Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cheating Again by Sarah

Um.  Er.  Well....

So you know how I love to read, right?  You know I love the way the words can come off the page and plant themselves in your mind so that it becomes hard to separate what is Book and what is Reality, right?  You know the way I love to learn new things, meet new people, laugh, cry, and then tell you all about it?  Right.  Well, I do.  But for some reason I haven't lately.  I haven't finished a new book in two weeks.  Unheard of! Inconceivable! Not good for a book blogger!  Fortunately, I have a family reunion at the end of this week and in order to go to said reunion I will be on a plane sans enfants for more than four hours.  I will have plenty of time to read.  So I promise my next post will be Exciting! Thought-Provoking! Humorous! Insightful!...and worthy of being read by more than just my mother.

What I have been doing is watching tv.  I know summer is an odd time to discuss television, as it is often the summer of our character development discontent, but I haven't been watching new tv. I've been watching reruns.  Every once in awhile I need to rewatch some of the shows I love, much like I reread To Kill a Mockingbird or HHGTTG or Beloved, to refresh my mind on all of the wonderful things these shows had to offer.  For me (this summer) that means watching Downton Abbey, Arrested Development, and Gilmore Girls; all three awesome in completely different ways.  I love the characters and families of these shows as if they were my own family.  I feel like I know them and that they exist only in some other part of the world, where I could find them if I needed to (which would be quite a trick in the case of Dowton Abbey as that would involve a fair amount of time travel).  I feel as if they would give me a book recommendation if I asked. Which is why this list is kind of perfect.  Someone, who should be given an award in my opinion - nothing huge or anything but at least a nice Certificate of Internet Appreciation, put together this list of what ten fictional characters from television have read.  And what do you know?! Rory Gilmore is up first.  After reading through the list, I realized I was a hybrid of Rory, Daria from MTV fame, and Lisa Simpson.  Sadly, I was not that surprised by that.  Who do you line up with literature-wise?  What are you watching this summer?

Pin It

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede

Cheater post.

This is, verbatim, a review I did for the Between Books blog.  Sadly, it only received 13 page views on that blog, and The Thirteenth Child is a REALLY good book.  Therefore, I'm giving you all a second chance to read what I have to say about it.  I hope you'll thank me for it.

(You can read it there, or you can read it here.  But you should check out the Between Books blog.  I hear some really cool women post there.  Cough, cough.)

I fully admit that I read The Thirteenth Child because Nalini Singh recommended it.  I <3 Ms. Singh.  As I said in this review, I'm a fan.

(Probably more like a fangirl, and I'm probably too old for that.  But I digress.)

Like any good fangirl at a loss for YA books to try, I picked up one that came recommended by one of my favorite non-YA authors.  Holla.  Good choice.

I fully recommend Ms. Singh's recommendation.

(See, total fangirl.)

Anyway, The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede is little bit like a magical version of Little House on the Prairie.  It's got the pioneer, forging new territories piece of Little House (both the book and the eponymous television series) and the coming-of-age elements of the entire Little House book series.  The coming-of-age elements are bit accelerated in The Thirteenth Child because we see our main character, Eff, grow from the five to eighteen in just one book.  Sometimes I find those meandering "and when I turned 12" types of stories a little trying because they lack a definitive focus other than "I grew up", but this one is well done.  I really liked Eff, and I wanted to know more about her.

This is Little House on the
 all grown up.
Or, Melissa Gilbert on
Dancing With The Stars.
Eff, you see, is the thirteenth child of her family, and in this magical version of Little House, there are those that believe strongly in the importance of birth order and numerology.  The thirteenth child is destined to turn out wrong, according to Eff's detractors.  She's a witch.  She has magic, and she's going to be bad.  Very, very bad--simply because twelve sibling were born before her.  Her twin brother, Lan, though, is the fourteenth child and the seventh son of a seventh son, so the very same people that labeled Eff as cursed when she was as young as four believe that Lan will do great and powerful magical things.  Part of this tale is a fascinating look at how we grow up believing what we've been told.
This is a magical
Little House on the Prairie.

