Three Magical Books

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder since October. Crazy, huh? It looks OK to me, so I’m going to fix the typos that I found and publish it. Here goes!

My friend recently mentioned Sarah Mlynowski’s Magic in Manhattan series, which reminded me that I needed to go back and finish it. So I did. Click here to see what I wrote about the first book (Bras & Broomsticks) or continue reading this page for reviews of the second, third, and fourth books of the series.

Frogs & French Kisses by Sarah Mlynowski

Grade: A

Bras & Broomsticks may have won me over in the end, but Frogs & French Kisses had me at the very beginning. The story begins with young witch Miri practicing her broom-flying skills while her older sister Rachel, who is not a witch, hangs on to the back for dear life. They crash land in a field with cows, which was not a particularly enjoyable experience for them, but later they find out that those cows are going to be made into steaks, which is even worse. They go back to the field later and Miri uses her witchy powers to zap the cows to safety. But Miri’s magic misfires and somehow interprets “safety” to mean “the gymnasium of Rachel’s high school.” The cows ruin the gym floor and the repairs will be costly, but worst of all, now the prom can’t be held there! The girls will have to do something to make amends and, of course, silliness ensues.

Rachel is in great form in this book. She comes across as both fun and funny. I enjoyed this reading immensely, and I cannot fathom why I would have quit the book previously without finishing it. Recommended.

Spells & Sleeping Bags by Sarah Mlynowski

Grade: B

In this book Miri and Rachel go to summer camp. Rachel is dealing was some life changes, Miri feels neglected, and there’s a mean girl at camp who seems to be deliberately widening the rift between the sisters. It’s a teen summer camp book, so expect lots of new friends, pranks, swimming, canoeing, and romance. I can’t say much more than that without spoilers.

Though I often like summer camp stories, this one didn’t quite work for me. Rachel was not quite so amusing this time (what happened???), and the plot was predictable. However, if you enjoyed the first two books of the series and want to know what happens between Rachel and the boy she’s been crushing on, then go ahead and read it. Just be warned—I think Mlynowski may have been trying to age-up the book with teen talk, including some minor swears. My own very young kids have already encountered worse language, so I doubt even the youngest teens are going to find it shocking. I just thought that some of the language and semi-mature content was a little off-putting.

Parties & Potions by Sarah Mlynowski

Grade: B+

Warning: potential spoilers ahead.

The girls have discovered that there are many other witches in the world. Indeed, witches have their own culture and customs and language. The girls decide to enter witch society by taking part in the Samsorta, which is basically the bat mitzvah of witchdom. They even take special classes at a witch school to learn the details of the ceremony. Miri finally starts to make friends (including boys!), but Rachel is having a hard time compartmentalizing her life into magical parts and non-magical parts.

I liked this book better than the third one, but it reminded me too much of other series, including Harry Potter (which was referenced at least twice, probably to let us know that the author realized the comparison was inevitable). As with the previous book, you may find it worth reading just to find out what happens between Rachel and her love interest.

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Trolls & Elves

Heard around the house:

One man’s troll is another man’s elf.

Somehow I doubt Santa would agree.

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I had an A-HA! moment while working on my novel this morning, just before my word processor ate the document that I was working on. Yes, the A-HA! moment was so powerful that it temporarily broke my computer. No worries, though. I hadn’t written much in that particular file yet, and revelations are hard to forget.

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All I Can Do Is Laugh

I have my own particular set of sayings that I use frequently. One of them is “make it snappy.” I use this saying on the kids when they’re slow to do whatever it is they’ve been told to do. But Marshall has decided to take the saying literally. If I tell him to “make it snappy,” he starts snapping his fingers and doing a little dance. Usually we’re in a rush, so I ought to get angry when he starts dancing instead of following my instructions. His snappy dance is just so hysterical that all I can do is laugh.

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I Should Know Better

I am old enough to know by now that if I hide something in an unusual spot and say to myself “Don’t forget that you put this here” it means I absolutely will forget and shouldn’t put it there. But I never seem to learn, and that is how I ended up spending a lot of precious time this week fruitlessly searching for my list of Advent gifts and printouts. I have now searched in all the likely spots several times, and most of the unlikely spots, too. No luck. Thank goodness I did some of the work on my computer and can at least reprint that part!

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Today’s Thought

Noticing is the first step toward knowing.

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Things Done and Things Yet to Do

I’m thrilled to be able to say that I’ve already gotten some of my Christmas tasks done. Shutterfly offered me free holiday address labels a couple of weeks ago, so I ordered them and they arrived last week. Yesterday I ordered personalized ornaments for the kids and my niece. I’m always glad to have that task finished, since if I wait too long the shipping times become an issue. The Advent calendar is another task that can’t wait, so today I made a rough plan for it and designed most of the tickets that will go into it. But what makes my progress extra impressive is that I’ve already purchased three major gifts (i.e., crossed three people off my shopping list) as well as several small gifts for the kids.

This week’s goals:

  1. Finish and order the Christmas card.
  2. Finish looking through the year’s pictures and upload them. I will try to finish the album in time to give copies out at Christmas. That’s usually what I do. But this year I’m willing to cut myself some slack. If it’s not done before Christmas, that’s fine, as long as it’s done by the end of the year.
  3. Trip to the outlet mall to buy gifts for my Mom and my niece, a special ornament for Marshall, money holder cards, a special request from Livia, and some odds and ends for the Advent calendar.
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There Is No Try

There are 46 posts in my drafts folder. This is a new record for me, but it’s not anything to be proud of. I hate to see so many unfinished posts, especially the ones about the kids. It also saddens me that some posts don’t seem worth finishing now, so they represent a lot of wasted time

I need to get my writing act together. The half-ass approach I’ve been using is wasteful and depressing. If I were to print out every unfinished blog post, essay, short story, novel, verse, song, and piece of work documentation, I’d be smothered by the resulting mountain of paper. I don’t want to die under a mound of unfinished work! If I must be buried in paper, let it be my collected published works, so I could at least die knowing that I’d accomplished something.

It’s time to commit to writing or give it up. Fish or cut bait. Or, as Yoda would say, “Write. Or write not. There is no try.”

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Lessons Learned

I learned a lot from working on my nature photo album. I wanted to apply those lessons to my current project, so I put them into a handy list. Now I’m going to post the list here, where I can find it any time.

  • If the project is too big, break it into smaller pieces.
  • Keep track of what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. Don’t throw away anything until you’re done, because you never know when you’ll need to backtrack.
  • Look for better solutions. Just because you’ve found a workaround doesn’t mean there’s not a better solution. Do what you have to do to keep your forward momentum, but don’t give up on the idea of a better solution until you’re absolutely sure there isn’t one.
  • Work on the project every day, and do not stop until it’s done.
  • Accept that there will be mistakes. Better done and flawed than never done.
  • Ignore the voice that says, “No one will like this. This has no value. I am wasting my time. This is a stupid project, and I am stupid.” It doesn’t know what it’s talking about.
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Mental Clutter

The daily target for NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words. I exceeded that number on one day. Otherwise I’ve consistently failed to meet it. Any gain I might have made on that one wordy day was immediately lost on the next, when I wrote only 175 words.

The most annoying thing is that when I sit down and write my stream of consciousness, which is essentially brain clutter, I can write pages and pages of it. That writing has no purpose other than to clean up my brain. I have embraced the idea that getting rid of the mental clutter is part of how you move on to better writing. Still, it’s galling to be able to write reams of throwaway text with such ease but trying to write with purpose still feels like pulling teeth.

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