Monday, January 28, 2013

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Book Review)

Author: Carrie Ryan
Year: 2009
Genre: Horror/supernatural
Reading Level: Young Adult

Series: First in the Forest of Hands and Teeth series (followed by The Dead-Tossed Waves)

Plot Summary: Mary lives a small life in a small village, the remnants of a once-great population.  The village is surrounded on all sides by fences to keep out the other remnants of the population--the Unconsecrated (ie, zombies).  When the fence is breached, Mary escapes with a few others and they have to find their through the Unconsecrated-filled Forest of Hands and Teeth to survive.

Award/s: Junior Library Guild selection, TAYSHAS High School Reading List (2010), Goodreads Choice Award for Young Adult Series (2009)

Red Flags: Some zombie violence and gore (PG-13 level), general peril, a zombie baby and a couple lusty teenager moments.

My Rating: A-
First off, I had NO IDEA this book was about zombies.  No clue.  So...that was a surprise.  Secondly, I think I overrated this book.  It was compelling and stuff, but I don't think it's as good as it made me think initially.  For one thing, there is hardly any resolution to any of the mysteries.  Not that I expected all the questions to be answered, but there was so *very* little payoff.  The story does veer a bit into repetitive territory, with the constant barely-escapes and in-the-nick-of-time savings.  Also: fire kills zombies and they know this.  So why does no one EVER use fire against them??  Why is there no fire by the fences?  Why do people not have a perpetual fire in their houses for emergencies?  SOMEONE USE SOME FIRE.

But anyway...I do give it credit for an engrossing story, a great title and atmospheric writing.  The characters were kind of one-dimensional and I didn't really care about any of them (except the dog of course), but in some ways I think this is a book you read more for the story than the characters.  I did appreciate that even though it has zombies, the yuckier aspects were kept YA appropriate.  It's still gross but it's not Dean Koontz or anything.  

Finally, this is not a criticism of the book itself, but I think the book flap summary is misleading with all its talk about truths and how they might not be truths at all.  But, um, they seemed like truths to me.  

Also I think the romance was a bit forced. 

Okay I'm done. 

(I still want to read the second one!  I liked it!  I did!)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What's Mine Can Be Yours...MyMemories Software Giveaway!

EDIT: As much as I wanted to make you all winners, in the end there could be only one Lord of the Ring and the winner is Kim Fields!  Congratulations to Kim, and thanks to all of you for entering.  You can still send me cookies if you like.

Here's a little factoid that may surprise 98% of you: I went through a big scrapbooking phase in my early teenage years.  The evidence is currently sitting under my bed because most of those photos are, you know, from my early teenage years.  Now that scrapbooking is big business, it can be a rather costly endeavor, especially at the get go.  

But!  Digital scrapbooking is not only more cost effective, it's also easy and as quick as you want it to be.  (Bonus: no more weeping over cropped photos you can never uncrop.)  I was emailed a few weeks ago about doing a giveaway of the MyMemories Suite Digital Scrapbooking Software and have learned for myself just how easy it can be.  And now here I am to tell you my thoughts and give one of you lucky ones your own free copy of this digital scrapbooking software.  Free!  I love free (except FAT free).  

I will admit that I was a little skeptical, both of the program and digital scrapbooks.  But the program is actually so easy to use and yet also so customizable and flexible that it was really fun to play around with.  There are papers, colors, buttons, flowers, shapes, fonts--all kinds of things to mess with.  My scrapbook style leans toward the simple side, but really, there are hundreds of things to pick and choose from.  Here are a couple of randomly-themed pages I made from scratch:  

(Ah, ye old days when I could button my jeans.)
(Forgive my lame fonts...I was working with just the ones that come with Windows)
Like I said, I'm kind of...plain in my aestheticBut just know there are hundreds of options to customize pages how you like, and you can also download (for free or for a little $) more things from the website.  

Anyway, one of the other fun things is that it comes with dozens of ready-made templates and, if you want, you can pick one, select your photos and it will add them all in for you.  So, in essence, you could make a complete scrapbook in a few minutes.  I made an album that way with our Vegas pictures--here's one of those pages:

I enjoy polka dots.

Oh oh oh, hey guys, you can make non-scrapbook things too--like calendars, banners, blog buttons, invitations and what have you.  Personally, I would use Photoshop for those kinds of things, but if you don't have Photoshop, I think this is a really fantastic option for a versatile, easy to use graphics program.  Also, at $39.97 it is like a million dollars less than any Adobe Suite (I love you, Photoshop!).  It also reminded me a bit of Blurb's program, but this program doesn't make you want to claw your eyes out in frustration.  Nice, right?

