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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Emily Beaver's Top 10 Escapes

**Emily Beaver, the author of Slipping Reality, graciously agreed to give us a littler more insight into her world. Emily is a senior in California.

In keeping with the "escape" theme of her book, I asked Emily to share her Top 10 Escapes.

1   1.      My front lawn – When I’ve got nowhere else to go and I start to feel trapped in this big old house, I head straight to my front lawn. I love it. My driveway is kind of insane – it goes up a steep hill and winds a bit, and its surrounded by trees. But to the visitor’s left of the driveway is this sprawling green lawn that I just love to lie down on. During the summer’s I’ll have picnics with my friends there, but most of the time its just me, my iPod, and my journal, and I just lay back in the sun and write myself out. It’s not as private or secluded as I’d like it to be, as all the cars passing by have a full view of me and what I’m doing, but I kind of like that position. I really enjoy sitting back and being a spectator to the life going on around me – I like taking those kinds of breaks, I think they’re important. And looking out at all the houses and trees, the clouds and the green, just kind of puts me in my place in how much I love the world.

2   2.      Disneyland – I’ve mentioned this one often. On the back of my book, even. Disneyland is my ultimate happy place. I have a pass and I’m basically the girl who’s begging to go every weekend. This was especially true when Matthew was in chemotherapy, because I’d get overwhelmed by the hospital and at Disneyland I felt like I could live some of the childhood I’d left behind in the wake of Matthew’s illness. Whenever I go to Disneyland I feel like I’m spending time with an old friend, the part of myself that’s a little girl who squeals when she sees Ariel and tries to get everyone waiting in line to join her in a sing-along. For some reason, I never really feel more like myself than when I’m at Disneyland. It’s the no-worries zone, Hakuna Matata, because once I walk through those gates, my outside world doesn’t matter anymore. Its no wonder my big college dream is to work there!

3   3.      The beach – I’m a California girl, the beach is a given. I don’t go as often as I should, but when I do, I value my time there so much. The weather always seems perfect at the beach, and its ideal for just lying back and letting the good thoughts flow. Two sounds in my life will calm me down in times of stress: One is Frank Sinatra, the other is the ocean. I could listen to the ocean forever. I feel a lot of power when I stand in the waves and hear them crash, and its great inspiration for writing.

4   4.      Piano – When the weather outside is too cold or hot for the front lawn, I take to the piano. I played piano for five years, and quit when I was ten, taking seven years off. Last year, sometime over the summer, I found a love for piano I never knew I had. A lot of it came with my experience studying voice – my choir teacher had told me at my audition for the choir I’m in, Women’s Ensemble, that it is extremely useful to a singer to be familiar with another instrument, particularly piano, and I can’t thank her enough for that advice. With piano I can read and understand music so much easier, and I love being able to hear a song and think to myself, “I can play that.” Granted, I’m no prodigy that can sit down in front of new music and play like I’d known it my whole life, but it’s a fun challenge for me and takes a lot of patience, and therefore, a hearty and extremely rewarding distraction. Music’s another world. I can’t live without it.

5   5.      Frank Sinatra – That being said, I mentioned earlier my love for Frank Sinatra. I’ve been a fan a long time, but it was last year that I especially got into him, because at that point I had never been stretched thinner. I was in two productions, one in school and one outside of school, and had rehearsals for both on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Essentially, my schedule was I’d get up at 5 and go on a run, go to school until 2:30, have rehearsal until 4:30, and then my next rehearsal from 5-9. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I had my Hebrew language courses I took outside of school on the evenings. On Tuesdays I also had voice lessons, and on Thursdays I also had piano lessons. And finally, on Sundays, I’d get up at 8 to teach 3rd grade Sunday School. And then, somehow, two AP classes and honors courses fit in there somewhere. Not to mention the book publishing process. So, you could say, I was a little stressed out. But one day I bought a Frank Sinatra album and the moment I hit Play those stresses would just melt away. Frank is The Voice, by my opinion, and there’s nothing quite like him. One time I was venting to a friend about how stressed and overwhelmed I was, and while I was talking he reached into his pocket and put on Frank Sinatra from his iPhone. I immediately melted into a puddle of relaxation and now he uses it all the time on me. Frank Sinatra is magical. I’m a fan of the entire Rat Pack, really, but Frank Sinatra is simply the best.

