Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31, 2010

In the last week or so, I've been think a lot about the new year, the things I'd like to focus on improving in my life. I try making resolutions every year, I don't stick with them for more than a month or 2. I admit to having lazy tendencies.

There have been so many changes in my life in the past year that I've already kind of reset many things in my life. We moved across the country, started in a new town, the kid is at a new school, and we are adjusting to life in an extended family. Already for the new year we will be buying a house, so that is my first goal and milestone to reach in 2012. Once that is taken care of, I can focus on other things.

My new job has actually helped me get more fit because of all the stairs in the building, though I can feel the effects lessening as my body acclimates. I would still like to get in better shape by either joining a belly-dancing or yoga class. The stumbling block is the cost. I'm hoping that we can rearrange things in the new house so that I can have access to the Wii Fit again.

My main goals involve work. I have a pretty good job, but it's not exactly what I want to be doing and there is also no guarantee it will be there next year due to the way they are restructuring the staff. So I will keep looking for my dream job, and not let frustration get the better of me.

My other work related goal is connected to my two blogs. This is not work I get paid for, but something that gives me satisfaction. I am going to try to write weekly blogs this year. This will mean that I do a blog for this site every other week. My professional site, Tech for Teachers, will be updated on the weeks that this site is not. If I blog more, then bonus.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I originally read this as a teen after falling in love with the film. I have to say, it is very different than I remember it from my first read. I remember thinking that it was very dry and dull for the "good-bits" version. After getting half way through the book this time, I began to wonder if I was crazy or if I had read the actual book by Morgenstern. It's very likely that I simply didn't understand much of the subtle humor at that tender age.


I have to say, that they did a pretty decent job adapting the book to film. The flashbacks from the book were handled very well, and in a way that didn't lead to overly long and dull exposition. It's very hard for me to not compare the book to the movie in this review, I have watched the film times beyond counting (I'm on my fourth copy: one loaned and lost, a second the tape busted on, and a third scratched). I'd have bought the anniversary edition, but it didn't have enough bonus material on it. It is a favorite movie in my house, in fact, it's one of the movies that I'd bring with me to a deserted island.

Ok, back to the book itself. I was inspired to reread it because of the Twitter Geek Girls Book Club, a book club for girls that aren't into chick-lit or romance novels (at least not only those). Goldman's approach of "abridging" a historical satire to make it enjoyable for his son and recreate the story that his father read to him is endearing. His use of asides adds to a feeling of intimacy with the author, and the characters in a round-about way. The reader can feel his nostalgia emanate from the page, in much the same way that I have a soft place in my heart for the movie. So much of the book was in the movie that it is very hard for me to separate my feelings for the two.

There were several parts of the book that I wish had made it to the film, though I understand why they did not. Inigo (most everyone's favorite character) returns to the Thieves' Quarter after encountering the "Man in Black", a place that he hates. He is wishing that he could wear a sign that says, "Be careful, this is the greatest fencer since the death of the Wizard of Corsica. Do not burgle." That struck me as quite funny, most likely due to the use of the word burgle.

If you are looking for a gently funny book with action and adventure, or if you are simply a fan of the film, I suggest picking this book up. I plan on trying some more of his works. If The Princess Bride isn't your sort of thing, remember he also wrote "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kraken by China Mieville

Hello again, everyone. It was time to shift genres, high fantasy wasn't doing it for me anymore. I have been a fan of China Mieville since I read Perdido Street Station. This book is different than the other works I've read by Mieville. For one, it is set in what appears to be modern day London. The result is that people new to his work miss out on the beautiful landscapes he creates when he builds a world. However, new readers still get to enjoy his wonderful descriptive phrases and rich characters. Another difference is an increase in humor, though it is often subtle. I admit a certain fondness for the unsubtle line, "My Google-fu is strong".

We being our tale in the Darwin Center at the National History Museum on a tour with curator, Billy Harrow. The only object on the tour that any of the visitors are really interested in seeing is the preserved giant squid.This desire is stymied by the fact that the squid, and its entire tank have mysteriously disappeared.

Through this disappearance, Billy is surprised to learn of a giant squid cult that worships the Kraken, and its brethren, as gods. (This will not surprise fans and devotees of the Cthulhu mythos.) He also becomes aware that they have made him a profit of their faith, no pressure there for the unassuming young man. He also become aware of a London he has never known, a kind of magical and mystical second London hidden in the commonly seen city. The search for the missing squid becomes a battle for the continued existence of the world and all those residing upon it.

In many ways this is an adventure tale, it is also an ends-of-the-world story. No, I did not make a typo when writing ends, as we all know someone is always predicting the end of the world. It is no different in the universe created here by Mieville. The difference in this universe is that it is a real possibility that the predictions might become reality. There are several points at which the story takes a rather surprising turn. Part of a speech given by the ultimate villain of the story really spoke volumes of truth to it, my friends will probably know the part that speaks to me.

I listened to this book on audio, and for the most part the audio served me well. The ending seemed to take a little too long to wrap up for me, though I think this was influenced by listening to it rather than reading it. Mieville is frequently deep, and I think the ability to reread a passage would add much to the story. I will have to reread it in textual format, I know I missed some of the subtly by not looking at the text.

Though I did not enjoy this book, quite as much as Perdido Street Station. I'd recommend reading it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Two Christmas Stockings for 2011

I made two stockings this year, both for little boys. One is for a former co-worker and friend in Texas. I got the pattern from a book filled with Victorian style stockings. This is the third stocking I have made from this book, I will probably end up making them all at some point. They are all detailed and beautiful.  It turned out a bit smaller than I intended, wasn't having a good math day when I was figuring out the size. I wanted it smaller than the one I had made for his dad, and I succeeded in that.

The second is a surprise gift for friends we met through World of Warcraft and their delightful little son (though it's no longer a surprise as they got it in the mail yesterday). I took screenshots from the game World of Warcraft to get Grandfather Winter (aka Santa) and the tree from Orgrimmar. I then got pictures of my friends' characters off the Armory. I shopped the three images together, including some presents from under the tree. Next, I made a patter using PC Stitch Pro. I learned a lot while making this stocking, next time I'll reduce the number of colors for the program to use.

I'd really like to do more custom pieces, I think my next will be to create a Calvin & Hobbes stocking for my husband.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Magician: Apprentice and Master by Raymond E. Feist

Once again I dive into a fantasy world on audio, this was the author revised edition including the first two volumes of The Magician: Apprentice and Master by Raymond E. Feist, aka The Riftwar Saga. In the audio edition, they were treated as one volume, so I didn't actually know when I went from one book to the other, thanks husband for helping me out with that. I have not read Feist before, so I come to the revamped version ignorant of the original published work. I can't imagine many objections to the changes as they were initiated and made by the author, but I'm sure there are some nonetheless. 

Our story is set in the land of Crydee, a small rural Duchy in The Kingdom on the world of  Midkimea. Our protagonists are Pug, an orphaned kitchen boy (whom lends the book its title), and Tomas, the cook's son and Pug's best friend. We begin right before The Day of Choosing, an important rite of passage for the young men of Crydee in which they learn if they will be apprenticed to any of the tradesmen in the Duchy. Pug and Tomas both would like to be soldiers or foresters. On the auspicious day, Pug is left standing alone after all the other boys have been picked, the Duke's magician, Kulgan.

Just as Pug is becoming serious about his studies, there is a shipwreck. This is no ordinary shipwreck, but one of an alien warship from another world, heralding the coming of an invasion. The Duke and his men seek aid from the Prince and King, but all does not go as planned. (Wouldn't be much story to tell if it did, now would there?) War ensues throwing the kingdom and the boys' lives into chaos and interrupting their studies in the arts of fighting and magic.

Over the course of the story, we get to watch the boys grow into men and come to know more about the Kingdom's enemies, the Tsurani. I cannot describe the plot of the second book without giving away the ending of the first, so I will refrain from sharing any details.

The story was well-told and action packed, as well as funny and occasionally touching. The reader did an excellent job, though I could not find his name. If you are looking for high-adventure fantasy, you'll enjoy this. I'll be listening to the next book in the series, Silverthorn next.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

This is the final volume of Scott Westerfeld's steampunk trilogy. I've been eagerly awaiting this book, and went to the Mall of America to get it signed. Sadly, the line was very small to meet Mr. Westerfeld. My daughter and I were first in line, which was good. I say it was sad because the giant book-signing line was for a book from a Playboy bunny airing her dirty laundry. It upsets me that an idiot that is famous for taking off her clothes and having a rocky marriage to a basketball player draws more people than a story like Goliath and a talent like Scott Westerfeld.