On that note, let's start a giveaway shall we?  All I ask of you is that you go to the MyMemories website and check out their free digital scrapbooking kits.  Then leave a comment telling me which one you like the best.  That's it--no blog following, Twitter following, or money sending required (PS: I don't have Twitter).  On Sunday, assuming I don't forget, I will put all your names in a hat and notify the winner.  Easy peasy.  I'll even allow anonymous comments until then, for any interested parties without accounts.

This won't up your chances of winning, but if you're a super fan, you can also follow MyMemories on their blog, on Twitter or on Facebook.  

Go forth!  Comment!  Scrapbook!  And send me cookies....?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shiver (Book Review)

Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Year: 2009
Genre: Paranormal romance/fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult

Series: First in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy

Plot Summary: Grace has watched the wolves in the Boundary Wood for years, always paying particular attention to one with striking yellow eyes.  It's not until she learns the wolf is really a yellow-eyed dreamy teenage boy that everything changes.  Grace has to figure out how to keep him, even as he's torn between the human and wolf worlds, and the key might lie in her own past.  

Award/s:  Georgia Peach Book Award (2011), An ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2010), Pennsylvania Young Readers' Choice Award Nominee (2011), ALA Teens' Top Ten (2010), Children's Choice Book Award Nominee for Teen Choice Book of the Year (2010) Florida Teens Read Nominee (2010), Teen Read Award Nominee for Best Read (2010), Voya Perfect Ten (2009), The Inky Awards for Silver Inky (2010), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2012)
Red Flags: Some violence, a few PG-13 swears and (offscreen) teenage canoodling

My Rating: B+

I liked this book, for the most part.  The middle section suffered from a case of Twilight-itis ("OMG, this boy is beautiful and our luv is epic and true but he is chaste and will not touch me but...maybe he'll change his mind") and dragged a bit after a while.  But it picked up toward the end and I might have said "eeee" when I finished it.  I like the writing overall, though sometimes it was a bit overwritten and there wasn't much of a difference in the two narrator's voices.  Grace was a little bland--I think this is a case of side characters being more interesting than the main ones.  I do give it credit for not having a generic photo cover.  Thank you, cover making people at Scholastic.

A few favorite goofy sentences:
"With particular clarity, I remembered that conversation clearly..." (o rly?)
"His skin bulged and shimmered for a moment before each radical change, like a placenta covering a terrifying, feral infant."  (I know where placentas are now, and they are over yonder
"Finally I took the guitar...and smashed it into pieces... When Dad came down from his room, he found me sitting in the middle of a sea of splintered wood and snapped strings, like a boat carrying music had crashed on a rocky shore." (Say what?)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Where it Began (Book Review)

Author: Ann Redisch Stampler
Year: 2012
Genre: Coming of Age/Angst
Reading Level: Young Adult

Plot Summary: Gabby Gardiner wakes up in the hospital with no recollection of the car accident that put her there. 
The legal fallout of her drunken accident is just the tip of the iceberg in the many complications of her recovery.  As she tries to heal and get back to her life before, she begins to realize her life--and her dreamboat boyfriend, Billy Nash--maybe weren't as great as she thought.  Much angsty introspection ensues.

Red Flags: Some swears, teenage partying and some teenage canoodling.  General youthly recklessness and incompetent/uncaring adults. 

My Rating: C-

There are some good books about teenagers "discovering" themselves, but this is not one of those.  The characters were so flat, I had no sympathy for their problems and the eventual epiphanies were shallow and vague.  Maybe I'm too old and curmudgeonly to feel sorry for teenagers, but the writing didn't do much for me either.  It kept bouncing back and forth between ridiculously long sentences and ridiculously short ones, and neither type were particularly good anyway.  It felt like an inferior version of If I Stay...also, you could use that cover for about a million different books...just sayin'.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On Books

Sometime last year I decided that in 2013 I wanted to primarily read young adult fiction.  I was looking at this list, and while I've read a lot of the classics on it, there are a lot of newer titles I haven't.  Also YA books are generally super fast, easy reads for me, and with the Speck's arrival, my time and concentration will probably be limited.  Win win. 

(I do intend to break them up with my more standard, literary books.  Just as one should not survive on delicious Velveeta all the time, one must not read only YA.)

I have a few books in mind (mostly ones I've heard a lot about), and I'm also taking ideas from that same list.  But I'm also looking for recommendations!  I'm not set on any one genre so if there are any YA books you've read and loved (or read and hated...), let me know.  I do want to make a point of reading at least a few award winners and a few geared more to boys.  Of course I won't get to all of them, but I hope to look back on this year and tip my hat to my "books read" list.

