Crazy Things Students Say

I’m a full-time author. At least two days each work week (when school is in session), I substitute teach at the local middle and high schools.
Due to a shortage of licensed substitutes, my state allows any person with a Bachelor’s Degree to go through the training and application process and attain what is called a Restricted Substitute License. Although I’m hold no teaching degree, I have more than a decade of experience in education.

Why would I subject myself to such a topsy-turvy schedule? Two reasons:

  1. It’s not conducive to creativity to spend everyday in an office without interacting with other people (and social media doesn’t replace actual human face-to-face contact)
  2. Most of my publishing contracts are “royalties only” and the schools give me a much more regular (and at this point, substantial) paycheck

Since my dream is to write fantasy novels for young adults, this subbing thing keeps me engaged with their worldview and voice.


Heard at the Middle School

“If you’re an author, why would you be a sub?”

Why indeed! I generally give them reason number two as outlined above. I have been known to use other reasons, as well, but not to the same student.
Yes, this is a common question. For some reason, they think a published author should be SO famous and well-paid that they wouldn’t submit themselves to the degradation of being a substitute. (I don’t find it degrading. I actually enjoy it…most days.)
“Are you the sub?” Isn’t this obvious? I’m always amazed by this question.
“YES!” I never know how to respond to this unabashed joy that they have a substitute. It would be ego-affirming if it was because they liked me so much, but the reality is much darker. Any sub is preferable to the regular teacher.
What does that mean? Is the teacher mean? Are subs easy? What?


Heard at the High School

“Do people ever call you Miss Texas?” (Do you need context for this? My last name is often mispronounced as Houston by students.) “I’m from Texas, and I’d like to call you Miss Texas.”
Well, thank you, freshman male student. Now I can feel like a beauty pageant contestant–for an hour of my life.
“At least I had a dad.” I’m not sure this one needs any explanation. FYI, the student was laughing in a pleasant manner when he said it. (And no, it wasn’t directed at me.)
“You look familiar” (and after I say I’ve subbed often in the building) “No that’s not it. I think it’s from Facebook.”
Just when I’m wondering if my author page is blowing up with my young adult audience, the bubble is burst.


“You were one of my suggested friends.” (What does that even mean? I know she meant FB suggested me as someone she might know, but what is a suggested friend?)
“Hey, I know you!” I’m squinting at the skinny junior boy at my old alma mater. I definitely know the kid in the back of the row beside him.
I try the, “I subbed here two weeks ago” response.
“No, that’s not it.” He gives his forehead and exaggerated pound. “The middle school. Right?”
“Are you sure you can remember that far back?” Three years is a lifetime for teenagers. But I smile and assure him that he’s nailed it. Too bad he doesn’t smile so proudly when I hand him the essay assignment a few minutes later.
There are priorities. Writing class is rarely one of them for high school students.
These teenagers offer me plenty of smiles. And eye rolls. But best of all, they’re vivacity contributes fodder for future fiction. (Yes, I do love my alliteration.)
So, I’m glad that the state hasn’t changed the substitute teaching requirements just yet. I’m on my way to being licensed for three more years of inspiration from the world of public school.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve heard lately?

A Weekend with the Girls

Life speeds ahead and important elements like friendship might become little more than casualties along this racetrack. This is one of the reasons I have made a weekend with my best friend from high school a priority in my schedule.
If you’re a man, you might be able to relate if you go hunting with your friends. Or maybe you have tickets to a sporting event and share dinner before (or after) with a testosterone-heavy group. Good for you. Friendships enrich our lives.
And no, a girls-only getaway doesn’t me pillow fights in pajamas (regardless of what my husband likes to think). But it does involve the heart-to-heart talks that may have been left behind with those teenage slumber parties.


Many years ago, my best friend from high school and I began this tradition. Although we haven’t maintained an annual reunion since the inception, we’ve been faithful to it for the past three years.
City Escape
Two times we’ve traded our small-town existence for the big city. After all, spending time with friends isn’t about secluding ourselves from the world.
Our wide world begs us to experience its many faces. How better to see the bright lights and high rise shadows than with a friend?
We’ve visited San Francisco and Seattle. A trip to Sin City is brewing.
These destinations offer unique opportunities. Walking along Fisherman’s Wharf to the sound of barking sea lions? Sure and don’t forget the wax museum and Ghiradelli factory. If you’ve never been offered drugs at the entrance to Golden Gate Park, have you really lived?
Fish tossing at Pikes Place Market? We saw it. And sampled fresh-roasted coffee and nuts while perusing wares from dozens of artisans. When we wanted to be grossed out, we toured down Post Alley to the gum wall.


