Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review -- The Scorpio Races

Review of The Scorpio Races, by

 
Overview:

Each November, on the Island of Thisby, riders mount their capaill uisce -- fierce wild, water horses whom they have captured from the sea -- for the Scoripo Races, in hopes of making it to the finish line alive.

The story alternates between the two main characters, Kate "Puck" Connolly, and Sean Kendrick.

Puck loves the island of Thisby. It is her home and her heart. She and her two brothers share the house they grew up in. The only thing missing from her childhood home is her parents. Years ago her parents had gone out together on a boat that had been attacked by a capall uisce. All she remembers is that they went out, and that then she knew they were gone. She misses her parents greatly, but does her best to keep going and make ends meet, and she finds joy in her brothers and in her little island horse, Dove. There isn't much she would choose to change about her life. But Puck's older brother is another story. He suddenly springs on his siblings the fact that he can no longer stand life on the island. He is leaving the island, moving to the mainland, as soon as he can. Shortly after this surprise comes another -- The house they thought was paid for is not, and they are going to lose it soon. Puck takes matters into her own hands and decides to enter herself and Dove in the scorpio races. She hopes that if she wins her brother will stay, and that they will be able to pay for and keep their home.

Sean has the Scorpio races in his blood. His father was a racer, and ultimately lost his life to the races. Sean is a four-time race winner on his beloved capall uisce, Corr. Even though Corr is owned by his wealthy employer, Benjamin Malvern, Corr and Sean have a deeper connection than ownership and money. Sean belongs to Corr as much as Corr belongs to Sean.  But Sean's greatest desire is to be out from the bonds of Malvern and to buy Corr. After much arguing over the issue, Malvern agrees to sell Corr to Sean, but only if he wins the races again.

Puck's entering the races is not received well by the other riders. Up until now, only men have ridden in the races, even though there are no rules regarding this. Puck is the first woman to ever ride, and she and her small island horse not only face some tough competitors, but they don't want her there and they try to scare and force her away. Sean is not offended by the fact that she is a woman in the races, but realizing the danger she is causing, warns her to get her "pony" off the beaches. Because of this they don't get off to a great start, but he soon begins to see her spirit and determination and he comes along side her to help her train.

Before long they are in these races together, each wanting to win, and each wanting the other to win. The problem is that only one can win.


My Thoughts:
I wasn't so sure about this one as I started it. The Scorpio Races? What a STUPID idea! It's basically like drag-racing on vicious, wild horses. Why is this a community supported event? Not to mention, why are the two main characters even remotely interested in having anything to do with the races after they both lost parents to these horses? I still have these thoughts, but the book was good enough for me to get past this.
The story was a great mix of reality and mythological legend. It was real enough to relate to, and magical enough to keep you intrigued to the very end. 
I liked that this was not a romance novel. Sure there was a little bit of romantic attraction, but it was very little. And really, what was there was deeper than just romantic attraction, but more of a genuine caring for each other that grew out of their time together and the challenges they faced together. Nothing ushy-gushy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cereal Box Toys.

As a child, breakfast was one of the most exciting times of the day, especially if Mom went to the grocery store the day before. You know where I'm going with this, right?

If I close my eyes and let myself drift back I can almost still feel it. The gritty, slightly sticky feeling up to my elbows, after digging to the bottom of the cereal box in search of buried treasure. Whether it be some sort of action figure, a decoder ring, or a shiny new plastic watch, the toys in the box were what made breakfast a great event. Of course, you had to wake up early enough to beat your siblings to the box. This caused fights somewhere along the line though, and opening up the box and digging to the bottom was outlawed in our home. The toy was then awarded to whomever by chance happened to pour the toy into their bowl along with their cereal. I recall this resulting in very large bowls of cereal.

My husband and I were discussing cereal box toys recently and noted that hardly any cereal boxes have toys in them anymore! What gives? How will you ever choose your cereal without toys to persuade you? You mean children now have to base their choice on the actual type of cereal?

I was pleasantly surprised, however, to know that cereal box prizes have not yet gone to live with the dinosaurs. In fact it was even in my "big kid" cereal that I found a prize. A "big kid" prize! Double score!


Coffee! My prize was coffee!
Not only do my cereal box toys still exist, but they have grown up with me. :) Does breakfast get any better than this?


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review -- The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, By Rae Carson




My husband and I were laughing recently about the number of books that I've read lately where the title starts off with "The Girl....". I've enjoyed most of them, so what's one more? When my sister-in-law recommended this one, I figured it was worth picking up, and boy was I pleased that I took her recommendation. So to start off, let me say that wow, while this book is nothing like I expected, it is in a totally good way.

The book started out with Elisa, an insecure, overweight princess, trying to fit into her bridal gown, awaiting her arranged marriage to a King she has never met. She dreads the idea, and drowns her sorrow in pastry.

