Friday, October 22, 2010

Back in the groove?

Miss me?

So here's the deal: Work has been killing me the past few months. I mean seriously, I feel like I've been to hell and back, which hasn't left much time for anything extra, blogging included. At the moment it's sort of a calm between the two storms though because I'm gearing up to get super busy again. Let's hope I can get through this busy period with a little more grace than I did the last one!

So here's an update on my life: I am now at 52 new books for the year, and I'm currently working on my ninth reread. I'm not going to do a blog post on every book I've read since Wake, but I can give you a quick summary here (and I just listed them, I think I have them all...):

Fade by Lisa McMann (Dream Catcher #2) - Good, but majorly awkward to read.
Gone by Lisa McMann (Dream Catcher #3) - Good ending to the series.
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments #2) - Good, once I got into it.
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments #3) - Best of the series, I think!
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games #3) - Uh-may-zing, but no shocker there!
Columbine by Dave Cullen - Wonderful book about a horrific event. Definitely recommend!
A Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (The Infernal Devices #1) - I went all fangirl. Loved.
The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (Cousins' War #2) - Good, but not her best.
While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin - Beautiful! I loved it, like I love all her books.
The Exile by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander Graphic Novel) - First graphic novel I've read, and not bad!

Out of all those, I would have to say my favorites were: Mockingjay, Columbine, A Clockwork Angel, and While We're Far Apart.

Let's see... what else. Since my last blog update, I went on a business trip to California that I was NOT looking forward to, but shockingly I ended up having a great time! My dad flew in for a meeting the evening my meetings wrapped up, and so we were able to spend a couple days hanging out on the west coast. Kinda fun that this summer he and I spent time on the east coast and the west!

In September I made an impromptu visit to Maryland/Washington DC for my best friend's birthday. I've never been to DC (or Maryland), so that was great to not only see her, but have her show me around somewhere I've never been. It was wonderful! The weekend after that, the hubs and I went to St. Lucia for a few days. It was g.o.r.g.e.o.u.s. Even though it rained most of the time we were there, it was so beautiful and relaxing. I don't know if he agrees, but I wouldn't mind going back someday! We went ziplining while we were there too, and let me tell you: If you have never ziplined, you NEED to. Even Hubs, who is scared of heights, had an absolutely amazing time doing it.

After we were back from St. Lucia, I then took a road trip up to Chicago with my mom for her 30th high school reunion. It was fun to visit my hometown, and I was able to visit my grandpa's grave a few times as well (it was somewhat cathartic). My only regret about the whole thing is that by that time I was TIRED of traveling! I wish we had gone at a time when I wasn't so busy and tired and stressed out because I would've appreciated it even more.

In between travel and excessive work, I've been keeping up with horseback riding and LOVING it. It's hard, and my muscles are certainly not in the shape they used to be (or my lungs!). But I'm working on it. Just last night I rode a new horse named Buckie. Buckie is a (formerly wild) mustang, and I have to say that was a first! I've never ridden a mustang before. He was a lot of fun though, even though he was a bit difficult to ride. My instructor brought up the idea of possibly leasing him since his owner has several other horses and doesn't ride him often. Leasing wouldn't cost much more per month than my lessons, and it would give me the opportunity to ride a LOT more often. While I love the idea of riding more than once a week, I admit I was on the fence about the idea last night. I brought it up to hubs, and he said I should do it. This morning I woke up thinking about it, and all day I've been thinking about it and getting a bit giddy at the same time. In other words, I think I knew what I wanted long before my mind officially made itself up to the idea. Hopefully it will be something that can be worked out!

Upcoming for me? Work and NaNoWriMo in December. I don't know how successful I will be this year because I'm just as busy this year as I was last year. But I'm going to give it a shot! It always is fun!

I guess that's about it. You're caught up on my life. :) I'll try to get to updating the blog a bit more frequently now. I promise.

