Monday, December 09, 2013

The Rathbones (Book Review)

Author: Janice Clark
Year: 2013
Genre: Novel/Historical
Reading Level: Adult

Plot Summary: The Rathbones, a once prosperous whaling family, have dwindled down to fifteen-year-old Mercy.  It's been years since a sperm whale was spotted near their home on the New England coast, and it's been just as long since Mercy's father left to chase it.  After a mysterious and violent encounter with a nighttime visitor, Mercy leaves the ancestral Rathbone home with her uncle, determined to find her father and the truth of the Rathbone family at last.

Red Flags: Language, sexual content, some violence, incest, an abundance of nautical terminology

My Rating: C
This book reminded me of three others: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Historian and The Thirteenth Tale.  All of those are better books than this one.  I will not deny that this book has its virtues--I liked the illustrations and it was decently written.  I liked the allusions to Greek mythology, and the time period interests me.  Janice Clark certainly knows her way around a boat.  

But.  I just didn't really like it very much at all.  It was strange, but not in a good or fun way.  Just a strange story about strange people doing strange things, with a lot of incest thrown in along the way.  Who was I even supposed to like?  Mercy, the ho-hum narrator?  Wacky Uncle Mordecai?  That's not to say there are no interesting characters (the Starks were a bright spot of entertaining battiness), but I just didn't like most of them and didn't want to read about half of them.  You know how on some reality tv shows you just want to shake people and say "BE NORMAL!"?  That was my reaction to most of this book.  Be normal, Rathbones!  And for crying out loud, don't get involved with your siblings/uncles/cousins/nieces!  

A big problem I had with this book was the constant backtracking about the central mysteries.  Her father is missing, her father is dead, her mother loves her father, her mother doesn't care about her father, her mother loves AND doesn't care her father.  The mystery about her brother was even worse, and both eventually resolved into utterly benign endings.  By that point I had kind of stopped caring, after all the ups and downs to get there.  Other plot elements seemed kind of undeveloped as well, making the whole thing rather muddy.  The whole idea of family curses and the long-lasting ramifications of decisions would have been more interesting if they were more developed.  In the end, I'm not sure what the point of it all was. 

Also, I think this book would have benefited greatly from three things: a labelled diagram of a ship, a glossary of whaling terminology and a map of the coastline.  I did appreciate the family chart and how it was gradually filled.

Overall, my honest book summary would go something more like this: "Girl discovers just how weird her family tree* is, and then her life continues.  Also, incest."

Memorable quotes:
"I had looked into the distance so long that I hadn't seen what was near at hand.  If we don't cherish those who stay near, what do we have?  Only longing.  Longing which we grow to love because it's all we have."

*I use the term "tree" loosely.  

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Wacky Six

Every month, when I write these posts about Boo Boo, I agonize over if it sounds braggy to go on and on about how awesome and skilled this baby is.  Now I have decided that is silly because he does things and I record them, whether they happen early, late or right on time.  And of course he just does things as he does them, not because he was given a detailed list of milestones and when to achieve them--he always loses it, no matter how many times I print it out!

And now, after that rambling disclaimer, let us get to the update!  Babycakes is six months old now, and he is more fun all the time.  He continues to do some things--always chewing, always grabbing, always chirping and squealing--and he's working on some new skills too.  He's pushing up on all fours and sometimes scooting backwards.  He's gotten better at rolling around outside his crib, rotates all around and goes from sitting to lying down.  Sometimes in the morning I find him in his crib all turned around at the other end, playing with his little stuffed fish.   

He had his first taste of solids on his six month mark, and did not much care for eating the sweet potatoes but did enjoy mashing them.  We also tried out a sippy cup, and he got the hang of how to work it pretty quick--though he did not seem very impressed with the taste of water.

In this past month he gave up his last "night" feeding that used to happen between 5:30 and 6:00, and now really sleeps through the night from about 7:30 to 7:00.  Of course I still have to give him the binky/pull him out of the corner/roll him over in the night, but that's fine.  He also went to two longer naps because his three short naps were making me nuts, and he adjusted to that like a champ.  Truly, he is an amenable baby. 