These are shared memories that fuel the midnight conversations in years to come.
Mountain Escape
One of our earliest weekends was at a condo near Mount Hood. It rained to greet our arrival, so we watched movies and snacked on popcorn.
While the clouds camped on the highest peak in Oregon, the sun shone on one trail that wove through evergreens to a small lake. There the mountain was reflected in all its glory.
This year, we took a longer drive to Leavenworth, Washington. We hiked two-and-a-half miles up the side of Icicle Ridge to enjoy amazing views of the river rushing through a rocky gorge on one side and calming to lap gently at several parks on the other.

Yes, that’s the river gorge nearly 2,000 feet below us

This little town offered plenty of other sights, too, with much more panache than the sleepy mountain towns of Rhododendron and Zig Zag (look them up if you don’t believe me).
Worth the Drive
While we flew to California, most years we hop in our respective vehicles and drive to the rendezvous point. The older I get, the more my body groans at being trapped behind the wheel for hours on end.
                                                            Yes, I’m not much for road trips.
But to spend a weekend laughing, sharing, crying and living with my girlfriends, I’ll suffer the butt-ache and stiff knees (all of which faded after the long hike anyway because my feet screamed much louder).
Even if we lived much closer, I think my friends and I would still like to “get away from it all” together. It’s therapeutic to bare our souls and drain our stress.
Sunday comes before we’re ready. There are hugs and goodbyes and then the promise of the future.
“See you same time next year.”
And it’s a date.
If this post appealed to you, you might like Hero Delivery. It’s a bulletin with deals and specials from Sharon Hughson. It can be on the way to your inbox in a few clicks.
Check out Reality Meets its Match and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.

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Back in the Classroom

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved to play school. She didn’t care if she was the teacher or the student, she just loved school. That little girl jumps for joy every time I get a call to substitute teach.

If you know me at all, you understand I have a LONG history of spending time in the classroom. My longest employment was with the St. Helens School District, where I worked as a classified substitute and temporary classroom aide for six years before getting a regular job.

My first two years were as a cashier in the cafeteria at a grade school (while still taking the temporary overload classroom aide positions). Finally, I managed to land a job as a special education instructional assistant at the middle school. I was there for seven years before leaving to pursue this writing gig.

Now I’m back in the classroom. Because this writing gig feeds my soul and keeps my hands and head flying in numerous directions, but it doesn’t pay well. Not with all my contracts being for royalties only. And I don’t push or publicize my self-published titles.

The Position

When I began pursuing my English degree, I planned to get a restricted substitute teaching license when I finished. That was 2010. At the time, there was a shortage of substitute teachers and some of our best subs had degrees in anything BUT education.

All that changed in 2012. School districts all over Oregon were down-sizing (had been since 2007). Suddenly, there were more licensed teachers than positions. The substitute pool became bloated with all these graduates who couldn’t score their own classroom.

Most of the districts rescinded their use of the restrictive substitutes. People who had these licenses were allowed to continuing working until the expiration. No new licenses could be issued.

When I graduated in July 2013, that was still the state of things in the substitute teaching world.

This fall, the substitute pool was depleted. Not enough people floated in the thing to cover vacancies.

The major school districts went on a recruiting campaign. They sent out a flyer to all the school reinstating their use of restrictive substitute licencees to fill classroom teacher roles.

The secretary at the middle school where I worked kindly forwarded the email to me. Her note: “There are plenty of people here who would love to see you subbing in our classrooms.”

Alrighty, then.

soitbegins

The Process

First step: Attend a half-day conference-like event at the NWRESD (Northwest Regional Education Service District). They supply subs to most of the districts in northwestern Oregon.

At this event, you found out how the process worked, completed an interview and filled out an online application form. They would notify you within a week or two if you were selected to continue in the program.

Hurray! I was selected.

Step two: Register for the ORELA Civil Rights examination and pass it ($95).

Then November happened. As you know, I was writing a novel in three weeks and taking a week-long vacation to the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving with my sister.

Step three: Attend a full-day training session at the NWRESD offices.