6   6.      Movies – What’s better to take your mind off reality than a good movie? You sit still for a couple hours and watch another world. What’s not to like? I depended heavily on movies when my brother was dying, and while I don’t watch them as frequently today I still can’t ever resist the temptation for a good movie. Naturally, I’m a huge Disney buff, so I’ve got most Disney movies as they become available and watch them often when I want to smile, sigh, and relax. But when I really want to get invested, I’ll put on a movie like The Dark Knight or V for Vendetta. Essentially, anything with Christian Bale or Heath Ledger in it will leave me thrilled (I know neither are in V for Vendetta, but that’s my brother’s favorite movie and one of mine, too). I also love musicals – Singin’ in the Rain is my all-time favorite movie, followed by Chicago. I really prefer movies to TV because I get a full story, but there are some TV shows I’m absolutely obsessed with – I really love British television. Steven Moffat, now there’s a writer. I escape a lot into his shows – Sherlock and Doctor Who – frequently.

7   7.      Books – How could I not include books? Whenever I’m particularly sad, I’ll take out my favorite, Little Women. That kind of feel-good book (much like feel-good Disney and feel-good Gene Kelly) really picks me up when I need it. Other times, I love a deep, moving story. The Lovely Bones and She’s Come Undone will probably haunt me forever. My mom used to make a fuss over me reading Chicken Soup for the Soul books when I was younger, but I couldn’t get enough of those real, thought-provoking stories. I love reading about people, much more than plot. But, of course, I love and grew up with Harry Potter and the Pendragon series, so they will always stay close to my heart.

8   8.     Yoga – I’m just starting to get into Yoga so I can’t speak as an expert at all, but from what classes I’ve experienced its just unreal. I’m a person who hates exercise, and while Yoga’s not particularly cardiovascular, it combines my preference to stay in my mind with the need to relieve stress by getting the body moving. It takes me out of my mind just enough so that I can relax, but not so much that I get bored – I’ve tried just working out and I can’t stand it. But being able to really connect with my body and my mind is the perfect key to a calm and good week.

9   9.      Animals – I have two German Shepherds, a male and a female, and they are my life. I’ve never had a time growing up that we didn’t have at least two dogs, and when the going gets tough, I get ruff (I did not just do that). The older one, Rocket, whom I affectionately refer to as either Scooby or Bear, used to be a little ball of energy, but he’s never done a bad thing in his life. He won’t bark at any stranger unless he knows they’re a threat, and it’s truly remarkable how intelligent he is – because he can always tell. He’s very protective over me but a total sweetheart, and whenever I need a good pair of eyes to rest on me and listen, I go to him. He’s really my perfect dog. But then there’s Nala, named after the fierce lioness of The Lion King (yeah, that was my idea), who’s nearly two. She’s essentially me in dog form, because she doesn’t shut up, loves to sing, and never wants to be bored. She’ll always hide with me when the vacuum comes out, and lays under my feet when I play piano. She gets really pissed off when I play the wrong note, and will always let me know by whining at me. I love playing with her because she’s really quite a funny dog – I sometimes refer to her as the Psycho Fuzzball – but when I really need it she’s there for me. Puppy love is one of the greatest escapes you could ask for.

1   10.  Friends – How could I not put this one? I love my friends to death. My two closest friends both moved to the East Coast a few months after Matthew died, and while that was really hard on me, we’re still as close as ever and Skype as much as possible. They have an understanding of me that sometimes is just plain scary, but I love them for it. Back home, I’ve got friends who I just spontaneously make plans with and I love it. Sometimes things get really stressful second semester senior year – deciding where you want to go, how much you don’t want to do homework, etc. – and it is so great to have the freedom to let all of that go, call up a friend, and say, “Hey, it’s 1:30 PM and I’m bored, wanna get pancakes?” You gotta live for these things, and I’m so lucky. 

          Find out more about Emily at her website, Emily's Reality

Slipping Reality, by Emily Beaver

In a time of hardship and heartbreak, sometimes, reality just isn't enough. Slipping Reality is the story of fourteen-year-old Katelyn Emerson, who, when faced with the glaring reality of her brother's illness, rebels against the truth by slipping away into the depths of her own imagination. There, she finds the kind of support and comfort she feels she deserves. There, she does not have to feel so alone. And yet, as Katelyn's grasp on reality begins to unravel, so too does the story of a girl who grew up too fast and fell apart too soon.

