Monday, April 25, 2011

April's Books

In an earlier post, I came to the conclusion that writing book reviews and travelogues in the same blog wasn't such a grand idea. But then I came up with this brilliant plan--why not write up all my books at the end of each  month in one crazy long post?

A note about my rating system.
1=I couldn't finish it. Blech.
2=I finished it, but I wish I hadn't wasted my time.
3=I finished it, and I don't regret it, but I probably won't search out anything else by this author.
4=I loved it!
5= It is nearly impossible to get a 5. To get a 5 would almost always mean that it has taken its place among my favorites. Occasionally, to get a 5 might mean that it ought to take its place among my favorites, if only I had slightly better taste.

(I read this book for the Once Upon A Time Challenge)
Alcatraz Versus The Shattered Lens
Alcatraz and the Shattered Lens
by: Brandon Sanderson
published in 2010
292 pages

For: Middle Grades and Up! This one needs stars and trumpets to announce that it's a book boys would enjoy.
Rating: 4/5 stars (I loved it!)

If you haven't had the pleasure of seeing Brandon Sanderson's less serious side, you're really missing out. This is book 4 of the Alcatraz series, so you should start from the beginning with Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians. Alcatraz doesn't realize that his propensity for breaking things is actually a talent--all the Smedry's have talents like that. He'd have found out a lot sooner if his grandfather's talent wasn't always being late for things. Now that he knows, the future of the human race rests on his shoulders.

A quote from the book: "Being a Smedry--I was coming to learn--was like being a mix of secret agent, special forces commando, diplomat, general and cheese taster."

And a great quote for all you authors and theater people: (from page 260)
"Anyway, what just happened is something we call a teddy bear on the mantle. This is an ancient storytelling rule that says, "If there's an exploding teddy bear that can destroy people's clothing in a given book, that teddy bear must be used to destroy someone's clothing by the end of the book."

You: On A Diet: The Owner's Manual for Waist Management
YOU On A Diet
by: Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz
published in 2006. (There is a newer version, but this is the one I read.)
370 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars

Some time ago, I told myself that I'd never read another diet book. I'm so glad I didn't listen to myself. I'm a real sucker for science mixed with humor, so I would have enjoyed this book even if I didn't have any weight to lose.

A random quote: "Technically, (CCK) stands for cholecystokinin, but for our puposes, let's think of it as the Crucial Craving Killer because its main purpose is to tell your brain via the vagus nerve that your stomach feels fuller than a Baywatch swimming suit."

This book is full of great wisdom for people who are sick of dieting but don't know what a healthy lifestyle would look like without it. I just wish I'd found it before I signed up for 3 useless months of Weight Watchers. Oh well...

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard
by: Chip Heath and Dan Heath
published in 2010
305 pages
Rating: 4.5/5 stars (I really loved it!)

The first time I heard about this book was during a marriage class at a Women's Conference at church. It caught my fancy, so I checked it out from the library. What an amazing book! Whether you want to change your interactions with your family, lose weight or change the direction of a multi-billion dollar company, this book is for you! But it's not just your typical self-help book. It was as hard to put down as any action-adventure novel could claim to be. I wanted to take notes, but instead I read it from start to finish. Luckily there's a handy-dandy section at the back for people like me.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist
by: Paulo Coelho
This book is an English version of O Alquimista the Portugese original edition. which was published in 1988. It was published in English in 1994.
167 pages
rating 3.5/5 (I liked it)

From the back cover: Paulo Codlho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its simplicity and wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids.

The beginning of this story really spoke to my soul. In the beginning, it's a story about change--and how we can't continue to grow if we become too content with our lot in life. It's told like a fable--only one person is actually given a name. Everyone else is called something like "the shepherd" "the old man" and "the Englishman". I'm going through a time of change in my life right now, and it's simple message quieted my soul.
The end was disappointing. It stopped being about personal growth and became more a search for something that seemed to me to be nirvana. It just got kind of odd. I still liked it, but the ending made it drop from 4 stars to 3.5. This would make SUCH a great book group book. If only I belonged to one...

(I read this book for the Once Upon A Time Challenge)
Eyes Like Stars: Theatre Illuminata, Act I
 Eyes Like Stars: Theatre Illuminata, Act I
by Lisa Mantchev
published in 2009
368 pages
For: Young Adult and up.
rating 3/5 stars (I liked it)

What a quirky book! It's quirkiness is one of the strongest things it has going for it. Someone who had a love for the behind-the-scenes part of theatre would probably be completely smitten. It's the story about all the characters from all the plays that ever existed, who live inside the Theatre Illuminata, and act when they are called upon. Ariel, from Shakepeare's The Tempest, is the only character who doesn't like his imprisonment, and he wants to figure out how to free everyone. Beatrice must stop him, and find a way to convince the theatre manager to let her stay. I was bothered because Beatrice never took the time to think "Am I doing the right thing?" I'm not convinced she was, but there was no room for a moral dilemma. The writing was great, and I'd love to find out what happens next, but I'll probably just read the spoilers on wikipedia.