Friday, August 6, 2010

It's a confession kinda day

Confessions of a nerd (enjoy!):

1. I rarely pick up coins from the ground (unless it's a quarter or something awesome like that). However, on occasion if I see a coin on the ground that's tail-side up, I'll reach down and turn it around to heads. The reason? Some people think if you find a penny, it's only lucky if you found it heads-side up. So in a way I feel like I'm giving someone else good luck, which is total karma for me.

2. I've been running with a friend and making an attempt at Couch to 5k for the fourth time. Tonight will be Week 2 Day 3, and it is KILLING me. I can't tell if it's the fact that it's been 100+ degrees the past two weeks or if I'm just totally out of shape. Blaming the heat. Totally blaming the heat.

3. I want to love running so bad, and it scares me that I might be one of "those" people who just hates it. I always hated in when I was younger, and my 10-year-old self is probably wanting to strangle me for even trying it now. But I want to be that person that feels like something is missing if I skip a run. I want to be that person that breezes through 3 miles and feels great and accomplished after.

4. I'm a total planner, especially when it comes to vacations. Whenever we're getting ready to go on a trip, a few months out I begin researching like crazy about different activities we might want to do, where to stay, where to eat, how much things will cost, etc. And I talk my husband's ear off about it all, and he just nods and smiles before turning back to Mafia Wars and tuning me out. I can't decide if it bothers me or not.

5. My office is a freaking mess. And I even have "clean desk" on today's to-do list. But instead I'm doing this. Will it get clean today? Unlikely.

6. I want to write a novel (and actually finish it and edit it and query agents with it!) so bad. I just have the worst time starting one because I have this insane fear of rejection. I need to get over that and grow some cahones, but I'm so afraid all my ideas are either too lame, too unoriginal, or too "last year" and won't stand a chance of selling.

7. I recently started horseback riding again. The first place I went to I had two lessons (one which didn't even involve me getting on a horse, talk about a waste of money!). I stopped going, because aside from the fact that it was insanely far away, it was too regimented. I recently found a new place, and I love it. Why? It's laid back, and the barn is totally filthy. Just like a barn should be.

8. I wish that when I went to college I had the guts to major in something totally cool, like archaeology. Don't get me wrong, I did do some gutsy things, like work hard to score an internship with my favorite radio show. And it was an awesome experience! But there's something insanely appealing about being outside and digging up history.

9. If you don't think I'm already weird, then read this: I keep a copy of the book Graveyards of Chicago by Matte Hucke and Ursula Bielski (who signed it) on my desk. I don't remember exactly why I brought it up to the office (to show an old co-worker maybe?), but it's been here for over a year now, and probably won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

10. I want to go cage diving with sharks really bad. I'm not talking one of those cages that's like half open that leaves your arm susceptible to getting ripped off (I'm not stupid), but one that's really well-enclosed so that no part of me can be eaten. I think sharks are so fascinating, even though if I saw a Great White Shark I'd probably pee myself. But it would be from more excitement than fear, I think.

Any confessions you want to share?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wake by Lisa McMann


17-year-old Janie has a secret: She gets sucked into other people's dreams. Whether she wants to or not, it doesn't matter. If someone is dreaming near her, chances are Janie is witnessing their darkest secrets: Their secret crushes on classmates, those annoying wearing-no-clothes at the big meeting dreams, the falling dreams, and the worst nightmares. She wishes she could stop this descent into other people's minds, but she just can't figure out how.

My friend Angel at An Everyday Angel recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad she did! I love the idea of falling into someone's dreams. If someone saw my dreams, what would they think? What would my dreams say about me? And likewise, what would I think about someone else whose dreams I saw?

While I wasn't the biggest fan of the writing in this book (it felt super choppy), I nevertheless really enjoyed it. About halfway through the book, I stopped briefly and thought about Janie and her friend Cabel. How would I describe them? More importantly, could I describe them based on what the writer told me about them? Much to my surprise and delight, I could. They were both incredibly well-rounded and flawed, and McMann had successfully given me all the information I needed about them without me even noticing. This is good stuff!