In case you missed the other books in the series, or my reviews of them, let me sum it all up for you. The story is set in an alternate version of World War I. In this universe, the Archduke Ferdinand has a son that is orphaned by his assassination. His son, Alek, goes into hiding after the death of his parents and hopes to gain his father's place in the royal family one day. Austria-Hungary is part of the Clanker powers (they've developed advanced machinery that mostly runs on steam power). While he is in hiding an English air ship crashes nearby, and he assists in their rescue. England and Austria-Hungary are on opposite sides of the war and a deep philosophical difference. England is a Darwinist nation, this means that they have developed their technology through altering animals genetic code to make them useful in a variety of ways. The airship is actually an altered whale and strongly resembles a zeppelin.

Our main protagonist is Dylan, a.k.a. Deryn, Sharp. She is a midshipman on the Leviathan and is pretending to be a boy in order to service in the military. She is quick, strong, and smart. Dylan and Alek form an unlikely friendship, and Dylan falls for Alek. In the latest volume, Dylan's secret is revealed to some, and almost given away completely. We also see a few true to life historical figures such as Nicolas Tesla, Pancho Villa, and William Hearst.

One of the things that I really enjoy about this series besides the characters and story is the wonderful art drawn by Keith Thompson. Unfortunately, my favorite creature design, the weaponized manta ray ship, was not available online. There was no way, I was going to break the spine of my signed edition by putting in on the scanner. But each picture in the book is as detailed and as beautiful on the one on the right. I really wish more adult books would get back to illustrated novels, it really adds a little something. It's sad that it has mostly become a dead art in the West.

I can't say that the story offers any surprises for experienced readers, but it is enjoyable and well told. The creatures and locations are brought to vivid life by Westerfeld's deft and eloquent descriptions, and complimented beautifully by Thompson's finely detailed illustrations.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard

My husband recommended this collection to me and loaded the audio book on my phone. I wasn't sure what to expect, or if I would enjoy it. Pulp fiction, like Conan, has a bad reputation with it portrayal of women and I was only familiar with the movie Conan, the Schwarzenegger Conan at that. It turns out much of what I know of Conan is not from the original stories, but from writers aping Howard's work and "borrowing" the character's name. 

The audio book opens with a foreword about the history of the Conan stories, and a look at the environment that created them. It is quite interesting for any bibliophile, whether they are interested in Conan stories or not. I had no idea that Howard and Lovecraft were friends, or that Howard was considered quite a "literary" writer. The book is read by Todd McLaren, who's voice is the embodiment of rough manliness. He creates a variety of voices for the various characters, and lends a quiet dignity to our hero.

This image isn't objectification in any way!
Over the years, when people have discussed Conan, I got the distinct impression that the stories objectified women as solely sexual objects. Though I can't comment on other similar works of the time, I can say that I did not get this feeling from Howard's work. Don't get me wrong, he eloquently describes the female beauties of the world in detail. It is often quite a sensual, almost erotic description. However, he takes no less care when describing Conan's physical beauty, or the bodies of other prominent males characters. Howard definitely had an appreciation for a fit human form, regardless of gender.

The volume includes 13 tales, plus the Miscellanea. Many of the stories have never been seen in this form before as they were cut for length or content on original publication. I enjoyed all the stories, though some stuck out more than others. There were tales of political intrigue, pirate adventuring, tribal war, and magical creatures. I really enjoyed "Queen of the Black Coast", a woman strong enough to match Conan's super human personality, thirst for adventure, and strength of will. "The Tower of the Elephant" showed us a bit of Conan's softer side, even if only for a second. Through out all the stories, the reader gets a sense of Conan's passion for life and all it's pleasures. He is very much a person that lives in the now, and without regrets. Conan, and his allies (no matter what their walk of life) have an honesty and integrity in all their deeds. Howard also shows a remarkable understanding of various cultures, commenting in his stories about how each place has its own ways and that one must adapt to the ways of the land you are in. Not a sentiment I expected to find in these tales, especially not stated so directly.

If you are looking for some adventure, or would like to puzzle out which fictional culture matches which real life culture, give this collection a read (or a listen).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Horns by Joe Hill

As some of you may have noticed, I've been on a Joe Hill kick lately. Horns is classified as horror due to the supernatural elements, but it is really more of a drama. The story of Ig Perish, his brother Terry, his friend Lee Tourneau, and his girlfriend Merrin Williams.

The story opens with Ig waking up to discover that he has horns growing out of his forehead. He has no recall of the events of the night before. He quickly learns that his horns have a terrible power. People unwilling spew forth their dirtiest secrets and desires, asking for his permission to fulfill their darkest desires. The plus side of the horns is that they make people forget they are there, and forget their conversations with Ig.

We learn very quickly that Ig lost the love of his life, Merrin, almost exactly a year ago in a horrible rape/murder. He was the one and only suspect, the case was dropped when the evidence went up in a lab fire. Everyone in town, including his own parents believe he is guilty of murdering her. The only person that believes he is innocent is his brother, Terry. Hill tells the story in a non-linear fashion. We start in Ig's presence, jump back to the day in Ig's childhood when he almost drowns and meets Lee. The next segment jumps to right before Merrin's murder, where we learn that she breaks it off with him the night before he leaves for a new job in England. This is the same night she is murdered. We then move to the section titled "The Fixer", this gives us Lee's perspective on events. The final section returns us to the present after Ig has the horns and shows us the resolution of the story.

It may seem strange to some, but there is never a moment in the story that I believed Ig was guilty of the crime, despite the fact that he sprouts the horns and powers of the devil. This is the story of a decent guy who life is destroyed by heart breaking occurrences. There are a few twists, though if you are paying attention (or know a bit of abnormal psychology) you will probably guess them ahead of time. The emotional purity of his story telling that was glimpsed in 20th Century Ghosts is fully realized here. You feel for Ig and Merrin, and the tragedy that destroys them. You feel Ig's misery upon learning that his parents think he is guilty, his hope rekindled a bit when he knows that his brother never believed it. Ig's good heart when he forgives most of those that have wronged him.

Once again, I listened to the audio book. Be careful when driving and listening to this at the same time. It could be hazardous to your health. If you are eye-reading it, I suggest a box of tissues on hand if you are the type to cry at movies. Part of me thinks this would make an interesting film, but I fear it would be ruined by Hollywood. A devil as a protagonist may be too much for them.

I really enjoyed the ride this book took me on.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

I do not usually read short story collections, not because I have anything against short stories but because I prefer the intimacy and depth of novels. Even the length of the novel is often not satisfying enough for me, and I want to spend more time with the characters. I made an exception for this collection because I enjoyed Heart-Shaped Box so much that it put me on a Joe Hill kick.

The audio book edition contains 15 stories, one hidden in the Acknowledgments. There are a few stories that have been included in other editions that were not in this one. It saddens me to miss out on them, I may have to hunt them down.

The tales range from beautifully sentimental to truly disturbing, sometimes a mix of the two is found in a single narrative. Several of them made me cry (not really a safe thing when driving), all of the stories had an honesty to the emotions portrayed in them. This is vital for me as a reader. There was not a single story in the collection that I didn't like or enjoy, though some cut off abruptly when I wanted more. It was not a failing of the stories, but a deliberate choice on the part of Mr. Hill, and used to quite a good effect. I truly can not pick out a favorite story, but will highlight a few that particularly touched me.

I think the most touching, and sadly sweet, of the stories is "20th Century Ghost". It is the tale of a man and a movie theater. It is the story of coming to love cinema, and the affect it has on him. It is also the story of a ghost that can not leave the theater for the love of it and film. Though there are a few spooky moments, this story is predominately about love. I feel Joe Hill's sadness at the disappearance of the old style movie houses, as well as the shift away from making movies for the love of the art. This could just be me reading my own feelings about the modern movie industry into the story. The story is deeper than that, and moves to other types of love. I admit, this is one of the stories that made me cry. It was strangely romantic for a horror collection.

