type of story that should leave you feeling that way, if the writer is doing their job.

I haven’t read very many reviews of this book, but I can guess what the main criticisms are. Firstly, this book is slower moving at the beginning, although it might feel that way in part because of all my anxiety over whether I would like this new book by my favourite author. There is a lot of swearing and things that you would never see in a Harry Potter book, like sex, drugs, rape and abuse. I feel like most people are complaining about the swearing, but this is a book for adults, and based on the topic and some of the characters, of course there’s going to be swearing. I don’t think it would be true to character if some of the people in this book didn’t swear. I feel like people will make a big deal about the writer of such beloved children’s books writing a very adult novel, but I was impressed with how J.K. Rowling boldly departed from her former series in a very extreme way. If you want this book to be the next Harry Potter, then just skip it and reread the books you already love. However, if you think you can read a great book by a great writer without any expectations, then The Casual Vacancy is a book that deals with unpleasant truths with fearless honesty.


“Things denied, things untold, things hidden and disguised.”

Roadside daisies; golden wings

roadside daisies
vibrant in my hand—
at home
this vase unable
to contain their wildness

golden wings
of a butterfly . . . 
it flees
after grazing
the edge of my shadow

—A Hundred Gourds, 1:4, Sept. 2012

They're not nearly as prolific as they were this summer, and the blooms are smaller. But it's early October, and still there are wild daisies at the edge of the woods.

In My Mailbox (46)

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 past week I went to Chapters for the first time in forever and bought Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson and Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand has been recommended to me over and over, and I was lucky enough to find this edition that was much cheaper than the more popular version. My friend Amiee recommended Stolen to me and since then I've seen a lot of other people praising it. 

From the library I took out The Selection by Kiera Cass, Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya and Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks. I also took out Frostbite by Leigh Dragoon and Richelle Mead, the sequel to Vampire Academy.  

Feel free to respond in the comments with what books you bought and recieved this week. 

She warns me; I cringe

A couple more kyoka, or kyoka-like tanka, from Prune Juice:

she warns me
not to let the cat get out,
her old Persian
that barely even moves
an inch an hour

I cringe
at my reflection . . .
the charm
with which he offers
to bash out all our mirrors

Prune Juice, Issue 9, July 2012

See "Kyoka vs. Tanka - examples" by M. Kei at his Kujaku Poetry & Ships blog. 

To My Husband

We've come a long way, you and I.
Three years ago you were returning home from a mission and I was trying not to define myself by which boy I liked that day. You parted your hair on the side and dreamed of being an entrepreneur / motivational speaker / author; I sported a side ponytail and wondered if I would really teach German someday.

We met.
And the whirlwind swept us up, up, and away.
We became we.

Since then we have become one unit; we have morphed and changed and grown together.
Our jeans are more fitted now. I wear red lipstick and you wear bright-blue tennis shoes.
We have matching sunglasses, matching camping chairs, and matching Mickey Mouse mugs.
We've made three trips to Disneyland, watched the good seasons of The Office three times through, and lived in three different apartments.

Together we've created obsessions with devouring sushi, hanging picture frames, watching international movies, perusing Barnes & Noble, and wrapping things in twine.

Together we created a child!
And you're an even better dad than I could have hoped for.

You have taught me to trust my sense of humor.
You've supported my ever-changing obsessions (from "Let's be vegan!" to "Carnivores forever!")
and my ever-changing birth-control-induced moods (from "!" to "I don't even know why I'm crying...").

You have found your niche in the world, turning daydreams into realities and using your ever-moving mind to create inspiration.
(This site is my favorite project by far!)

I trust you.
I believe in you.
I love you.

I have never sent you to the couch for the night and you have never refused my cooking.
And I can assuredly say that every day since we met,
you have kept me laughing.

Happy birthday, my sweet Chad.