I swear to you, I will read something happy or at least not that made me cry very, very soon. Actually, I've already read something, but that review hasn't been written yet. :)

Who hasn't wanted to escape reality? Slip away just for a little bit, to not have to deal with a truth too painful to believe? Not that deep down you don't know that the truth is inevitable, but if it could just be put off for a little while it would be nice. If only.

Especially when the reality is the impending death of your older brother, your best friend, from a long battle with cancer.

As you read through this, there is no question how the "real" story ends. The question is how the escape from reality turns out. Reading this story, I found myself connecting with Katelyn. My brother, though younger, is among my very best friends, and though we did clash growing up, we were frankly as thick as theives. It's difficult to even consider not having him around today.

Katelyn is altogether too real and believable. But this, and I'm not spoiling anything here, is because Emily lived this experience while writing this book. While the possibility of truly "slipping reality" just doesn't exist, the emotional upheaval and turmoil Katelyn goes through can't be anything but honest. There were times that I had to put the book down and walk away to distance myself from the emotion. I didn't want to, but it had to happen. This isn't an escape book, it's a book to connect with. And maybe to heal with, if you've experienced such a situation.

A good first novel by a young (teen) author. I see good things in her future writing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from AuthorHouse through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

I sort of put off reading this book. Not because I thought it wouldn't be wonderful. Not because I don't simply adore John Green, and his books.  Not because I'd read a bad review--I didn't (though if you know me, a bad review won't stop me anyway).

No, it's because I kept reading reviews or seeing comments about people crying. Sigh. I love a good "cry book" but I have to be ready for it. I am hear to tell you that judging debate and interp at a National Forensics League (NFL) district tournament and then on the ride to a sushi restaurant with your significant other isn't necessarily the time nor the place, but it did, in fact, work.

Hazel and Augustus are cancer-kids. Hazel is living with it and Augustus is in remission, living with the after-effects. Both have their own way of dealing, and both turn to the other for the forgetting and getting on with life. When the two are together, you'd never know they weren't just simple teenagers. Teenagers with a very mature understanding of life and relationships that can really only come with surviving the things that life throws at them.

But it's not all crying (ok, for some, I understand it was sobbing. For me, I couldn't see and nearly had to have several pages read to me so I could calm down.). No, there's quite a bit of laughing, some anger, some introspection. It's a thinking book. It's a "get lost in the story" book. For me, it was a "please don't interrupt me while I'm reading this because it's IMPORTANT" book.

It's not often I think I've learned some universal truth from a YA novel. Heck, from a novel. But I certainly did learn something of profound importance from Augustus Waters.

In a letter to an adult that Hazel and Augustus had the..uh...honor (cough, cough) of meeting, Augustus writes,
"You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers."

As an aside, if your speech team participates in NFL tournaments, I heartily recommend this book for Dramatic Interp (DI). There are some simply amazing scenes that, with a little work, would be powerful in competition.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This book is part of the library collection for the school library I work in. I was not solicited to write a review, nor am I receiving any compensation. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sites to See, February Week 3

An Alignment of Planets
From NASA’s Science News, the brightest planets in the night sky (Venus and Jupiter) are aligning in late February and March this year. Read the story, which tells you that it’ll be a great night to watch THIS Saturday when we have a crescent moon. Here’s a video with more info  Might be a good evening to visit the George Observatory out at Brazos Bend
Photos from the past website. Vintage photo blog featuring high definition images from the 1850s to the 1950s.
Just the image galleries at
For more images visit Retronaut at
Science at NASA
YouTube channel from NASA that I started going through after posting the first link. Yes, lots of the videos are about astronomy topics, but there are also meteorological videos and a “tour” of the electromagnetic spectrum series.
This is the companion website for the popular “For Dummies” books. Lots of good articles, but also some good videos. I watched a very informative one about using FOIL to distribute two binomials. J
The Geography Site
UK-based web site. LOTS of different resources, blogs, photographs, and topics currently in the news.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cleopatra's Moon, by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Cover Art from Arthur A. Levine Books

Selene has grown up in a palace on the Nile with her parents, Cleopatra and Mark Antony -- the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But the jealous Roman Emperor Octavianus wants Egypt for himself, and when war finally comes, Selene faces the loss of all she's ever loved. Forced to build a new life in Octavianus's household in Rome, she finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies -- until she reaches out to claim her own.

Cleopatra Selene is one of the most interesting understated heroines I've had the pleasure of meeting in a long time. In this telling of her life before and after Octavian took Egypt is just wonderful. Cleopatra Selene is strong-willed and driven, just as her mother was. Her love is clearly for Egypt, and nothing (and no one will deter her).