This is where we learned about the expectations of the job. Also, they gave tips and tools for surviving in a crazy classroom. The best part was acting out different scenarios.

Yep. I can still perform the role of snotty, rebellious teenager with pizzazz.

We also filled out all our employment forms and had our photos taken for an identification badge. I still have yet to see that badge, so who knows if the paperwork is even ready.

Step four: Complete the fingerprinting and background check process ($74)

I performed this step the Monday before Christmas, but the state never acknowledged it until a month later.

Step five: Submit the application with the appropriate fees and information (including certified transcripts). The fee had to include a $99 expedite fee or else you wouldn’t see your license until June. Just in time for it to expire. The application fee was $129.

Step six: Get a bunch of emails from the state acknowledging every slip of paper they get. However,the email stating what is still required – which is what the HR gal said they would send – never came.

Ever.

Two month after I sent the application (does that sound like expedited service to you???), I got an email stating my license was issued. There would be no paper license mailed and I should print the email for my records.

The Payoff

When I wrote this post, I had been in the classroom four separate days. However, I haven’t completed a payroll cycle yet.

I’m hoping theirs a payoff. It seems like the figure was $150 per day (before taxes, of course), I haven’t seen any actual money.

If you do the math, you can see that I’ve spent close to $300 to get the license. And it expires June 30, 2016.

Here’s hoping the renewal process involves fewer hoops and red tape. The next license will be good for three years.

I’ve discovered a renewed ear for teenage dialogue already. Getting back among my target audience is one of the primary reasons for going through all this rigamarole.

The State sent me a questionnaire about the fluidity of the process. Do they really want me to complete it? I think my numbers will skew their data toward the negative end of the scale.

The good news: I’m out of my office and in the classroom, interacting with teenagers.

I’ve missed these guys.

It’s finally Coming! The Sequel to Fire in the Woods

I am beyond excited about this announcement and thrilled to be able to reveal this cover on my blog.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series Fire in the Woods months and months ago. I’ll obviously be re-reading it about March 10th, in preparation for the second book (there are at least THREE in the series.
Along with Jennifer M. Eaton and Month9Books, I’m happy to give you a sneak peak at the first chapter for ASHES IN THE SKY, which releases March 15, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
 
A quick note from the author:
Hello alien fans!Jennifer-M.-Eaton-Promo-Protrait-239x300

I have to admit that Fire in the Woods was meant to be a stand-alone. When approached to write a second novel, I really had to scratch my head. I mean, the story was
over, right?

Well, apparently I “left them screaming for more” as everyone always says. 
I really didn’t want to deal with the direct aftermath of book one, so I decided to fast forward a few months: to a time when things should be settling down for poor, exhausted Jess. All she wants to
do is get her life back to normal again, and to do that, she needs to get back to school.

Unfortunately for Jess (and maybe fortunately for us) it will be a little while before our girl has anything close to a normal life again. So enjoy Jess’s first day back at school after saving the world. Here is chapter one of Ashes in the Sky: book two of Fire in the Woods.

Alien Kisses!
Jennifer M. Eaton


Title: ASHES IN THE SKY
Author: Jennifer M. Eaton
Pub. Date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N Goodreads
After inadvertently saving the world,
eighteen-year-old Jessica Martinez is ready to put adventure behind her and settle back into the familiar routine of high school.
 
Though when she’s offered an opportunity
to photograph the inside of an alien space ship, Jess jumps at the chance. After all, she’d be crazy to turn something like that down, right?
 
Spending time with David on the ship has definite advantages and the two seem to pick up right where they left off. But when Jess discovers a plot to sabotage David’s efforts to establish a new home for his people on another planet, neither David’s advanced tech nor Jess’s smarts will be able to save them.
ASHES IN THE SKY is an action-packed, romantic Sci Fi adventure that will leave readers screaming for more.

 Exclusive Excerpt

1
Dad’s brow creased. “You don’t have to do this, Jess. We can turn around now and go home.”

His fingers rapped on the limousine’s armrest as we pulled up to the entrance of my normally quiet school. Outside, police officers and several uniformed security guards held advancing reporters and camera crews on the sidewalks.

“Relax, Major,” Elaine said, across from me. She pulled out a compact and touched up her lipstick. “Two months after single-handedly saving the world from an alien invasion, Earth’s teenage savior returns to finish high school.” She snapped the case shut. “This is the public interest story of the year.”