"My Father's Mask" was very strange. It twisted and turned a lot. Despite the fact that the father is in the title, the reader actually learns very little about him. The focus is on the boy and his mother. The boy is 13 and is annoyed by his mother's silly games and make believe stories (as many teenagers are). Yet he finds he can't resist being pulled in by them and playing along. His mother's story about why they are going to the family cabin frightens him, as does her and his father wearing masks the whole time they are there. This story left me feeling quite uncomfortable.

Another one that I quite enjoyed was "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead", this may be partially because it's setting is the filming of "Dawn of the Dead". For the entire story, our characters are in zombie make-up. George Romero and Tom Savini make cameo appearances. I am curious as to how much of their speeches in the tale reflect the ones they truly gave the extras on the film.

Several of the stories deal with relationships between brothers, others deal with friendships. The descriptions bring the locals and the characters quickly to life. I recommend reading this book, short stories are perfect for when you want a good read but don't have hours to get lost in another world.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Virals by Kathy Reichs

Virals is the first is a YA series by Kathy Reichs, who came to popular culture through her books about Temperance Brennan and their t.v. show adaptation, Bones. The main character, and our narrator, is Tory Brennan (Temperance's niece). I have only read the first Bones book, though I've watched the t.v. show regularly, so I can't say whether this series is a true spin off or not. I plan on reading more of both the Temperance and Tory Brennan series.

I ear-read rather than eye-read this books. The young lady, Cristin Milioti, that did the voice work did a fabulous job. This book even had a few sound effects related to certain occurrences. This surprised me at first, most audiobooks I've read don't include sound effects but rely solely on the actor's voice. Maybe this one was different because it was a YA book, it was well done and didn't distract from the story.

Tory has just moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. The reason for her move? Her mother has died in a car accident and she has moved in with her father, Kit. Neither of them has known of the others existence for the 14 years of her life. Considering the circumstances, Tory is exceedingly well adjusted. She is a genuinely good kid, if her actions aren't always careful or legal. Like her famous aunt, she is very intelligent and loves science. Her father's house is on a small island owned by the University, only other university employees live on it. As a result, Tory becomes with the three teen boys that also live on the island. They also love science, though different aspects. The kids go to a fancy prep school on the mainland, this is one of the perks offered by the college to attract researchers to take the job on the remote research island.

The kid's love to go the research island by boat and observe the wolf-dogs and the wild monkeys (yes, you read that correctly). This habit annoys their parents' supervisor, and he is always trying to prove that they have broken a rule so that he can ban them forever. They have noticed that one of the wolf-dog pups is missing and that the pack is acting strangely (its because the missing pup is locked up in one of the labs), while trying to discover the cause of the strange behavior Tory discovers a pair of old dog tags. Being an ever curious teen, and solver of puzzles, Tory insists they find out who the dog tags belonged to and how they got on the island.

This discovery in turn leads to the discovery of a dead body. Shortly, after discovering the body they all become very ill. It turns out that they caught an unknown disease when they rescued the wolf-pup, dubbed Cooper. Once they are over the sick symptoms, they begin to notice heightened senses and unusually high levels of strength. But these powers are interment. In the course of their investigation into the dog tags and dead body, they have angered a mysterious person that is trying to stop their investigation by any means possible.

The story is fast paced, entertaining, with moments of true and deep emotions (some sweet, others sad). It is a YA book, but due to some of the language it contains I would say it's best for upper middle school or high school. I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I suppose it's fitting that I began exploring Joe Hill's work with his debut novel. I know that it is no longer a secret that he comes from a family of writers, and that his father is one of the most prolific horror writers of all time. Many would argue that his father is the most popular horror writer of all time. I am declining to opine on that front to avoid: a) the hate mail on the one end of the debate and b) the total loss of respect on the other. I am also not going to do what so many others have done and compare the father's and son's work. I'm sure it has been done to death, and bores both them and the readers at this point. I will say that it is clear that the father passed along his love not only of the horror genre, but his love of music to the son as well.

Our tale is that of an aging rock star, Judas Coin, who is fascinated with the macabre and has a unique collection of dark oddities including a witch's confession to her crimes. Jude was once married, but has had a string of young lovers since it fell apart. His current partner is Marybeth, whom he refers to as Georgia (he refers to all his girlfriends by their state of origin). His only constant companions are Danny Wooten, his personal assistant, and his German Shepherds, Bon and Angus. The adventure begins when Danny sees an online auction that he knows will interest Jude, a man's ghost and his suit.

The individual auctioning off the ghost implies that it is harmless, this turns out to be a rather large falsehood. It very quickly becomes obvious to the reader, as well as Jude and Georgia, that this ghost plans on doing more than just rattle some windows or moan in the night. Georgia is hurt almost right away, and Danny goes running for the hills as quick as can be. The situation continues to deteriorate as the story progresses.

I listened to the audiobook as I drove to and from work, Stephen Lang captured the feel perfectly. He can even do a very good southern accent, and a reasonable facsimile of a woman's voice. The production quality was quite high. I felt myself tense up for the characters, my breath shortened in anticipation and worry. I even cried in several places in sympathy for them. Joe Hill makes you wonder if there will be a happy ending, or if the story will end like Japanese stories so often do when they star an angry, hateful ghost. If you are looking for a good ghost story, I recommend you pick this one up.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Zero to 60 in Just 8 Hours

It's amazing how quickly life can change, how it can go from one extreme to another in the space of a few short hours. As most of you know, at least those that have read my previous posts, follow me on Twitter, or are friends with me on Facebook, I have desperately been applying for work since we moved to Minnesota in June. I have been agonizing over how we will survive without a stable income. Though I had been accepted to substitute teach in two districts in the last few weeks and had gotten a job teaching keyboarding skills on Saturdays, I was still worried. Even with these jobs lined up, it meant no pay until September 15th at the earliest. The stress level has been high with no income for several months.

I have been eagerly awaiting an IT position that I applied for, and was told that there would be no word about until the end of September. Being told that you are first in line for a job that won't be available for another month is both flattering and terrifying. You can't just stop looking, the family must eat until October.

Yesterday, I received an email that lifted my spirits, I am being hired on a two month trial basis. If they are pleased with my performance I will be given a full contract with full salary and benefits starting in November. I am thrilled to have this opportunity, though I will be working 6 days a week. I will only be planning lessons for one day, admittedly for K-8th grade. During the week, I will be trouble shooting technical hiccups, learning all about servers, and help teachers incorporate technology into the classroom.

You may be thinking, "Wow! That'll keep you busy!", you are right indeed. But this isn't all that's new. I am short 6-7 classes (15-17 credit hours) of having my Minnesota Media/Library Specialist Masters degree. I must have this degree to be able to take any IT Specialist job in Minnesota. I called today to start the ball rolling on getting enrolled in St. Cloud University to take these class. I applied as a "non-degree seeking" student until I can get approved for the Masters program (I missed the deadline for this semester). I will also be applying for further financial aid to take these classes (to be done tomorrow).

It's a good thing I'm ahead on my reading goal for the year and that I have an hour drive to work because I don't think there will be much time to do any reading except for audio books for the next 6 months. I may have become the "Queen of Overbooking My Time", but it will be worth it. I will be successful in this job.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

The Monstrumologist is a young adult horror novel, and won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award. For those of you that do not know what a Monstrumologist is, it is a Cryptid hunter. If that doesn't help, this may not be the book for you. But in case you are still curious, a cryptid is a creature that hasn't been proven to exist such as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or El Chupacabra.

The story is set in the Northeastern United States in the April of 1888. It is the story of Pellinore Warthrop, a Monstrumologist, and Will Henry, his 12 year old orphaned charge and assistant.Warthop and Will Henry are tied together by circumstance. Will Henry's father was Warthop's assistant before his death. Will was orphaned in a fire, the events leading up to the fire are linked with his father's work for Warthop. The point that they are all each other has left in the world is hit home repeatedly, and pointedly. Both characters seem to be torn as to whether this is something that they are happy or miserable about. As with real world relationships, their's is a complicated one wound up in history, guilt, obligation, etc.

In case you need a visual
The adventure begins very quickly, with a stranger, Erasmus Grey, knocking on the door in the middle of the night bearing a monstrous load in his cart. He brings the corpse of a young girl entwined in the embrace of a monster, an Anthropophagi. Warthop is excited, while Will Henry is horrified (this is his first real experience with the darker side of his employer's work). Once Warthop has separated the pair, and completed his necropsy, Warthop has Grey lead them to the site of his discovery.

