Monday, December 24, 2012

Not the Christmas Post I Intended

So sweet!
Update 12/26/12, Jester was found and taken to the local vet. He's now safely back with us.

I was very hopeful about this Christmas, it was
going to be small but good. I had planned to write a Christmas blog, but now it will be very different post than I intended.

Yesterday morning changed my plans for my blog and my feelings of Christmas spirit. I was taking our beautiful dog Jester on a morning walk when he slipped his collar. I tracked and followed him for about an hour through the snow and woods (he's a runner and much quicker in the snow than I). I returned to the house when my feet were too hurt and numb to continue and got The Girl up to help me look again.

Just look at that face!
 We followed him through the underbrush for another 40 minutes before completely loosing track of him. Both of us were numb through and through, we had to head home.

Upon arriving home, I called the Sheriff's office to notify them that he was lost so they could contact us if he was found. I signed up for Lost Dogs MN website, after learning of it through a friend. I filled out a form at PetHarbor to have them send his information to all local shelters, vets, etc.
Today, I called our in-town vet to notify them and lucked out that they are the intake location for lost dogs for the three surrounding towns. Any dog found in town is automatically brought to them. I fear him getting hurt or someone keeping him since he's such a pretty and sweet dog.

Jester biting at snowflakes.
According to some of the information I looked up, being that he's young, a pretty good size, and energetic, he could have travel up to five miles in a day. This is the last place we saw him. Please share this far and wide, we miss our baby dog.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I am Now an Entrepeneur

I have started two online stores to supplement the family income. One is on Etsy and I'm selling my original needlecraft pieces, currently only bookmarks. The current piece is the Chtulhu bookmark, though I will be adding others as soon as possible. Except to see a Truffula tree shortly.

The other is on Cafepress, it's called LGBTees, I'm offering t-shirts with pro-gay rights messages. Half of the proceeds will go to the Trevor Project to help prevent teen suicide. My husband thinks that some of them are a bit in your face, but I like them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories by Mike Kalmbach

I selected Writing Advice for Teens: Creating Stories by Mike Kalmbach out of the many books on Goodreads' First Reads list. I chose it as a possible teaching resource for junior high and high school teachers. Upon reading it, I found that it is not only a helpful guide for teen writers, but any writer that has another job or is just starting out. I learned after receiving the book, that the author is a local man from Minnesota.

I like how the book is organized, very simple and logical. It starts off with setting goals and moves through the writing process. Each section includes suggestions, examples from the author's own writing, writing exercises, and examples from popular novels.

I really like that Mr. Kalmbach offers suggestions on how to make time for writing and offers multiple suggestions for doing so. He openly admits that not all methods work for everyone and that you should use what works for you or a combination of methods to make them work for you. He also advocates that to be a good writer you must be an avid reader, a sentiment that I totally agree.

I will be giving this book away to a teacher for classroom use as soon as my husband has had a chance to read it.

Happy reading.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Stockings 2012

 I made two stockings for friend's babies this year. I'll be making at least one more in 2013. They have both been mailed to their recipients as of today. I designed the Snowflake stocking myself, using various snowflake patterns from multiple sources. All of the snowflakes are accented with tiny glass beads. You really can't see the detail in the picture, I guess I need a professional grade camera for that. I hope you enjoy it, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer of PA.

I did not design this one, but it goes with the theme of my other friend's nursery. Monterrey Jack and Mrs. Jack chose a zoo animal theme for their first born. They asked that the stocking reflect that as well. I found this as a a kit. I really enjoyed working on it and watching the cuteness grow with each stitch. They also got another zoo themed surprise. Which I can not divulge here as the package hasn't arrived yet.

I am working on creating stock for an Etsy store I will be opening shortly. Details to follow. In addition to the stocking to be made in 2013, I'll be making a Mockingjay to be put on a jacket for my daughter and a set of Wonder Twin emblems for my sister's soon-to-be twins.

I hope you all have a happy holiday season.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Swan Song by Robert McCammon

My husband has been after me for years to read this book, it is one of his all time favorites. After reading it, I can see why. It has to be one of the most engrossing books I've read in quite some time.

When written in 1987, Swan Song was a horror novel, now it is more of a horrific alternate history. Set in a world where nuclear war has occurred, and the world is left in ruins.

The chapters revolved around three groups of survivors spread throughout the United States. We start out in New York City, where we meet a homeless woman known as Sister Creep. She survives the explosions by being in the subway system when the bombs hit. Shortly after the bombs have landed, Sister Creep encounters another survivor while looking for supplies. His name is Doyle Halland, a shoe salesman from Pittsburgh. They decide to make their way to Pittsburgh to find out if his wife survived. Neither thinks that she has survived, but it gives them a purpose and and goal.

Next we go to a survivalist compound inside Blue Dome Mountain, there we find a Vietnam vet who is the spokesman for the compound named Colonel James "Jimbo" Macklin. We also encounter a 13 year old boy named Roland Croninger who is upset that his parents dragged him here and he can't play his computer games. They have come for a visit before completely committing their money to help fund the construction of the shelter. They all become trapped when the concussion wave from a nearby missile causes most of the mountain to collapse.

The final group of survivors that we accompany through this devastated land are Swan, a young girl, and Josh Hutchins, a wrestler known as the "Black Frankenstein". They are thrown together when they are trapped in a basement trying to escape the fireball from the missiles launches. As they escape from the basement, Josh notices grass underneath the place where Swan slept.

The book is quite long, but you don't really notice this while you read. I can't think of any time where I wasn't eager to learn what would happen next. McCammon's descriptions were gritty and often harsh to match the setting and the story, but never grotesque for the sake of grotesqueness. One of the things that amazed me the most was that though the protagonist and antagonist don't encounter each other in chapter twenty-three, you never feel like the story is dragging.

If you are looking for an excellent, dramatic post-apocalyptic story this is an excellent choice.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Online Schooling is Better than Traditional Schooling

I have studied in both traditional and online schools, and I have found I greatly prefer online learning. When I started my online masters degree program, I was very concerned about being able to make myself complete the work in a timely fashion, as I'm generally a procrastinator when it comes getting studying done. Would I be able to balance a full-time job and taking care of my family while studying without getting behind in anything?