Dad’s nose flared. “Yes, she’s supposed to be going to school, but you’ve made it a media circus. Why’d you have to schedule a press conference in the auditorium?”

She slipped her lipstick back into her designer purse. “They would have been here anyway. The best way to calm a stalking fox is to invite him in for tea.”

“Tea? I’ll give you tea.”

I held up my hand. “Dad … ” I didn’t have to finish. I never did. Their arguments were always the same. Father protects daughter, while the publicist pushes media exposure as far as she can legally get away with—and me stuck in between.

Elaine wasn’t all that bad, as far as publicists went. Not that I’d known any other publicists, but she’d been by my side since my very first press conference, and the hundred or so more over the past two months. She could be pushy, but she understood the power of a pint of Death By Chocolate ice cream at the end of a long day, which totally earned her brownie points in my book.

Dad’s gaze returned to me. “We just got back. Do you really need to do another press conference?” The deep lines around his eyes added to the weight of my own exhaustion.

I shifted in my seat, my hands clammy against the leather interior. “If we go home, they’ll just show up here again tomorrow. Let’s get this over with. Maybe then things can get back to normal.” I grabbed his hand. “I can do this.”

Dad pressed his lips together. Of course, he knew I could do it. But knowing and wanting me to answer another set of invasive questions were two different things, and I loved every stubborn inch of him for it.

Elaine fluffed my hair and adjusted the collar of my shirt. “Show time.” She knocked twice on the window, and the Secret Service agent outside opened the door for her. She glided through the crowd with a practiced grace.

Camera-palooza erupted outside. Dang, there weren’t this many photographers when I met the president.

Dad stepped out before me, an imposing figure in his combat uniform. Having an over-protective father did have its advantages. No one was getting by this bodyguard. No one.

I closed my eyes and clutched the charm on my necklace. My mother’s strength seeped into me, giving me courage. You’ll be fine, I heard her whisper. You’re my strong little girl. Always have been.

“I’ll try, Mom.” I opened my eyes and shuddered. You would think I’d be used to the feeding frenzy by now. This was the longest fifteen minutes of fame ever.

Steadying myself on the limo door, I stood.

“Jess, look over here.” Flash.

“Miss Martinez, how does it feel to be back at school?” Flash.

“Jessica, to your right.” Flash. Flash.

The faces and camera lenses blurred. My mind filled with the phantom sounds of alien weapons. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply to ward off memories of blinding lights and screaming voices.

It was over. The aliens had left, and I was alive. We were all still alive.

The Secret Service closed in around us as Dad placed his hand on my back, guiding me to the front entrance. With a well-rehearsed smile, I made my way forward, hoping to avoid a repeat of tabloid-gate when the worst-of-the-worst photos of me turned up on the cover of the National Daily.

Dad moved beside me as we stepped over the threshold. I slipped my fingers into his hand and squeezed. One more press conference. Just one more. I could do this.

We made our way through a throng of reporters, students, parents, and teachers to the auditorium. Hundreds of voices jumbled into one chaotic roar rebounding off the lockers.

A microphone appeared in front of my face. “Ms. Martinez, how did you—”

Dad pulled me to his chest as two Secret Service agents pounced on the guy. The reporter and the agents sunk back into the crowd, disappearing like a stone thrown into water.

“There will be question and answer time after the presentation,” Elaine called as we passed through the auditorium’s stage door.

I exhaled, rubbing my arms. That had to be the worst crowd ever.

Dad circled the area behind the curtains and checked the cracks and crevices backstage. The Secret Service agents had long since given up on trying to convince him that the government pre-secured all of my speaking engagements. I used to joke about their paranoia, until someone actually found a bomb. Those guys in ugly suits quickly became my best friends.

“Did you practice your speech?” Elaine asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “No.” You’d think she’d stop asking me that. I hadn’t memorized one yet. Why would I start now?

I pulled aside the curtain and scoped out the auditorium. A sea of smiling, wide-eyed faces filled the room. Camera crews and reporters intermingled with the student body.

Going back to high school was supposed to help me get my life back.

This fiasco was not getting my life back. But maybe if I answered everyone’s questions now, they wouldn’t keep asking later.

Hey, a girl could dream.

Elaine patted my shoulder before heading out past the curtains. Her heels clopped across the wooden stage as she passed a huge poster of National Geographic’s “The Night the World Stood Still: Special Edition.”