Here are the books I've got in mind already: The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, Matched, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Old Soul, Stargirl, A Separate Peace, The Dollhouse Asylum, Anna and the French Kiss, A Company of Swans, The Goose Girl, Icefall, The Lightning Thief, I Capture the Castle (FINALLY).

Maybe the Mortal Instruments series, 13 Reasons Why, Hush, Hush, and Before I Fall.  

I'd like to read something (finally) by Sarah Dessen, but I'm not sure which.  

The second part of this idea was to post reviews for each of them here on the blog.  I do Goodreads of course, but...I just want to post them here too.  I'm planning follow the same structure as I did on my book blog for class, and I think it will be fun!  Plus writing summaries for books is a good exercise.  Anyway, it's mid-January and I'm already on my third YA book.  Here's to 2013!   

In the interest of housekeeping, here are my "books read" up through the end of 2012:
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, D
  • Edenbrooke, B
  • Birds of a Feather, B-
  • Where She Went, A-
  • If I Stay, B+
  • The Host, D
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, B-
  • The Worry Week, A
  • Mara, Daughter of the Nile, A-
  • The Help, A
  • Fire Study, B-
  • Magic Study, B+
  • Tales from the Perilous Realm, A-
  • Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, B+
  • Poison Study, B+
  • Lord of the Flies, A-
  • The Historian, A-
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society, C+
  • Maisie Dobbs, A
  • Wintergirls, B+
  • The Tiger Rising, B+
  • Mockingjay, A-
  • Catching Fire, B
  • Hunger Games, A-
  • Midnight in Austenland, B
  • Wuthering Heights, A
  • The Giver, A-
  • Keturah and Lord Death, B
  • My Cousin Rachel, A+
  • The Lottery, A-
  • Princess of the Midnight Ball, B+
  • Austenland, B+
  • Beauty, A-
  • Rebecca, A
  • The Night Circus, C
  • The Woman in Black, A
  • The Three Musketeers, A-

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Regarding the Speck

I wrote a whole post about this yesterday and then decided it sounded too whiny (probably because I was whiny yesterday).  Ohhhh, growing a human is hard?  Who knew??  Oh yeah, everyone.  Boo hoo hoo for me.  

But IS hard.  In some ways I expected, some ways not (though expecting a thing doesn't always make it easier to deal with).  Overall, I'm probably in the middle of the pack as far as symptoms go--not as bad as some, worse than others.  But since my discomfort means more to me than those some and others, that perspective was only helpful sometimes.

I have long had this secret belief/hope/expectation that all that (Irma-related) throwing up I did earlier in life meant that I would be exempt from it when it came to growing babies.  This...was not true at all.  Probably I should have assumed that because I threw up so much from Irma, I was even more likely to throw up now.  Apparently it's some kind of talent?  Go me?

But as uncomfortable and frustrating as the process can be, it is really amazing that this how new creatures are made.  And I mean that very generally (hence "creatures"), for all mammals.  I can sit here, twiddling my thumbs and my body will be, like, putting genes together and building kidneys with absolutely no conscious thought on my part.  Isn't that wild?  But it's also a good thing because my knowledge of genes can be summed up with "genes exist and are important."

It does make me wonder if there are mama bunnies out there with swollen ankles and food aversions. 

Of course, not every body can do this as readily or easily as others do.  Sometimes you have to get tennis balls and endometriosis and cysts taken out first.  Sometimes you have to do a lot more.  So, you, my friends who are still working on growing your own babies, I haven't forgotten you and I think of you often.  Success (and babies) will be yours one day--I really, truly have no doubt about that.
But back to this particular human I'm subconsciously growing.  I have been feeling him squirm around for a few weeks now, and yesterday I even SAW his pokes and prods.  So strange!  It's weird to me, still, that there's a person in there and one day in the future they'll be asking me if dinner is ready YET.  (And then, since the Speck is a boy, he will proceed to eat my share of dinner too and ask when there will be second dinner)

The whole boy thing makes me a *little* nervous.  But then I remember that I build awesome train tracks, and I already know the theme song to Thomas the Train, and I think dinosaurs are rad.  So we should be set.  One day, after he eats all my dinner, we'll watch Jurassic Park together. 

I also have to admit that one of my first thoughts was that I'm going to peed on!  I know, a terrible thought--after all there's NO bodily fluid worse than pee, right? (...)  I think I'm latching on to this fear because it's easier to deal with than my fear that I HAVE NO IDEA OF HOW TO CARE FOR A NEWLING INFANT.  (Or an oldling infant for that matter)  Luckily Drewbles has plenty of experience because I'm pretty sure I will resort to standing over yonder and just poking the thing with a stick.  