Warthop's approach is to always use logic when making a decision. This practice does not serve him well in this instance, and he quickly realizes that he and Will Henry are in over their heads. They retreat to do more research and call in some help. Things continue to spiral out of control as the story progresses.

The narrative is set up as a diary written by Will Henry in his later years as he reflects back on his life. We are seeing it through the eyes of a modern researcher who is reading the journals after his death, at 131 years old. I know that the found diary isn't a new story device, but Yancey does it well. Another thing Yancey does well is describe the horrific details of the monsters, their lair, and the deaths of their victims. My husband began reading this before me, and balked when I told him it was a young adult book because of the graphic nature of the narrative. It' not graphic to the point of making you nauseous, but he definitely utilizes the gross out factor. The language used by the characters also adds quiet a bit to the ambiance of the story, it seems quite authentic to the time period.

If you are a horror fan, I recommend this book, adults are included in this recommendation. I look forward to the sequel.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Superman and the U.S.

For me the icon that most represents what I want the United States of America to be and the ideals it espouses is Superman. He is honest, brave, helpful, trustworthy, self-sacrificing, moral, and non-judgmental.  I have been told that Superman doesn't represent the ideals of the U.S. at all, this saddens me. "Truth, justice, and the American way" says it all to me. He was raised with all the core values of the United States, but without the bigotry and politics that has become dominate in the rhetoric.

My husband recently brought it to my attention that he also embodies the American dream in another way that I had never considered before. He is the ultimate example of an immigrant becoming a success and embracing his adopted land. He is an illegal alien, not just to the U.S., but to the planet. He is adopted by the Kents, raised to be an American citizen. He gets a job as a reporter, when they still sought the truth and to expose corruption. He uses his special gifts to help not just his fellow citizens, but his fellow world citizens. It saddens me that Superman has relinquished his U.S. citizenship in the comics. I know this move angered many "patriots", but it makes perfect sense to me. It saddens me, not because it was done, but because our country has moved so far away from it's core ideals that it made sense for this icon to do it. Those that got angry at the writers of Superman would do better to focus their anger on the corruption that caused it.

I know the official symbols of my country, but they do not capture my heart or imagine the way Superman does. They seem to only symbolize one aspect of my country: the flag is historical, apple pie is tradition, and the bald eagle has no clearly defined symbolism as far as I know. It was just a bird they picked, I'm not sure why. And for me the bald eagle, though a beautiful bird, implies aggression as it is a predator.

I have lost faith in the politicians, they are out for themselves and their largest donors, the corporations. It is no longer about governing the nation, but about maneuvering for power and position. As long as we have only two major political parties that can simply switch places in power, we are looking at serial political monopolies. They will continue to block each others' ideas to ensure failure so they can regain the top spots and our nation will continue in a downward spiral.

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty." — George Washington, September 19, 1796 (from freerepublic.com)

I look at the laws that have been passed in the last 10 years that have corroded the citizens civil rights and fear because most of the citizens are supporting this action instead of being outraged. We now have a government that can spy on any citizen without cause or warrant and that can hold us without cause or trial indefinitely. The citizens should be protesting en mass, complaining to their Congressmen, but they say nothing. People are being arrested for filming the police, protesters homes are being searched and t-shirts confiscated. I wonder when I left the West and moved to a totalitarian state. I wonder if we even deserve to be considered a Western nation anymore, as stated by Eric Whinery states here. I am planning on reading Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", I am guessing that the U.S. is making choices leading to failure.

I love my country, I love the spirit that started it, but I'm ashamed of the direction it is headed. I am ashamed of the immoral actions of our government, like deliberately infecting people from poor countries with diseases for studies. I am ashamed that crimes of soldiers are not made public, though if they had committed the same act on U.S. soil they would have been registered in a database. War is not an excuse for awful behavior, though war culture enables people to act badly when part of that culture is to dehumanize the enemy and forget that they are people too. I am not a fool, I realize that a certain amount of that is necessary for the soldiers to be able to do their jobs. I am ashamed that my nation utilized torture in our prisons, violating the Geneva Convention which we helped get in place. Starting illegal wars and goading countries into war to be able to play the victim (Japan and WWII).

I want my country to be a guiding light for the world again rather than being viewed as a economic and military bully. I want us to once again be leaders of innovation in math, science, and education rather than trailing behind major European nations, some developing nations, and even some 3rd world nations. I don't want the world to view us as rude, self-centered, uneducated, and arrogant. I want us to follow through on our stated views on human rights, and stop supporting (and sometimes even starting) regimes that violate human rights. I want us to condemn the human rights violations of our allies as well as our enemies. In short, I want us to be partners with the world rather than a self-appointed police force. I want us to stop ignoring requests for aid when the country has no oil. I want us stand up for what's right and not for corporate gain. I want the people to speak up against the outrages in their own country. I want American to be angry when any of our soldiers commit atrocities in war zones. Our soldiers represent us, we are judged by their actions as much as we are judged by our government's policies. I am not saying all soldiers are doing bad things, I know that most are good people in bad situations.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn't say Captain America, it's because I didn't grow up reading him. I just went to see the new movie with my husband, I quite enjoyed it. I can see how he epitomizes the American ideals as well. My husband shared a Captain America quote with me, it sums up my feelings about this is a different way.

"Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world----No you move."

Thank you Superman and Captain America for keeping the light shining, even when others do not. The fact that you have survived and still speak out against wrongs in the world and the government, and that your writers are still patriots gives me hope.

Many will say that speaking out or questioning the government isn't patriotic, especially since 9-11, and the government loves you for it. But Thomas Jefferson would disagree with you about it being acceptable to give up your rights for safety, "A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither”.

That is my opinion anyway

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin


I know that right now there are hundreds if not thousands of reviews online for this book. It is one of the most highly anticipated books in fantasy for a very long time. Fans of the series have been waiting for years for it to come out, some so eager for it that they were sending death threats to the author because it wasn't completed yet. These people are not rational creatures, obviously, as that is counterproductive to their desires, but they are definitely fanatics.

I admit that when I first learned of the major reason for the delay of this book, I was a bit miffed. But the HBO show based on the Song of Fire and Ice series, "Game of Thrones" is so wonderfully produced, casted, and adapted that I have forgiven Martin for the delay in the release of this volume of the series. If you haven't read the series or watched the tv show, I highly recommend both. A warning, the tv show is definitely not family friendly viewing.

Martin took a unique approach with this book in the series. It and the previous volume, A Feast for Crows, were suppose to be a single volume, but they were split in two when the size of the tome became unwieldy. Instead of splitting the story strictly by chronological events, Martin split them along character lines. For example, in A Feast for Crows we see the events happening to Sansa Stark, while in A Dance with Dragons we follow Arya Stark's life. The first half of the book takes place at the same time as A Feast for Crows, at just over half way we pass beyond the last events in Feast and move forward in the time line.

As always, Martin's writing was gripping and the turn of events continually surprise. This volume reunited me with some of my favorite characters that I had missed in the last book, Tyrion and Arya for example. We see the head of the Manderly family in a completely new light, and see how the Frey's try to spin the "Red Wedding". I couldn't put the book down, and I would like to say that I loved it. However, I fell just short of loving it. The wonderful, and frustrating thing, about Martin is how he leaves you guessing and only answers a very few questions at a time. I've been waiting so long for this book that the ending left me awestruck and wanting more, yet I felt a lack of satisfaction at the same time. I think the biggest frustration is that I have no idea when the next volume will be out and I will have my answers. The next book is going to be the resolution of the storyline, maybe this is where my dissatisfaction originates. From knowing the answers are so close, yet so far away.

Happy reading all.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Minnesota Update

We have now been in Minnesota about a month and a half. The difference in the weather has been amazing. Many changes have come about, while other parts of our life are very similar to what they were before. As usual, our timing for such things as moving was exquisite. Minnesota just had a government shut down as the political parties couldn't reach a budget agreement because they were too busy politicizing to govern the state and do their jobs, it is expected to end by the beginning of August.

We have been exploring our new home. The Girl and I walked over to her new school just a few days after we got here, the Husband and I have been walking on the nature trails and getting some exercise while enjoying the beautiful scenery. There is a Farmer's Market/Craft Show right across the river every Friday. Driving places is a little strange, as you can't go anywhere directly. All the roads are very curvy to get around lakes and the wetlands, which are protected from development, so you can't just pick a road that looks like it's going the right way. You actually have to know where you are going, and getting places takes longer than expected. I'm having to learn the roads around this little town. Though when I hit certain stretches of highway it's very easy to get around, because I am familiar with them from when we lived here before.

