03 November 2011

Skating Student Quote of the Day: Where DOES flattery get you?

Student: Where do you live?
Katrine: I'm not telling you.
Student: Can I come to your house?
Katrine: No!
Student: Why not?
Katrine: Because. (this was post-teaching, thus my lack of valid reasons)
Student: I like your shirt!
Katrine: Thank you.
Student: Now can I come to your house?
Katrine: NO!

09 July 2011

Skating Student Conversation of the Day: Fireworks

I am attempting to teach children to do backwards wiggles. My lesson is interrupted when Katy Perry's "Firework" comes on.


Me: Stay off your toepicks! Keep your feet parallel!


Me (struck by inspiration): Katy Perry doesn't skate on her toepicks.

8-year old: Katy Perry doesn't skate!

Me: How do you know?

The 8-year old is stumped. Point, Katrine.

Aside: I will continue to update this blog at my convenience. This may mean every month and a half. It may mean every six months. Or once a year. I'm scared of commitment.

30 May 2011

Little Women Go Back in Time 50 Years, Move to England, and Get Seriously Rich, OR Valentine

Trashy romance novel time again!

This time around, I’m thrilled to say that we have a nice, old fashioned romance with no alien abductions or roommates left to pay the rent on their own. Valentine, by Jane Feather (and is that a pen name or what? Jane FEATHER?), is a old school 10 Things I Hate About You/She’s All That-type book. It has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, St. Valentine, or anyone named Valentine, so I’m not sure what’s up with the title, but I hate coming up with titles myself, so I’m not one to judge.

We open this novel as our hero, unfortunately named Sylvester Gilbraith, has just been named fifth Earl of Stoneridge as the last earl (a distant cousin or something) has died, leaving only four granddaughters in his direct inheritance. That primogeniture nonsense created a lot of unnecessary drama…just ask anyone married to Henry VIII. Turns out the old earl was sneaky, though, and while he’s passing on the title and the manor, Sylvester Gilbraith (who will henceforth be known as Syl Gil since it’s easier to type) doesn’t get any money unless he marries one of the old earl’s granddaughters. And, to add a nifty little ticking time bomb to the plot, he has a month to marry one of the girls before they find out about that little fact.

So off goes Syl Gil to Stoneridge, where he has a fascinating encounter with a pretty young girl who he thinks is a gypsy. They fight, and Syl Gil has a flashback to his days fighting in Portugal, which ends their encounter.

About three paragraphs later, SURPRISE, the gypsy girl is revealed to be one of the old earl’s granddaughters, Theo. She’s very Jo March-ish, right down to the boyish name, running around in improper clothes, being a general tomboy, having three sisters, having only a mother present to raise them (their father died when the girls were young), and even chopping off all her hair. The oldest, Emily (read: Meg) is betrothed to another guy off at war, the next oldest, Clarissa (who seems to be Beth only without any Scarlet Fever) is a dreamy, romantic girl who is waiting for a knight in shining armor. The youngest, Rosie, is only 11 or something, and she’s obsessed with biology and experiments (and she’s Amy because she’s so precocious and always saying inappropriate things).

Elinor, their mother, is completely Marmee, and she's the one Syl Gil talks to when he makes his appearance, and he says that he wants to marry one of the girls out of the kindness of his heart. He figures Clarissa’s the oldest without an attachment, but Elinor tells him he’ll be better suited to Theo, so Theo it is. Now he has a month to win her over, and she is understandably difficult because she hates his family and doesn’t want to lose herself to a guy. However, he keeps making out with her at random moments, and almost (gasp!) has sex with her even though they aren’t married, and she is incapable of resisting, so she finally gives in. This is plot one: Syl Gil gets ornery Theo to marry him.

Plot two results from Syl Gil trying to keep the motivating reasons behind his marriage from Theo. As we were only about a third of the way through the book when the marriage took place, we can imagine that he is not successful. Theo does some eavesdropping when the lawyer comes to call, and she gets seriously pissed off. Syl Gil can’t see why—she gets to help him run the estate, the title stays in her bloodline, and they’re having lots of good sex!

