A Great Audio Book for Holiday Travel

It’s Thanksgiving week, which means there’s a good possibility you’ll soon be traveling to visit loved ones and consume large amounts of carbohydrates. You know what’s a good complement for many hours in the car or excessive caloric intake? An audio book! You can listen while you navigate the highways or while you walk off a slice of pumpkin pie.

I just finished a wonderful kid lit audio book that should appeal to the entire family and keep you awake, even during a traffic jam on I-95. My son recommended it before a trip to a soccer tournament, and it’s called Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud.


As I mentioned already, it’s Thanksgiving week, so I don’t have either the time or the brain power to craft a good synopsis for Heroes of the Valley. Instead, I’m borrowing from Goodreads.

Halli Sveinsson has never fit in. Unlike his tall attractive blond siblings, Halli is stumpy, swarthy, with a quick mind inclined to practical jokes. But a trick on [his rival] Ragnor goes too far, and begins a chain of events that alters his destiny. Leaving home on a hero’s quest, he meets highway robbers, terrifying monsters, and a girl who may finally be his match. He discovers the truth about legends, his family, the meaning of bravery, and himself.

This is a lovely children’s novel (middle grade), set in a medieval-like time, with witty dialogue, exciting action, and compelling characters.

What I liked

Stroud’s writing is beautiful and poetic, with vivid, original descriptions in a style reminiscent of older days. Stroud also inserts subtle, clever humor into the narrative and the dialogue between his characters.

Heroes of the Valley has a quest format that offers plenty of exciting scenes as well as a theme that challenges the idea of legends. During his various adventures, Halli must ponder several underlying questions, including is it good or bad to believe in legends and what purpose do legends serve? The structure of the book reinforces this theme, as each chapter opens with an elder telling one of many legends about the hero Svein, a great warrior and the patriarch of Halli’s family. In a thoughtful twist, the book ends with such a “legend telling”, leaving the reader to decide what legends are true, and how much faith we should put into legends in general.

What I didn’t like

Heroes of the Valley felt a little long. The plot seems to hit a climax, but then the story goes on for a while. I remember thinking, “Where can this story go now?”, but Stroud eventually brings his book to a satisfying conclusion.


If you and your family like fantasy and adventure stories, Heroes of the Valley would be a great audio book to listen to together. The narration by David Thorn is excellent. I also recommend The Ranger’s Apprentice series and the Artemis Fowl series for family friendly fantasy/adventure audio books.

Notes on content

Some description is a little graphic and grotesque, including rotting flesh and empty eye sockets, especially toward the end of the book.

What family friendly audio book can you recommend for the holiday travel season?

Happy reading!






The Value of Striving

Seeing people work hard always inspires me, and last weekend, I witnessed a ton of hard work on a challenging state cross country course in chilly temps.  The runners  I coach gave everything they had to their races, and some hit a personal record, and some fell just short.  Some finished top 15 to qualify for “all state” status, and one finished just one second shy of that goal.  One second!

Competition is always exciting, but only sometimes ends with a medal or trophy.  In a society that focuses on results- a grade, a time, a number- it’s easy to forget the value of getting out there and doing the work, even if you don’t win.  Standardized tests make many teens feel like they only have succeeded if they get the right answer, and get it quickly.  What a shallow definition of success.

One of my daughter’s swim coaches said years ago to a group of parents, “Success and failure in athletics are fleeting, but attitude and habits last a lifetime.”  I often have to remind my runners that they aren’t defined by one race or one time, but by the collective quality of their work and the attitude they display each day, and especially in times of adversity.

Getting ready to race

Last year, during the five hour drive up to the state meet, one of our coaches read a bit from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt to inspire our runners and remind them of the value of process.  I’d like to revisit that speech, not just for my runners, but for everyone who attempts to better themselves with hard work, who dares to fail in order to succeed.  We are often afraid of failure.  We shouldn’t be.

Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910  from TheodoreRoosevelt.com

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This boy has put in the hard work, and this time, his team got the trophy.

So here’s to the people who strive valiantly, who risk defeat in the hopes of victory.  Of course we celebrate the trophies, but we should also celebrate the work it took to get them, and in many cases, to not get them.

Thank you, Mr. Roosevelt.

What quotes do you use to encourage hard work?  

Thanks for getting inspired with me!







Running Quotes to Inspire

cross country

We are entering the last weeks of cross country season.  We’ve been training since June, running trails, climbing hills, and oh, my those 800 repeats.  It’s the final, and very important, stretch now, and my runners need some inspiration.  We’ve got regions on Thursday, and hopefully state the week after that.

Oh, the intensity at the starting line…

Can you help me?  I’m looking for some good motivational quotes, especially those about running.  Here’s what I’ve found so far.

Running quote - believe

running quote motivation

If you have an inspirational quote to share, please leave it in the comments.  And if you really like one of these, please tell me why.

Thanks for getting inspired with me!






How Bluetooth Got Its Name

In my family, we use Bluetooth connections a lot. I keep a Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen to listen to podcasts and tunes while I cook. The kids hijack the car radio via a Bluetooth connection to their phones. And hubby exercises with Bluetooth earbuds in his ears.

Have you ever wondered where the term “Bluetooth” comes from? It has nothing to do with teeth or the color blue. Instead, think Vikings.
Yep,  Vikings.

In the mid 1990s, tech companies were creating competing and non-compatible standards for wireless communication. Some people in the tech business worried that the fragmented approach to wireless would limit its use by the public. One such person was Jim Kardach, an engineer working on wireless technologies with Intel. He stepped up to serve as a mediator and brought companies together to create a universal standard for low power, short range radio connectivity.

