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!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Not Such a New Recruit

Today, on the eve of his five-month birthday, it seems appropriate to demonstrate how the little master has grown. 

The first picture is from his exact first month birthday, the second a few days before three months and the third a few days before the fifth (no, I don't know why I take them on different days...).  As you can see, that onesie doesn't quite fit anymore, but I think he pulls off the belly onesie look pretty well.   

He is getting so big and so much more active.  While he can't actually propel himself anywhere yet, he will rotate around on the floor and he rolls about and rotates in his crib.  Sometimes I have to rescue him from being stuck in the corner, which is both cute and just a little bit sad.  He also grabs for everything and puts whatever it is directly in his mouth. We haven't started solids yet, but that's coming soon!  :o

What's that you say?  More laying-in-the-laundry pictures?  I am ever so happy to oblige.

The chins!  My goodness.
Tasty sock.
Lest you think he stays still for pictures.

There is this, shall we say, ridiculous miniseries called The 10th Kingdom that has these little enchanted birds that talk in very high, squeaky voices.  At one point the birds say, "Please, please!  Please set us free!"  Babycakes thinks it is really funny when I quote those birds, and the evidence is in these next few pictures:
"Please, please!"
"Please set us free!"
(He also loves his feet.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pumpkin Fever

Last fall, as I worked at growing a Speck, I made almost no pumpkin foods at all.  I'm sorry to say pumpkin sounded gross, and I only rallied in time for a pie at Thanksgiving.  So I guess you could say I'm making up for lost time this year--or you could say I'm doing the same thing I always do, and that is make every pumpkin thing in the world.  

Now, I have come to the realization that when I make a pumpkin thing, I want it to taste like I've actually shoved my face in a pumpkin pie and have to eat my way out.  I don't want subtle pumpkin.  I want to be hit in the face with pumpkin.  So when I complain about recipes not being pumpkin-y enough, well, maybe they would be for other people.  Here's what I've made so far this fall:

Pumpkin Oatmeal Scotchies 
I started off the season with these and they were tasty little things.  I am a big fan of butterscotch so that was a bonus.  The butterscotch kind of overwhelmed the pumpkin flavor, but it was still there.  (Note: I used quick oats, and also this recipe makes a LOT of cookies)

Pumpkin Pie Spice
I made my own after seeing how much a tiny jar of the pre-made stuff was (it was cheaper to buy allspice, the only ingredient I lacked).  Of course, only after I made it did I discover a bottle of it in the cupboard...

Double Chocolate Pumpkin Cookies 
Not pumpkin-y enough!  That said, they were REALLY great chocolate cookies... (Note: I too used chocolate chips)

Pumpkin Whipped Cream
I made this to give a pumpkin boost to the chocolate cookies.  If you REALLY want to go big, make a cookie sandwich with it!  Even better, make a frozen cookie sandwich.  I combined the recipe with the spices of this one.

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Again, not super pumpkin-y, but ever so delicious anyway.  Totally worth the work!  As for the glaze, well...I discovered that the whisk attachment for my immersion blender is not the same as the whisk attachment for the Kitchenaid.  Um, I'll leave it at that.  Okay okay, it made a huge mess but it didn't make a glaze!  Lesson learned.  *scrubs counter*

Pumpkin Pancakes with Apple Cider Syrup
I've mentioned this recipe before, and it's worth mentioning again.  The pancakes could be more pumpkin-y, but they are tasty nonetheless.  Also, the syrup!  You gots to make the syrup. 

Apple Cider Caramels 
I know, not a pumpkin recipe, but in my mind, cider and pumpkin are cousins.  True story: I made these last fall, without a candy thermometer.  Take my advice, Internet, and just buy a dang thermometer!  My first attempt, while not wholly inedible, had a burnt taste and a tough texture.  I say "not wholly" because Drew ate them.  He ate them all.  Every single one, aside from the two or so I ate.  He's just a trooper!  And a not-waster.  ANYway, the second batch came out perfectly--soft and cider-y, as a caramel should.  I think Drew was secretly relieved at not having to eat them all again.