I think the most stressful thing about the move has been looking for work, I still haven't found a job. I can honestly say, that finding a job was much easier 7 years ago than it is now. I don't know if it's because I'm over qualified for the part-time jobs or because they are afraid I'll jump ship in the fall when I get a teaching position. I do have an interview for substitute teaching, which tells me that they have a plethora of substitutes rather than a shortage. This translates into a lot of teachers looking for positions, meaning that it's likely that I won't get back into teaching for a couple of years at least. I am fine with this, I think a temporary change in careers would do me good.

Mostly the changes have been good. My husband now has three writing gigs, which is great! He is is exercising and has lost quite a bit of weight. I've very proud of him. He seems much more relaxed and comfortable. The Girl has learned to ride a bike finally, and is taking full advantage of her new found freedom. She rides her bike to play practice with a friend unless the weather is bad. She got her first serious bike riding injury and rode her bike home, something that wouldn't have happened a month ago. I see my daughter and husband blossoming in this new environment, and this brings me much joy.

We had a big party at the beginning of July to celebrate my husband's and nephew's birthdays, and reunite with old friends. It was a good start. I've joined some local meet-up groups to meet people and explore the area, though I haven't gone to a meeting yet. We signed up for The Big Gay Race in October to help support marriage equality for all, going to meet up with some friends before the race and hopefully make some new ones too.

I am going to try making and selling cross-stitch bookmarks and greeting cards at the Farmer's Market here in town. We are also considering setting up an Etsy store to sell the father-in-law's carvings and walking sticks. So much potential in our new life. I'm looking forward to all the new experiences that are coming our way.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Frostbite by David Wellington

The story opens with Cheyenne, "Chey", Clarke being swept away in an Arctic flash flood. (We aren't told why she's in the Arctic alone, that is kept a mystery at first.) Her pack is destroyed on the rocks at the bottom of the ravine and she loses all her supplies except her useless cell phone, a compass, a water damaged map, and a few energy bars. She becomes lost and it on the edge of starvation when she encounters a pack of wolves. She escapes them by climbing a tree, but the await at the bottom, until a howl from something bigger scares them away.

The creature that scares the pack away is a larger, single wolf. Chey is scratched by this creature. In the morning Chey continues to walk in hopes of finding a town, and help. She is drawn to the camp of a very strange man by the sight and smell of smoke. They hike further into the wilderness, and to his run-down truck. He takes her to get help, and they meet Powell. It turns out Powell is the same creature that scratched her.

Chey does not realize that Powell is the creature at first, Powell attempts to kill her before her first change to prevent the spread of his curse. Once she changes for the first time, Powell resigns to teaching her about her new life, and explains his choice of living arrangements. We learn more about Powell and Chey through flashbacks: finding out how he received the curse and why she came to the Arctic all alone. Her motives for being in the Arctic cause strife between them.

When other people arrive, the situation becomes even more complicated and dangerous. David Wellington maintains his style of fast-paced action in this book. His descriptions are detailed and gripping, allowing the reader to picture the foreign landscape with ease. I look forward to finding out what happens next in the series in Overwinter.

Happy reading!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July Birthday Celebration!

My husband and nephew have birthdays two days apart, so today we are having a combined party. It will be all but one of the Minnesota family, because he's off in the Dakotas trying to save the world and our living environment. In addition, we'll have some long time friends and their kids celebrating with us. It's beautiful day here in Minnesota, perfect for barbequing outside and shooting the breeze with friends we haven't seen in ages.



The spouse is making homemade hamburgers and chicken wings with homemade pineapple sauce (plus pineapple/habenero sauce for those inclined to spicy food). We made Bleu Cheese dressing from scratch last night, as well as salsa and a spicy cheese dip (recipe courtesy of our friend Steve). The spouse will be making a Spinach/Articoke dip when he awakens from his slumber. The evening's dessert will be a circus train birthday cake. I think we'll pick up some marshmallows and roast them as well.

I look forward to hanging out, catching up, and pigging out. I'm sure pictures will make their way to Facebook. Wish my friends from Texas could join us, would be a blast and you need to escape the heat and the drought. Miss you guys.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Vampire Zero and 23 Hours by David Wellington

Vampire Zero is the third book in Wellington's vampire/Laura Caxton series. For those familiar with epidemiology, you will recognize that the title is borrowed from the study of disease outbreaks. To stop the spread of an epidemic or pandemic you must find the first person to contract it, so you can figure out how it spread and the speed with which it spread.

Arkeley and Caxton managed to reduce the vampire population to one, the mission now consists of finding this vampire before a new generation of monsters can be birthed. Just as in previous installments, the action is none stop. Neither the audience nor the heroes have a chance to stop and take a breath between incidents of mortal peril. This time the cliffhanger is accompanied with a plot twist, one that I didn't see coming. This led me to start immediately on the fourth segment of Caxton's tale, 23 Hours.

I can't say too much about 23 Hours without giving away the twist involved at the end of Vampire Zero. All I can say is that the setting was something I didn't expect and it gives Laura Caxton an entire new set of challenges to face. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the next volume in the Caxton series, which will be title either 32 Fangs or 32 Teeth, depending on the source you get your information from.

Happy Summer reading everyone!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer

We got Artemis Fowl, the audio book, to listen to during our move. This didn't work as planned since the moving truck didn't have a way to plug in the iPhone to the radio. We have an FM receiver to use instead, but the reception and interference were so bad that we couldn't understand most of the story. So listening to it was put on hold, I heard just enough of the story to know that I wanted to finish it. The narrator, Nathanial Parker, was excellent, his voice intoxicating. His delivery and voices fit perfectly with the story.

 I was unaware when I began listening to the book that the main character, Artemis, was actually an anti-hero. This was a pleasant surprise, it added a nice twist to this YA book for me. I knew that it wouldn't quite follow the formula that many books for children do. The humor is apparent right away, though it is very subtle (and a bit of what we'd call British) in some places. Colfer utilizes a very high level of vocabulary, always a plus in works aimed at children. He does this in a manner that not only teaches the young readers new words, but increases the comedic effect of the scenes. The humor is well balanced by the action scenes, which come to life through the words used to describe them.

Our anti-hero is a young genius from a very wealthy family. His father has disappeared, his mother has lost her mind, and he is trying to regain the family fortune. To achieve his aims, he develops a complex plan to exploit the Faerie population of the world.

On the other side of the conflict are the faeries, the narrative focuses on LEPrecon Holly Short. She is the first female LEP officer, and therefore has a lot to prove to herself and the military complex. Holly is thrown in Artemis' path after a mission goes horribly wrong and she is ordered to go to the surface to recharge her magic.

One aspect I found interesting is that the Faerie equipment wasn't strictly magic based, they combined the best of their magical knowledge with science. The faeries have gone underground, literally, but are also wired into the human's ("Mud People") satellite network to keep tabs on us.

I recommend this for a road trip or just an enjoyable read. This book would work great as a read aloud for the whole family, including the teenagers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

99 Coffins

This book is the sequel to 13 Bullets; however, it is not a typical sequel. This book alternates between the present and flashbacks to the Civil War.

99 Coffins begins on an archeological site related to the Battle of Gettysburg. A group of college students are excavating a weapons cache that they and the university believe to be completely unimportant. What they discover under the cache is another room containing 99 coffins from the Civil War era.

The narration jumps between journals, correspondence, and battle reports from three Civil War soldiers and the events surrounding Laura Caxton. Wellington does a fairly good job of capturing the patterns of Civil War era speech, helping the reader become immersed in the story. In the present day events, Arkeley once again pulls Trooper Caxton (mostly unwillingly) into another fight against the vampires. Caxton must adorn Arkeley's mantle as the lead officer in this case, as the last encounter left Arkeley crippled.

Once again the odds for our heroes seem impossible to overcome, for me this adds to the appeal of a story when done well. Rooting for the underdog feels good. Seeing the human spirit persevering through trials no matter how awful is uplifting, even when the events themselves are horrible and disturbing.