I currently have the next book in the series waiting for me at the library. Hopefully I'll get to it soon!

Friday, July 30, 2010

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. And these women are exceptional all right: Even though to the outside world the school is simply a preppy boarding school for girls, it in fact is a secret school for spies. Cammie speaks fourteen different languages, can kill a person in at least seven different ways, and is known as the "Chameleon" for her ability to stay invisible during covert operations. But when an ordinary boy does see her, she has no idea what to do, especially when he thinks she's an ordinary girl. Straddling the real world and the world of Gallagher Academy, Cammie tries to figure out out how to have a normal relationship with a boy who can never know who she really is.

I've been wanting to read this book for a while. I remember seeing the book on the shelf at Target and thinking what a cute cover it had. Then I found out Ally Carter is from Oklahoma, which means of course I have to represent! However, it took a while for me to finally pick it up...

I thought this book was utterly adorable. Was it life-changing? No. But did it accomplish its goal of entertaining young teenage girls? Absolutely. It was just plain fun to me. I loved Cammie's voice, which I think really caught the "feeling" of a typical, yet not-so-typical teenage girl. It reminded me a bit of Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries in that Mia and Cammie in some ways have a lot of similarities: They're both extraordinary in some way, but yet still face the same teenage troubles that every girl goes through.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fallen by Lauren Kate

Even though she had no memory of exactly how the fire started that killed her friend Trevor, Luce is nevertheless the one everyone immediately pointed fingers at. After all, they were alone, and while he died she escaped with nothing but singed hair.

And so that's how Luce ended up as one of the newest students at Sword & Cross, a reform school for teenagers. She immediately feels out of place, but it isn't long before she sees him: Daniel Grigori, that oh-so gorgeous guy... who made eye contact with her and promptly flipped her off. Great.

But for some reason Luce can't stop thinking about Daniel, nor can she help but feel like they've met before...

I liked Daniel, but I really think Luce is one of the worst-written characters I've read in a long time. I didn't like the contradictions, like how it was mentioned that she avoided mirrors these days, but then later she was wishing she had a mirror because she was afraid her hair was a disaster. There was very little depth to her as well, which was disappointing. It seemed her entire existence at Sword & Cross revolved around the "Does he like me? Does he hate me?" back-and-forth attitude with Daniel and another potential love interest, Cam. She has no backbone, makes stupid decisions, and is really just devoid of any personality.

I also didn't care for the fact that hardly anything was explained. The book started off so slow, but by the time it caught up to the meaty plot points, nothing was explained. Just done. I didn't care for that. I'm sure a lot of the mystery will be explained in the rest of the series, but that's the problem: Each book needs some closure, and this one just didn't have nearly as much as I'd like. For example, the catalyst that led Luce to Sword & Cross is barely even touched on. There are some mentions of it, but soon it is eclipsed by other plot points and entirely forgotten. I would have liked to have seen a few more answers. By all means, please leave me hanging, but just not that much. I at the very least want to at least think I know what's going on.

On the plus side though, the cover was gorgeous!

So overall, this was definitely not my favorite book for the year, which is disappointing because I was so excited about it! However, I will likely pick up the rest of the series because that's how I roll.

Monday, July 19, 2010

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

It all started when 15-year-old Clary Fray witnessed a murder inside Pandemonium Club in New York City. But the problem was that she seemed to be the only person who witnessed this murder, along with the body disappearing into thin air.

One night later she has a run-in with one of the murderers, the beautiful, golden-haired, and impossibly-egotistical Jace. But Jace isn't your average teenage boy: He's a Shadowhunter, a group of Nephilim whose job is to kill demons and other "downworlders." So when Clary's mother disappears and a demon suddenly shows up in her apartment, Clary can't help but wonder: What does her mother have to do with all this? And why can Clary see things that other people can't?

