Book Title Poems From a Stormy Night

Last night, thunderstorms and a pot of evening coffee proved to be the perfect combination for pulling books off my shelves and making some more book title found poems. Here are a few of my latest creations:

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The Arrival

In the lake of the woods,
strange little girls
wait ’till Helen comes
out of darkness
(beautiful darkness)
the girl from the well
extending the shade,
inhaling the silence.

Old friend from far away,
time you let me in.

*

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Growing Pains

hard times,
brave new world–
the flag of childhood
catching fire

*

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Why the Dwarf Had to Be Shot

Miss Nelson is missing!
The walls around us red as blood,
the creeping shadow leaving a trace
a darker shade of magic.
Mortal coils fuel
smoke from this alter.
All that lives must die.

I am not a serial killer.

*

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Journaling the Apocalypse

Vampires in the lemon grove
howl the sound of water.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie
speak of the devil.

Places left unfinished at the time of creation
linger

The sky is everywhere
when you are engulfed in flames.

*

Carie’s Lists: The Best Books I Read in 2016

Happy New Year!

I’m thrilled to welcome 2017 into our lives. Overall, 2016 was EXHAUSTING, but I did read some good books.

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Gabby & Uno exhausted from 2016

My goal this year was to read at least 50 books and no more than 75. (Read this post to find out why my reading goal had a cap.) I achieved my goal, reading a total of 66 books. (Goodreads claims I only read 53, but that’s because a couple of the books I read aren’t on Goodreads, and because I don’t re-rate the ones I re-read, but I do re-count them in my official book journal.)

Here are some of my favorites:

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The Best Books I Read in 2016

Best New Book in a Series: The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud

I can’t say enough good things about the Lockwood & Co. series. I LOVE these books. They made my best books list last year too. I love the setting. I love the plot twists. I love the humor and the horror. I love the characters so much that I miss them terribly the moment the book ends. I also love-hate the cliffhanger endings. The Creeping Shadow left off with a BIG reveal and now I’m pining for book 5.

Best Middle Grade Novel (and Strangest Idea for a Story Ever): The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Steve’s baby brother is sick. Very sick. And wasps, one of the many things Steve is afraid of, have taken up residence in a nest outside his house. But the wasp queen comes to Steve in his dreams and says they can fix the baby. They can make everything better. They’re there to help. But are they really? What is the price of their help? And why has no one ever seen this type of wasp before? And who is the odd man who sells knives from his van?

This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read (or listened to, on audio book). It kept me intrigued until the very end and genuinely scared me at times. Great horror novel for young readers.

Best YA Novel: Tie between The Walls Around Us and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

I just saw that Nova Ren Suma has a new book coming out in 2017. It is currently untitled and there are zero details about it on Goodreads, but I marked it as “to read” because if it’s anything like The Walls Around Us or Imaginary Girls, it will be amazing. Read about why I love her work here.

Best YA Novel with LGBTQ Characters: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Funny. Touching. Sexy. Heart-wrenching. Adorable. Real. You don’t have to identify as LGBTQ to relate to Simon’s story. Anyone who’s ever fallen in love in high school will see themselves in this book.

Best Middle Grade Novel with LGBTQ Characters: George by Alex Gino

George is a fourth grade girl in a boy’s body, but no one knows her secret. When her class reads Charlotte’s Web, George falls in love with the beautiful spider and wants to play her in the school’s performance of the book. She knows she’s the best person for the part. There’s only one problem– boys can’t try out for the role of Charlotte, and everyone thinks George is a boy. With the help of a trusted friend, George finds a way to show the world who she really is.

This is a sweet story, and an important one.

Best Graphic Novel: Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ok, the whole truth? This is the only graphic novel I read this year. But this charming origin story of a Muslim girl in New Jersey who becomes a superhero was so good that it made me want to read more.

Funniest Book: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Last June, Jenny Lawson was the keynote speaker at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and I got to meet her when she signed my copy of this book of hilarious essays. It was so amazing to hear her speak and to get a hug from her. I can’t explain why I waited six months to read her book. Maybe I was worried it could never live up to her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Or maybe it’s because I knew how much I would love it and wanted to savor it. Who knows. All I know is that I’m glad I waited because this book was just as funny and relatable as her first one, and it was the best book to read during the wonderful/stressful/joyous/exhausting weeks of the holidays. I laughed out loud (literally– I cackled) so much while reading this book, but I also learned a lot about what it’s like to struggle with mental illness. If you are a fan of irreverent humor and/or want to read multiple stories involving Jenny Lawson’s “lady garden,” go get this book today.

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Me & Jenny at #WLT2016. It’s blurry because we’re both a bit tipsy. (That’s how that works.)

Saddest Book: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

This is a good book, but it is a dark book, and you should know that going in. Ashley Hope Perez is a brilliant writer and an incredible teacher. I took a workshop with her at The Writing Barn last January, and I left full of energy and inspiration. Her powerful story of love and loss and racism and abuse set in east Texas in 1937 received a Printz Honor in 2016. If you read it, you’ll understand why.