Recently he's started giving me what I like to call hugs and kisses.  In other words, he grabs onto me really tight, and then he will open his mouth super wide and put it on my face.  Perhaps he just wants to eat me, but I like calling them kisses.  Also he is MUCH better about stranger danger these days, just in time for Christmas!

We visited the doctor this month, where he got a clean bill of health, a final round of shots and a new set of stats.  Weight: 18.18 lbs (61%), height: 28 in. (92%), head: 17.3 in. (56%).  He went down a bit, percentile-wise, in height and weight, but he is growing well and I'm not concerned about it at all.

Push ups!

This is how I find him after naps.  So excited to be awake!
Sometimes he gets in touch with his crafty side.  Collages, anyone?

Mmm, sweet potatoes.
One day he didn't want to take a nap and I was getting frustrated so I just put him in his bed and he immediately closed his eyes and went to sleep.  Then I felt bad.  And then I took this picture because he was so cute.
He MIGHT be outgrowing his jeans...

Overall, he continues to be a happy, energetic, good natured, wiggly, charming, squealy, roaring, funny baby.  Sometimes I miss that little stationary lump of a baby, but when he's this cute and this fun, it's hard to complain about anything.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Cheaper by the Dozen (Book Review)

Author: Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Year: 1948
Genre: Memoirs
Reading Level: Adult

Plot Summary: The Gilbreth family is not a typical family and not just in terms of size.  Their family life is boisterous and humorous, but also disciplined and loving.  This book recounts their adventures with tonsil removal, learning Morse code, family drives and yes, cootie garages.  

Red Flags: Some very mild swears.

My Rating: A-
I don't read a lot of memoirs.  In fact, I think the last one I read was the first one I read, called She Got Up Off the Couch, and there is some kind of poetry in the fact that I read both for book clubs. Apparently that's what it takes to get me to read memoirs?

ANYway, this was a very pleasant and interesting read.  Pleasant because it was quite funny and nicely written with a good flow.  Interesting because it takes place in the early 1900s and society was just SO different then!  I mean, of course it was, but even so I was frequently amazed.  I had to look up terms that have been lost over the decades.  It definitely would not be called politically correct by today's standards, and that is always refreshing, ha.  

Overall, I don't really have anything negative to say about this book.  It's not the kind of thing I'd like to read all the time, but it was a good change of pace.  I wish there had been a bit more of an overarching kind of story progression but whatever.  Small taters, precious. 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Put the Sun in the Glasses

Once upon a time, I broke my sunglasses.  I replaced them with an identical pair, and, surprisingly, they broke!  So I went through the ensuing months without, and they were very squinty months indeed.  Then we got married that August and went to southern California the next day.  Southern California is pretty bright.  Really bright.  I couldn't squint the bright out!  

See?  So I did what anyone would do, and bought some sunglasses from the aquarium, which saved me on the rest of our honeymoon in the bright, bright land of California:

Those sunglasses have traveled the world with me since, until one sad day, a few weeks ago, when they decided to travel no more:

I guess it's time to go back to the aquarium.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Happy Thanksgiving, world!  Rather than complain about Black Friday sales starting on Thanksgiving, or list all the obvious things I'm thankful for, here are some other, less notable things that I'm grateful for:

--Light-up keyboards

--Flat whisks

--Good books (and hey, sometimes a bad book)

--A1 sauce

--Video baby monitors

--Exercise, of all kinds



--Internet tutorials

Last Thanksgiving I thought I was going to DIE from lack of food during the half hour wait before dinner.  So I'm also grateful that I feel better this year, and of course I'm grateful for my little discomfort causer and that he's not, you know, causing discomfort still.  And speaking of him, I'm also grateful for nice friends who knit him awesome sweaters:

Happy Thanksgiving!  Go forth, my friends, and eat pie.  And be grateful for at least 24 hours before shopping your hearts out.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave (Book Review)

Author: Candace Fleming
Year: 2012
Genre: Ghost stories/Supernatural/Short stories
Reading Level: Young Adult

Plot Summary: Mike Kowalski was just trying to get home before curfew.  Instead he finds himself in an overgrown, backwoods cemetery surrounded by teen ghosts desperate to tell him their stories.  The teenagers are from different decades and died in vastly different ways, but their stories end in the same place.  

Red Flags: Death (obviously), ghosts (obviously), some spookiness, some violence and mild gore.

