All posts by Shelah

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

Tiger Mom Fail

It starts innocently enough. The kids in the neighborhood are starting a soccer team, and they need just one more to make a go of it. Can your four-year-old play? And you say yes without thinking that you’re signing away the next three months of Saturday mornings, not to mention all of those weekday afternoons where you’ll find yourself hunting for shin guards and yelling, “Where did you leave your cleats?,” before hauling your reluctant preschooler to another practice.

Maybe you’re a pianist, like my husband. Maybe your mom spent thirty minutes or an hour sitting on the piano bench with you every afternoon of your childhood and you now sight read music like you were born doing it. You just want the same thing for your kids– it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Then, a dozen years later, you find yourself writing blog posts while sitting at a playground in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, where you and your preschoolers are killing an hour in between your third and fourth (of five) trips to the dance studio that day. This gives them a break from fistfighting in the back seat of the car for a little while. Continue reading

Favorites: My Favorite Place

IMG_0270On that June morning six years ago when we moved in, I got to the house before the moving truck and the kids, pulled a chair onto the front porch, ate a yogurt, and fell in love. I’d never had a front porch before, and this one, with its graceful columns and plenty of room for chairs, was hard to resist. “I’m going to sit out here every morning after my run, enjoy my breakfast, and watch the street wake up,” I said to myself.

I am not a gardener. This year I couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to weed my flower beds. But my front porch is always full of flowers. For the last few summers, I’ve lined the perimeter with potted geraniums, and unlike every herb and edible item I’ve ever tried to grow, these actually stay alive.  Continue reading

(Im)moderation in all things

Shelah EatsMy Instagram feed is a perfect illustration of my dilemma: first, a photo of a runner, then a video of an abs workout, followed by pictures of gluten-free, paleo, vegan, Whole 30 or otherwise super-healthy eats, all interspersed with pictures of beautiful people eating ice cream, or cheeseburgers, or liege waffles topped with cookie butter and creme fraiche, or waiting in line for food trucks.

I like to eat. And I’m an unrepentant omnivore– I like all foods. I would not turn up my nose at a McDonald’s french fry, but I’m also not afraid of octopus or swiss chard. I grew up in an home where we ate cake for breakfast (then shaved off wafer thin slices for the rest of the day). Food is the main love language in my family of origin, and it’s quickly becoming the same with my kids: a great band performance is always followed by a trip to Nielsen’s Frozen Custard, a 5K with donuts.

So it should come as no surprise that for most of my life, I was on the somewhat chubby side of average. Then, after I had my last biological child eight years ago, I discovered Weight Watchers and marathon running at the same time, dropped 30 pounds, and thought I was set for life.

Not so. Continue reading

2014 Whitney Awards: Middle Grade Finalists

I feel fortunate to be the one writing about the Middle Grade Whitney finalists, because there’s not a bad book in the bunch– all five were delightful and interesting in their own (quite varied) ways. Here’s the recap:

Marion Jensen’s Almost Super is the kind of book that epitomizes a middle grade novel for me. The story centers on Rafter and Benny Bailey, of the famous Bailey superhero family, who will get their superpowers at 4pm on the first February 29th after their twelfth birthdays. They’ve spent their entire lives dreaming of this moment, and they’re totally underwhelmed when those superpowers do arrive (the ability to light polyester on fire doesn’t often come in handy in hand to hand combat). The boys worry that their family is going to go down against the cross-town rivals, the Johnsons, especially since it appears that Juanita, their nemesis, has all the powers. But the three kids come together to heal rifts and ferret out the real bad guys behind the scenes. This book is witty and entertaining and has a great message, and although it’s a perfect stand-alone novel, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Rafter, Benny and Juanita.

I usually don’t have many good things to say about the second book in a dystopian action trilogy, but Peggy Eddleman’s Sky Jumpers: The Forbidden Flats is an exception to my (highly prejudiced) rule. In this book, the bomb’s breath that threatens White Rock is descending, and Hope, Brock, and Aaren leave their home in Kansas to travel to the Rocky Mountains in an effort to find an antidote to the poison that will soon overtake them. The book has plenty of action and adventure, but my favorite part of the story was Hope’s relationship with her birth family, whom she discovered along the way. I think it’s common for authors to develop characters in their first novels, but I loved seeing Hope’s character change in important ways in The Forbidden Flats.

The first book in Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, The False Prince, was one of those books that was so good I think I bored all of my friends by talking about and demanding that they read it too. The character development was lovely, the descriptions of the setting were right on target, and the plot twist at the end of the story had me thinking Nielsen was a genius. I think that in some way that set my expectations too high for the other books in the trilogy. While The Shadow Throne brings the trilogy to an ultimately satisfying conclusion, I found myself unable to recapture the thrill I felt while reading the first book in the series.

This year the Whitney finalists included two books by Kimberley Griffiths Little, The Time of the Fireflies and Forbidden (in the YA category), and both books are gems. The Time of the Fireflies is the story of Larissa Renaud, who lives above her family’s antique shop on a Louisiana bayou. Larissa isn’t scared by much in the shop, except for the doll whose eyes seem to follow her. Then the phones in a wall of disconnected phones start ringing, delivering messages for Larissa, who realizes that she must travel to the past to secure her family’s future. The book is beautifully written with scenes spanning several centuries, and the themes of family love and bullying resonate with her intended audience. The story is also delightfully creepy, and may keep readers’ lights on for a few nights after they finish the book.

 My top pick of the category is undoubtedly Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. The seven students at Saint Etheldreda’s School for Girls are enjoying their Sunday dinner when suddenly their headmistress and her brother drop dead at the dinner table. The girls see this fortuitous event as their ticket to freedom, and decide to bury the bodies in the vegetable garden rather than inform the authorities, who will surely return them to their parents. However, keeping their headmistress’s demise a secret and fending off a murderer becomes more work than they had bargained for. While the book takes place in the Victorian Era, these girls (Pocked Louisa, Stout Alice, Dull Martha, Smooth Kitty, Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane and Dour Elinor) have spirit to spare. They recognize that the death of Mrs. Plackett might lead to the most freedom they would have in their lives. This is a darkly tongue-in-cheek book that gets all of the details right, and also has a lot more heart than I expected it would when I started reading. I enjoyed it more and more as the story wore on, and was happy to see a satisfying conclusion, with lots of girl power.

2014 Whitney Awards: Romance Finalists

When I first started reading books for the Whitney Awards about half a decade ago, I was enthusiastic about the general fiction books and the young adult books (that’s back in the old days when there was a single YA category). I had a healthy respect for speculative fiction, and a degree of scorn for the romances. Yeah, I was one of those people who thought she was too serious a reader to enjoy romance novels. However, over the last few years, my attitude has changed. Once I understood the form of the genre and was willing to go with it rather than buck its conventions, I started to enjoy the category more and more. In fact, “reading the romance” (also the title of a fascinating book by Janice Radway) has become one of the things I look forward to most with each Whitney cycle. This year was no different, and here’s why.

This year there are three “historical romances” among the finalists, and two contemporary romances. For the last three years, historical romances have taken the prize, and they seem to be enjoying a heyday at the moment. This might be because Mormon authors and Mormon readers generally want to read “clean” books, and historical romances, which often feature aristocratic or highborn characters, tend to follow old-fashioned courting rituals, and there’s no expectation that sex and swearing will be part of the book, even if the characters aren’t Mormon (by the way, only one of the five finalists features overtly Mormon characters this year).  Continue reading