Anyone reading along can clearly see that Eff is a good kid.  Her parents know that.  Her siblings understand, and her teachers do as well.  None of that stops Eff from doubting herself.  In fact, as she grows up she tries to bind her own magic so that it can't hurt anyone when she "inevitably" turns bad. Eff's determination to avoid her "fate" leads her to study some magical ways that aren't exactly mainstream, and that knowledge eventually allows Eff to be the hero of our story.  But that moment, when Eff figures out what the others failed to see, is Eff's coming-of-age moment.  It's the culmination of The Thirteenth Child.  Before you get there, you'll take another fascinating look at what America could have been if magic was an every day and if the American West had been full of dragons and mirrored beetles instead of bison.

This is the first book of a trilogy.  The second, Across the Great Barrier, is on my to-read list.  The third is yet to be released.  I look forward to those two installments, and you should, too.

(I'm assigning this a PG rating because of the good vs. evil themes and the elopement of one of Eff's sister's.  There's nothing graphic here (sex or violence), but there some big picture issues.)

Pin It

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Slammed by Colleen Hoover

I think my last post set a new record.  Six comments on the blog, numerous comments on my personal Facebook page and the blog's Facebook page (have you "Liked" us on there yet?) and something like 175 pageviews.  Thankfully, many of you were in agreement with my review of FSOG (that's right, it has it's own acronym now) and I didn't feel half as silly as I thought I was going to feel for thinking the book was a waste of my time.  This time around, I hope the same holds true.

After my review of FSOG I went Facebook stalking.  You know, when you read something that someone wrote on your wall so you click on their page and see where another person commented on their page then you click on that person and read stuff on their wall?  Yeah, well I did that and ended up finding a recommendation for Slammed.  A bunch of people on that page insisted Slammed was a "must read."  Pretending that conversation was intended for me, I downloaded it that night.

Slammed is really kind of a tragic story.  Layken is 18 years old and has recently moved to Michigan from Texas due to the unexpected death of her father.  Her mom works the night shift as a nurse so Layken must balance starting a new school at the beginning of her senior year as well as caring for her nine-year-old brother.  She handles being thrust into responsibility very well and even finds a fast friend in the same situation across the street.  Her neighbor Will is also raising his younger brother due to tragic circumstances.  They quickly fall for each other and just when Layken thinks Michigan might not turn out to be SO horrible, she sees Will at school the next day.  As in he is her third period teacher.  Oops.  In the best interest of both parties they decide to end their relationship but we all know it's never that easy, is it?  Tragedy strikes again and Layken and Will have no choice but to lean on each other.  At the risk of Will losing his job and his only means of financial support and Layken being expelled from school they continue their relationship.  Is it the right choice?  Can they make it through together?  Will love really conquer all? I liked the book enough not to spoil it for you, so I won't.

Like I said, I did like the book.  I was surprised at how much I liked the characters seeing as I have such strong feelings about student/teacher relationships.  (They are icky and wrong.  Did I mention they are icky?).  It was a bit unbelievable that the subject of school and jobs didn't come up in the days their relationship was new, but the author did a good job of covering for it in the book.  Layken and Will were very normal and real though, so I was able to look past it.

I think I would have liked the book more if it wasn't so sad.  Both families involved have been kicked in the gut with some really unfortunate circumstances and that's just not what I was in the mood to read.  (Disclaimer:  I haven't seen my kids in four weeks and that might have just a little bit to do with it..maybe.)   The writing was good, so please don't think it's not.  And I did read it in three days.  There is a sequel to this book called Point of Retreat that was released in April.  I will read that one too, just not right away.  I need something happy and uplifting right now seeing as I don't pick up my kids for another week.  Anyone have any recommendations or do I have to start Facebook stalking again? Pin It

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Summer Post

These are useful on the hottest
weekend of the year, but only
if they actually work.
I wish I had more time to read this summer.  That's not saying there isn't time here and there, but amidst the moving and the child-rearing (no matter how sub-par it may be) and the moving in with my Amy because our air conditioner died right before the hottest weekend EVER and the fighting with A/C repair people, the time doesn't come in nice big chunks that allow me to lose myself in the story or characters.  So I haven't finished a new book yet, and it's my turn to post.  I've started three different books but haven't finished them, making a proper review difficult.  I did finish a really good book before I moved, but I'm going to review it over on BeTween Books (you should check that out by the way).  I could go get my old book journal and review an old book, but I feel like that's even lamer than what I'm about to do.  And what I'm about to do is tell you about some cookbooks.  They're books.  They're books that I have read.  They're books that I have read, re-read, dog-eared, dropped food on, made special places for, and kept (instead of purging) through a couple of moves.  These are my gluten-free cookbooks.