My Rating: B+
I liked this book.  I didn't love it, I don't know why.  It has a lot of good points--a wide variety of characters, solid writing, creative stories and a nice amount of spookiness.  I haven't read short stories for a long time, and it's always impressive how a good author can convey so much in relatively few pages.  Candace Fleming is adept at this, and the stories were quick but never rushed or weak.  

I don't know why I didn't get into it more.  My only two real complaints are that the transitions between stories were kind of awkward and the cap on everything was a little heavy handed.  I just don't feel too strongly about it, but I still think it was a good read and I'd readily recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky read that won't make them hide under the bed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"When Did You See Her Last?" (Book Review)

Author: Lemony Snicket
Year: 2013
Genre: Mystery
Reading Level: Intermediate

Series: #2 in the All the Wrong Questions series (follows "Who Could That Be at This Hour?")

Plot Summary: Lemony Snicket's mystery-solving adventures in the desolate town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea continue as he searches for a missing girl.  Though his associate doesn't believe she's missing at all, Lemony suspects a plot that goes beyond a straightforward kidnapping.  Why else would her sabotaged car still be parked in town?

Red Flags: None.

My Rating: B+
This was another fun entry in the series.  I quickly realized that I had forgotten almost everything from the first book, but the important bits were neatly summarized as it goes along.  This one seemed to meander a bit more through the mystery, but not really unpleasantly so.  The end was especially exciting and just a little bit spooky.

I like that this has some similarities to Series of Unfortunate Events because I loved that series so much, but I also like that this is very different.  The nature of the story and mystery are different, the characters are different, the tone is different--yet it all fits seamlessly in the same Lemony Snicket universe.  

Overall, it was a fun, engaging read with memorable characters and the usual Lemony Snicket-type antics.  I'm very curious to see what happens as the series moves into the second half.  

Memorable Quotes:

"'Boredom is not black licorice, Snicket,' she said. 'There's no reason to share it with me.'"--p. 117

"I reminded myself of a lesson I'd learned in my training: Do the scary thing first, and get scared later."--p. 129

"'You could make anything boring, Mimi!  You're like a magic wand of boring!'"--p. 179

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Laundry Day?

Today is the CAG's six month birthday!  It is just amazing, for a variety of reasons, and we are celebrating all day long.  By celebrating I mean taking a lot of pictures, starting with his every-other-month-stint-in-the-laundry pictures.  So I took a bunch...and then realized he wasn't due for one of those until next month.  Boo hoo for me, now I have more cute pictures of my cute baby.

Still loves his feet.
The feet!  What???
Again with the cute feet.
This is one of his talking faces, when he makes this gargle-y "hoo" noise.
Look at that face.  I mean look at it!
Boo hoo indeed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Magician's Elephant (Book Review)

Author: Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
Year: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Intermediate

Literary Awards: Flicker Tale Children's Book Award Nominee for Juvenile (2011), Goodreads Choice Nominee for Children's Book (2009)

Plot Summary: Orphaned Peter Augustus Duchene was supposed to be buying fish and bread, but he couldn't resist a fortune teller and the promise of an answer to his most burning questions.  Does his sister live?  Yes, comes the answer.  How can he find her?  This answer is much more confusing--follow the elephant.
Red Flags: None.

My Rating: A
I have enjoyed all of Kate DiCamillo's books so it was no surprise that I liked this one.  What DID surprise me was how I cried and cried at the end.  Yes, it's true--I do have a heart after all.  I blame the baby.  That should be endorsement enough, but I will go ahead and say I loved this book.  The vaguely-French setting was lovely and vivid.  The characters were a interesting group, and, as always, the writing was beautiful.  I am always a fan of different threads coming together at the end of a story.  The whole thing was simple and magical and pretty to read.  I love how easily (apparently) she writes about tragic, intangible or otherwise tricky things so simply and gently.  And yet it's not sugar coated or overly precious.  I can see some people thinking this book is a little on the precious side at times, but it wasn't for me.  It was just enough, to paraphrase Goldilocks.

Anyway, I read this in one sitting instead of taking a nap and though I perhaps yawned for the rest of the day, it was worth it. 

