National Grammar Day

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Armed with our red pens, let us all go happily and March fourth forth.

Read Across America

Yesterday was Read Across America Day also fondly known as Dr. Seuss Day.  This day always sneaks up on me since I don’t have little ones at home anymore and it’s typically celebrated by libraries and kindergarten classrooms.

But, can you imagine what it would be like if your workplace sponsor a Read Across America day?  My vision goes something like this:

  • Competitions for team points and prizes:  Annual reading contest – team that read the most books in the last 12 months  (I’m positive that my team will win this one!)
  • Take a reading break:  In addition your typical breaks, employees are encouraged to take a 30 minute (paid) reading break.  Cozy chairs and snacks provided.
  • Free books:  Each employee is given a free book.  To ensure that the books are used, there would be a list of 10 to 20 books to choose from
  • Share a book:  Leaders across the organization will make book selection recommendations and share their favorites.  This doesn’t have to be “good for your brain” books but books that really meant something to the reader.  Personally, I’d pick a mix of fiction and non-fiction to showcase the type of reader that I am

Of course, my fictional company also has a massive reading library that is regularly used by all employees.  It’s stocked with loads of fiction and non-fiction alike with special sections for recommendations.

If you are organizing a Read Across America celebration — or pretending to — what would you include?

Book Banter: The Severed Streets

streetsTitle: The Severed Streets (Shadow Police #2)

Author: Paul Cornell

Length: 401 pages

Genre: urban fantasy

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: The Indianapolis Public Library

Plot Basics: Cops-of-the-weird Quill, Costain, Sefton and Ross are back to solve a string of murders happening as London is tearing itself apart with riots. It seems like rich, white men are the target of bizarre string of killings that might be a modern take on Jack the Ripper (or a ghostly version of one.) The team tries to apply what they’ve been learning about the Sight and the real London. But as Costain and Ross pursue their own line of inquiry and Neil Gaiman (yes, the author-turned-character) provides some mysterious clues, the team is not sure they can stay far enough ahead of stop the crimes.

Banter Points: I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since the first one, London Falling, came out. I love this series because it combines solid police procedural with urban fantasy and involves no vampire romance.

I also really like how Cornell has given his quartet of cops new powers, but ones they don’t understand. It’s a nice twist on that trope, that they are fumbling and unsure instead of suddenly becoming major players in this unknown world that’s around them. He pushes Quill, Costain and Ross for sure in this one and it will be really interesting to keep reading and see where their experiences take them.

Bummer Points: While it was funny at first, I didn’t love Neil Gaiman as a character in this story. Don’t get me wrong, I love Neil Gaiman. Using him as a character worked for the things Cornell needed him to do. But, this is the most egregious of example of a trend I’m seeing lots of authors doing — name-dropping in their books. I see it most in mysteries, where one author has their main character mention a book/author of someone else in the community. At first, I thought it was clever. Lately though, my reaction to it is a cynical response of Look who I know. Aren’t I cool for mentioning them? I think this one stuck out so much because it would be fair to say the Neil Gaiman is the epitome of all things urban fantasy and weird in the writing world. To me, rather than being clever, it felt like Cornell was out to prove how cool he was that he could get Gaiman’s permission to use him as a character in this book.

Word Nerd Recommendation: I’ve convinced Stacie to pick up the first one. Fans of both detective fiction and urban fantasy should give these a try, gimmicks not withstanding.

February Reading Challenge Report Card

February’s Reading Challenge was “your favorite childhood book with chapters.” No picking “Goodnight, Moon,” or “Harold and the Purple Crayon” for this one.

Bethany

castleMy February pick was “The Castle in the Attic” by Elizabeth Winthrop. It’s not the best chapter book ever, but I read it over and over again as a kid. I think my copy (still a box somewhere in my mom’s attic) was from a book fair or one of those book sale flier things. In short, it’s the story of a boy, a knight, a castle and an evil wizard. Good triumphs not because of might but because of who the boy is and his unique skills. I think that’s why I liked it as a kid. I reread the whole book in a day.

Bonus book: I learned that there was a sequel! Winthrop released it nearly 10 years after “Castle” which is why I probably missed it as a kid. I read right on from “The Castle in the Attic” to “The Battle for the Castle.” Battle wasn’t as good, but part of that was the lack of nostalgia. I didn’t have the memory of reading the book to draw on this time. It was enjoyable, but not the same.

Stacie

tuck“Tuck Everlasting” held the test of time as my Reading Challenge book.

The premise is that a young girl, Winnie aged 11, discovers a family that is trapped in time after they drank from a spring 80 some years ago that resides on her family’s land. There are complications, like another person also uncovers the secret, a potential kidnapping, and a murder. It’s a complicated story to tell in less than 150 pages, but the author does it well.