Amy, Carrie, and I could start yet another blog about food.  We all like it and we all have different reasons to use specialty diets.  Amy is allergic to gluten and incorporates several aspects of the Paleo diet into her kitchen.  Carrie has started eating gluten free to improve her digestion.  I have been cooking gluten and casein free foods for over three years now to improve my daughter's digestion, which in turn helped mediate some of the symptoms of her autism.  Big caveat:  the gfcf diet helped her, it may not help every person with autism.  It did not cure anything except intestinal distress, but it sure did help her calm down and be more present.  But again that's her and that's why we've been gfcf for over three years.  So we know a thing or two about alternative diets on this blog and in our family.  During the summer I feel as if I spend an inordinate amount of my time cooking/baking for my kids.  Due to the gfcf nature of their diet, it's not easy to run to a grocery store and pick something up that's ready made for them.  Which means they eat simple foods or food that I cook or bake for them, and these are the cookbooks that made it easier for me to do so.

Really good bread
1.  The Gluten-Free Gourmet  Bette Hagman
Bette Hagman has passed away, but she left a great legacy of making gluten free accessible and even palatable.  She was diagnosed as celiac in the 1960s when most doctors didn't know what that meant.  She has written that she believes she was a lifelong celiac as she remembers getting regular stomach and leg aches after meals and treats of cookies in her childhood.  Once she understood what she couldn't eat, she set out making better gluten free options for herself and sharing with others in her community of Seattle.  From there, her recipes spread and eventually five cookbooks come out of her diligent research and relentless search for good gluten free food.  Her books don't include all the options available now (they were published in the 1980s and 1990s), but her flour blends and general advice still apply today.  The recipe for 'Bette's Four Flour Bread' was the first homemade success I had.  It's good and not in the good-enough-because-it's-gluten-free kind of way.  Also, it was cheaper than buying sliced bread at the time.  Now, the commissary carries Udi's brand sandwich bread which is also good and comparatively cheap.  However if you don't have access to a commissary Udi's can be cost prohibitive, so you might want to check out the bread recipes in The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread. 

2.  Babycakes Erin McKenna
For being so "free"
these are full of
I have a gigantic sweet tooth. For me the hardest thing to accept with the new gfcf lifestyle for my girl centered around baking sweets for her.  Somewhere I had associated baking yummy things as an expression of love.  An expression of love that was never turned away - I mean who doesn't love a fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookie?  She loved them, and anything else I would bake and I loved that she loved them and me by proxy.  But I realized these expressions of love were actually making it more difficult for her to process other expressions of love, like hugs, pats on the back, even loving words.  She often couldn't handle being touched or sit still long enough to hear the words "I love you."  Something had to change because I would give up making a lifetime of chocolate chip cookies for my girl to accept one hug from me.  So I did.  Well, I though I did.  I thought I gave it up until we took a trip to Disney World.  At Downtown Disney you can find deliciousness baked by a New York-based bakery, Babycakes.  Almost everything is gluten-free and it's vegan.  Not to mention that almost everything is free of processed sugar as well.  Doesn't sound that appetizing does it?  Well it is.  I had their chocolate chip cookies and I wanted more.  I had to quickly remove the wrapper from my daughter's cupcake before she ate it in her haste to consume all the yummy, and the other members of my family greatly enjoyed their treats as well.  Therefore I was excited about the two cookbooks by Erin McKenna that I later found.  Everything from donuts (her spelling) to cookies to cupcakes and cobblers.  We've tried a couple of the recipes and though everything tastes sweeter when someone else does the work, they were really good.  So now I get my cookies and my hugs too!