Wellington jumps between the two narratives effectively, using the Civil War accounts to inform the reader about, and accentuate, present day events. We learn more about vampires in this world, yet are aware that we are still missing some necessary details (as Caxton herself realizes). Yet again, Wellington gives us a cliffhanger ending. I have already begun the third book, Vampire Zero.

Happy summer reading everyone.

Friday, June 17, 2011

13 Bullets by David Wellington

If you are looking for sympathetic, tormented, romanticized vampires, you should not read this book. It is a fast-paced, intense vampire book in which vampires are truly horrifying monsters. I've really missed this kind of vampire stories among all the Anne Rice style vampire romances of the past couple of decades. I decided to read this book because I enjoyed Wellington's zombie series so much, Monster Island and Plague Zone, and knew that he wouldn't be following in Rice's footsteps.

I didn't get to complete the book as quickly as I would have liked, the preparations for the move, and then the move itself, kept getting in the way. Life can be very inconvenient at times. I'm sure that the interruptions interfered with the pace of the story for me, otherwise it would have been a very quick read as the pace wraps you up and makes it hard to stop reading.

Set in Pennsylvania, 2003, we are introduced to Special Deputy Jameson Arkeley, he has been given his position because he killed a vampire. Though much of the world believes that vampires are extinct, a few people know better, by the end of the book many more are aware of this. The last known vampire, Justinia Malvern, is being held for study. Special Deputy Arkeley is understandably upset about this, but can't end her life as she's been declared a person and is protected by civil rights law. The problem comes when the vampiric curse escapes her hospital wing and is again unleashed upon the world. In his bid to stop the vampires, Special Deputy Arkeley enlists the help of Laura Caxton, a State Trooper.

Trooper Caxton is an unlikely partner for Arkeley, and it's through her eyes that we see the story unfold. She is small of frame, and her only law enforcement experience is traffic control. He requests her as his partners, because she bothered to read the files on his previous cases. The hunt for vampires consumes Arkeley, and brings Caxton's life into total upheaval. The interplay between the main characters is interesting, it vacillates between antagonistic to admiring. The vampires begin to target Caxton and her girlfriend, spying on them at night and stalking them using half-deads, vampire slaves brought back from death but that do not feed on blood.

The dialogue is good, but the strength of this book lies in its descriptive passages and action sequences. The inhumanity of the vampires is made clear, not only in their actions, but in their hideous appearance and invulnerability. Even high powered bullets bounce off the vampires skin as if they are gnats, only sunlight and fire can harm them when they are at full strength. To harm a vampire in this universe, you must catch them when they are blood-starved or during the day when they lay liquified in their coffin.

So if you are in the mood for an action-packed, vampire-filled police drama, give this books a shot.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Arrival in Minnesota

In case you missed the posts on Twitter, Facebook, and didn't get a phone call, we arrived safely in Minnesota. This was our most exhausting road trip, with maybe the exception of my first road trip to Tennessee.

I had to drive a 16' moving van while towing a car, this caused a bit of stress for me as I'm not use to it. Though the stress reduced within the first few hundred miles, except in heavy traffic. The cab of the truck was made for three people, and we added a dog to the mix. It was a very cuddly 1200 miles, luckily the air conditioner worked very well.

The exhaustion began before we even got into the car, two intense days of packing and loading boxes into the truck in debilitating heat. The trip was longer than usual because we couldn't go faster than 55 miles per hour, so a  2 day trip became a three day trip. When we arrived in Minnesota, they were experiencing record heat, 101F. We had to unload the truck that night, it was due to be turned in the next day. The day after we arrived, the temperatures dropped into the 50s. It was such a nice change.

We are focusing on resting for the first few days, but working on putting things away at the same time. I've returned to my job hunting efforts, and The Girl and I have stopped by her school to get her enrollment paperwork. I've had a driving tour of the town, and discovered a local meat market. I can't wait to try their meats, it'll be tough for them to please native Texans with their quality of meat.

There is a weekly craft show/farmer's market on Fridays, at least during the summers. I've seen four separate parks in this town alone. I look forward to exploring the area and seeing what else it has to offer. I also can't wait to see our friends up here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

My husband has been encouraging me to read this book for about a year, he read it and thought it was great. After much delay, I have finally caved under the pressure. (Actually, I just finally felt in the mood for it.) I chose to read it via audio book in order to allow for packing, driving, and cleaning while I read. I'm really looking forward to a few days of lounging with a good book at some point in the near future.

The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Henry, a reluctant time traveler, and Claire, his eventual wife and the love of his life. It is the story of their relationship and their love, but it's not a romance novel. It's a dramatic story, with a bit of science fiction thrown in through the element of time travel. Henry begins time traveling at the age of five, he has no control over when or where he goes, he can not prevent himself from going. When he arrives, it is without any clothes, and he acquires a rather unique skill set to survive these unexpected jaunts in time and space.

The audio recording was the BBC edition, read in two points of view, Henry's and Claire's. Both readers were excellent, and really helped bring the characters to life. William Hope gives life to Henry, while Laurel Lefkow voices Claire.

Time traveling is not always a pleasant experience for Henry, he is often returned to pivotal moments in his own life and these are not always pleasant. The time traveling complicates his life as he will suddenly vanish and reappear, the passage of time is not always equal on both sides of the travel either. He may be in the past for a day and gone from the present for 30 minutes, or in the past for 30 minutes and gone from the present for a couple of days. The erratic nature of the time travel causes worry and strain in Henry and Claire's relationship, as well as their desire for a normal life.  Their feelings for each other are strong, but often convoluted, as Henry's first meeting with Claire is not Claire's first meeting with Henry.

Claire has known Henry since she was a child, but Henry doesn't meet Claire until they are both in their 20s. Henry is disturbed by how well Claire seems to know him, while she is a stranger to him. Henry tries to keep his time traveling a secret, as most people would simply think him insane.

Audrey Niffenegger's writing is wonderful. Henry and Claire have distinctive voices and perspectives. I think the passage that truly one me over was her writing as 6 year old Claire. She captured the speech patterns of a young child perfectly, including the stops and starts and the exuberance that almost renders them incomprehensible to adults. The book is very emotional, I was in tears in several places, sometimes from sadness, sometimes from joy.

If you've seen the movie and didn't like it, ignore that and read the book. The movie, so I've been told, falls extremely short of the emotion and depth of the book.

Monday, May 9, 2011

12th Birthday Party

This weekend we held our daughter's 12th birthday party on Saturday, this was her final Texas party. We were a bit nervous, because in past years the turn out has been very small. This was partially due to the fact that so many of her classmates were Hispanic, and her parties always fell on the same weekend as the Cinco de Mayo celebrations. The move to junior high alleviated much of this issue with the end of the Dual-Language program. Luckily, though not everyone showed up, we had plenty of people come. The original plan was the zoo, but I realized that I had scheduled in on Mother's Day. Oops! So the date was changed and the venue altered. Who doesn't love a pool party?

 The Girl requested a Gir cake, this is a character from an older cartoon called Invader Zim. It's a show with a lot of dark comedy, created by Jhonen Vasquez (@JhonenV). The merchandise has become very popular with the pre-teen and teen set recently, though sadly many have never seen an episode or even heard of the show. Gir is Zim's defective robot sidekick, and most people's favorite character from the series. To the left is the model I used for the cake.

Creating this cake was an experiment for me. I made two cakes, and carved on of them to make the character. This was very nerve racking, as I had never done it before. I used store bought tubes for the black icing, because it's so hard to mix black and have it turn out to be really black. The Husband and The Girl both complemented me on the appearance of the cake. It was also a huge hit at the party.

The mini-hamburgers seasoned and grilled by The Husband were declared by several guests to be "the best hamburgers ever". Many chips were consumed, as well as two whole bowls of popcorn. All guests went home full, tired, and happy. I'm glad The Girl has made some good friends this year, and I hope that she can stay in touch with them after the move.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's My Birthday!

I've been planning to do a birthday blog for weeks, now that the day is here, my mind is begin very uncooperative. I'm going to give it a go anyway, hoping that the act of writing will spur my mind to join in.

Today, I am 36 years old. I am not where I expected to be at 36. Is anyone really where they expected to be? I know that often when people say this, they are complaining, that's not the case here. I'm happy with my choices, even if they took me in a different direction than I originally intended.

I think back to the dreams I had as a teenager and wonder how I ever thought that those things would make me happy. Those ideas seem very strange to me now, almost as if they were thought of by another person. I guess that in a way it's true, I'm not the same person I was at 18.