But there is something extremely unique about this girl. As a baby, at her naming ceremony, she was chosen by God to do something great. As a sign of His choosing, he placed in her navel a gemstone that served as a connection between her and God. It responded to her joys, to dangers, and warmed as she prayed.

Weird, right?

As the bearer of this sign of God's choosing, she knows in her head that God has some great act of service for her to accomplish, but in her heart she doubts that she could ever be used to do anything of value. She is not her powerful father, nor her wise sister. She's just a pitiful princess.

On her wedding night, after just meeting her new husband for the first time, he tells her that his desire in a wife is for a friend. Ouch. I mean, I'm friends with my husband, but he is so much more than just a friend, if you know what I mean. Anyway, wants a friend, and he isn't yet ready to tell his kingdom about how he has gotten married. Did I mention that it was a secret marriage?

At this point I'm thinking, okay... So this book is going to be all about pity-party-princess learning to see her own self worth, and in the end she and her husband will live happily ever after.

Oh man! I was wrong! So many CRAZY twists and turns in the story. Seriously, for the entire book I has no clue what would happen next, right up to the very end. I love how Elisa's character grew and matured throughout the book, along with many of the other characters. Great development of both characters as well as plot.

This book really has it all. Sure you've got the princess and the handsome hero, but you also have dessert journeys, magic and evil sorcerers, great battles, narrow escapes, ancient mysteries, and some unexpected heroes. 

Well done, Rae Carson. Well Done.

Note: This is not a paid endorsement, and I have not received any form of compensation for this review. Rae Carson and Greenwillow Books Publishers have no clue who I am.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Brussel Sprouts

For most of my life I associated the words "brussel sprouts" with all that is disgusting and torturous. I don't really know why, since I really don't recall ever eating them until after I was out of college. I don't remember my mum ever cooking them, and so of course I don't have memories of being forced to eat them. I think they had just gotten a bad reputation from people, and I believed it, so I never bothered trying them.
One day, some time after college, I was at a lunch with my colleagues where brussel sprouts were being served. "Welp.. This is it!" I thought to myself. "Here goes... don't choke... that would be rude.... *bite* *chew* *swallow*.... hey, that's not so bad!" And ya know what? I enjoyed it! I believe I even had seconds.

But those were prepared and cooked by someone else. She must have known some great secret, and if I were to attempt cooking them myself then they surely would turn out terrible.

Another few years went by.

This past December as I was deciding what to prepare for Christmas dinner I asked my husband if he had any requests. And wouldn't you know it, he asked for brussel sprouts! I was kind of afraid to attempt it, especially for Christmas dinner. Of all the dinners I make in the year, there are 3 that I cannot allow myself to ruin: My husband's birthday dinner, Our Anniversary dinner, and Christmas dinner.

I dug around online for a while and eventually gained my barrings on what I was doing. And then I had a practice run. I was going to be sure I knew ahead of time if it would be a bust. So I went to the store and bought a small amount of brussel sprouts and cooked them for a snack while my husband was still at work.

And ya know what? They were really good! Good enough, in fact, to make for Christmas dinner.

Here's what I did after combining a few online recipes I found....

Washed brussel sprouts, removing tough outer leaves then sliced them in half, lengthwise.
Rubbed halves with olive oil (and had super soft hands when I was done).
Put about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and heated at medium heat (not too hot).
Placed brussel sprouts in skillet, flat side down. Covered with lid for about 5 or so minutes. Stabbed with fork after a few minutes to see if they were tender (but not mushy).
Seasoned with a few pinches of salt and some pepper.
When tender, I turned up the heat and let the flat sides brown up a little. 

Done! While eating I dipped them in a little bit of Grey Poupon mustard.

Success!

My husband and I eat them all the time now because he still requests them, and because I like them too. :)



Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Unrealistic expectations from toys.

I was just listening to someone talk about how young girls shouldn't play with Barbie dolls. Their point was that playing with Barbie dolls would give young girls unrealistic expectations of how they will look when they grow up.

I never played with Barbies as a young girl. I did, however, play with the Fisher Price little people house.

  

Anyone else have this one as a kid?

Single family, two-story home with a garage (car included). Mom, Dad, two kids (a boy and a girl), and a dog. 

If we're all about giving children accurate expectations of the future, I have to wonder why Fisher Price didn't make play apartment buildings. And people with feet. Or arms for that matter.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Book Review -- Gifted: A Donovan Circus Novel

Rather than writing, lately I've been reading. A LOT. Man, I don't know what has gotten into me, but I've been going through several books a month lately. Maybe working in a bookstore has been having an effect on me. But I love it!

I'm always excited to get in on a book before it goes BIG. Ya know? Same things go with bands. Makes you feel like you discovered them, right? Well the most recent book I've read is written by an up-and-coming, self-published author. I think she has a pretty bright future in writing! I really enjoyed her book and look forward to the next one she writes. Here is my review...