3.  Blogs
The beauty of the Internet is its ability to kill my productivity.  That's true, but it also gives me some great things in return for having me spend the better part of my morning Googleing and pinning.  Here are some blogs I follow and find helpful.
*The Spunky Coconut - focused on whole foods and includes lots of tutorials, this family makes their own cashew milk and eats gluten, casein, and processed sugar freely.
*The Gluten-Free Goddess - beautiful pictures and a wide variety of foods with adult tastes.
*Gluten Free Girl and the Chef - lots of video tutorials, gorgeous pictures, and a wealth of recipes.
*Gluten Free Mommy - very organized with recipes for a family, and a great resource for other gluten-free blog sites.

By the way, reading books is totally allergen-free.  But if you have to adapt your diet, for whatever reason, there are a lot of resources out there in the Information Age.  These are my standbys.  What are yours?

Pin It

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

I'm late to the John Scalzi party.

My social media addiction regularly introduces me to authors whose works I haven't read.  Most of the time, I respond with an internal thought of  "I should get around to reading her/his stuff."   Every once in a while the social media universe (for me, that's mostly the blogosphere and the Twitterverse and the FB galaxy) provides multiple reference to a new work or for a single author.  Eventually, those repeated points of contact hit critical mass, and I accept the advice the social media world is sharing.

This time, it was "READ JOHN SCALZI."

And so I did.

And then I was annoyed that the social media pundits had waited so long to send me a sign.

People, I'm way late to the party, and it's a hell of a shindig.

According to his own website, John Scalzi is best known for a series of books that started with Old Man's War.  I devoured the first one last week in Italy, and I plan to start (and finish) the second one, The Ghost Brigades, tomorrow.  (I'm not alone in this admiration.  Old Man's War was nominated for major awards and polls as a reader favorite for sci-fi fans.  I TOLD you it was a hell of shindig.)
What if all that was old
could be new again?

Old Man's War is a tale of John Perry, a widower who joins the military ranks on his seventy-fifth birthday.  (Yes, you read that right. Thus, the name of the book.)  This particular army is interested in recruits willing to cut their ties to Earth for a chance to live in a galactic colony after serving at least two, but as many as ten, years.  Most people sign up because they assume that the army has a way of fixing all the physical indignities of the natural aging process.  Why else would they let senior citizens sign up?While the chances of serving and surviving aren't high, the chances that most 75-year-olds will make it to 85 without medical intervention are just as slim.  And so John goes.  He IS fixed up, and he fights, and he learns about an entire universe of technology and biology he never knew before.  

Old Man's War is a story of major "what ifs". What if you could be physically "cured" when you hit 75?  What would you give up in order for that to happen?  What if there were intelligent lifeforms smarter, faster, meaner, and more zealous than anything Earth has to offer?

I thought this was an amazing book because it took some crazily complicated technological possibilities and made an easy read out of them.  I, like a few of the characters in the book, don't have the math to understand the physics of John's new world.  That didn't stop me from reading, (mostly) understanding, and enjoying what was going on.  So please don't let a lack of science (or math) stop you from reading this.  It's THAT good.

Come on.  Join me in making a tragically late appearance to the John Scalzi party.

Pin It

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

As I get older, no matter the subject matter, I can't STAND to know that some piece of pop culture is  passing me by.  Remember when I (embarassingly) read a Sookie Stackhouse novel thinking that she and Snooki were the same person?  If you need a refresher, click here.  Ever since that mishap, I am so determined to keep up with times that I even plan on suffering through a matinee showing of Magic Mike.  ;)   So when everyone was posting about Fifty Shades of Grey on Facebook, I immediately leapt into action.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I called Sarah and Carrie to make sure they were not planning on reading it for the blog (they assured me they were not) and THEN I leapt into action. (Here's hoping my mother and mother-in-law never read this review).