What I found was that I could make the most of my time while taking classes online. The schedule is much more flexible in online schooling because lectures aren't at a set time. The student can pick the best time to watch the presentation, listen to the material, or read the texts rather than being bound by the teacher's or school's schedule. You have constant access to resources if you need clarification and do not have to wait your turn or fear running out of class time to ask your question.

There is no fear of looking foolish when you ask a question because you can just email the instructor or teacher's aide privately. The classroom discussion boards allow interaction with classmates, the professor, and the teacher's aides while also keeping a running record of the discussion that can be used for later study.  Developing study groups that meet through chat, video conferences, email conversations or collaborative websites provides a educational support network that you can customize to suit your needs and learning style.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Zombie Autopsies by Steven C. Schlozman, MD

I found The Zombie Autopsies while browsing through Barnes and Noble, it was one of those trips I should have avoided because I walked out with books when I should have left empty handed. Damn books, destroying my budget!! Zombie Autopsies was one of several zombie books I looked at that trip, and after much deliberation I adopted it.

I was attracted to this book because of it's different take on a zombie story. It is written like a research journal kept by a scientist as they try to develop a cure for the plague. The fact that the author is a real doctor added a certain amount of realism to the research feel of the story. The anatomical drawings that are included as part of the research notes are beautifully rendered, though grotesque and disturbing.

The journal pages are interspersed with military reports and comments on the research which was collected from the research facility at a later date. Dr. Blum, the research scientist whom wrote the notes, was sent to the research facility after a garbled message was sent by the previous doctor in charge and all contact was lost. The facility is in a race against time,  not only because it's a world wide pandemic, but because the research itself is a death sentence. All the researchers and guards at the facility are volunteers.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about the book, and an aspect that added to the reality of it, was that you can see the loss of the doctor's ability to focus and concentrate as the story goes on. This fits wonderfully with the description of the diseases progression and the drawings showing the deterioration of the previous victims.

I would not recommend this book for those with week stomachs as the drawings are extremely detailed and life-like, or rather death-like despite being pencil sketches. If you are a lover of zombie stories and fascinated by science, I recommend this book.

Happy reading.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

City of Bones by Cassandra Clark

I have run across City of Bones by Cassandra Clare many times online, and I was intrigued by the cover. I admit between the cover and the series title, Mortal Instruments, I thought it would be a steam punk novel. A friend of mine got a copy and passed it on to me. Once I held it in my hand and read the synopsis I discovered it is a fantasy set in our world. When I held the book in my hands, I became apprehensive because the blurb on the front cover was from Stephanie Meyers. Those of you that know me, know that I am not a fan of Twilight in any way. I feared that this book would be another poorly written paranormal romance novel. Luckily, I escaped that ill fortune.

The story centers around Clary Fray, a 15 year old girl living in Brooklyn. She lives with her mother who is an artist and has never known her father, who died in a car accident. Her main companion is Simon, her best friend.

Clary and Simon are at a local club, when Clary witnesses something unusual that only she can see. It comes to her attention while she is watching an unusually handsome boy move about the club led by a ethereally beautiful girl. She follows the two because she feels something is wrong, and sees the girl and several others kill the boy. When she calls for help, Simon and the security guard can't see the teenagers or the victim. Clary is astonished and pretends to have panicked. Before she departs the scene, the apparent leader tells her that the boy they killed was a demon.

When at a coffee shop with Simon the next day, she sees the group leader, she cautiously goes outside with him and learns his name is Jace. While talking to him, she receives a horrifying call from her mother telling her not to come home. Of course, being worried for her mother, she completely ignores this and rushes to check on her mom. She gets home and finds her mother missing, the house torn up, and a terrifying monster awaiting her.

The creature almost kills her and Jace takes her to his tutor so that she can be healed. Clary then learns that there is an entire world that is unseen by the majority of people, the fact that she can see this world means that she is not a regular person. Clary also begins to learn that there is much more to her mother than meets the eye.

There is of course the usual hints of attraction and possible love between her and the mysterious and handsome stranger that rescues her. Thankfully, Clare doesn't follow this trope, and we end up with a Star Wars moment.

The story is well paced and entertaining. Clare does a good job of blending the supernatural characters into the modern day world. It's perfect for a vacation read. I passed it on to some stewardesses at United Airlines. I look forward to the second volume.

Happy reading.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Austin Grossman tells a tale about people with superpowers, it is full of action and humor. The story is told from two perspectives. One is our anti-hero and main character, Dr. Impossible. He is a veteran super-villain and evil genius. The other a fledgling super-hero, Fatale. She is a cyborg looking to earn her reputation and adapting to working as part of a world famous super-hero team.

You can see Grossman's love of the super-hero genre from the first page. And like many of the fans of the genre, he seems to have a soft spot for the horribly misunderstood super-villain. The signs of sympathy for the bad guy don't just come from the segments narrated by Dr. Impossible, Fatale's questioning of how the hero's do things and her reflections on Lily (Dr. Impossible's ex-girlfriend turned hero) show a tendency to see areas of grey rather than strict black and white.

Soon I Will Be Invincible offers a funny and very entertaining look at a world with super-powered people. I think that those that try to read it without being fans of superhero comics, movies, or novels may miss out on some of the humor and twists to the rules of those mostly black and white worlds. I enjoyed the world that Grossman created and was reluctant to leave it.

This book is great for vacation reading, whether you are on a beach or cuddled under some blankets at home.

Happy reading!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

I had been looking at this book for a long time before I got a chance to read it. I admit that the simplicity of the cover grabbed my attention, as well as the story description. The feel and pace of the story reminded me very much of the campaigns we had when playing Deadlands, the role-playing game. Gilman does an excellent job of bringing his world to life for the reader.

The Half-Made World is the story of an alternate American Wild West. Our protagonist is Liv Alverhuysen, a female psychologist who decides to respond to a job offer sent to her late husband to work in a hospital in the unmade west. The hospital serves both sides of a conflict for control of the West, the Guns and the Line. The hospital maintains its neutrality because it is protected by a spirit that will allow no violence to be done within its realm.