I remember wanting to be a vet as a child, and a lawyer as a teenager. If I had the skills in math and science, I think I could have been happy now as a vet. I look back on my plans to be a lawyer, and to marry one, with utter dismay. I can't believe that I ever thought this was something that was a good idea or that I actually started out as a political science major. I'm just glad that my spouse helped me realize I would have been miserable in the field of law. I frequently border on cynical now, I'd be bitter and hard-boiled if I had become a lawyer.

I'm very glad I didn't go that route. I've always been a bit too serious for my own good, I definitely didn't need to marry someone with just as serious a mindset. I needed someone more relaxed than me, and prone to laughter. I needed someone that could make laugh in spite of myself (and my mood), someone that would challenge me to expand my experiences and take risks. I got just that in my husband.

Case in point, my family and I are about to uproot ourselves and head across the country. We did this once before when our daughter was very small, but it wasn't the giant leap it is now. When we did it the first time, neither of us had a full time job, I was fresh out of college, and our daughter was too young to have made real friends or to miss them.

Now, I have resigned from my stable teaching job and neither of us have employment in place in Minnesota. I realize that to most people this seems to be absolutely insane, especially in this recession economy. Sometimes it feels completely insane as well.Yet at the same time, I know that it's the right thing to do. We have felt the need to make a change for a while now, just never had sufficient funds or motivation to do it. We were in a rut, and unhappy about it, but felt like we had no other choice.

Then things all seemed to fall into place at the same time to push us into doing what we've desired for years, return to Minnesota. First, the district offers a 10% bonus to any teacher that quits in order to balance out the state funding cuts. We tossed the idea around halfheartedly at this point, in that day dreaming sort of way that people never follow through on. Second, over Spring Break a family member in Minnesota became ill. This made us realize that we are very much needed up North. We took a couple of days to really discuss the idea, and came to the conclusion that returning to Minnesota is not only what we want to do, but it is what we need to do. And who wouldn't want to return to such a picturesque place?

So now with 44 days left until we hit the road for Minnesota, I waver between elation and stress. I'm elated to be headed to a beautiful place full of friendly people, and terrified of leaving the stability of my job. Excitement about seeing distant friends, and fear of not getting one of the "hundreds" of jobs I'm applying for. Relief that I'm ahead of the packing game, and panic that I need to pack faster. Eagerness to get on the road, and terror at the likely gas prices. Excitement about the Girl's new school, and worry over her making new friends. Anticipation that it's almost time, and consternation that it's so far away. I admit that my nerves are a bit raw from all the conflicting emotions. But all I have to do is remember how relaxed I felt on visits to Minnesota, the physical feeling of weight being lifted from my shoulders as I crossed the state line, and once again I know that we are doing the right thing.

There are friends we will miss, and family too, but deep down I know that my family will be where we truly belong. That we are going to a place where we can all truly flourish.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Just finished the book a few minutes ago, I quite enjoyed it, though you might not be able to tell it by how long it took me to read it. So many things get in the way of reading time: work, cleaning, stitching, TV watching, and sleeping.

The Hunger Games is a young adult, dystopian novel set in the United States at an unknown future date. The protagonists of the story are Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, but Katniss is the narrator. They are from District 12, a poor district, in charge of mining coal. My guess is that District 12 is somewhere near modern day Tennessee and Kentucky, maybe this is unduly influenced by the fact that my husband's family are actually coal miners from that area.

The Capitol is the center of this future country of Panem. Every year, the 12 districts participate in a lottery in which a boy and girl "tribute" from each area are entered into a deadly set of games, The Hunger Games, that are mandatory viewing for the nation. The boys and girls range in age from 12 to 18, each year their name is added again to the lottery, so older children are more likely to get chosen. Children of poor families may enter their names extra times each year in order to acquire necessary supplies such as food. These games are a punishment to all the districts for the rebellion of District 13, which the Capitol obliterated.

When we meet Katniss, we quickly learn that she is ferociously independent and deeply resents the Capitol's interference in their lives. We also learn that she is smart enough to have learned at an early age to control her facial expressions and mouth to avoid causing her family problems. She has been taking care of her mom and sister, Prim, since her father's death in a mine explosion. She has partially done this, by having her name entered into the game lottery extra times.This year's lottery is more stressful for her because her sister is now a part of the lottery, though she isn't overly concerned as Prim has very little chance of having her name drawn.

As luck would have it (I apologize for the cliche), Prim's name is drawn. Katniss immediately jumps up to take her sister's place, this is very unusual in a world where people have resigned themselves to these awful games.

The games are further complicated when Peeta is chosen as the other "tribute". Peeta is the boy that gave her bread after her father's death, when she was on the verge of giving up. He was hit for burning the bread, which he did on purpose, in order to give the loaves to Katniss. She is conflicted because she feels she owes him her life and has never thanked him for his kindness.

Collins keeps a good pace in the book, and moves smoothly between different emotional levels. Her teen characters struck me as believable and true to the teen mindset. She provides some nice surprises and a couple of twists in the tale. I had a hard time writing this review, because all I really wanted to do was to start the next book in the series, Catching Fire.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

This is book number four in George R. R. Martin's "The Song of Fire and Ice" series. I know several people that read this before me, they all warned me that it is a much slower read than the previous volumes in the series, much like books five and six of the "Wheel of Time" series. They attributed this slowness to the absence of their favorite characters. I did not start to feel this until about the last 200 pages of the book, but I did feel the aforementioned slowing in the pace of the story. Maybe I didn't feel it earlier, because I had been forewarned about the characters that were missing and so did not expect them to make an appearance.

Don't get me wrong, the story is still engaging and the action never stops. However, it's difficult for readers to maintain their pace when well-loved characters such as Tyrion and Daenarys are not seen at all, and Jon Snow barely makes a blip on the story's radar. There are a few new characters introduced, and they are interesting in their own right but I have not bonded with them as of yet. If the new characters had appeared in the story before, it was usually through passing mention in a conversation. One of the great, and frustrating, things about Martin is that you can't predict who will be an important character and who will become a side note or disappear all together.

I am aware that this occurred because the story was becoming so massive that Martin had to split the book in two, in order to make it possible to publish and sell for a reasonable amount of money (and to avoid it being so large that it threw out the readers' backs). Thankfully, as I said in my A Storm of Swords post, the other half of this story will be available in July.

Despite the fact that some of my favorite characters are absent, there is a lot of story progression. Jaime Lannister continues to develop as a character and become more likable (at least to me). Cersei continues to be, well, Cersei. Tommen, the King, continues to be a charming boy of 8, sheltered from the realities of ruling a kingdom, and his mother's scheming. Things on the Wall are dire, yet there is hope as well. John sends Sam Tarly away to become a Maegster. So many threads on the web of this story.

So many things to tie up before the end. There is suppose to be just one more book after A Dance with Dragons, but I'm not sure that will be possible.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I'm pretty sure that this 1983 movie was my introduction to Ray Bradbury. I only saw it once, but it really stuck with me. I don't remember the details, just that it was the first creepy movie I'd ever seen from Disney. I really need to re-watch it as an adult and see it if holds up after 20 plus years. I wonder if Netflix or Hulu have it available on instant watch.

I've had the book version on my to read list for years now, and finally started to read it during our shut down day a week or so ago. I found that though I liked Bradbury's style, I couldn't get into the book. It felt like it should be a radio program, that someone should be reading it to me. So I had my spouse find it in audio format, read by Paul Hecht. His voice fit the feel and vernacular of the story perfectly.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is the story of two best friends born hours of each other, and complete opposites. They are 13, one light, one dark. The boys are Jim Nightshade, an only child of a single mom, and William Halloway, a late-life child. They first strange encounter occurs when they are lying under a tree, letting their minds drift in the way which comes naturally to boys. They are approached by a strange lightning rod salesman, and instead of selling them a rod, he gives them one, informing them that a storm in coming and that Jim's house will be hit by lightning and burn to the ground without the rod. He then wanders off, William wants to put the rod up immediately, while Jim tries to blow the situation off as nothing. In the end, Will gets his way.

There is anticipation hanging in the air through out the town, more than just the usual eagerness among the children for Halloween. Even the adults sense that something is coming. Suddenly there are playbills all over town for Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show. The boys sneak out in the early morning to check it out, because carnivals do not usually arrive late at night and they are curious. The carnival is setting itself up when they arrive, but there is no sign of any people. This both fascinates and horrifies them.