The Magic Thief
The Magic Thief
by Sarah Prineas
audio version recorded in 2008
For: Middle Grades and up! Another one that needs to be circled and trumpeted because boys will enjoy it.
 4/5 stars

I listened to this on CD, and the story was a trifle too slow for listening. If I'd read the book, it probably would have been a much more solid 4 star entry. I can't wait to read the sequel. Magic is somewhere underneath the ground, and cities have been built on the places where it bubbles up to the surface. Magicians have a locus magicalus--a stone that helps them harness the magical power. Conn is a homeless boy and a pickpocket, and when he steals Nevery's locus magicalus it ought to kill him--but it doesn't. Intrigued, Nevery takes him on as an apprentice. Meanwhile, the city's magic seems to be disappearing, and Nevery has to find out why.

City of Fallen Angels (Mortal Instruments, Book 4)
City of Fallen Angels
by: Cassandra Clare
published in 2011
432 pages
1/5 stars

Yep. You read that right. My very favorite Mortal Instruments series, and I didn't even finish reading the fourth book. Let me rant for a moment.

I HATE IT when an author decides to push the envelope once she's got her readers hooked. We're pretty fastidious readers, and the Mortal Instruments series was already a little close to the edge. But I loved Jace so much--there was such a pure, shining spirit inside that sarcastic, gorgeous hero. I am one of Cassandra Clare's most devoted followers. But I won't follow her here.

Luckily, I was pretty happy with the way book 3 ended anyway. It seems a bit sadistic to throw these characters back into the action. I got through about page 75 before I stopped reading, and even more luckily, I really wasn't that into it. Jace had some nightmares, and Simon was perched to get involved in a turf fight between 2 vampires, and that's all! I wasn't hooked, except by my previous love of the characters, so it was not too gut-wrenching to stop.

Here's where I stand for the Once Upon A Time Challenge:

Book 1: Alcatraz and the Shattered Lens
Book 2: Eyes Like Stars

Still to go before June 20:
Folklore: Mists of Avalon
Mythology: Waiting for Oddysseus
Fairy Tales: A Tale Dark and Grimm
and A Midsummer's Night Dream

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jordan Stream Loop In Acadia National Park

Our family went to Acadia on Monday and walked the Jordan Stream Loop, which is 4 miles long, unless you have as much energy as our family did. By taking side paths and running back and forth we managed to turn that 4 mile trail into a 5.5 mile adventure (and some of us did much, much more). That's the beauty of Grampy's GPS tracking system--we could see how far we really walked.

To begin this loop, we started at the Jordan Pond Gatehouse.

As you can see, the trail isn't muddy at all.

At this point, my two youngest crossed a bridge like this:
and started hiking on the other side of Jordan Stream. There were several more bridges across the curves in the stream, but nothing that brought them back to our side. Finally they disappeared from sight. I panicked and ran back to the first bridge, crossed it and chased them down. They were finally able to cross on some rocks and downed trees with the help of my husband and me. But the downed tree didn't look strong enough to support my weight, so I kept going. Finally I took off my shoes and waded across one of the shallower sections. The water was much deeper and faster than usual, and it was great fun. My hero, D stayed on the other side of the stream the whole time to make sure I was safe. (The carriage trail had veered off some).

That brought us to the Cobblestone Bridge (where, incidentally, I could have crossed, if the other side of the trail would have let me get there. This is the only bridge in Acadia made of cobblestones, and it's even covered in cobblestones on the underside (the middle picture).


 Jordan Stream

 Jordan Pond with a view of The Bubbles

 There was still a little bit of snow in places.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shhhh!!! Don't tell...

Ahhh...That was a much needed blogging break. I had time to breathe, read a little, do some hiking and panic.

Last summer I got inspired to write a list of 20 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. I just looked at it and felt my stomach lurch, because I took the winter off and forgot almost every single thing on the list except number 16: Walk, bike, horseback ride or take a carriage through all 45* miles of carriage trails in Acadia National Park. This one really captured my imagination, and although I'm behind, this goal is still within reach. To see the entire stomach-lurching list, you can click here.

Probably everyone reading this needs a small refresher course about my love for Acadia National Park, the place where forest meets ocean; nature meets sophistication; the beach meets the mountains. I particularly love the carriage trails for being the place where hiking meets walking. If you want to find out more about the carriage trails you can click here.