The Gun recruits dangerous men and women of ill-repute and character using fear to maintain control, while the Line overcomes towns and incorporates all into their fold and making them slaves. Both sides are seeking a General who fell in battle to one of the Line's noisemaker bombs. They both hope to gain the secret of a weapon that he holds in his head, one that could destroy their enemy or themselves. The Guns and the Engines of the Line are possessed by some strange demons. The Line moves towards the hospital, while the Gun sends John Creedmoor to infiltrate the facility.

Once all the main actors in the tale reach the hospital, the action steamrolls (forgive the pun) forward extremely rapidly. Characters must wrestle with internal conflicts as well as external ones. I look forward to the sequel when it comes out in November.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This is my first time reading a Margaret Atwood novel, it was a gift to my husband and he insisted I read it after he was done. I hadn't read her before because the majority of her titles and book covers looked like romance novels. (I know, I know, don't judge a book by its cover.) Once again I listened to the audio book while on my commute. The reader did an excellent job.

The story opens with Snowman, a.k.a. Jimmy, awaking on the beach. It is revealed that the world has gone wrong as we watch Snowman go through his morning routine of checking his stash of supplies, draping his bed sheet around his body properly, and scratching around the bug bits to avoid a chance of infection.

We are then introduced to the Children of Crake. They are very different than Snowman. They are thick skinned and do not have to worry about ultra-violet rays. They have startling green eyes and skins of all colors. They only eat grass and vegetables. They come to Snowman to learn about the things they find washed up on the shore.

Atwood does a masterful job of telling the reader how the world got to this point through a series of flashbacks into Snowman's past. They are random and out of sequence, just as these things tend to be for us all. They offer titillating glimpses into past events and Snowman's life.

I have to admit I was actually a little angry when the story ended, I wanted it to keep going. Luckily for me there is a sequel. Unluckily, I don't have a copy.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

Amped is another book that I won from Goodreads. It is a near future science fiction story. It is a world in which some people have brain implants. Many of these implants are used to fix epilepsy, ADD, or other disabilities. They are even given to poor and disadvantaged students by the government through grants to level the playing field in the school systems.

Owen is a school teacher who has an implant to help with his epilepsy.  His father installed the implant after he suffered a horrible accident due to a seizure. Things begin to go wrong for Owen when the Supreme Court disenfranchises people with implants, also called "Amps". This action was pushed through by a political group called Pure Pride. In the course of a day he loses his job and is thrown out of his apartment with no warning. They can no longer makes contracts with "regular" people as they have an unfair advantage, hence Owen losing his job and home.

The situation escalates. Owen discovers he is wanted for questioning, and that his amp is more than he realized. There are also some violent incidents between amps and regular people. The amps are moved into clusters for their own protection. Owen flees to a cluster called "Eden" to meet with a friend of his dad's named John.

There is action, political intrigue, and social discrimination. Wilson uses his robotic expertise to help explain how the amps work and what they do to the brain. I really enjoyed the descriptions and the characters. It was a very fast paced and easy read, perfect for a summer day.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

This was a case in which I saw the movie long before I read the book. We saw the film in 3D, it was amazing, and I'm usually not a big fan of 3D. The images were striking, riveting, and sometimes upsetting.

I am a fan of Gaiman's work in general, I really enjoyed Coraline. I know that many adults find it much too scary for children because it terrifies them. Children have a different perspective on the story, they see it as an adventure story.

Coraline is the tale of a young girl with rather inattentive parents. They are loving just very busy. The family has recently moved into a new home that is part of a larger house divided into several apartments. There is a pair of sisters who are aging stage actresses with dogs downstairs. Upstairs is a Russian man who is training a mouse circus.

Coraline is unhappy and bored with her life, as many kids get. (Especially when they have moved to a new place and don't have any friends.) She begins exploring the house and the area around it, this includes a strange door that leads to a brick wall. Well, it leads to a brick wall some of the time. One day while her mother is out shopping, she opens the door and there is a tunnel. Being a curious child, she follows it. 
On the other side of the tunnel, she discovers a world much like her own yet full of disturbing differences.  The "other mother" is awaiting on the other side of the door. She wishes Coraline to stay with her forever, but Coraline senses that something is wrong. She challenges the "other mother".

I really enjoyed the book, and the movie was an absolutely fabulous adaptation. Sadly, my imagination couldn't live up to the visuals provided by the movie. This is a great book for boys and girls of all ages.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

I ran across this book while browsing through my recommendations on Goodreads. I am a firm believer in organ donation. I have checked the box on my driver's license, assuming that they would harvest any organs that were worth taking to save a life. In the course of reading this book, I have learned that organ donation and donating your body to science aren't the same thing. I have never looked into what could be done with a body once passed it along to science, and I was curious how those that have left us can continue to help us.

I have long been aware that cadavers have been used for medical and criminal research. I was aware of some of the history of mummification, but learned a bit more while reading this book. I'm sure there are many that consider this topic morbid or disturbing. I personally find it fascinating. How do they help improve lives outside of organ donation or criminal research? How long have people been utilizing cadavers to learn about themselves?

Roach is very informative and uses humor well to dis-spell any discomfort the reader might be feeling. She is careful to balance the strangeness and absurdity of some of the situations with respect for those that volunteered their remains for scientific use. She covers topics such as medical school dissection, forensic body farms, crash analysis, heart death vs. brain death, head transplants, and ecological burial.

It was interesting to see how time has changed the way cadavers are treated by scientists. In the past it was illegal, so bodies had to be stolen. Often they were treated callously, and gallows humor was used to put the researchers at ease (this often led to insensitive jokes).  Though the departed didn't notice these slights, it left an uncomfortable feeling with any outside the field and could greatly offend surviving relatives. The attitude towards the cadavers has changed greatly in recent years. It seems partly a PR move (to make it more acceptable to the families of the volunteers), and a result that they volunteered for this important duty.