Well, October is speeding past, but there are still lots of recipes to try!  Where am I going from here?  This granola is in the oven at the moment.  These waffles are on the horizon.  These cupcakes are imminent.  And of course, let's not forget the old favorites like the inevitable pumpkin pie and the most delicious of things, Pumpkin Whoopee.  Ah, fall.  How I love to eat my way through it.  

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Graveyard Book (Book Review)

Author: Neil Gaiman
Year: 2008
Genre: Fantasy/Coming of age
Reading Level: I've seen this called intermediate and young adult--I personally would call it more YA, just because of content that I think would scare a lot of younger readers

Literary Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (2009), Newbery Medal (2009), Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2009), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Children's Literature (2009) Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction (2008), Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year (2009), An ALA Notable Children's Book for Middle Readers (2009), ALA Teens' Top Ten (2009), Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2009), Indies Choice Book Award for Best Indie Young Adult Buzz Book (Fiction): (2009), Carnegie Medal in Literature (2010), British Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (2009) 

Plot Summary: Nobody Owens escapes death as a toddler and finds sanctuary from his would-be murderer in a nearby graveyard.  The resident ghosts agree to raise him in the safety of the graveyard, and Bod grows up surrounded by the dead, who become his family, friends, guardians and educators.  But with the killer still hunting for him, will Bod ever be able to live amongst the living?

Red Flags: Scary scenes, off-screen murder, some spookiness, ghoulies and ghosties
My Rating: A
I first read this several years ago, and then, with one thing or another, I had the urge to pick it up again.  I'm so glad I did!  I remembered liking it a lot, but I'd forgotten a lot of the details and this book is really, truly excellent.  The atmosphere, the writing, the way death is treated--so good.  I love the progression of Bod's character as he grows, I love the side characters (Liza Hempstock, eh?) and I love how everything comes together at the exciting and ultimately bittersweet end.   

I feel like there is so much more that could be said about this, but...I loved it.  Isn't that enough?  This is surely one of Neil Gaiman's very best books (the Newbery was well deserved), and one that I must add to my bookshelf, where it will sit alongside his also excellent Coraline.    

(Wouldn't Coraline and Bod be such great friends?) 

Memorable lines:
"'And there are always people who find their lives have become so unsupportable they believe the best thing they could do would be to hasten their transition to another plane of existence.'
'...Are they happier dead?'
'Sometimes.  Mostly, no.  It's like the people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn't work that way.  Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.  If you see what I mean.'"--ch. 4

"You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it."--ch. 8

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Doppelganger, pt. 2

Like father like son!  Or in this case, it was actually like son like father.  Either way, it's a good looking pair.


Can I just add that this month has included so many really cute pictures??  I don't know how much longer I can go before I just plaster the internet with all of them.  Brace yourself, internet!  You're about to get a whole lot cuter.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Keeping the Moon (Book Review)

Author: Sarah Dessen
Year: 1999
Genre: Novel
Reading Level: Young Adult

Literary Awards: Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2000)

Plot Summary: When Colie's* weight-loss guru mother leaves for a European tour, she's dropped off in the small beach town of Colby to spend the summer with her oddball aunt.  Colie's tried to lose her old, overweight self with a newly fit frame, a lip piercing and a bad dye job, but the past keeps coming back to haunt her, even in Colby.  But with the help of some new friends, she might just find the real Colie again.
Red Flags: Some language, teen bullying, (legal) drinking and smoking

My Rating: B
Well.  I think I've officially overdosed on Sarah Dessen novels.  I laughed and rolled my eyes through most of this book.  I mean, it was okay and it kind of pulled it off at the end, but overall it seemed like a rather lazy effort.  The resolutions were either weak or not even there, and the whole thing felt unfinished (what about her relationship with her Mom?  And Mira?).  Plus I am kind of over chapters ending with a poetic insight into life and its troubles.  It's not a bad book and had I read it earlier, I might have liked it better, but at this point I think it's best that I leave her books on the library shelf for a bit.  

Also, side note, it was published in 1999 but there were some really out of date references to Super Nintendo, cassette tapes and stuff.  What's up with that?  

Also also the love interest was named Norman and I just can't accept that. 

Memorable lines:
"There's something about dancing that's like being stripped naked; you have to be very self-confident to thrash around in public, deliberately attracting attention."

*Is it pronounced like Collie dog or like cola (and like Nicole)??  I couldn't decide and both sounded kind of dumb to me.