Shhh! Don't tell, because yesterday we hiked the Jordan Stream Loop at Acadia National Park. There were still signs up saying that the carriage roads were closed due to spring mud, but lots of people were hiking and no one seemed too bothered about it. The carriage trails were as dry as a bone. Am I making excuses? Yeah, maybe, but we'd driven for over 2 hours so we could mark a trail off my list. No little sign was going to hold me back.

I'll tell you more about our adventures on another post, but for now, I'm just getting you up to date on the progress of goal 16, the only goal I've actually started.
1. Eagle Lake Loop - 6 miles(bike)
2. Aunt Betty's Pond Loop - 5.9 miles
3. Witch Hole Pond Loop - 6.8 miles
4. Jordan Bubble Loop - 8.6 miles
5. Jordan Stream Loop 4.0
6. Day Mountain loop - 5.5 miles
7. Little Long Pond - 3.5 miles
8. Redfield Loop - This is one of 2 trails you have to hike to get to. I can't remember the other trail. This trail is 4.3 miles, but when you add in the additional hiking, it's closer to 5.5
9. Hadlock Brook - 3.9 miles 
10. Ampitheatre Loop - 4.9 miles
11. Giant Slide Loop - 8.2
Total so far: 23.5 miles

In case you were wondering, I turn 40 in October. It's going to be a busy summer.

*You're exactly right. The numbers really don't add up. How smart of you to notice. That's because although there are 45-ish miles of carriage road, the loops double back on each other. For example, a big chunk of yesterday's hike was also a part of the Jordan Bubble Loop, which means I have hiked that section of trail twice so far. There's no way to get around it--if I want to hike the loops, I've got to do some sections twice. I am skipping the Around the Mountain Loop, which is almost entirely made out of pieces of trails I'll have already been on. I don't know how many actual miles I'll have hiked before I'm through, but it's somewhere in the neighborhood of 65.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

30 Day Blog Challenge--Day 30!!!!!: Something I Have Learned (about Blogging)

Pièce de résistance: A French term from the early nineteenth century. Translated literally, it means "piece of resistance." It originally referred to the highlight of a meal which 'resisted' common conventions and practices, making the whole creation special. It is meant to give the sense that the item referred to is the most outstanding piece of the collection.

This blog post is not that. 

This is what I've learned from the 30 Day Challenge--

1. Blogging is fun.

2. It's a lot of work. It takes up a much bigger chunk of my writing time than I thought it would--like all of it. In reality, I might have to I want to be a writer or a blogger?

I started this blog to give myself an on-line presence, because publishers and agents agree that it's an important part of getting published. If they have two equally brilliant novels, they are going to publish the one by the author who has a ready made fan base.

And if I decide to self-publish, a blog and the friends I've made in the blog-o-sphere will be my biggest assets. But it doesn't matter if I don't have any time to write fiction.

3. Blogging and writing require my creativity to be in different states--kind of like water. Blogging is more like ice, while writing fiction is more like the gaseous state. So far I haven't figured out how to make it morph quickly enough to be able to do both in any kind of productive way.

4. It's harder than I thought it would be to keep some anonymity for my family. Granted, if anonymity was my goal, naming my blog "melaniecrousesblog" was probably not the wisest of choices. But if you were a fan, who'd read one of my books and wanted MORE, having an easy way to find my blog seemed like a good idea.

Since then, I've read lots of information about protecting your children's identities--how important it is not to give out info, and I've tried. No pictures of my kids, no names, just initials. But the detective in me cringes, and knows that it wouldn't take a lot of effort for someone to figure out a lot about us based on the things I've said and my oh-so-discreet blog name.

5. And maybe I'm overreacting. Not many people, even famous ones, seem to worry about giving out personal info, especially in a blog post that's supposed to be about their own family. It's a conundrum.

6. I love blogs about book reviews. I have two or maybe three that I check on a daily basis for new book ideas. If they blogged about other things in the same space, I'm almost positive I wouldn't be as devoted a follower. So, although I could probably get away with writing an occasional book review, sharing an occasional music video or writing an occasional essay here, if I want to blog about them in any regular sort of way, they deserve their own blog space. Am I saying I want to start another blog??? Well...

7. Blogs about books take even more time to keep up than this one does. Because you have to read. Another conundrum for me, because although reading and writing both use up my creativity in its gaseous state, page for page, reading uses up as much creativity as writing does, and can quickly turn the creative places in my mind into the Sahara Desert.

8. There is money in blogging. It's hard to get started, but eventually this could be a good part time job.

Some interesting statistics:
Since starting this challenge, I've more than quadrupled the number of people who look at this blog. Granted, that's still not an astonomical number of people, but it is promising. It feels like such an honor that you took time out of your schedule to spend with me. Thank you.