They are scared yet can't stay away. They get in over their heads, as teen boys tend to do and reach out to the only other person that seems to know that something is wrong at the carnival, Will's father. Will and his father have been distant from one another his whole life, through this adventure they come to know each other.

I really enjoyed the pacing and verbage used in this book. Mr. Hecht's voice adds to the period feel of the story. I usually don't read audio books because I am distracted from auditory input easily, often even when the reader and the story are both very good. To focus on an audio book I must be driving a car or cleaning the house. If you enjoy suspenseful adventure horror stories, or Bradbury, I recommend this book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

6th Period Class Reward

A reward for 6th period. It was made with German chocolate cake mix. I know that this isn't an authentic German Chocolate cake, as my husband repeatedly told me. However, they also wanted Spiderman and I had to consider the possibility of nut allergies in the class.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

Once again I am blown away by this series. The further I get into the series, the harder it becomes to write a review. I don't want to commit the cardinal sin of spoiling plots twists or become too repetitive in my praise.

The characters and plots are as rich and varied as ever in this volume. Sadly, some of the characters I loved have shunned this mortal coil by the end of the book. Happily some of the villains have also lost their lives. Some that were once thought to be good are no longer seen so, while those once though evil have made amends or at least have begun to do so.

One thing that can be said for Martin, he does not believe in script immunity. Many characters that would be considered safe from an early death are lost. This definitely keeps you guessing about what is coming next. These books are continually surprising you, even if you are extremely well read in the fantasy genre.

That being said, and with my knowledge of his love of surprising the audience, the end of this book completely shocked me. I was bowled over. I think it surprised me more than the ending of The Sixth Sense did the first time I saw it. I have already begun reading A Feast for Crows, it's only appropriate as it's World Book Day.

Even better, George R. R. Martin announced the release date of the next volume in the series, A Dance with Dragons. I'm so excited!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Novel Segment

I decided to post part of my zombie novel that I wrote in November. It's still a first draft, so please be gentle. This is one of my two favorite scenes from the first draft, I chose this one from early in the novel. I would welcome any constructive criticism. I hope you enjoy it.

Day 4
 
I was wrong about not having anyone to curl up with at night. The Girl couldn’t sleep, so she came and got into bed with me. I think we may all be sleeping in the same room for a while, all of us are too wigged out to sleep alone. The cat and the dog are even staying close to each other at night, before all this the cat avoided the dog like the plague. I wish I could say that we kept the pets strictly because we love them too much to get rid of them in this crazy situation. Don’t get me wrong, we love our animals. But there were practical reasons for keeping as well, despite the risks that having to care for them adds. They give us a place to focus our attention besides the world outside. The cat and dog can both help keep pest animals under control as the world becomes less sanitary. The dog’s excellent sense of smell can help us find food or animals to eat.

Today was the day that we became unlucky enough to know for sure that the undead had reached our neighborhood. We’ve heard looters and desperate people outside looking for supplies or simply destroying things out of frustration. We get very quiet and wait them out, the noise they make is very human and doesn’t really sound different than the street noise that we are use to or the noise that the dumpsters make when being picked up by the garbage trucks early in the morning. The only reason it sounds strange now, is that everything is normally so quiet since everyone was ordered to stay inside. This noise was, well, different. At first we didn’t notice it; then we thought we were hearing things because we aren’t use to such quiet in the city limits. It was a raspy, shuffling noise. Then we heard a rather quiet rattling, like a stack of pots that were bumped slightly and resettled without failing over. Again we hear the shuffling, and some more rattling. We decide to peek out very, very carefully. My heart is pounding in my chest, the sound of the blood in my ears almost drowns out the noise from outside. The Girl is staying with the dog in case he tries to bound into the window to get a better look, or starts barking. Even though he’s a beagle, we’ve never had an issue with him barking or howling, but we are taking no chances that he will attract the attention of other survivors or the undead.

As we look out the corners of the window together, we have to fight not to gasp or call out in alarm. Though we can’t see its skin, and in any other situation it would be mistaken for a drunk homeless person, we know that we have just seen our first undead in person. This is confirmed when The Girl comes up behind us, and quietly tugs on our shirts to get our attention. I am so proud of her caution, but am sad that her normally positive and perky self is buried beneath all this worry and sadness in her eyes. The dog has sensed the undead corpse outside as well, and instead of barking as we feared he might, he has dropped on all fours and is having a bought of submissive peeing. This means we don’t have to worry, at least for now, that he will bark crazily when one is near and draw more to us.

Once we got over our shock at the reality being so close to home, and that the corpse had moved on, we logged into our social networks and posted the news. It seems so silly, even looking back just a few hours ago. Hell, I felt silly right after I did it. I don’t know if it was a case of old habits dying hard, a need to be “normal” again, or a need to tell someone outside this apartment. Other than checking on family, none of us had even thought of being online. Part of me wishes we hadn’t gotten online. The Girl gets online as well, she needs to talk to someone other than her aged parents about this. She notices a friend of hers from The Cities has her webcam open. She glances as us, afraid and hopeful all at once, asking us silently if she should open it. 

The husband and I exchange looks just as confused as hers and slowly, cautiously nod our heads. It is her friend Becca, she is in her room sobbing uncontrollably and trying to talk. In the background we can see her bedroom door vibrating, she has blocked the door with her dresser and bed. We can hear what sounds like several people banging on the door. The Girl tries sending her a chat message, but we aren’t sure if she sees it. I am watching The Girl and Becca become more and more agitated and scared. 

“Mom, Dad, should I turn on my web cam? Should I let her know I’m here?”

I don’t know what to say. Will it be better or worse for Becca to know that someone hears her pleas, but can do nothing for her? We know what’s on the other side of that door.

“I have to let her know I’m here, that she’s not alone.” The Girl chokes out around the lump in her throat.

I watch my baby girl take two large, calming breaths and turn on her webcam. She invites Becca to view it. We all see the light of hope ignite on Becca’s face as she reaches to open the cam. I step away under the excuse of bringing The Girl back a drink, I can’t bear to view the moment when this wonderful young woman that has stayed with us many nights realizes that we can’t rescue her.

When I return, my spouse squeezes my shoulder as I squeeze The Girl’s. The Girl has flipped the record button on, maybe part of her wants to make sure that if we get out of this certain things and people are not forgotten. Becca relays to us how her little brother became ill, and they took him to the hospital but were turned away because the hospitals were already overflowing. Her family had to bring him home and take care of him, they couldn’t break the fever and he soon died. She relays how they couldn’t get anyone to pick up the body, the noise from his room, the attack on her parents, her actions of self-defense, the attempt to nurse her parents back to health, and how those efforts failed. She finally glances back at the door, where the banging continues. Her eyes brim with tears, and the sobs begin anew. Without her saying a word, we know who is on the other side of the door. I grab my spouse’s hand behind The Girl’s back in horrified sympathy.

I have always been proud of the empathy my daughter has shown for others when they are upset or hurt. Today, she convinced me that it is her superpower. She found topic after topic to distract Becca from what was going on. They discussed embarrassing situations from school, wonderful times at slumber parties, cute boys at school, and plans for college and the future. They talked for hours, The Girl refusing to eat or drink because Becca didn’t have that choice. I am worried, not only because my daughter isn’t eating or drinking, but because I know there is only one ending to the scene before her. I also know that she has inherited the family’s stubbornness and will not abandon her friend until it is over or the power forces her to do so.

At dusk, the inevitable begins to happen. The door begins to splinter. Becca turns to see the arms of her parents reach for her in a macabre version of the thousands of hugs she has received from them throughout her entire life. The Girl gets Becca’s attention again, lets her know that we love her and we wish we could help. My husband and I add our own expressions of love. Then the creatures see her and begin to moan, it is the most horrible noise I have ever heard. We watch Becca begin to hyperventilate, and cry again.

“I love you guys! Thank you for staying with me. Stay safe.” 

Becca then reaches up towards her computer, all the while The Girl is screaming, “No, Becca! No!”, and turns her computer off.

The Girl screams and collapses. I will be eternally grateful to Becca for sparing The Girl the sight of her demise. We got The Girl in bed and made her drink some water. Then we gave her a sedative to make her sleep for a while. Now, maybe we can deal with today’s events.