Bluetooth logo
Image credit Intel Free Press via flickr CC-BY-SA

While working on this project, Kardach was reading a book about Medieval Scandinavia and the Vikings. From 958-970 Harald Bluetooth ruled as the Viking King of Denmark. He was famous for uniting parts of Denmark and Norway into one nation and for converting the Danes to Christianity. Kardach borrowed his name as inspiration for the new wireless technology that would unite PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

The term “Bluetooth” was meant to be a placeholder, but it took off with the press and stuck. The Bluetooth logo is actually the initials of Harald Bluetooth written in Scandanavian runes.

For more background stories on tech names, visit PCWorld.com.

Word Nerd Workout

Did you know the story behind Bluetooth? What are some other tech terms you are curious about? Do you have any interesting terms to share?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me today!






Vocab for Homecoming: Corsage


Photo credit: Varin via flickr CC-BY

The air is chill at night and the leaves are turning  red.  Yes, it’s fall, and if you live among teenagers, or if you are one, you also know it’s Homecoming season.  All the talk about spirit days and semi-formal dances prompted a question at our dinner table:  What the heck is a corsage?  (If this question reminds you of a High School Musical song, raise your hand!)  😉

corsage     \ kȯr-ˈsäzh  \ noun, from French, bust, bodice, from Old French, bust, from cors body, from Latin corpus

  • the waist or bodice of a dress
  • an arrangement of flowers worn as a fashion accessory on special occasions

People have worn flowers as accessories for many years.  The ancient Greeks wore flowers at weddings because they believed the pleasant scent of the blooms would ward off evil spirits.  Long ago, the bodice of a woman’s dress was called a corsage, and women typically wore flowers on this part of their clothing.  The French called this small, “wearable” bouquet of blossoms a “bouquet de corsage,” which eventually was shortened to corsage.

In the 1900s, women wore corsages on their shoulder instead of on the bodice of their dresses and usually pinned the flowers on upside down.  The tradition of giving a girl a corsage for a formal dance started in the 20th century.  When a boy picked up a girl for a dance, he would bring a gift for her parents.  Usually, this gift was flowers, and the boy would pull out a blossom  for his date and pin it to her dress.   Recently, with the popularity of spaghetti straps and strapless dresses, the corsage has moved to the wrist.

Thank you ProFlowers.com for this interesting history lesson!

Don’t forget to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for the WWW meme!

If you like to learn about the history of words, visit Wondrous Words Wednesday at Bermuda Onion.

If you’re interested in more Homecoming trivia, visit my post on the history of Homecoming.  

Do you have an interesting Homecoming tidbit to share?  Who knows what “boutonniere” means? 

Thanks for stopping by!







Teen Read Week: Don’t Get Caught

Teens Top TenLooking for a good YA novel? I’ve got just the thing. This is Teen Read Week, an annual event sponsored by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) to encourage teens to use libraries and read more. The best part about Teen Read Week is the “Teens Top Ten” – teens vote for their favorite books from the year.  There are 26 nominees for 2017, and even though I’m just a few years too old to vote 😉 ,  I like browsing the list to find new books. Since I write YA, I need to read a lot of it too.

I was happy to see that Don’t Get Caught, a teenage “Oceans Eleven” heist story by Kurt Dinan, made this year’s list. My book club read it this spring, and we all enjoyed it.


Max Cobb, disdainfully referred to as “Just Max” by one of his popular classmates, doesn’t have  a life. He’s known best for passing out in front of the class in ninth grade and for scoring in the 49th percentile on the ACT three times in a row. But one day, Max receives a curious invitation:



The Chaos Club has a long and notorious history for pulling off hilarious pranks at Asheville High School, including hacking the district’s website so anyone visiting was redirected to BarnYardLove.com. Even though his gut tells him it’s a bad idea, Max decides he’s tired of being “Just Max” and vows to become “Not Max” as he sneaks out of his house in search of adventure, or whatever The Chaos Club has planned.

At the water tower, Max finds a motley and unlikely crew of his classmates who also received invitations. They find another note, follow its directions to climb the water tower, and find themselves in police spotlights and quickly arrested for vandalism. A set up.  But Max doesn’t care, because the Chaos Club has started a prank war, and he’s ready to fight. Armed with a few key rules he knows from heist movies, Max and his companions launch a series of hilarious pranks and end up learning a ton about themselves and each other.

What I liked

Don’t Get Caught is clever, funny, and an enjoyable read if you need something relaxing. It’s got good messages too, about being true to yourself while stepping out of your comfort zone, and also learning to look beyond appearances and reputation.

I also like that Don’t Get Caught was published by Sourcebooks, an independent publisher located outside of Chicago that seeks to promote authors and their work in new and authentic ways.

Finally, if you flip the pages of Don’t Get Caught from front to back, you get to watch a cow do a cart-wheel. (Sourcebooks prides itself on finding new and creative ways to present media.)


If you enjoy a fun underdog story, try Don’t Get Caught. If you like “prank books”, I also recommend The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (female protagonist) by E Lockhart and Paper Towns by John Green.

Notes on content

There is some “language” and innuendo, but overall, the content is mild.

Can you recommend another prank/ heist book? Better yet, were you involved in any pranks in high school? If you got an invitation from a “Chaos Club”, would you go? I think I could’ve been talked into some pranking in high school, depending on who asked me to do it!

Don’t forget to visit the Tens Top Ten to vote or get reading ideas!

Happy reading!