The premise of this book was very good, and I did enjoy it. However, it felt extremely disjointed to me: It seemed like it just jumped from scene to scene sometimes without a whole lot of flow, and I thought some parts were unnecessary to the overall story as well. I can sort of see why there's a lot of hype surrounding this book and the rest of the series, but I'm not sure if I'm buying into it.

I will say that I love Clary. I think she's a great character with some great wit and fearlessness. Jace's arrogance felt incredibly forced, and while I know there was certainly some depth there, it just made him feel so flat to me. It's a shame because I think he has the potential to be so great, so I'm hoping Clare is able to really bring this character to new levels in the next books in this series.

One other problem I had with this book I can't really discuss because it's a major spoiler. However, I call it the "Star Wars Syndrome." This book has it in spades, and I really wish it didn't because it really detracts from the rest of the story.

I will continue with the rest of the series because Cassandra Clare really has made an incredible fantasy world come to life in these books. I figure since this is the first, they can only get better from here... right?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

16-year-old Nora Grey isn't interested in dating, despite countless protests from her best friend, the boy-crazy and gorgeous Vee. But when the seating chart in their biology class suddenly changes, Nora finds herself sitting next to an impossibly moody boy named Patch who somehow manages to both infuriate and intrigue her in ways no one else ever has. But even Nora can't deny that Patch seems to have a dark and scary side. So why is she still so drawn to him, despite Vee's protests? Even the school psychologist has warned Nora to steer clear, so why can't she?

This book was fun and mildly entertaining, and I can't deny it kept my attention. In fact, I will be reading the next book in the series when it gets released. But aside from that, there's not a whole lot I can say about it that's especially good. It's no secret that every paranormal young adult book out there gets comparisons to Twilight, but how can they not? I mean, Stephenie Meyer has the formula to get teen girls swooning down to a T: Hot, brooding guy with a dark secret, an "every" girl who isn't blonde and gorgeous with big boobs, a little mystery and/or adventure and/or danger, Broody Boy confessing his undying love for "Every" Girl, and a steamy make-out scene between the two that makes female readers jump the bones of Broody Boy.

Hush, Hush has all of the above, but unfortunately it also has more. For one, Nora meets Patch in biology class. He's dark and mysterious, and he might hate or... or does he in fact love her? It's rainy and foggy all. the. time. She lives with a single parent. All of this had me rolling my eyes in the first half of the book.

Luckily, the book does take a few different turns, so what started out as "Twilight with Angels" ended up being a bit different. Did I love it? No. I didn't like some of the things that went on, mainly that Nora claimed to loathe Patch so much, but hours later is just about ready to pee herself with anticipation at the thought of calling him. And then she goes and actually sees him. Personally, when I was 16 and some guy was a total douche to me in school, I wasn't all that interested in calling, let alone visiting him at some run-down and shady pool hall. Different strokes for different folks I guess, right?

Nevertheless, like I said I didn't despise it enough to not read the next book in the series. Becca Fitzpatrick is certainly a gifted writer, but I just wish the story had a little more meat to it. I also would have loved to learn more about angels and nephilim. It was touched on, obviously, but I think it would have been interesting to get deeper into the subject matter.

Monday, July 12, 2010

(the misadventures of) Linger by Maggie Stiefvater


I normally would have gone, "OMG OMG OMG!!!" upon receiving my copy of Linger, but fate apparently decided to make other plans.

So here's the story of my copy of Linger by Maggie Stiefvater: It started when I discovered that barnesandnoble.com was shipping out all their pre-orders early. And by early, I mean the book was [at the time] being released on July 20th, and the books were shipping July 2nd. Not wanting to miss out on that party, I promptly decided to pre-order my copy from B&N's site, and sure enough: It shipped that day. Squee!

However, this is where karma kicks in, along with my guilty conscience. Because let's face it: I should have been good and waited for this most-eagerly-anticipated-book-of-summer-2010 and purchased it when it actually was released. But seriously? This was like someone telling me that Mockingjay was being sold three weeks early, something we all are wishing fervently for but know it won't happen. It was like finding a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the shelf before it was released! ...Okay, that's stretching it. Because if that had happened, I probably would have died on the spot way back in 2007. Nevertheless, you get the idea. I have no self control.