Another segment I found fascinating was the section about medicinal cannibalism. The old men in Arabia that reportedly dined on nothing but honey for a few months before their death and were then sealed in a stone coffin filled with honey. They were sealed inside for 100 years, then it was unsealed and the honey concoction was sold as medicine for a variety of ailments. What most amazes me is that I know such beliefs still exist, and that often the person that is turned into medicine did not volunteer. There are cases in Africa of albinos being killed for such medicines, which is horrific. I truly wish that this was a thing of the past.

The final segment in the book is about ecological burial, it did not feel as well developed as the other segments but I found it interesting none-the-less. I have always planned to be cremated. I consider cemeteries land that is wasted (it could be used for housing or growing food, etc.) and the embalming chemicals can't be good for the environment. In this segment I learned that cremation can cause mercury to get into the air, I already had figured there was some issues with greenhouse gasses but that it was a relatively small amount in comparison to other things we humans do. I have now learned of two methods that are more environmentally friendly (at least one is even cheaper than cremation): Water reduction and organic burial. I will leave the methods used a mystery for you to discover through the book or in other research. Sadly, I was only able to find them located in Scotland and Sweden. I'm in the process of seeing if there are any places in the US that provide either of these options. I will choose one of these methods if my body is determined unfit for organ donation/scientific research. I see no reason why I should stop being useful after my death.

Good reading!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro

The Strain is a vampire novel by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, it is the beginning of a trilogy. Mr. Del Toro is predominately known for his film direction, being behind such films as "Mimic", "Hellboy", and "Pan's Labyrinth". Mr. Hogan has received the Hammet Prize and praise from Stephen King for his novel, The Town. Del Toro and Hogan co-wrote this book and its two sequels.

In many ways, the book reads almost like a movie. I've said this in the past, though usually in a negative light. Maybe it is because Del Toro is known mostly for his visual work on films, but that same feeling did not turn me off of this book as it has done in the past. There is a definite focus on the visual description of things, yet the narrative doesn't linger on them in an overly long fashion. The descriptions are graphic and to the point at the same time, allowing them intensity and brevity at the same time.

The vampires in this story are appropriately vicious and horrifying. I am not sure who is scarier though, the vampires or the rich eccentric old man that brings the vampire to New York and destabilizes a long standing truce between the seven ancient vampires. (Don't worry this isn't a spoiler, this is all shown to the reader at the beginning, or at least strongly hinted at.)  

We meet our main protagonist,  Dr. Ephraim (Eph) Goodweather, after a plane mysteriously lands with everyone on board dead. Well it seems that way at first. There are actually four survivors of the initial landing though they appear dead upon first examination by several medical experts. Eph is a member of the CDC, his job is to contain outbreaks of disease before they reach pandemic levels. Dr. Goodweather is torn between his work and home life as this tragedy causes him to cut short his weekend with his son and to miss a custody hearing relating to his rights in regards to his son, Zach.

Other main characters include Nora Martinez and Professor Abraham Setrakian. Nora is Eph's partner at the CDC, while Prof. Setrakian is first dismissed as a crazy old man. Prof. Setrakian is an expert in fighting vampires, having witnessed one of them feeding while he was in a WWII concentration camp. He has made it his life's mission to destroy them from that point on.

Our heroes are not just fighting the vampires, but their extremely wealthy backer. The vampires in this story are not of supernatural origin, but spread like a virus. This includes altering the hosts' DNA and bodily structures. Giving a scientific rational doesn't make them any less scary or dangerous.

I can't say exactly where the next two books will take the reader, but I don't see there being any huge surprises or plot twists. Readers that are familiar with the vampire genre will probably see most of what is coming next before it happens. The story isn't dynamically original, but it is a well paced adventure tale. The characters aren't completely flat, but they are not fully developed either. If you enjoy the visuals of Del Toro's film, I think you'll get some of that through the descriptive passages in the text. This series will never be considered a classic, but the first book is an enjoyable read for those that wish a little excitement in their life.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Silver Linings of the Zombie Apocalypse

May is Zombie Awareness Month, for those of you who are unaware. Most of my friends are aware that I'm a huge fan of zombie stories and movies. The Zombie Apocalypse is my favorite end of the world scenario to contemplate. Last year for Zombie Awareness Month I ran daily survival tips on my Facebook and Twitter pages. This year I decided to look on the bright side of the end of the world. I've decided to compile my entire list here on my very modest blog. Feel free to add your own silver linings in the comments section.

1. No more bills to pay.
2. Don't have a work schedule to worry about.
3. Reading time galore. (When not running from zombies.)
4. Get plenty of exercise without a membership fee.
5. Carbon emissions will drop to almost nil, so no more global warming.
6. All groceries will be free.
7. No more rush hour traffic ever again.
8. Lost of extra clothes lying about.
9. No more doctor visits.
10. No more lawyers or lobbyists.
11. Overpopulation is no longer a concern.
12. Paranoia is a plus rather than a minus.
13. Freedom to travel without a passports.
14. A sudden surplus of natural resources.
15. It's a chance to practice all those survival skill you learned watching Bear Grills.
16. Plenty of material for making your own horror movie.
17. No more news media scare tactics.
18. It's the cheapest diet plan.
19. Zombies can't drag race through your neighborhood.
20. Zombies can't blare their stereos or throw wild parties.
21 All those annoying neighborhood dogs are now an early warning system.
22. Credit card debt disappears.
23. Political parties are now extinct.
24. No more politicians.
25. Insomnia is an asset.
26. High fat and sodium diets aren't an issue any longer.
27. The neighborhood will be quiet (except the moans of the zombies.)
28. No need to set your alarm clock.
29. The phone won't ring in the middle of the night.
30. No solicitors knocking at your door.
31. Perfect excuse not to bathe. (Water is for drinking.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Core Vocabulary of the SAT

I won these two books from Goodreads' First Reads, I only entered to win "Core Vocabulary of the SAT" but the publisher included the second volume "Toughest Vocabulary of the SAT". Getting a second free book was great!

The books use examples from literature and popular culture to explain the meanings of words that appear frequently on the SATs. They focus on more difficult and obscure words. An entire section is dedicated to words that have multiple meanings, zeroing in on the less known meanings of these words.