My most popular posts are still the ones from the very beginning--the ones about hiking in Acadia National Park. (Yay! It's almost summer and hopefully I can add a few more.) I'm not sure why that is exactly. It must have something to do with the query searches, but it's all too complicated for me.

It took me 54 days to finish the 30 day blog challenge.

So, I learned a lot of things, but I'm still not sure how it will all play out in the end. If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I can't believe I'd never heard of this group before. They're amazing. A friend of mine just posted this song on facebook, and I have to share it. A girl in our community committed suicide last week because of cyber-bullying. I didn't know her, but it has affected the kids at the high school and middle school profoundly. This song is for them:


Friday, April 8, 2011

30 Day Blog Challenge--Day 29: Paintings I Love

My kids have been blessed with a fantastic art teacher. The pictures on this post are of paintings he has helped middle school students create over the past three years. Each picture has two requirements--he assigns them a famous artist. They must study that artist and use his style in the picture. But the picture must also depict something about the small town we live in.

Making these pictures has become one of the most popular things to do at our school. I feel very attached to this project, even though very few people know I had anything to do with it. One day, three years ago, my amazing friend Lisa came to me. Even though her kids weren't even in school yet, she was already thinking about the drab, ugly halls at the middle school they would be going to in nine or ten years. The artist in her knew that something had to be done.

She contacted Mr. Tompkins, the art teacher, who recognized a great idea when he heard one. He adjusted it to fit his curriculum, and ran with it. Where do I come in? Well, three years ago I was the president of the PTO here. This art project is the thing I am most proud of accomplishing during my two years as president, so I stayed as involved as I could.

My favorite picture is based on the work of Mark Rothko, a Latvian born American painter. Although I like his work, I think the three students who worked on this one surpassed him in excellence. I could stare at it all day. Through the lens of my camera, it seemed like the water was rippling. (I should take this opportunity to point out the obvious--I am not a great photographer, and my camera is as bad as I am.)
In the style of Mark Rothko
My daughter worked on a painting using Giacomo Balla's style. He was an Italian painter who died in 1958. His Futurist style depicted light, movement and speed. Again, I like this painting better than anything he did. He was a strange duck. (He named his daughters Propeller and Light. Enough said.)

In the style of Giacomo Balla.

These paintings remind me so much of my Aunt Donna. I always wanted a picture like this in my house when I grew up.
In the style of Pier Mondrian

I don't know the artist who inspired this one. More research!*

*Andy Warhol--duh, duh, duh! Feeling embarassed now.

In the style of Jackson Pollock

In the style of Andre Derain

In the style of Picasso

I ought to know this one...I'll let you know after I pick up the kids today!*

*Victor Vasarely
In the style of Louise Nevelson

In the style of Joan Miro
In the style of Rene Magritte
Another one in the style of Rene Magritte
One more to research...*

 *Gustav Klimt
This isn't all of the pictures, but it's most of them. At a later date, I'll probably add the rest, including some from the primary school, just because they are all fabulous.

I'm sorry I couldn't tell you the names of all the wonderful artists who painted these works. They deserve recognition, but they also deserve anonymity, unless they choose to divulge their names.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

30 Day Blog Challenge--Day 28: What's Next?

OK, I admit it. I made this one up. The 30 Day List included several topics that didn't interest me at all. I did a few of them anyway, and oddly enough, some of those have turned into my most popular posts. Life can be strange, indeed.

But I've been making a list of books to read for the Once Upon A Time Challenge, and I thought you might be interested. I have several back-up choices if these books aren't as good as they sound, so I reserve the right to change my mind.

Here's a challenge for you. I just talked myself out of my mythology choice and need a new one. I think I've read almost everything good there is to read in the "Novels Based on Mythology" section. Can you help me find one?

The hardest part of the challenge so far has been deciding what I think the differences between folklore, mythology and fairy tales are. To me, mythology would be the stories people use to describe great events--creation and disaster stories, gods and the stories that surround them. Fairy tales are the stories with magic. But I've been pulling my hair out trying to figure out how folktales differ from the other two. Folk tales are the tales of a culture passed down orally through stories. Yikes. It's not so much a line between the categories as a gray blur, but I think I've got it figured out for the purposes of this challenge anyway.

My choices:

For Folktales: Something Arthurian. I've never read the Mists of Avalon or The Winter King, which suddenly seems like a gaping hole in my reading repertoire. Any opinions one way or the other would be lovely.

The Mists of AvalonThe Winter King (The Arthur Books #1)

For fairy tales:
A Tale Dark and Grimm

Fantasy will be supremely easy. I can grab just about anything off my to-read pile:
City of Fallen Angels (Mortal Instruments, Book 4)Eyes Like Stars: Theatre Illuminata, Act I

And of course:
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Wordsworth Classics)