Memorable Quotes:

"'Why did I not think of it?  Let us dispatch the elephant immediately to the Home for Wayward Elephants Who Engage in Objectionable Pursuits Against Their Will.  It is right down the street, is it not?'"--p. 32

"'Please,' said Hans Ickman.  He opened his eyes.  'It is important that you say what you mean to say.  Time is too short.  You must speak words that matter.'"--p. 49

"Looking out over the city, Peter decided that it was a terrible and complicated thing to hope, and that it might be easier, instead, to despair."--p. 51

"If she appeared beside him right now, he would show her the star that was sometimes visible through his window.  He would say to her, 'Have you, in truth, ever seen something so heartbreakingly lovely?  What are we to make of a world where stars shine bright in the midst of so much darkness and gloom?'"--p. 147

"'Magic is always impossible,' said the magician. 'It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between.  That is why it is magic.'"--p. 154

Monday, November 04, 2013

Halloween H'Activities

I have always enjoyed Halloween, and I wanted Babycakes to have a good first Halloween too.  He won't remember it, but I will!  Being five months old and all, it's hard to get him into the spirit of things.  He's really only interested in things he can grab and/or put in his mouth.  So how does one get a baby involved in Halloween fun?  Here are some ways:

1) Buy a baby friendly pumpkin:
See?  Baby friendly.

2) Dress the baby up like a skeleton:

(I love those side-looking eyes.)

3) Dress the baby up like a skeleton AND a tiger simultaneously:

4) Take the baby to a pumpkin patch for a nice nap: 

5) Take the baby through a corn maze and only cheat a little because that baby is kind of heavy to carry around in circles:

 6) Take the baby to a different pumpkin patch.  He will LOVE it:

7) Take the baby on a hayride:

8) Carve a pumpkin with the baby's assistance:

8) Dress up for real!  We have been waiting and waiting to have a baby so we could be James, Lily and Harry Potter for Halloween.  Would this have happened if we'd had a girl?  Um.............yes.  These were especially appropriate costumes considering the fact that Harry got his scar on Halloween.

(This was what we were going for.)

Happy Halloween, little Harry!  I hope you had fun trying to eat all those pumpkins.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Pumpkin 2: The Pumpkining

I made more pumpkin things, like a crazy cat lady with pumpkin foods instead of cats.  Here are the results:

Pumpkin Spice Waffles
Not pumpkiny enough at ALL!  Also, personally, I didn't think the result warranted the extra work either.

Impossible Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes
These were pumpkiny enough, but I still have a lot left and I made them several days ago so...  There's something about the texture that I don't really like--maybe I'm just missing a crust-like element.  I added chocolate chips to half of them and that was an improvement.

Pumpkin Pie Granola
HOW could this ever have enough pumpkin flavor when it doesn't have actual pumpkin in it?  Mmhmm.  (Still good granola though.)  Word to the wise: when looking to buy dried cherries, make sure you don't buy cherry-flavored cranberries.  Ocean Spray is tricky!

Pumpkin Seeds
A great, basic recipe--all I need with my pumpkin seeds is salt.

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread
I followed the alteration suggestions in the first "most helpful positive review" and it was great.  Instead of a bread, I made 24 muffins and a bunch of mini muffins as well.  I'm sure there are better pumpkin bread recipes out there, but this one was good and worked for muffins. 

Pumpkin Whoopee!
Honestly, why do I even bother with other pumpkin recipes?  This is the only one I need!

And with that, I think I will go into baking hibernation...until it's time for pumpkin pie that is.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Anya's Ghost (Book Review)

Author: Vera Brosgol
Year: 2011
Genre: Graphic novel
Reading Level: Young Adult

Literary Awards: Eisner Award (2012), Cybils Award for Graphic Novels (Young Adult) (2011), Horn Book Fanfare (2011), YALSA Great Graphic Novels (2012), Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of the Year (2011) School Library Journal Best Fiction Books (2011)

Plot Summary: Anya, an immigrant from Russia, has tried to be like everybody else, but she still doesn't fit in at home or school.  Things don't improve when she falls down a well and meets the ghost of a girl who met a similar fate a hundred years earlier.  But when they escape from the well Anya's new friend changes her life for the better--doesn't she?