They have lots of fights about it, and before it’s resolved they take off for London for The Season to present Meg, Jo, and Beth…err…Emily, Clarissa, and Theo. Rosie’s off the hook and can continue trying to dissect worms. Lucky Rosie. After some drama with plotline number three (more on that later) and some more sex, Theo and Syl Gil reconcile. This was the least interesting of the plotlines.

The third plotline, which Jane Feather has been hinting at throughout the book, links back to Syl Gil’s time in the army. He was court-martialed for surrendering when he wasn’t supposed to, but he doesn’t remember any of it, and he got off, but everyone just assumed he was guilty. Anyway, turns out someone’s been trying to kill him for a while. There were some traps set for him back at Stoneridge, and a bunch of thugs try to beat him up in London. Of course, Theo has had lots of wrestling lessons and she helps take on the thugs, so Syl Gil makes it out alive. Syl Gil decides to go on the offensive, Theo follows him, he gets pissy at her for interfering and refuses to tell her what’s going on even when he figures out that the guy (Mr. Wimpy, since I can’t remember his real name…I think it’s Neil or something) trying to kill him fought with him in Portugal at the battle he can’t remember.

So now the two of them are each separately trying to figure this guy out. Turns out this guy is trying to kill him on orders from Fred or Ted or Ed O’Flannery, who’s apparently a thug (I picture him as one of the Fitzpatricks from Veronica Mars). During The Battle, O’Flannery and Mr. Neil Wimpy were supposed to be the reinforcements coming to save Syl Gil’s troops. However, they decided to flee because Mr. Neil Wimpy hates physical fighting, and so THEY are the ones who should be court-martialed, but they just waited to show up until Syl Gil’s troops had to surrender. Syl Gil had a serious head wound, hence his inability to remember any of this. Anyway, after Theo is kidnapped and nearly raped by Mr. Neil Wimpy (who somehow thinks that raping Theo will keep Syl Gil from sharing the truth), Syl Gil and Meg/Emily’s fiancé rescue Theo, get a confession from Mr. Neil Wimpy, and all is well. End plot three.

When they return from this chaos, they learn that Clarissa is engaged to her white knight (who’s a painter and has been hanging around being boring for a good hundred pages) and that she’s going to have a double wedding with Emily. Two pages from the end, Theo and Syl Gil both admit they love each other, and they all live happily ever after, the end.

And, best of all, they don’t leave any of their old friends to pay their bills for them.

22 May 2011

So, about that BBQ...

I'm back. As my time abroad will be coming to an end in about three days, I can now shift focus from the paraphrasing of my life and posting travel pictures and return to skating and YA lit. To make a nice, graceful transition (going from working in France and returning to my quote of the day series), I give to you a quote from one of my French high school students.

Assignment: write a phone dialogue between two friends where one calls up the other to say that the first one won't be able to make it to a planned barbecue.

What was turned in: 'Hello, you don't want to eat a barbecue, goodbye.'

One of those lovely teaching moments where all you want to do is start laughing. Aside from the whole lack of a dialogue thing, how does the person talking know that the other person doesn't want to eat a barbecue? Or is the person answering the phone being uninvited? For that matter, how does one eat a barbecue? Are they planning on devouring the entire party, or perhaps just the grill?

This is what happens when students have English first thing on a Monday morning...

24 August 2010

Heart of Warrior, by Johanna Lindsey, OR On Falling in Love with Invading Aliens

The first romance novel I pulled out a couple weeks ago was called “Heart of a Warrior” by Johanna Lindsey. Upon opening it, I was treated to a scandalous picture of…well…never mind, I'm going to spare myself the trouble of trying to describe that and simply stick to the tamer cover:

That disco ball rose thing alone can show you why I was not expecting a Homer-esque epic. I keep trying to come up with a decent way to summarize it, but I’m just going to have to use the blurb from the back cover.