The set is very well organized. The beginning of each book has the words grouped together with a theme such as "Mighty Prefix Words". These sections include the words' definitions and several detailed examples from popular books and movies. The next segment of the books is a section with quick definitions. This is followed by two more subdivisions: an area to test your knowledge and an answer guide that provides the reasoning behind the correct answers.

I would recommend these books to anyone studying for the SATs, people wanting to improve their English, or that just wants to expand their vocabulary. They are well organized and have a simple layout. They keep the popular culture examples up to date and relevant to the readers. Keep learning and keep reading!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft Review

For the month of April in Twitter Geek Girls' Book Club, we were to read The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft. It was stated in advance that if you could not read them all, it was fine. This should have clued me in to exactly how prodigious Lovecraft was, but it didn't. As you can see from the date of this post, I didn't quite make the deadline for the discussion of his works.

I tackled the whole collection on audiobooks while driving to work. Some of the readers were much better than others, both to the help and hindrance of the material at hand. The collection of 67 tales included poetry, short stories, novellas, and novels. Much to my surprise there was even a science fiction tale.

I had already listened to "Shadow Over Innsmouth" which I reviewed here, but I listened again for a complete experience. I will not rehash my impress of that story here, and choosing which stories from the myriad I wish to focus on is quite the challenge.

I really enjoyed the humor employed by Lovecraft in "Sweet Ermengarde". The tone was very different than his other tales. I kept expecting it to go to a terribly dark place, and though the humor was dark, it never followed the rest of his works into deep discomfort. I got a completely different twist than I expected in the end.

I think the creepiest story for me was "The Rats in the Walls", it literally made my skin crawl. The only thing worse that I could imagine would be giant spiders.

"The Street" was another favorite. It was slightly disturbing, yet I also found it strangely sentimental and sweet.

The majority of his works are related to the Cthulhu mythos and the Necronomicon, some directly so, others in a more subtle fashion that only becomes apparent when having listened to a majority of the stories. I want to say it reminds me of King's works and their almost universal connection to the Dark Tower series, but that would be incorrect. It seems that way from my perspective since I read King first, but it's much more likely that King's tendency to do this was inspired by Lovecraft and others of his era and ilk.

Lovecraft likes to take people to dark and uncomfortable places, both mentally and physically. He likes to tease the audience with descriptions of the horrors while letting them do most of the work by filling in the minute details. This is an interesting contrast to his elaborate descriptions of the settings and clothing of his characters. I quite enjoyed my experience listening to Lovecraft, though I wish that Jeffery Combs had read more of the pieces.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Cthulhu Comes to Cross-stitching

I am in the process of listening to the entirety of the Lovecraft library as part of the Geek Girl Book Club. I've read a couple of his stories, and I am enjoying hearing them again. I have a friend that is a huge fan of Lovecraft, he was part of a chain crafting meme on Facebook. You posted that you would make 5 hand made items for the first 5 people to comment, then they in turn are suppose to post the same on their wall, to infinity. So for him, I made the following bookmark in honor of his love for Lovecraft.

I think I may make several of them in honor of Lovecraft. Who better to hold your place in a book than an Elder God?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring is Here, A Little Early

 Life is full of challenges, setbacks, and new beginnings. Our family has definitely had our share of the first two in 2012. I've tried very hard to see these changes as new beginnings, but it's not always easy when you are in the middle of it.

I've been substitute teaching since a week after I left the charter school, but it's an unstable income which causes its own variety of stress. So during my spring break I redoubled my efforts to find another job, the looming end of the school year causing me a bit of panic. I stumbled across an ad on Craigslist, and called. It was for a canvassing position (yes, those annoying people that come to your door), and I got offered an interview right away.

It is a job I have absolutely no previous experience with, but since the field I have experience in has fallen flat lately I figured a drastic change in direction might be called for. So I jumped out on a limb and completely stepped out of my comfort zone. I guess desperation has a way of making people do that.

I am just beginning my second week as a canvasser, and I'm mostly enjoying it. Lots of walking (which is helping me train for the 5K in June) and I get to talk to a variety of people. I am having to push myself in areas that I'm not really comfortable in. I'm having to be more self-confident and assertive, two things which I have always struggled with. I am worried about keeping my job on a fairly regular basis, not because I'm terrible but because I'm still learning and my last job experience didn't work out so well. I'm still seeking a teaching job, but Minnesota actually has a teacher surplus so it may be a couple of years yet before I can get my foot back in that door.

I've been looking for a house for our family to live in, but there aren't many rental properties in the area. The few that are, don't allow pets. So it looks like we'll have to settle for separate apartments in the same complex. The end of May is our deadline to be out of this house, so it's crunch time.

Now, onto things that are going well. The Girl is growing up and maturing in a way that I am very proud of. We saw Hunger Games over the weekend (which we all really enjoyed) and my husband and I got to observe her with some of her friends. It was interesting to see the difference in her when she was interacting with her peers rather than with her family. She is much more serious and intense when talking to her age mates. It still makes me feel strange when she talks about her 10th grade friend. Not because she has one, but because it's now age appropriate for her to do so. Where did all the time go? Is she really only one more school year away from high school? YIKES! I'm getting old.

If you've been wondering about the seemingly random pictures of cross-stitching, those are documenting my progress for my State Fair entry. Though I quickly realized I'll be entering it in the 2013 fair rather than the 2012 one. I really do wish that the resolutions of my life issues were making the same simple, slow progress toward being fixed. I know I'm taking all the right steps to fix things, but it doesn't feel like there is much change in our circumstances yet. I know that sometimes we don't see the results of our actions immediately, but I've never been very good at waiting. I'm good at waiting in line, but not for the big stuff.

My motto right now is borrow from Dori, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

At Left Brain Turn Right by Anthony Meindl

As most of my friends can tell you, self-help books are not my usual reading fare. In fact, by and large, I consider them a rip off. They are often platitudes wrapped in various mumbo-jumbo and try to claim they are the only answer, etc. I just don't understand taking generalized advice from a complete stranger that doesn't know anything about your situation and state of mind.