The story was just as charming and delightful and sad as the first time I read it. I had the same mix of feelings that Winnie ends-up making both the right (and the wrong) decision.

As an adult I noticed something that I didn’t notice as a kid: Winnie is a afraid of too many things. She bases too many things on what she is afraid of. I want to believe that her encounter with the Tucks changes that and she becomes confident in her world. But the author doesn’t tell us that. I kinda like the lack of direction so that I can decide for myself.

Next up for March: Read a 2014 Award winner. You pick which Award (Pulitzer, Man Booker, Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Hugo, Nebula, Indiana Authors Award, Word Nerds Best Of, you name it). If you want to read a shorter book, we’d recommend steering clear of those first two categories.

Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup

This recipe came from a little Betty Crocker cookbook I got from a $1 bin at Target a few years ago. I’ve tried several of the others in the book, but none compare to this one. It alone was worth the $1 and has become one of my winter go-tos. I haven’t fussed with the recipe at all, because there is no need.

Beef and Barley Soup

1.5 lbs beef stew meatbeef barley soup

3-4 medium carrots, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 c. frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
2/3 c. uncooked pearl barley*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 can plain diced tomatoes, undrained
3 cans beef broth
1 c. frozen peas, thawed

Spray a 5- or 6-qt slow cooker with nonstick spray and combine all ingredients, except peas.

Cook on low 9-10 hours.

Turn slow cooker up to high, add peas and cook another 20-30 minutes until peas are tender. *If using quick barley, add it at this stage.

Servings: lots. As the leftovers sit, more of the broth will get absorbed by the barley, so the end of it is more like stew. Leftovers also freeze and reheat just fine.

Birthday Wishes!

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Oh yes, Jamie Frasier did want to wish me happy birthday! I knew I forgot to do something this weekend. I’ll be back after this quick trip to Scotland…in 1743.

Reading in the Car

It’s a blessing, really, for a Word Nerd, not to get motion sick in the car. I’ve never had a problem with reading in the car and lately, I’ve rediscovered how great this is.

When I was a kid, I did this regularly. My mom reminds me of when I was 9 or so and she I were taking a vacation. I’d just gotten a Walk-man for my birthday and I spent the drive to Hershey Pennsylvania with my headphones on and my nose in a book. After that trip, we started a new tradition of me reading aloud to us in the car (that 1991 Corolla she had didn’t have a tape player…) I remember taking school trips too and reading on the bus (first time I read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was on such a trip.)

And then I learned to drive and well, one can’t read in the car and drive at the same time.

In the past few years, I’ve discovered books on tape (WHAT took me so long there, I’m not sure). My commute may only be about 12 minutes long, but I can get through at least one book on CD a month, which means at least 12 more titles read each year.

But, suddenly, presented with a road trip this past weekend, I realized I could read in the car again. Because I could share the driving.

As we barreled along I-70 in central Ohio, he drove and I read. Not for the whole trip, mind you, but sections of it.

The question in, when’s the next road trip?

Summer Will Return

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Okay, that’s not really the point of the picture, but it’s what I keep telling myself.

Book Banter: The Bullet

bulletTitle: The Bullet

Author: Mary Louise Kelly

Length: 398 pages

Genre: Thriller

Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: ARC from NetGalley

Plot Basics: Caroline Cashion is happy teaching French literature at Georgetown. But when she starts having pain in her wrist, she makes a shocking discovery. There is a bullet lodged in her neck from 30 years ago that she knew nothing about it. Caroline’s discoveries continue — that the life she felt so secure in with her family is not the whole story of her. The bullet is only the catalyst for shocking truths about her past and herself.

Banter Points: Mary Louise Kelly was one of the Word Nerds 2014 Best of winners for her debut novel “Anonymous Sources” and it’s entirely likely that she’ll be back in the list for 2015 with her sophomore effort.

“The Bullet” is a compelling novel as Caroline discovers the truth about her past and herself. Kelly leads the read through several twists, deftly handled and not out of character with the plot. She’s got all the elements of a cracker-jack novel: fast-paced plot, romance, intriguing characters.

Likely from her time as a reporter, Kelly has an ear for dialogue. A lot of action and information is conveyed this way, but people sound like people.

Bummer Points: I’m pretty sure Kelly must have eavesdropped on a conversation I had with the now-boyfriend for a scene between Caroline and love-interest Dr. Will Zartman. That bit about carrier pigeons? Totally said that first.

Word Nerd Recommendation: This is a great read for people who think they don’t like mystery/thriller stories. It’s not overly violent or filled with gruesome crime scenes.

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