“Stunning, statuesque Brittany Callaghan isn’t used to seeing Nordic gods in her tiny California town. But when the spectacular blond Viking—whose name is Dalden—turns up at her doorstep, Brittany knows her dream man is very real. Dalden claims to be a barbarian warrior—and since Brittany’s passion has been running red-hot since she first saw him, the sexy giant can fancy himself anything he pleases!
The truth is a very rude awakening—for Dalden is exactly what he claims to be: a warrior to the depths of his soul from a place where the women always obey. Intelligent, independent Brittany isn’t about to be subservient to any male—not even one who’s everything she’s ever wanted in al over. But the proud, powerful barbarian is accustomed to fighting for what he wants—and winning. And what he wants most of all…is Brittany.”

Wow, mes amis, wow. This is not only over the top, it’s just plain lying. First of all, nowhere in the book do they mention Vikings. Second, they didn’t very accurately describe Brittany—she’s six feet tall, and her biggest problem in the start of the book is that she can’t find a guy tall enough to date her. Every guy she’s found is too intimidated by her height, so she is alooooooooone and unloved and planning on building her own house, which every romance writer knows is a sign of a spinster-ish future.

Aside: I have a couple questions based on this blurb. First, how does one pronounce Brittany when it’s a girl’s name? Is it like Britney or like Brittany, the region of France that will soon be my home? Second, am I the only one who thinks that calling this guy (he’s 7’ or something) a giant is actually kind of creepy? I keep picturing Hagrid, and that is NOT a sexy image.

Okay, continuing with the lying. Numero trois, Dalden not only is not a Nordic god, he’s a freaking alien who’s come to earth to save it from this evil guy named Jorran or something who has these brainwashing sticks and plans on taking over the world.

It’s not exactly understood how this is going to work, since you have to be within a foot or so of someone to brainwash them, and the sticks don’t work on women, but whatever. Nordic gods have no need for common sense. And he manages to pull this off with the help of Brittany, because apparently Jorran was going to start his quest for world domination with a tiny town in California. Oh yeah, and Brittany and Dalden have sex after knowing each other for about 12 hours, but quite frankly that’s the most realistic thing in this book. Also, until this point Brittany just thinks Dalden is a weird guy from some remote place on earth who has all sorts of crazy technology. It’s only when she’s magically transported onto his spaceship that his computer, who is named Martha, starts to explain to Brittany that she’s being taken to Dalden’s home planet. Brittany is incredulous, as is the reader that such trash is published. Brittany is also informed by Martha that Dalden has taken her as his lifemate, which is apparently like marriage, but sans any love, because warriors from his planet don’t love.

Now here’s where things get really crazy. It’s a three month trip to Dalden’s home planet, and Brittany never freaking says goodbye to ANYONE, but she goes along for the ride because she doesn’t want to lose Dalden. I know she was single, but she has a job, four brothers, and, oh yeah, a roommate. This roommate saw Dalden once, and then all of a sudden Brittany is gone? If I were the roommate, I would assume a crazy serial murderer-rapist (who for some reason hadn’t been caught yet despite looking like a Nordic god) had killed my roomie. And not ONCE does Brittany think about the fact that she’s leaving her roommate with a lease and no way of covering the rent. What a ditz. Brittany mentions that she wants to come back to see her brothers, but there is no concern for the roommate with rent to pay. I was pissed off at Brittany on behalf of the roommate. Of all the things in the book, this was what I found hardest to believe. What sort of lovestruck girl ignores her friends to the extent that she forgets about such earthly matters as her lease? HONESTLY. Maybe aliens don’t pay rent.

Anyway, the rest of the book is boring. Brittany goes to Dalden’s planet, meets his family, has issues adjusting because Dalden expects unquestioning obedience since that’s what the other women are like, disobeys him and almost gets killed, gets punished, and then decides she can handle unquestioning obedience once he proves the warrior stereotype wrong and says he loves her. The End!