He ties her up with that,
you know.
I think everyone gets the gist of Fifty Shades by now but just in case, here is a quick synopsis.  Anastasia (Ana for short) is a 22-year-old girl that is weeks away from college graduation.  As a favor to her ill roommate, she agrees to interview Christian Grey for the school newspaper. Grey is an entrepreneur and huge benefactor to the school so his interview is key to the next edition.  At the interview Ana learns that everything she has heard about Christian Grey is true.  He's rich and he's beautiful.  (According to the author that is all there is to him, people.)  Thinking he is way out her league she finishes the interview and goes on her way.  Obviously Christian feels differently and a series of chance (?) encounters occur over the next week or so.  This is how their relationship begins and Ana begins to finds out about Christian's sordid past and unique sexual desires.  As you probably know by now, Christian presents Ana with a contract.  In order to be with him (sexually and likewise) she must agree to be his Sub.  As in Submissive.  She gets her own room at his mansion, all of the clothes money can buy, a personal trainer, spa appointments, and pretty much anything else she long as he okays it.  Christian, as the Dom or Dominant, gets complete access to every.single.inch of her from Friday evening until midday on Sunday.  Every week. No questions asked.  It seems that as a teenager and young adult Christian was a Sub and this type of relationship is his normal.  Ana struggles with her decision (the entire book) as to whether she wants to sign the agreement or not.  It is her deep desire that Christian will eventually come around and agree to live a more traditional sexual lifestyle.  I won't spoil it for you and I'll just let you read it for yourself to see if Ana gets her wish.

It should be known that Fifty Shades of Grey and the entire trilogy in fact, developed from a Twilight fan fiction originally titled Masters of the Universe.  It was written under the pen name Snowqueen Icedragon and was loosely based off of the characters Bella and Edward from Twilight.  It's a long story (feel free to Google it, it's really not THAT central to this review but I thought you needed to know a bit of background) but eventually all of that evolved into Fifty Shades of Grey.  This is just my nice way of saying that if you liked Twilight you'll most likely like, if not love, Fifty Shades.   I did not care for Twilight so you can probably guess how I felt about this book.

At the risk of sounding lame, old and like a big, fat prude...I didn't like it. First, it was not written well.  At all.  The character of Ana was so underdeveloped, the author actually wanted me to believe that she was a 22-year-old college virgin who had never been drunk before and didn't even own a computer.  Really?  I didn't buy it.  And then there was the sex.  Non-stop sex.  I'm pretty sure you could open the book to any page after the second chapter and it would be about sex.  And while I am at it, am I really supposed to believe that a virgin would be up for um, well, all of that?  And that each and every time would be complete and utter earth-shattering satisfaction?  Come on!   All of the sex aside and as was the case with Bella in Twilight, I wanted to shake Ana until the two brain cells in her head crashed into each other in the hopes that an actual intelligent thought might be produced.  Do you really have to think about staying in a relationship where your partner gets his kicks by whipping you until you bleed?  Must you really have to decide if it is okay to be chained to a bed in a "Red Room of Pain" in order for your mate to feel fulfilled sexually?  Ugh.  Could I please have a female lead character with just a little less lust on the brain and a little more of a backbone?

I do appreciate the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey and the two other books in the trilogy have set all sorts of  records.  Last week it became the number one best-selling book for the Kindle in the U.K.  The trilogy even topped The Hunger Games trilogy for June, according to the USA Today's Best-Selling Books list. Economics experts are even predicting a baby boom accredited to Fifty Shades in the next 9 months or so.  Oh lordy.  No matter the subject matter, I will admit that those are impressive numbers.  And I am all about people reading books.  (Reading is the hobby I always list first on job applications, you know).  I just wish that when a book tops a best-seller list it could be about something besides a young woman being emotionally and physically controlled by a man or men with commitment issues.