Red Flags: Some language, teenage smoking and partying, some teenage surliness, a ghost (obviously)

My Rating: A-
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.  The art was lively, consistent and good.  Anya wasn't always likable but I liked her character's progression.  I...don't really have much more to say.  It was fun, entertaining, a little spooky.  Plus Neil Gaiman called it a masterpiece so there's that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Dollhouse Asylum (Book Review)

Author: Mary Gray
Year: 2013
Genre: Dystopian
Reading Level: Young Adult

Plot Summary: Cheyenne wakes up in a perfect neighborhood, rescued from a zombie resurgence by her supposedly perfect man, Teo.  She's not the only one he's saved, but he doesn't let just anyone live in his little paradise.  If they want to live they're going to have to impress Teo--who's not as perfect as Cheyenne thought.

Red Flags: Some mild language, gruesome deaths (mostly off screen), making out
My Rating: B
(When I heard that one of my friends from the way back days had her first book coming out, of course I had to pick up a copy.  How often do you get to buy a book written by someone you know, right?  Anyway, it was worth it and fun to read for that reason alone.)

I enjoyed this book overall.  It was fast paced and held my interest.  I was a little impatient at the start for things to get going, but I think that was because I knew the synopsis so well already.  The premise is different, and I appreciated the absence of vampires, fallen angels, werewolves, etc. etc.  Also I appreciated that all the zombies were off screen (hurray!).  One of my favorite things was the name of the zombie disease--the Living Rot.  Good name.

I didn't care for the love triangle aspect as much.  I didn't LOVE Cheyenne--I mean, I get her character's journey and I was glad that she changed and saw Teo for what he was--but I didn't always enjoy being in her head.  She had a minor case of Bella Swan-itis, in her fascination with people's hotness and a readiness to sacrifice herself.  As for Teo, I wish there had been a little more explanation for his crazy (I can totally dig his kind of crazy--I just wonder where it came from).  Sometimes it's fun to pick out a writer's favorite word (mine is "just"), and based on this book, Mary's is "pluck."  Hah. 

Overall, it was an entertaining read.  There were some fun side characters (though with some curious characterizations) and the story was unusual.  The story didn't surprise me or horrify me as much as I know it wanted to, but perhaps that says more about me than the book...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Give Me Five Shillings

Once upon a time there was a little newborn baby named the Speck. 

Five months later, he has grown into a pretty sizable baby named the Speck.  

It is rather amazing how fast these little humans grow and change in just a few months.  He has gotten more smiley, more chatty, more mobile and more fun than ever!  I expect there will be more mores as he grows--more opinionated, more tantrum-y, more responsive, more conversational, more into dinosaurs.  


This month saw the final victory over cradle cap, but the rise of a perpetually dry scalp.  We are still puzzling that one out, but I'm just glad the cradle cap is gone.  

(He's really not as bald as he looks in this picture, I promise!)

Speaking of his head, well, you may have noticed his hair is not in quite such abundance these days.  It was hard for his hair to keep up with his head growth and the cradle cap didn't help.  It made me ever so sad.  But!  The times are changing and he has a lot of new hair growing in all over and that makes me ever so happy.  He also still has a good chunk of his baby hair down at the base of his head.  It doesn't look weird at ALL.

This month he also expanded his skill set to include rolling from back to tummy and sitting up!  He's also pushing up off his tummy.  There's some muscle under all that chubbiness!

He continues to not have teeth, nor any sign of teeth, but he also continues to chew on everything and drool constantly.  


Sleep is still going pretty well, though with his rolling powers came more crying in the night to be rolled back.  He is getting better at not waking up though, hurrah for everyone. 

No solids yet because I'm procrastinating, but he likes to watch us eat and tries to grab our food (as he does everything).  We started putting him in the Bumbo on the table at dinner, which he finds rather exciting.  (And of course we hold on to the Bumbo.)

The outdoors fascinate, the TV (that he rarely sees on) mesmerizes, the bath delights.  We read books, I make up games, he squeals and giggles, we play the piano, peek-a-boo is finally funny.  He sings in his crib when he wakes up in the morning.  He cries at other family members sometimes.  He cries at bedtime sometimes.  He cries for no reason sometimes.  But more often than not, he is happy and enjoying his little life.  

Once upon a time, before he was born, I worried that I wouldn't like him or that he wouldn't be cute.  


Silly me!