I was familiar with Cleopatra Selene, having read Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter last year. I didn't review it, because I, well, it didn't evoke anything strong in me one way or another. It's well-researched, and I think well-written, but the characters didn't matter to me when it was all over with.

Not so with Cleopatra's Moon. For me, a good historical fiction book has characters (both the historical figures AND the side characters) that are REAL. They are interesting, are deeply constructed, and stick with me when I put the book down--if can I be persuaded to. Cleopatra's Moon accomplishes this. I like the characters...definitely Selene, but Juba and Livia, too.

Overall, I'm excited about the amount of research that was clearly done in preparation for writing this book. Details, not just about Cleopatra Selene's Egyptian/Roman family, but also about the events going on in the world at the time. It isn't just Selene's personal story, it's how she fits into the greater world, as well. It's incredibly well done and superior to similar books I've read in both its presentation and approach to a historical story.

For what it's worth, I heartily approve of the printing as well. The actual "text on the page" printing. The page margins are slimmer than the standard book (which is something I notice about books from Arthur A. Levine), which makes for smoother visual tracking on the page. I can't recall ever reviewing margins before, but take it for what it's worth!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review (She just happened to get one!). The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Elizabeth the Queen, by Sally Bedell Smith

Cover Image from RandomHouse

From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world's most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.

In Elizabeth the Queen, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes "heiress presumptive" when her uncle abdicates the throne. We meet thethirteen-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents prefer wealthier English aristocrats. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. We see the young Queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Sally Bedell Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the Queen's daily routines-the "red boxes" of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with twelve prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad,and the constant scrutiny of the press-as well as her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of sixty-four years and the love of her life; her children and their often-disastrous marriages; her grandchildren and friends.

Let me preface all of my remarks with this...I love the Royal Family. I'll read just about anything that comes my way about them, except for the tabloids. 

That being said, I've read many books that were intellectually satisfying. I've read some terribly dry things. I've read tomes that were pedantic. And I've read books that were fluffy in their treatment.

And then there's Elizabeth the Queen. This is, by far, the most approachable and interesting biography of the Queen I've read. Sally Bedell Smith has written a very REAL and honest story of the Queen and her family. It is interesting and warm, not cold and plodding. I found myself hurrying home and through work and chores to settle in with this book. (I don't say that often at all.) 

It is, in fact, reflective of her changed public image--from a stodgy and stand-offish monarch, to the warm and loving "grandmother" image she has grown into in the last 15 years. Definitely one I will recommend and purchase for my library.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Random House through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Monday, February 13, 2012

We, The Readers

This is important. Seriously. My former student, who's aspirations were not in education when he graduated from high school, spent 2 years teaching in a DC 3rd grade classroom. He saw a need. A big one.

So...he did what he'd learned to do. He went to bat for this need. He got other people excited about his cause. He started a foundation, started asking for help from his family and friends, set up fundraising opportunities, and made it grow.

4 months into the pilot program, 47 individuals have benefited from others time and money.

Now it's time for the next step. Consider helping him.

We, the Readers.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sites to See, 1st week of February

Life after College Roadmap—Mint Life Blog
Really, this is good information for anyone striking out after high school or college. Practical information to help keep them from falling flat.

Well done graphics covering a variety of topics, like “do college freshman feel academically prepared for classes?” and “Who’s Not Washing Their Hands?

Minute Physics
Brief videos with hand-drawn cartoons explaining science concepts…what’s not to love? This could be great focus activities. OR…you could challenge your students to make their own videos (we can do that, you know.) Right next to it I found, Vi Hart-Mathemusician.
More doodling and crazy-fast talking, but kind of interesting. I watched a video about Fibonacci numbers in nature.

The Art Career Project
Art degrees don’t just lead to teaching or living paycheck to paycheck. Read about careers on this site, including training and skills, salary ranges, and what the work itself is like.

Treasures of the Bodleian
Oxford’s Library has digitized some of its amazing treasures. You can find images of telegrams from the Titanic, a handwritten draft Frankenstein, and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Conflict History
A timeline and GoogleMap of conflicts from almost 4000 BCE to today. I thought it was a good visual way to relate what was going on world-wide at different times.

Students can construct a human body, system-by-system. Drag and drop organs and bones, and read the description of their purposes. Use it to quiz students on placement after a unit. :)

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