Review of Gifted: A Donovan Circus Novel, by Liz Long

Overview:
Lucy Sullivan was special. "Gifted". She possessed the supernatural ability to create and control fire. She spent the first several years of her life as part of The Donovon Circus, alongside her parents. Lucy's father was delighted that his daughter had inherited had inherited his gift of of being a Firestarter.  He even said that his proudest moment was when Lucy, as a toddler, first discovered her gift by burning up the sofa. When Lucy was 12, however, her parents decided to retire from the circus, mainly due to her mother's desire to live a normal life among regular humans. Wanting to have a normal life was understandable, though at times quite challenging for an exceptional girl to be "normal". But what came as strange was that it wasn't long after leaving the circus that Lucy's father forbade her from ever practicing her gift, even in private,  or ever having anything to do with the circus.
After the deaths of both her father and then her mother, Lucy decides to rejoin the circus, to both embark on something new on her own, and for a taste of the home she once knew and longed for. A place where she could be herself.
Rejoining the circus kicked off with a flurry of activity -- much had changed since she was a child, and the days seemed to go nonstop. But Lucy quickly relearned the ropes and fell in with a group of friends, each with their own unique abilities. From her speedster roommate, to telepaths, shape-shifters, and and fellow firestarters, and a few with more mysterious gifts, Lucy began to feel at home with her new family.
But things soon begin to change as several unexpected events shake the circus. When a fellow circus member turns up dead, the prime suspect is Lucy. Desperate to clear her name and return things to how they were, Lucy starts to dig deep into the past and secrets of the circus. The lines between friend and foe begin to blur, and the things she uncovers could change everything....

My thoughts on "Gifted":

This book was an absolutely enjoyable read. It had intriguing characters that were well developed, It moved at a great pace, kept me in suspense, and made me want to keep reading long past my bedtime.

It had the three main things I look for in picking a good book:
1) Good cover. Lets be honest, if I am not already familiar with a book, it is the cover that makes me pick it up off the shelf and read the back. Yes, I judge a book by it's cover! This one really drew me in and made me want to know more about it.
2) Interesting from page one. Ugh! I can't stand it when people say "Oh, the first few chapters of such-and-such book are pretty slow, but it will pick up about half way through." Seriously? If I'm bored in your first chapter i'm not going to move on to chapter 2. Gifted was great. From the first pages I was instantly pulled in, I knew who the main characters were, and had a general idea of where the book would go. Simple, but it seems like more authors need to be taking notes on this from Ms. Long! 
3) Well developed plot. Again, seems like a no-brainer, but I've been disappointed on this too many times. Not with Gifted! This story was thought through from start to finish and progressed extremely well. No needless filler. No excruciatingly long stretches of describing scenery that we don't care about, No pointless rabbit-trails.
4) Well developed characters. I really felt like I knew the characters!  They were deep, and complex. I could laugh with them and cry with them. Whether or not I was crazy about the characters themselves, I felt that I could like or dislike them because I knew them well and could judge accordingly. If I lived in the world of Donovon Circus I would probably be good friends with Delia, I would avoid Angel and Gabriel because they would creep me out, and would most likely have a crush on Keegan if I weren't married :)
At bit on the main character.... I loved Lucy. Unless I hated her. Let me explain: She was Smart, witty, and fun, with a seriously cool gift and fiery red hair to boot. She worked hard and excelled highly in her gift. I wanted to be her BFF. But she also couldn't make a firm decision on her own and was totally fickle as she played with boys hearts while they played equally with hers. She was oblivious.  I wanted to punch her. But she also kicked butt, which pretty much rocked.

For me, this book was all my favorites wrapped up into one. A little bit of The Night Circus, Water for Elephants, X-Men, and a whole lot of the TV series Heroes. Similarities can be a good or bad thing. You want it to have enough familiarity to have a frame of reference to put it into. But you want to be able to look at a piece of literature for itself, not be comparing it to something else, thinking things like "oh, so that person is just like Peter Petrelli, and this other one is just like Syler".

All in all, I really enjoyed reading Gifted and will definitely recommend it to my friends :) Any plans for a sequel? I'd read it.


Note: I was not paid to do this review, however, the author gave me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review of her work.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monster, Monster!

This weekend I did something new. I did something I never really thought I would do. It was my husband's idea, but to be honest it was something that he never really thought he would do either. But for some reason it suddenly sounded like something that would be a fun date night.

We went to the Monster Jam.

You've seen the commercials. You know, something along the lines of "Monster, Monster, MONSTER TRUCK RALLY! This Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY!"

Yeah.



It was actually a lot of fun, though a little bit (read: a lot) redneck. We were certainly grateful someone told us that we should bring ear plugs, because boy was it LOUD. These trucks aren't exactly fuel efficient either... It left us wishing the indoor arena was ventilated better.

All in all, we had a good time on this new adventure. But next on our date night list needs to be something like the symphony, or wine tasting, or visiting an art gallery. :)


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