16 August 2010

A Study in Genre: The Romance Novel

A precursor to a few upcoming reviews: they are NOT Young Adult, nor are they books I would normally be caught dead reading. However, I was recently “up north” at a cabin, and while unable to fall asleep, I decided to grab one of the books lying around. My options were at least a dozen mysteries or some trashy romances.

I have a long history with the trashy romance genre. My grandmother and mother have always loved them. When I was about 10 I still thought romances were boring, because everyone knew that boys were gross and kissing was nasty. If I was at a cottage or my grandparents house and I ran out of my own books to read, then I’d pick up my Grandpa’s copies of The Toledo Blade or Newsweek and read those instead. I’d also flip through every copy of Sports Illustrated around, searching for any mention of figure skating. Within a year or two, however, I’d decided that boys were vaguely intriguing after all, and maybe there was something to be said for these romances. Since most of my grandma’s stash is from the ‘60s (she and my mother both claim that romances were nice and wholesome back in their day, and now they’re just all about sex), the first few I stumbled upon were rather tame. One was even a Young Adult book (White House Autumn) that’s still one of my favorites (it’s possible I stole that for my collection…). However, my grandma often goes to Savers or Goodwill, clears out their entire romance novel collection, and then stores them in her basement, and it just so happens that not all of the ones she brought home were the nice, tame Harlequins of my mother’s youth.

Enlightening, I suppose, would be the best word for some of the racier books, and my poor innocent 12-year old self was shocked to pieces more than once. Talk about sex ed!

That said, once I stopped blushing (approximately four years later, I’d guess, as I was a naïve middle schooler), I decided that while these certainly weren’t real literature, they were awfully fun to read. Just on vacation, you know. To pass the time. If there wasn’t any Dostoevsky or Dickens hanging around.

The point of this history is that, when I found myself in need of a book, I selected the trashy romances over the mysteries. Besides, dealing with mysteries when in a forest in the middle of nowhere scares the hell out of me. I’ve seen enough episodes of Criminal Minds to know that all the creepy serial killers live out in the boonies. Plus there’s no light ANYWHERE out there (aside from the stars, and being a city girl, I don’t count those. I want some streetlights! And not the wimpy Evanston-variety streetlights, hardcore downtown streetlights!), and it would not be hard for someone to sneak up on me. At least in the city I’d see them coming.

So, yeah. It was all the crazy serial killers living in cabins up north that forced me to spend my time reading trashy romances. And no, we aren’t going to talk about why I never got around to reading my real literature that I’d brought with me.

26 July 2010

Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta, OR Of Confusion and Joy

Though it's been at least a year since I last read anything by Melina Marchetta, and I can no longer remember what her other books were about, I do remember that I liked them. That, combined with some seriously rave reviews about Jellicoe Road, got my hopes up. The first two times I tried to read the book however, I was let down. I doubt I made it much past the prologue the first time around, and my second try only got me to the end of the first chapter.

This time around, I finally slogged through the rough beginning chapters, and found myself halfway through and absolutely loving the book. The joy and spark in sentences missing from The Summer of Skinny Dipping was present throughout this book, and the pacing is incredible. The book builds towards the end, and does so perfectly. Similarly, we come to know Taylor as she comes to know the world around her. When she's separated and pushing things away, the reader similarly feels pushed away and doesn't particularly care for Taylor. As that changes however, and as Taylor starts to embrace the world around her, the reader similarly embraces Taylor. That in particular is very well constructed. I definitely can understand all the positive reviews this book received.

The downside to this book, however, is what kept me from getting into it the first few times around. There's a fine line between leaving the reader wondering and leaving the reader confused. A reader left wondering is eager to read more and discover what they need to know. A reader left confused, however, is more likely to put the book aside and give up on it. The opening, particularly the prologue and the first two or three chapters, leans more towards creating confusion than anticipation. Too many characters, too many different plots to follow, and seemingly no common threads. Those common threads need to be introduced earlier to avoid pushing readers away. I'm not saying we need to know everything at the beginning, but I certainly needed to know more than I did.

Aside from that problem, the form is fantastic, the prose is amazing, and the characters are delightful.