Best Poetry Collection: Language of Crossing by Liza Wolff-Francis

It’s hard for me to choose favorites among books of poetry. They’re all so unique and personal. My tastes change from day to day, sometimes from moment to moment, depending on my mood. But Liza Wolff-Francis’s chapbook about the US/Mexico border spoke to me on a deep level. She puts into words the struggles of the Mexican immigrants and gives voice to the horrors they face. This is a small, but powerful collection of poems.

Best Re-Read: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

This year, I finally decided to re-read the Harry Potter series. I listened to all seven books, back to back, and I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed reliving this series that meant so much to me, my family, and my students. Here are my thoughts about tagging along on Harry’s adventures a second time.

Story That Stayed With Me the Longest: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

This year, I finally read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I loved it. Shirley Jackson is a masterful storyteller. It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving anything, so I’m just going to say, go read it. It’s short and surprising and unique and will linger in your thoughts for weeks after reading it.

Most Surprising Book to Make This List: Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds by Dav Pilkey

There was a consistently empty shelf in the elementary school library where I used to work labeled “Captain Underpants.” It was empty because the books were always checked out. The kids loved them, coveted them, sometimes fought over them. I knew nothing about them except that they looked silly and most adults I knew rolled their eyes when they mentioned them. I’d never read one. Then, over Thanksgiving, my family celebrated my niece’s sixth birthday and she squealed with glee when she opened a box full of Captain Underpants books. Later, after turkey and pie and more pie and birthday cake, when I had taken up permanent residence on the couch, I picked up one of the books and read it. And now I get why kids like these books so much. It was funny! More than once I laughed out loud at the clever puns and silly scenarios. It’s fast-moving and action-packed, and there are cartoons and drawings scattered throughout. I was quite pleasantly surprised. It’s not like I’m going to go out and read the whole series, but I definitely understand why the books are hits with kids and won’t be rolling my eyes about them anymore.

 * * *

This year, I’m not setting a reading goal. I don’t need to. I love to read, and I love letting books pile up. I love making lists of novels I *must* read and then finding new stories that catch my eye before I can finish the old ones. I look forward to whatever books 2017 has in store for me. Let a new year of reading begin. :)

What was the best book YOU read in 2016?

The Tale of the Christmas Bat

Author’s Note: Before I begin, I would like to say that I have nothing but love and respect for the participants in this adventure. They are all kind-hearted, intelligent people, despite how they may appear in this story. You’ll have to trust me on this.

Author’s Note, Part 2: The following story really creates more questions than answers. There’s nothing I can do about that, but I apologize for it in advance.

The Tale of the Christmas Bat

This year, Hubby and I traveled to Maryland to visit his family for Christmas. We arrived at 11pm on the 22nd, hung out with his mom and brother for a bit, then went to bed. At that point, everything in his mom’s beautiful, two-story home seemed perfectly normal.

The next morning, Hubby got up before I did and went downstairs for breakfast, where his mom greeted him by saying, “I lost your bat.”

???

The following conversation ensued:

Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat.”
Hubby: …
Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat!”
Hubby: “Um… what?”
Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat. I poked it with a yard stick and it fell on the floor clicking and hissing but then I lost it.”
Hubby: “You poked… wait, something fell… wait, what?”
Hubby’s Mom: “I LOST YOUR BAT. I took it up to your bathroom to get you back but it flew back down here and I lost it.”
Hubby: …
Hubby’s Mom: “I lost your bat.”
Hubby: “Uh, Mom? I think you have a bat in your house.”
Hubby’s Mom: …
Hubby: “Mom! You have a BAT in your HOUSE!”
Hubby’s Mom: …

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Allow me to back up.

When Hubby’s Mom got up on the 23rd, she saw her cat staring at a bat stuck to the top of her kitchen cabinet, and she automatically jumped to the conclusion that her sons were playing a joke on her. She poked the bat with a yard stick, and it fell on the floor, where it hissed and opened and closed its claws. She still thought it was a toy, so she picked it up with an oven mitt, carried it upstairs, and put it on the toilet in our bathroom. A few minutes later, the bat flew out of the bathroom, flapped its way back downstairs, and made a couple of loops around the dining room before disappearing from sight, and Hubby’s Mom still thought it was a toy.

The woman is no dummy, I assure you. But she can be a bit stubborn. Another Christmas, she gave me an adorable penguin necklace and said, “I got it for you because I know how much you love the movie Happy Feet.” When I confessed that I’d never actually seen Happy Feet, she tried to convince me that I had and that Hubby told her I loved it, until finally Hubby’s Brother chimed in that it was actually his ex-girlfriend who loved the movie, at which point there was an awkward silence, and I said, “Um, well, I love the necklace. Thanks.” Anyway, you can see why it was difficult for Hubby’s Mom to accept the fact that she had a real live bat in her house, especially after she had CARRIED IT AROUND.