Steven Callup’s cover photo was one of those shots every aspiring photographer dreamed of catching: perfect lighting, engaging subject, active backdrop, and undeniable emotional tone. I wasn’t drooling over this masterpiece, though; because the photograph featured me.

The flames over my shoulder were in crisp focus and flawlessly mirrored in my dark hair. The mottled hues of a fresh sunrise blended perfectly with the devastation in the background. And my God, the expression on Dad’s face as we embraced … the love in his eyes.

That night would haunt me forever. Something incredible had happened, and it had nothing to do with an alien invasion. That cover immortalized the moment for the world to see: a year after my mother’s death, my father finally opened up and started to feel again.

I released the curtain, ready to face my peers, knowing that no one gave a rat’s ass about me or my dad.

They only wanted to know more about David.

I mean, I totally got it. An alien guy crash lands on Earth and has to escape before his people wipe out humanity. Heck, I’d be interested, too. But the clincher was that David changed his people’s minds because of me. I was the heroine in the story of the millennia, whether I liked it or not.

I cringed, thinking of how many people had contacted me for the movie rights. Ashes in the Sky, they wanted to call it. What kind of idiotic title was that? Ridiculous, all of it. The world almost ended right in front of me. I didn’t need to see it again on a big screen.

As Elaine announced my name, and the audience applauded, I wondered if anything would ever be as it was before David’s people arrived.

I took my place behind the microphone and squinted into the harsh auditorium lighting. I’d been in that audience dozens of times, but never on stage. The faces looking back at me were familiar, but distant. Awestruck.

This place was my school. My safe haven. Having the media here was wrong.

I gritted my teeth and gripped the sides of the lectern. This assembly would be the absolute last time I talked about what happened to me in public. Ever.

A mop of perky, blond curls caught my attention from the third row. My BFF Maggie beamed as she gave me a thumbs-up. Part of me relaxed, knowing I had a friend near.

Maggs was the only other person who’d known about David before the Army started chasing us. She even risked her own rear-end helping us escape. She’d talked her way out of a grounding from her father, the general, thank goodness. Damn, he must have been ticked when he found out what she’d done.

Taking one last breath to steady myself, I edged closer to the mic. “You’d have to be dead not to know what happened two months ago. So I’m just going to open it up to questions.”

Hundreds of hands shot into the air.

One of the moderators handed a microphone to a bubbly girl with a blond ponytail. “Is it true that the alien looked just like Jared Linden?”

And, it starts.

“Yes. David mimicked an advertisement and looked just like Jared Linden’s character in that movie Fire in the Woods.”

Okay, that was only half of it. The truth was far too embarrassing. David pulled Jared Linden’s features from my mind. He didn’t look exactly like Jared. Just the hotter parts. The rest was an amalgamation of other cute guys he’d yanked out of my brain. There was no way I would admit to that, though.

A tall kid in a black band tee stood. “So what really happened out there? They were going to annihilate us. How’d you get them to change their minds?”

I cleared my throat. A flash of David’s smile and the warmth of his touch sent a shiver down my spine. “Luck was totally in our favor. If David’s plane hadn’t crashed, we never would have met. It didn’t take long before he realized the human race was worth saving.”

A teacher handed a microphone to a girl wearing glasses. “How long will it take them to terraform Mars?”

Ugh. I tried to think of David’s new home like Seattle or Los Angeles, but it wasn’t. It was Mars. As in: not Earth. Talk about your long distance romance.

“I have no idea how long it will take them to make Mars livable. I do know that they are running short on supplies, so I’m hoping it will happen pretty quickly.”

A girl in a cheerleader uniform flagged down the lady with the microphone. “Everyone says you and the alien were doing it. Inquiring minds want to know. Was he any good?”

Camera flashes singed my eyes as a teacher tried to pull the mic away from the girl.

“No,” a reporter shouted. “Let’s hear the answer.”

The audience murmured, shifting like hyenas waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting foal. Beside the stage, Dad’s face became an unnatural shade of crimson.

Crap.

“Well?” the cheerleader asked.

I wiped the sweat from my palms, remembering the shockwave that raged through me when David’s lips covered mine. The tabloids had reduced our relationship to supermarket trash, and Rah-Rah Girl probably wouldn’t know a real emotional connection if it bit her.