This book caught my eye when I was looking through the First Reads give-away on Goodreads, a social network for book lovers. There were two reasons this book grabbed my attention: 1. I thought my writer husband might benefit from increasing ways to access his creativity. and 2. I was drawn by the humor in the subtitle. Anyone that uses that kind of humor in the title of the book isn't going to be pretentious or self-righteous in their advice.

It is difficult to decide how to approach a book that you need to review quickly, yet is a 15 week process to achieve the goal set forth in the text. I decided to read through the whole book, and do the homework for the first two weeks. I plan on completing the exercises in their totality.

Mr. Meindl is straightforward and funny in his writing. Even within the scope of the exercises, he does not insist that there is only one way to successfully complete them. He provides a rough outline and gives multiple examples of ways to go about it to fit it into your existing lifestyle. He does not expect the reader to implement everything at once, hence the 15 week layout.

The first exercise is to stop playing with your phone. The first sentence of the assignment actually says to turn your phone off; however, Mr. Meindl fully recognizes that this isn't a realistic option for most as their cell phone is their only phone. I was already aware that I frequently use my phone as a security blanket, messing with it out of discomfort or boredom or anxiety about a situation. I had even focused on not playing with my phone in the recent past. This week went a little smoother. The trick is often figuring out the difference between when you are using it as a tool versus a toy.

The second homework assignment is to close your eyes for 5 minutes at the beginning of your day and just focus on your breathing. I admit, I was not successful with this one. I was waking up so tired that I feared falling asleep while breathing. I am going to make another attempt at this.

There were a couple of passages in the book that really struck me, other than his amusing anecdotes and stories from his childhood. In fact, it's something that my husband and I have discussed on many occasions and a big reason I dislike celebrity gossip magazines (though I still can't help looking at the headlines in the grocery checkout line) and reality tv shows.
Someone else's path may seem more glamorous, or more interesting, or exciting, but it's only because we aren't fully present to -- and living our own -- glamorous, interesting, exciting journey. We spend so much time and energy coveting what other have that we lose a sense of gratitude that we've been given our own path. We're trying to fulfill ourselves through the living of someone else's life.
I'm not saying that I'm a jetsetter in any way, but if you are always comparing yourself to the Joneses or the Pitts of the world, you'll never be satisfied with the good things you have. And keep in mind, that many of those celebrities would love to have a couple days where they could go to the store without having to hide or be mobbed by the press or fans.

Mr. Meindl offers 25 exercises, or homework assignments, to help you be more aware of yourself, your attitudes, and the events in your life.  He suggests ways to help you cope with the stressors in your life, yet never claims that what he's suggesting is a cure all or a miracle. Many of the activities will simply help you slow down and examine things as they are, and give you a way to step back from them a bit.  The focus of the book is on enhancing creativity, yet many of the exercises simultaneously offer a way for the reader to improve their quality of life by examining and adjusting their reactions to the events in their lives.

I quite enjoyed reading this book. I am also aware that some of the later homework assignments will pose a challenge for me as they will make me examine things that I would prefer not to. However, one can not grow without stepping outside of their comfort zone.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Descent by Jeff Long

The story begins with a new-age expedition into the mountains of Nepal.
The explorers become trapped in a mountain cave during a freak snowstorm. Within the cave, they discover a mutilated and mummified corpse. They soon discover that they are not alone in the warren of caves that wind through the mountain. The opening is quite scary and horrific, it's easy to feel that this segment inspired the British horror movie of the same name.

After the opening section, there is an abrupt shift in the tone and feel of the story. It becomes a tale of adventure, colonization, and conquest. This was a bit jarring at first, but soon I was swept up in the journey. There are two major factions intent on the underground world: Helios (a mega-corporation, with much of the evil that tends to imply in fiction) and the Beowulf group (a group of scholars seeking the physical source for the legend of Satan).

Helios has sent down an invading force to claim all the profitable resources below the earth's surface. It is largely militaristic and focused on wiping out the native populace, called "Hadals" or "Haddies". The Hadals defend their territory, but are largely outnumbered. Suddenly their attacks on the invaders stop and they seem to have disappeared. Some flee deeper into the earth, others begin surfacing in our world.

The Beowulf group manages to infiltrate the Helios expedition in the form of a young nun named, Ali van Schade. None of the groups are physically healthy enough to make the journey themselves. Ali's specialty is linguistics and she has been trying to find the first language. They discover a remarkable number of similarities between the hadals and humans as well as the obvious differences. 

There is much complexity in the story's plot and the mythos provided. The exploration of the consequences of finding the "literal Hell" are interesting as well. Long manages to surprise the reader with several plot twists. His descriptions of the world underneath the world are frequently breathtakingly beautiful. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The beginning of 2012 has been very tumultuous time for my family. We had a great holiday and were feeling very optimistic about the coming year. At the school I was working at, there was an opportunity to work in the library and I was very excited about the possibility of doing something different. I felt very confident in my ability to do the job well and in my chances of getting the job.

On the day I was suppose to interview for the position, I got a huge surprise. First, my interview was delayed due to other meetings. Then I was informed that they had decided to not consider me for the position after all. I was floored by this, as we had discussed it Monday and they seemed to think it was exactly right for me and vice versa. I was asked to meet with the head of the school later that day as he couldn't attend the morning meeting. I thought this was a little odd, but figured he was going to explain why they had decided against giving me the job. The only thing mentioned was that I had misspelled his name (the only time I did that during my employment there). I couldn't meet him at 3, because I would be teaching science class, which surprised the principal. So, it was arranged that I'd meet him at 4:15 when my partner teacher could cover my bus duty.

Now, this all occurred on Friday the 13th, a day on which I usually have good luck. I come to find out that the meeting was not to explain why I didn't get the opportunity to work in the library, but to tell me that I am no longer employed with them. I was completely shocked. I will not go into details here, but it was not justified. They asked if I still wanted to stay on teaching Saturday school, and I agreed to do so. One, I had already committed to teach it and I keep my word. Two, my family and I would be needing the money. Three, I enjoy it.

Today, I sent them a letter of protest countering each of the stated reasons in my termination letter. I'm not sure how that will go over, but I felt that I needed some form of redress for the false claims against me.