By this time, the arguing, screaming, and hysterical laughing had woken both me and Hubby’s Brother, and we joined in the HUNT FOR THE BAT.

Hubby’s Mom’s house is two stories, plus a basement. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living areas, a dining room, a kitchen, and a sunroom. And a bat. Somewhere. Now that she knew the thing was real, Hubby’s Mom was freaking out about it. She wanted that thing OUT OF HER HOUSE before the rest of the family showed up for Christmas Eve.

While we looked high and low, poking around in every nook and cranny, the conversation went something like this:

Hubby’s Mom: “I CANNOT HAVE A BAT IN MY HOUSE AT CHRISTMAS!”
Me: “Hahahahahahahaha!”
Hubby’s Brother: “Why didn’t you just throw it outside when you picked it up?”
Hubby’s Mom: “Because I thought it was fake! I thought you all were playing a joke on me!”
Me: “Hahahahahahahaha!”
Hubby: “Why would you think we would put a fake bat on your kitchen cabinet?”
Hubby’s Mom: “Remember ten years ago and when you and your brother snuck downstairs on Christmas Eve and put that giant nutcracker by the Christmas tree?”
Hubby’s Brother: “THAT’S NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL!”
Me: “Hahahahahahahaha!”

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One of these creatures was in Hubby’s Mom’s house. One was not.

There was no sign of the bat, which, based on Hubby’s Mom’s description and my Google searches, we concluded was probably a Little Brown Bat. While we all stood around in various states of bafflement (Hubby & Hubby’s Brother), frustration (Hubby’s Mom), and amusement (me) wondering where the bat could be, Hubby’s Mom’s cat calmly walked into the dining room, jumped onto a low wall separating the dining room from the entryway, stood on his hind legs, and stretched his front paws up a decorative column.

Hmm…, we all thought.

A ladder and a flashlight later, and yep, the cat was right. One corner of the hollow column had a hole in it, and the bat was nestled cozily inside.

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Comfy little brown bat

Now we knew where the bat was, but still didn’t know how to safely escort it from the premises.

We tried:

  • Asking it nicely.
  • Threatening it.
  • Banging on the column.
  • Bribing it with (false) promises of bags of mosquitoes.
  • Taping a garbage bag around the hole and waiting for it to fly out into the bag and get stuck there.
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Ineffective homemade bat trap

Twenty-four hours later, on Christmas Eve, we still had a bat, only now there were five more people in the house to stare it and wonder aloud why it had come and when it might leave. Eventually we read online that the bat might be finding a place to hibernate, and Hubby’s Mom was having none of that. She couldn’t deal with the bat for one more day, much less until spring, so decisions were made, plans were formed, and coat hangers were bent into non-pokey, bat-removing shapes.

Hubby, who had the longest arms of anyone present, climbed up on the ladder, removed the plastic bag, reached into the hole with the coat hanger, and gently nudged the bat. The bat did not move. However, it did squeak, hiss, and bite the coat hanger. Hubby nudged it less gently. There was more hissing and biting and squeaking (but this time the squeaking was from me). Finally, after four attempts, the bat became fed up with Hubby’s poking and decided to leave. He/She flew out of the hole, around the dining room, and into the family room where it landed on the wall above the fire place. We moved the ladder, and Hubby climbed up. Wearing two oven mitts, he grabbed the bat with a towel, carried it outside, and set it free, to much applause from the rest of us (and probably a few curses from the bat). Then we all washed our hands for several minutes.

The end.

(P.S. I told you it would leave you with questions. You were warned.)

(P.P.S. Could anyone point me in the direction of a really realistic remote-controlled bat? Asking for a friend…)

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The Christmas Bat, shortly before his/her departure

Things I am thankful for this holiday season:

  • I am thankful that Hubby’s Mom’s cats are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.
  • I am thankful that Hubby’s Mom used an oven mitt to pick up the bat even when she thought the bat was a toy.
  • I am thankful that Hubby’s Mom did not decide to get us back for our “clever prank” by throwing the “toy bat” on us while we were sleeping.
  • I am thankful that everyone survived the visit from the Christmas bat, including the Christmas bat.
  • I am thankful that, this Christmas, my husband’s family actually seemed weirder than mine.

********** DISCLAIMER **********

NEVER TOUCH A BAT! Many bats carry rabies, which is a horrible, fatal disease and a terrible Christmas gift. If you find a bat in your house, you should definitely call a professional to deal with it rather than setting up homemade traps and ruining oven mitts. We Juettners were lucky and stayed out of harm’s way, but I do not condone our methods. Please don’t be like us. Stay safe. Also, I’m typing this added disclaimer on my phone, so any typos are most likely the result of clumsy thumbs and not early onset rabies, so please don’t worry.