(I also worry that I'm going to lose my bum. D:)

It seems unfair to write all this about the Speck and not show a single picture of him.  Here he is, hungry as always!  (Always, always, always hungry.  Oh wait, that's me.)

Well.  Here's to just over the halfway point!  I can only hope it's all downhill from here...hah!  I'll settle for less vomity.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Board of Smorgas

Sometimes you think you'll write a whole blog post about something only to realize that just a sentence or two will cover it.  Hence the origins of this post.  Some might call this a "brain dump" but "board of smorgas" has, well, some kind of ring to it.

--I was going to do a whole 2012 year in review post, but really all I have to say is that one of my favorite things to come out of 2012 was Keane's Strangeland.  I love it so!  It inspires me.  Thanks, 2012.  (And Keane)

--The last couple of years I've come to realize that if I want Christmas to be awesome and festive, I must make it so.  My Mama won't just show up with all the fixins for Christmas magic, as was her job when I was a tot.  Holidays are what you make of them!  And this year I have to say, we did pretty great.  Here's a quick rundown of our festivities: we saw a hand bell concert at the library (free!) and The Nutcracker (not free, and which nearly killed me with discomfort and heartburn...still good though...), made paper snowflakes, made gingerbread, had hot chocolate, watched the Christmas devotional, walked in the snow, ate some snow, went to the TSO Christmas concert, saw the lights at Temple Square, saw the MoTab Christmas concert (Alfie!  Live!) went shopping at the mall (I like going for pure festiveness) and, you know, had Christmas.  Of course it goes without saying that we also ate a LOT of food and saw lots of family as well.  Okay, this probably could have been its own blog post. 

--I've been rewatching all the appendices on the extended LOTR DVDs.  While I know movies are not *important* in the way that, say, brain surgery or child rearing are, what I do have to conclude here is that making a movie on that scale is HARD.  Wear your fingerprints off hard. 

--I miss running.  I've started dreaming about it and it feels so great while I'm dreaming.  At least I still have Pilates and my little bike apparatus.  I'll see you again, running shoes!  In like...6 months...maybe... 

It's so nice to get all these things off my mind at last!  So now you can REALLY stayed tuned for the ~*~*~*giveaway*~*~*~ and, oh yes, for the scoop on this whole BABY thing.  That might involve some word vomiting, which is only suitable considering the amount of actual vomiting that has taken place. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


Who wants to talk about boring stuff like INTROSPECTION when there's FOOD to talk about?  Thinking is gross!  Food is delicious.  So let's talk about it. 

But first I will tease that this, your favorite vaguely Harry Potter-titled blog, will feature a ~*~*~*giveaway*~*~*~ in the coming weeks!  Weird, right?  I feel a bit like one of those "professional" bloggers.  So stay tuned, I think it will be really fun.  Back to food!

I haven't had much of a sweet tooth lately (that is to say, I haven't really wanted to seek it out/make anything, but if it's there, I will gladly eat it--I may have eaten about ten handfuls of Belly Flops in one sitting), but this list somehow manages to still feature mostly sweet things.  So...there you have it. 

Flourless Coconut Chocolate Drops
These were the first items to break my baking/cooking-in-general drought, and they were well worth it.  They're perfect for those times when you happen to have no flour, granulated sugar or butter but you DO have plenty of powdered sugar and coconut.  I left out the nuts because nuts are terrible and did a full cup of chips and coconut to fill in the nuts gap.  You may doubt them when they go in the oven, but they bake up perfectly, with a delicate, crispy crust and gooey innards. 

Cocoa Brownies
Tasty tasty brownies.  I am more likely to have cocoa powder in the cupboard than chocolate bars so cocoa recipes suit me better.  I made these with dark cocoa and they came out the color of asphalt.  Warm, chocolatey asphalt. 

Creamless Tomato Soup
I've been on a tomato soup kick these last few months.  (I also made this one and this one)  They've all been good and I'd recommend any of them, but so far I haven't found the recipe that makes me say "YES, I will now eat the whole batch!"  I just want a tomato soup that's simple, without a lot of cook time and with more tomatos and less cream.  Bonus for basil.  Any recommendations, world?

Buffalo Grilled Cheese
I suppose it makes sense that with all the tomato soup going on, we've also made a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches.  I totally simplified these, but they were still awesome.  I used ranch instead of the white sauce, buffalo sauce right out of the bottle, chicken from a can, and axed the celery and onion.  Also I added the blue cheese.  Winner!