Ok, now it's your turn.  I know most of you have read it.  Don't be shy.  Let's hear it.  Except for you, Binnie and Lynn.  Remember, in my mind you've never had sex.  :)

Pin It

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Home by Toni Morrison

Washington DC derecho storm damage
From The Guardian.  Apparently the storm is called a
derecho.  Everyone here just calls it "bad."
 Late again.  This time, it's was Mother Nature making it difficult.  I would take some time to complain about not having access to the Internet (5 days! I forgot everything I knew!) but that would be really petty considering there are still tens of thousands of people without power in the area.  Last Friday, the metro DC and greater Baltimore areas were hit with a severe thunderstorm.  It lasted about 20 minutes.  But that's all it takes to wreak havoc. (I suppose tornadoes don't last 20 minutes and can produce greater damage, so I'm not sure why it surprises me that chaos happens in minutes rather than hours or days.)  For 1.5 million people, the power went out and didn't come back on for days.  This would have been an inconvenience at any time, but it became a public health threat because of the temperatures.  It's been over 95 degrees every day since the storm, and it hasn't been cooling off that much at night.  Trees were uprooted, power lines were toppled, roads were blocked by debris: it was a serious storm.  And it killed the power box for my FiOS.  It got replaced yesterday.  I did a happy dance.  Then I felt like a heel, because there are still people without power.  So I sent out some positive thoughts and prayers for the linemen working on getting power back to everyone and did a much more subdued happy dance.

I love Toni Morrison.  She and I have very little in common, but we both love words.  She just happens to put that love into making beautifully crafted novels and I, instead, pass off puns as jokes.  Clearly, we don't run in the same circles.  But if we ever meet somewhere, I would tell her that I love her writing.  I would tell her that I appreciate how she makes ordinary words seem beautiful and full of magic.  I would tell her that I am able to understand and empathize - as opposed to sympathize - with her characters despite not having one thing in common with them.  I would thank her for making the experiences of others accessible to me through her novels.  Then I would keep my mouth shut for fear that I would tell her a bad joke.  I can't help myself, they just come out of my mouth before I can stop them.  I blame my dad.  If we've ever met and I've told you a bad joke, you can blame my dad too.

HomeHome is short and bittersweet.  It's a bit of a departure for Ms Morrison in that it's set in the early 1950s; post Korean War.  Frank Money came home from Korea without his two best friends and without any idea of how to live life after that sort of loss.  Not just the loss of his childhood pals, but the loss of his self-perception.  War can make people see the best and the worst in other people and, even more difficult to bear, the best and the worst in themselves.  Frank has seen and done things he didn't know he was capable of withstanding, and now he has to learn how to be a part of society while shouldering that knowledge.  It's not going particularly well when he receives a letter telling him his sister is gravely ill.  Now he can no longer wander aimlessly and he heads south to the tiny town where he grew up protecting his sister from the harsh world surrounding them.

Cee, Frank's sister, has learned some tough lessons since leaving Lotus, Georgia.  Newly married, she learns that some men aren't worth the car they were given as a sort of dowry.  She learns that money can be hard to come by.  And in finding what she thinks is a good job as a doctor's assistant, she learns that dangerous ideas can be wrapped up and presented as good deeds.  Sarah, the maid for the doctor and his wife, realizes that Cee is not going to recover from whatever it is the doctor has been doing without an intervention.  She feels powerless to stop it herself without risking her job and/or safety, so she sends a letter to Frank.  The good doctor has strong feelings about race and eugenics which he has incorporated in his practice.  Neither Sarah nor Cee know what that implies, but Frank knows that it would have killed his sister if he had shown up any later to take her out of the doctor's home.  Frank takes Cee back to Lotus where the women of the town nurse her back to health.  Cee lives, but she'll never be able to have children; something she didn't know she'd miss until it was gone.  From there, both Frank and Cee have to come to terms with their pasts in order to figure out a future.   They both have to understand how their experiences have shaped their identities so they can be comfortable in their own skin.  Home is not always a building, but a place of comfort and a mind at ease; something you take with you once you find it.

This is not what I'd call a beach read.  It's short but it's powerful, just like the storm we had here.  Some of the images hurt.  But that's not to say they should be ignored.  And, in all honesty, it's one of the easiest of Ms Morrison's to read.  Beloved ( which is in my All-Time Top Ten) is hard in every sense of the word: the language is dense, the story is complicated, the dialect is heavy, the images are often cruel, and the harshness of that world hits you full force again and again and again.  Yet it's an amazing story with beautiful words and strength beyond anything I've known.  Home is easier than that, but that doesn't make it light beach-reading material.  Well, I suppose it depends on the beach.  :)  Everyone have a happy and safe Fourth of July!
Pin It