After the initial shock and anger wore off, I began to view it as an opportunity to purpose the job I really wanted. I found a job opportunity immediately following my dismissal, sadly it did not go anywhere. I have returned to substitute teaching, trying to become familiar to nearby principals and teachers in an effort to increase my chances of finding a permanent position. Job hunting is exhausting and frustrating, but I will keep looking though I may end up in another field. I keep telling myself, "Just keep swimming.". That I will get a break, make it to the first interview.

In other news, I have decided to enter a cross-stitch design into the state fair. I love doing projects, and I've never entered a arts/crafts contest before. The design was chosen by my friends and family on Facebook and Google+ from a selection of pictures because I couldn't choose just one. The favorite was a Celtic knot stained glass window. I removed the trees in the background, and turned it into a pattern. The minimum size for a piece is 25 inches squared. The pattern is 48 pages. The finished product will have approximately 407,652 stitches.

I started sewing on January 8th, and my first night's progress is shown on the right. I chose to stitch the design 25 count fabric using 146 colors, this means there are 25 stitches per inch of fabric. I decided to incorporate a shiny blending filament for the glass parts, but to leave the blending filament out of the edging. I am hoping to show the same patience in my job search as I do in my cross-stitching. I admit that I feel much more pressure on the job front than the contest front as the stakes are much higher.

I have to submit my entry by April, the design must be completed in August so that I can drop it off at the fair. I'm hoping that I do well in the competition, though I expect that the ladies that have been participating for years will have the upper hand. Minnesota sweetened the prizes this year in honor of it being the 100th anniversary of the fair. They have increased all prizes by $100.

I have been working diligently on my design in the evenings and on Sundays.I feel I've made very good progress, despite the fact that I'm only about 1/3 of the way trough the first page of the design. The number of colors in the design means that there aren't many large blocks of one color, so I must change colors often. To the left is my progress as of yesterday, I have reach the left edge of the first page of the design. It is approximately 4 inches across at the widest point.

Somehow I will have to find a balance between this and reading. I want to read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery in February. I am also trying to enroll in school to get my Media/Library Specialist degree and certification. It took a while to process my admittance and financial aid paperwork, so I'm late getting enrolled for the Spring semester and I'm not sure I'll be able to sign up for classes, but there is always the Summer semester. I am really glad January is over, and hope that the year improves greatly.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I learned of this through the Geek Girls Book Club on Twitter (and the founder's blog) and Facebook. I joined in December, this is the book for January. Be forewarned, if you are not a nerd or geek, or a child of the 80's, much of this book's charms will likely be lost on you. I enjoyed it immensely, but some of the inside jokes about video games were lost on me. I actually learned a few things about computer and video game history while reading it.

Ready Player One takes places in 2044, it is a world that might actually come to pass if the economy and environmental issues that we face today aren't dealt with. We have depleted the fossil fuels and most of the world's population is living in refugee camps in major cities. There are no jobs to be had, so most live off government rations. The only escape from the harsh reality of life is OASIS, a free immersive online experience. Kids can attend school for free within the virtual universe. OASIS has replaced what we know as the internet today, Second Life is similar in concept, though not in scope. The creators of this world are James Halliday and Ogden Morrow. Halliday dies and has a very unique and interesting will. He will leave control of OASIS, his company, and his entire fortune to the OASIS player that can find an Easter egg he has hidden in the game. (For those that don't play video games, an Easter egg is an item or scene that is hidden in the programming for a player to find as a bonus.) It is like a giant internet scavenger hunt, geo-caching on an infinite scale. The player must solve a series of riddles to access three keys and gain access to the egg. At the opening of the tale, it has been five years since Halliday's death and there has been one progress.

The story is told from the perspective of Wade (aka Parzival), the main character, and the eventual winner of the prize. No spoiler here, we are told this in the first few pages. Even knowing the eventual outcome, I got wrapped up in the tale and the character's adventures. I admit that hearing many of my favorite shows, movies, and video games mentioned didn't hurt my enjoyment. There were some games that I never played as a kid, that I now want to find a copy so that I may enjoy them now.

The people that are hunting the Easter egg become known as gunters. In addition to individuals, you have clans of gunters that pool their resources and information. The biggest antagonist is the mega-corporation IOI, there entire mission is to win the egg and take control of OASIS. They plan on charging a monthly fee and adding all sorts of building restrictions. Needless to say, the majority of OASIS users are against this. Many of them basically grew up in this virtual world, this is where they hang out with friends, attend school, even have jobs. IOI gaining control would mean OASIS becoming a place only the wealthy could afford.

Mostly this book is a straight-forward science fiction adventure, though Cline briefly touches on the issues of the economy and environment. Another issue that comes up is the pervasive presence of technology in our lives, how much is too much? Social networks and smart phones have already altered the way people interact, and many are concerned about the changes. Cline mentions both sides of the argument in passing when it's relevant to the story, but draws no conclusion.

I confess that much of my enjoyment of this book came from the feelings of nostalgia it brought forth. At one point, laserdisc players are mentioned, this excited me because my husband and I were the only people I ever knew that actually owned one. Cline's descriptions of the various virtual worlds and actual video games were quite detailed. I'm sure that if I opened up one of the old games described, it would look just like he detailed it in the book. The characters do not feel flat and you can care about them by the end. I actually look forward to the day when the internet is an immersive experience and we have moved past the flat web pages of the present.

Happy nerdy reading all!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

Baum continues following the wacky exploits of Dorothy and her friends through various faery worlds in the fourth installment of the Oz books. We begin with Dorothy arriving to California on a train, which is inconsiderately five hours late to the train station. A young man named Zeb has been awaiting her arrival, she must wake him so that they can be on their way to the ranch where Uncle Henry is awaiting her.

In this volume, Dorothy's adventures begin when the horse and buggy in which she is riding is swallowed by a crevice created by an earthquake. She, Zeb, the horse (Jim), and her kitten (Eureka) fall for hours on end. They slow to the speed of floating as they approach the "center" of the Earth. There have reached a new magical world, it is filled with glass buildings that grew and plant people with no emotions and very short lives. These people are called the Mangaboos. The Mangaboos blame Dorothy and friends for the falling rocks that destroyed parts of the houses.