(They're so good they deserve a !)  I was home being gross one day and then I saw these on Facebook and said YES, THOSE and made them immediately.  Side note: it is really handy to have such a big awesome counter now because I can sit on it while I make things.  They're SO GOOD and you just want to eat all of them in one sitting and I would not judge you for this.  The first batch I made with bread flour and man, they did not want to roll at ALL so they turned out super fat.  The second time I used regular flour and they were much more cooperative but, strangely, not quite as good.  Maybe chunky pretzels are the way to go.

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake
This has been on my radar for a long time, and I finally bit the bullet and got myself a bundt pan.  So worth it!  This cake was SO good.  I mean it--really, really good.  Just enough orange, just enough chocolate and goodness everywhere.  It does involve a number of steps but if you have a buddy around to zest and juice your oranges, it's not that bad.  You won't regret the time it takes!

Cinnamon Rolls
This was one of the things I made in my baking frenzy during Christmas week.  I'd never made cinnamon rolls before because they seemed so intimidating, but the idea of eating them after opening presents was irresistible.  My Mama passed this recipe along to me and I gave it a dubious whirl.  I know I've said this several times already but these were SO good.  I made them the night before and baked them in the morn and they came out perfectly, with ooey, gooey middles.  And as usual, the actual making of them was not very intimidating after all.  (Of COURSE I left out the nuts and the raisins--eurgh!)

30-Minute Buffalo Chicken French Breads
I don't know why I am drawn to buffalo chicken things--I think buffalo wings are stupid--but it seems to pop up frequently at our house.  Maybe part of this is Drewbles periodically saying, "We still have half a bottle of buffalo sauce--what are we going to do with that, woman?"  ANYway, I have never been a big fan of French bread pizza because the bread gets all crispy and crunchy--two things I don't like in bread.  But!  These turned out so good we made our own creations the next night with the rest of the bread.  I didn't broil the bread beforehand, which helped it stay soft and we had no green onions or fontina, but otherwise I stuck to the (halved) recipe.  Maybe French bread pizzas and I will be friends after all.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Things I Learned This Year

I've had this post running in my head for months now--let's see if I can actually remember what I was planning to say.

2012 has come and gone!  Even though the end came up suddenly, as it always does, this was one of those rare years where it actually felt like a year had passed.  It certainly had its highs and lows, like most years for most people, but overall I liked 2012.  I did a lot of thinking in 2012. Not that I don't usually, but my thinkings were a little more thoughtful this year for whatever reason.  Egads, is this a sign of aging??  Here are some of the conclusions I have reached this year that were especially relevant (to me):

--I don't need to be jealous of people.  This is not to say that I've previously been consumed with envy all the time, but, for example, when Facebook friends would go to England and post pictures, I couldn't look at them, because I was too jealous they were there and I wasn't.  At some point during the year, I finally had the obvious realization that there was no need to be jealous.  Why should I be upset over someone else having a turn to do something awesome, especially when it's something I myself have already done?  And even if it's something I haven't done or had myself, is that an excuse to mutter about it enviously?  I have my life, and everybody else has theirs.  They have their ups and downs, just like me.  I shouldn't and don't need to resent people for having a high that I want.  I have my own highs!

Two caveats: 1) I'm making a distinction between an all-consuming, soul-crushing, unproductive jealousy and the kind of jealousy that is more admiration, that draws motivation and inspiration from others.  That's cool, yo.  2) It's all well and good to have this thought, but putting it into practice is harder, I will admit.  But having the thought is the first step, right?

--Time passes.  No matter how unpleasant the circumstances of the day-to-day, the time goes by. That's all.

--Good things are hard.  This thought evolved from a number of things, and partly from my urge to complain, even when the cause of a difficulty was a good thing.  The more I thought about this thought nugget, the more I decided that, really, the best things are often hard.  Whether it's school, careers, relationships, finances, parenting, hobbies, fitness or whatever--even though they're good and you KNOW they're good, they can sometimes be really, really difficult.  What I'm saying is, while I think it's important to keep negative things in perspective, I'm not going to feel bad for feeling frustration or even resentment from time to time about something that's good but that is also making me crazy.  Sometimes all you need to keep going is a little recognition from someone else that, yes, the process is not always easy.  A little validation goes a long way!  As does some outside encouragement.  Of course, it's also helpful to try to see the good in the bad, count one's blessings, etc. etc. 

(Yes, I do often think about this when I'm barfing my breakfast [or lunch or dinner].  Throwing up is NEVER awesome.)

Of course I also learned other things in 2012, like the answers to questions like "What's a fibroid?", "How good is a chocolate quake cake?" and "Can The Office get any worse?"  After all this learnin', I have decided to learn NOTHING in 2013.  It's going to be a year of ignorance.  And, as Lady Bracknell would say, Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.