David and I shared something so deeply intimate it transcended everything. No one could possibly understand. I wasn’t even sure I understood. All I knew was that I was in love, and I’d probably never see him again.

I blinked, realizing the room had gone quiet, awaiting my answer about doing it.

My hands fisted, but I forced a smile and rustled up the rote response Elaine had prepared for me. “I heard that rumor, too, but David and I were only friends.” A sickly gash sliced through my heart. The thought of living the rest of my life with him on another planet was akin to living in the desert without water.

Was he out there somewhere, longing for me as much as I yearned for him?

My stomach fluttered. I hated how people’s stupid questions dredged up feelings I’d worked hard to suppress. I had to get off that podium.

A kid in the back stood. “How does it feel to know that six million people died while you were out there hugging dear old dad?” He pointed over my shoulder to the huge magazine cover behind me. “How does it feel to know the death count is still rising?”

It was? “Umm—”

“When did you know they were hostile?” someone else shouted.

My heart thumped against my ribcage. “I, uh—”

A reporter snatched the microphone. “Do you honestly believe they won’t come back and finish us off?”

The rumble of voices intensified. Cameras flashed as dozens of voices drowned one another out. So much for school being my safe haven.

Elaine gripped my shoulder and pulled me from the dais. “Thank you,” she said. “That’s all the questions we have time for today.”

She scooted me past the curtains, Dad following close behind. The volume in the auditorium escalated.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We should’ve been ready for that. Next time—”

“There’s not going to be a next time.” I thrust my chin in the air. “That was my last public appearance. I’m already behind in school, and I need to graduate this year. I just want to get back to my classes and put this all behind me.”

She grinned in that syrupy way adults do when they are about to condescend your butt. “We’ll talk about this later, honey.”

Dad’s gaze seared through her before he offered me a nod of approval.

No, Elaine. We would definitely not be talking about this later.



 Corporate Team Leader by day, and Ranting Writer by night. Jennifer M. Eaton calls the East Coast of the USA home, where she lives with her husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up poodle.

Jennifer hosts an informational blog “A Reference of Writing Rants for Writers (or Learn from My Mistakes)” aimed at helping all writers be the best they can be.
 
Beyond writing and motivating others, she also enjoys teaching her dog to jump through hoops—literally.
 
Jennifer’s perfect day includes long hikes in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the fire with a great book; but her greatest joy is using her over-active
imagination constructively… creating new worlds for everyone to enjoy.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter Facebook | Goodreads



 
Giveaway Details:
1 winner will receive an eGalley of ASHES IN THE SKY. International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Young Adult Paranormal Might Not be Passe

Imagine my surprise when I won a physical, hardbound copy of a book just for sharing a Tweet. That book, Hexed, will now be subjected to my non-paranormal reviewing powers.

Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout out to Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary for promptly mailing out the book. She’s doing a great job representing Ms. Krys, getting her first book into the hands of readers as the second book is being released.

I admit this log line from the book’s cover and Amazon description had me salivating to read on: “ a snarky sixteen-year-old cheerleader is forced into a centuries-old war between witches and sorcerers only to uncover the first of many dark truths about her life…”

You’re ready for more now, too, right? Even if you aren’t a fan of paranormal stories starring witches and sorcerers (Harry Potter books excluded, of course).

Summary

Indigo Blackwood seems to be the typical snobby cheerleader at the beginning of the series (think Mean Girls). Her best friend is the head cheerleader and treats Indigo poorly because she’s jealous of her 8-month relationship with the quarterback of the football team.

Sounds cliché, right? I mean cheerleader dating quarterback with a mean girl head cheerleader antagonizing things. That’s been done a million times.

Not like Krys does it. Indigo’s mom is a member of a Wiccan society and owns a witchcraft shop. Indigo things she might be crazy because her mom has been known to bury books in the back yard – digging with her own two hands.

Actually, she’s paranoid about only one book, The Witch Hunter’s Bible. Not that Indigo believes there are such things as witches.

All that changes as a series of events throws Indigo into danger. A handsome stranger stalks her, until she realizes he’s trying to help. Aside from the theft of the book and further terrorizing at the hands of the sorcerer group, The Priory, Indigo faces the teenage torture of walking in on her boyfriend and best friend.

Finally, Indigo accepts that she might be a witch and struggles to learn her powers. After all, she’s tired of being everyone’s victim.