Shortly after Dorothy and Zeb arrive, something else falls from the sky. Upon closer inspection Dorothy and Zeb discover that it is a balloon. Inside the balloon is Dorothy's old friend, The Wizard of Oz. The current leader of the Mangaboos gives them a tour of the gardens, and shows them his replacement, whom he is avoiding picking in order to extend his own life. The Wizard and Dorothy do not think this is right, so they pick her. Despite Dorothy and the Wizard saving the rightful leader, the Mangaboos sentence the party to death. The entire group must flee.

The group heads upwards in an attempt to reach home, they travel up a winding spiral staircase inside of the mountain. When they exit the other side, they are in a beautiful valley that has a beautiful village in it. However, they can see no people or animals. They hear birds, but don't see them.

This book is as full of fun and weirdness as the others, but also shares in their formulaic nature. I am still quite enjoying them and the subtle humor and word choice. I did find this one oddly titled as they barely spend any time in Oz during the story. I am going to finish the whole series, but I don't think I'll continue to write a review for each volume as I have had much the same to say about all the volumes so far.

Happy reading!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Welcome back, I finished Ozma of Oz last night, but I was unable to due a review due to the fact that I had to do some school work at home. Kids, just remember when you are an adult it's your job (not your school work or chores) that get in the way of fun and hobbies. I writing my review before work, so we'll see how well it goes with a caffeine deprived brain.

Our tale opens with Dorothy and her Uncle Henry on a different kind of adventure, one that I am jealous of. They are traveling to visit Australia, Uncle Henry has been ordered by the doctor to get some rest as he is ill from over-working. Sadly, the voyage isn't uneventful and they must sail through a severe storm. Dorothy loses track of her uncle and instead of searching for him in their berth she heads up on deck. She is washed overboard with a hen, who we later learn is named Bill, and a wooden chicken coop.

After being adrift for awhile, she notices the hen, who oddly enough begins to talk. This makes Dorothy aware that they have come to a fairyland, as chickens can't talk back home. Dorothy and Bill (or Billina as Dorothy renames her) soon come to a beach with a strange phrase written in the sand, "Beware the Wheelers". She finds a tree with lunch and dinner pails growing on it and picks one as she is very hungry. The Wheelers chase her into some rocks where she finds Tik Tok, a wind-up mechanical man.

Dorothy's adventure in Eve (yes Eve, not Oz) truly begins after rescuing Tik Tok. She finds the last royal family member and becomes her captive. Princess Langwidere has a collection of heads, and she wants Dorothy's. Ozma, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion come from Oz to rescue the Queen of Eve and her 10 children from the Gnome King and manage to rescue Dorothy in the meantime.

As with the other Oz books, fantastical and absurd events abound. This book was just as enjoyable as the first two.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum

This is the second book in the Oz series. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman from the first installment return to share further adventures with the reader. We are introduced to a new young man named Tip who is indentured to Mombie, an evil witch.

The Scarecrow is the king of the Emerald City, and the Tin Woodsman, aka Nick Chopper, is the emperor of Winkies. The action truly begins when Tip tries to scar Mombi by building a man out of wood and a pumpkin. She is not scared and brings him to life with a magic powder. Tip decides to run away when the consequence for this prank is being turned to stone. He take the fake man, Jack Pumpkinhead, with him when he runs away.

In the Emerald City, the Scarecrow faces a revolt lead by General Jinjur.  The army is made up entirely out of girls, their only weapons being their femaleness and knitting needles. They take over the city easily, making it necessary for the Scarecrow to flee to the Tin Woodsman's kingdom.

This novel is as full of obscurities as the first one. I am still trying to determine how much is satire of that attitudes of the time. Oddly enough, there is a huge plot twist in this book, something I found very strange for the time in which it was written. I have already begun  Ozma of Oz, I'm looking forward to see if Baum can surprise me again.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I cannot count the number of times that I have seen the movie "The Wizard of Oz," I can say that it's been so many times I don't really need to watch it anymore. I remember when I was a kid it came on tv every Christmas and we watched it a lot. Between my love of the movie and fantasy novels, it is quite strange that it has taken me until now to read the original work by L. Frank Baum.

As so often lately, I listened to the book while driving to work. It is a very short book compared to many that I read and I finished it in just two days of driving, about 4 hours.

For those readers that might not be familiar with either the book or the movie, let me tell you what happened. No, that's too much, let me sum up.

The story begins with a young farm girl named Dorothy and her dog Toto on a farm in the middle of a Kansas plain. (If you've ever been to Kansas you are aware that it is actually one giant plain, but all places have their conceits.) She lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, on account of her parents passing. It is a rather dull and joyless place, except for her time with Toto. One day, while they are all hard at work, a tornado approaches. Dorothy does not make it to the storm cellar with her Aunt and Uncle because Toto (rather foolishly) runs and hides under Dorothy's bed. Dorothy chases him in an attempt to save her closest friend.

This turns out to be a mistake in judgement as the tornado lifts the entire house off its foundation with Dorothy and Toto still inside. This is a regular occurrence in Kansas, don't you know? When the house lands, she is in Oz. It is a vibrant and colorful place. Dorothy's adventures begin immediately when she encounters strange people, the Munchkins. Unbeknownst to Dorothy, her house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East. She is much praised for this accidental homicide, which actually befuddles her but she accepts the compliments as graciously as possible for she is a polite girl.

Despite the wonders of Oz, the only thing that Dorothy wants is to return home to her family. She sets off on a journey to the Emerald City, the capital of Oz. Along the way, she meets three companions: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion. They face many dangers on the way to the Emerald City, but safely reach their destination. Some of my favorite trials are ones that they left out of the more familiar film version.

As a child, I may have been on the edge of my seat at some of the misadventures and predicaments that the heroes get into, but as an adult I often found the situations amusing. I do not know if this is due to my knowledge of the outcome from repeated exposures to the movie, or my knowledge of the genre as a whole. Baum caused me to laugh out loud several times in amusement. The ending of the book takes Dorothy on many more adventures than the neat movie ending. I quite prefer the more complex ending from the book to the movie's conclusion.

Happy reading!