My Review

Indigo Blackwood won my heart. Her thoughts, actions and commentary remains true to the character of a junior in high school. This first person narration does the genre and mode proud. This alone earned the story a strong 4.6 out of five stars.

I appreciated that Indigo never really mastered her emotions. What teenage girl can? Maybe for ten minutes. This also helped the story ring true. And allowed for more conflict and tension because readers realized she would run straight into the arms of trouble unprepared.

The minor characters of Paige and Bishop were well-drawn, as well. Of course, we only get to see them from Indigo’s perspective, and she isn’t an unbiased observer.

Paige is the unpopular next door neighbor who comes through as a true friend (more cliché). Bishop is an orphan warlock (male counterpart of witch in this series whereas Potter had wizards) with plenty of secrets of his own.

It was difficult to put this book down. I ended up reading it on three consecutive evenings. By the last 100 pages, there was no chance I would stop reading until I finished.

I don’t spoil stories with my reviews. Suffice it to say there are several wrenching twists that are unexpected. However, they aren’t unbelievable or unsupported.

There are more bad guys in this story than good. We get the impression we’re supposed to side with the witches, but their ruling body, The Family, doesn’t win my adoration. If you prefer an obvious black and white in your good and evil battles, this book won’t give you that.

As in life, plans never go as planned. Indigo loses more than she gains. The ending is happy – sort of.

My least favorite thing about the book was the fact that the resolution included the set-up for the next book in the series. It was done well, not coming off as a cliffhanger. If you don’t want to bite, just don’t read the Epilogue.

While this book has several hundred reviews on Goodreads, it earns less than four stars overall there. There are only eight reviews on Amazon with a 4.2 out of five-star rating overall.

My Recommendation

Charmed coverTeenager girls and women readers of YA fiction will enjoy this book. Not a fan of paranormal? This book doesn’t try to explain the magic or give a history of it, which made it easier for me to accept.

There is murder, blood, gore, and disturbing images. It doesn’t have the gut-wrenching suspense of a thriller, however, and was too believable to read like horror. Since it didn’t give me nightmares, I’d say it is PG-13 rather than something heavier.

Because I like Indigo, I will be reading the sequel, Charmed. Currently, the Kindle edition is going for $1.99, and I’m all about that good deal.

Have you read Hexed? What did you think? Is paranormal still as “in” as it has been the past several years?

Louder than Words

I am a fan of young adult stories – but not straight romances.  Especially not YA romance which is generally too much angst and drama and not enough story. Iris St. Clair makes me a liar with her phenomenal book Louder than Words.

I’ll admit I picked up the book because it was at a special release day price, and the author is in a writing critique group I recently joined. The blurb piqued my interest because it sounded like some non-romance young adult novels I’ve read and enjoyed.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

“Disappointment has been on speed dial in Ellen Grayson’s life lately. Her dad died, her mom numbs the grief with drugs and alcohol, and her so-called friends have slowly abandoned her.

Trusting a popular teacher with her troubles should have been safe and should NOT have led to an unwelcome seduction attempt that made her desperate to escape the final moments of Junior year. Lesson learned. Best to keep all the sordid details to herself and trust no one.

Enter Rex Jacobi, a cocky boy, recently transplanted from New York City and fellow summer camp employee. Though his quick wit and confidence draws her in, she can’t let him get too close. And summer is just long enough and hot enough to keep a boy like that at arm’s length.

But by the time Rex’s charm wears down her resistance, it’s too late. He’s put Ellen on the “just friends” shelf and has shifted his romantic attentions to the impossibly annoying and perky anti-Ellen. Even worse, the teacher who tried to get her to sleep with him is still at it, preying on other girls while Ellen struggles to come to terms with what happened.

With her ability to trust as shaky as a chastity vow on prom night, Ellen must decide if she has enough remaining courage to speak up about the well-liked teacher and risk retribution, tell Rex how she really feels about him and risk heartbreak, or hold all her secrets inside. After all, it’s the only safe place she knows when the only thing louder than words is the fear of being rejected.”

So, I open the book expecting this to be in the vein of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. And the opening scene keeps that illusion alive (see paragraph one, two and five from the blurb). But after chapter three there’s nothing more about the groping teacher.

Sure a small scene where he practically threatens her at a restaurant, but the story is obviously “just” a romance. It’s about her pushing away Rex and then regretting it. Attempting to settle for friendship with him when her heart and mind are calling her all sorts of hypocrite. Ho-hum.

About halfway through, things change when the teacher re-enters the picture. And, yes, it does broach the same subject as Speak and does it in a way that is so non-confrontational that any teenage girl who read it would think, “I could do that.” Whereas, the trauma value to Speak’s heroine holds some kids who consider themselves “normal” at arm’s length.

I tip my hat to St. Clair for dealing with sensitive subject matter with finesse. It’s not just the definition of “what is a consensual relationship” that she addresses. Nope, there’s a list of volatile topics:

  • How do we approach a child we suspect is being abused?
  • How can we be a friend to someone who’s lost a parent? Or whose parent is a drug addict?
  • When is withholding the truth a sign of friendship? And, conversely, when should the truth push us from our comfort zone?
  • Why do teenagers consider bullying the norm? Why are so many willing to be bystanders rather than take a stand?

Each of these questions finds an answer in the midst of this not-just-a-romance story. St. Clair handles them with tact and without ever hinting at being preachy or judgmental.

Upon finishing the last page, I had to sit down and review this book because the magnitude of the accomplishment astounded me. From something marketed as a “young adult romance,” a spotlight falls on important subjects many teenagers face (or wonder about).

I laughed. I teared up. Most of all, I believed Ellen could truly exist in this world. And I wanted to meet her because I felt like she is someone I’d want to befriend. Just a regular girl with standard problems who faced them with the bravery of an Amazon warrior.

Yes, this “romance” gets five stars from me because it is so much more than “just” a love story.

My favorite romantic line from the book: “The tingles have formed throbbing gangs who have sprayed suggestive graffiti all over my private property.” Now, that sounds exactly like something a teenager would think – and is totally sexy while being amazingly appropriate in the same instant.

If you have a daughter who likes romance, get her this book. Read it so you can have some important discussions with her about some of the subject matter subtly confronted in between teenage angst and drama. It is worth every penny and every minute. I promise.

Expecting Your Kid to Go to College could be the Wrong Idea

Image from caveviews.blogs.com
Image from caveviews.blogs.com

College. Everyone needs to go to college. This is what the media, the president, and most teachers tell young people.

In grade school, they start talking to you about college. What college are you considering? What do you want to be when you grow up? Yes, you need a college degree to be a fireman. Yes, you need a college degree to be a doctor.

Everyone should want to go to college. Wrong. False expectation. All America is doing by putting this expectation on their children is damaging them. Especially at a super-young (pre-teen) age.

Do I think it’s wrong to talk about college to seventh and eighth grade students? Of course not! It’s time for them to think about it. They are old enough and mature enough (sometimes) to consider the future.

When you get to high school, you have some control over your class schedule. Knowing what  you think you want to do later in life will help you make decisions about that.

Know what? A huge percentage of high school students have no idea what they want to be when they grow up or what they’re going to do after high school. Some forty-year-olds have neither grown up nor figured out their future plans.

Yet, this pressure for them to make a decision exists. Don’t they have enough stress? Give them a few years to figure it out. This expectation that young people need to know what they’re going to do with their lives by the time they’re 12 so they can be shaped into that pathway often defeats the underlying purpose.

When we force this issue, here’s what happens: Kid: “I like skateboarding. I like riding my bike and doing tricks. I’m going to be the next Tony Hawk.” (I have actually heard seventh-grade boys say this.) Adult: “No, you’re not. Less than one percent of people can go pro in that field.” (Kid effectively discouraged from dreaming but not even a millimeter closer to discovering the true ambition for his future.) Continue reading “Expecting Your Kid to Go to College could be the Wrong Idea”

Graduation Day

High school graduation - 2009
High school graduation – 2009

June 15 at 10:00 am, the commencement ceremony begins at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. The stadium teems with parents, grandparents and friends.

I have a tissue (or four) ready.

My oldest son sits on the field below us. Since I didn’t attend my graduation ceremony (traveling to New Hampshire wasn’t as important as going to Germany), I’m living vicariously through him once more.

Even while the speaker gives motivational and inspirational advice, I know Tanner is thinking ahead. The younger we are, the less we live in the moment.

After an interminable amount of time and a seemingly endless list of names, he shakes the President’s hand and grasps his diploma (not really; they pick those up later, but symbolically he got that certificate). His four-year journey through higher education is ending.

Now real life begins.