So for several days I logged onto UPS.com religiously to track my package is it slowly made its journey from Nevada to California to Kentucky to Oklahoma (where it then sat for a full 24 hours before finally being thrown on a truck for delivery). The scheduled delivery date was July 8th, and that morning I was practically bouncing with excitement to the extent that I barely heeded the signs that rain was on its way.

Karma's butt kick number one: Our UPS guy usually delivers to our house at about 9 AM. At 8:55 I saw him in our neighborhood. At 9:15 I conceded that he wasn't coming, and I had to get to work... without my Linger. Sad. I had so many Twitpics planned with it that were missed!

Karma's butt kick number two: At approximately 1:30 PM as I sat in my boss' car, I checked the radar on my phone and discovered it was raining at our house. I checked my package's tracking number, and sure enough it had been delivered almost an hour before. I crossed my fingers that the UPS guy put the box in a little bag that UPS drivers are supposed to use when it's raining or is threatening rain (and I know this for a fact because hubs is a UPS driver. I'm educated and informed!). So not a big deal... right?

Karma's butt kick number three: What is usually a 20-25 minute drive in traffic turned into an almost two-hour ordeal as I attempted to get from work to home that evening. Flooding was awful, and people were driving like crap and getting their cars stuck in rising water. Dumb butts.

...you see where this is going, right?

Karma's butt kick number four: I got home. The box had no bag on it. It wasn't even sitting against my door where water would've had trouble getting to it. It was sitting pretty much in a puddle. Book was wet. Sigh.

The moral of this story? Don't flaunt publishing dates!!!

Anyway, now about the book (which luckily wasn't wet enough that it wasn't readable). Linger is the second book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series. You can read my review of the first book, Shiver, here. The story picks up where Shiver left off, and unfortunately due to potential spoilers I won't say anything more than that. If you haven't read Shiver though, I do recommend it: I loved it!

Linger, I am happy to report, is just as beautiful as Shiver, both inside and out. The cover art is just as entrancing as its predecessor, which makes me so happy because I love the artwork so much! The writing is equally amazing: It's gorgeous, lyrical, and captures the characters so well. The story went in an unexpected direction, so I have to admit I really enjoyed that aspect of it too. We got to see a lot of old characters along with a few new ones, namely Cole, who I loved watching grow as the story progressed! We also saw Isabel's point of view in this story, which was wonderful. She has such an amazing voice.

The final verdict is definitely a big thumbs up for this installment of the series! I am eagerly anticipating Forever! And for those who are curious, due to B&N's shipping early and Borders putting the book on shelves early in many stores, the release date for Linger was moved up to July 13th in the US. Which means tomorrow you will be able to waltz into your book store and grab your own, hopefully dry, copy!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner


First off, can forgive me for not posting for like two weeks? I've been busy with work and some other things, so blogging hasn't been high on the priority list.

The Last Queen is the story of Juana la Loca (Juana the Mad), older sister of the more famous Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII's Wife Numero Uno), and the daughter of Isabel and Fernando, the financiers of Christopher Columbus' journey to the New World. Betrothed to Philip the Handsome of Habsburg, Juana makes the journey to her new home and new husband, who she is delighted to discover is besotten with her, as she is with him. Life starts out happily for the newlyweds, but soon ambition, court intrigues, and other outside influences start to strip away at their idyllic world.

History has portrayed Queen Juana as a nutter, and recent histrorians have agreed that she likely suffered from manic depression, something she likely inherited from her grandmother. However, C.W. Gortner meticulously constructs another version of history, one that is not only plausible, but maybe even likely. While he makes no argument against Juana's possible struggle with depression, he shows that perhaps she wasn't mad, but rather a progressive figure for her day, who instead of being revolutionary was seen as crazy.

The book is beautiful. I don't think I cared for it as much as I cared for The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, but nevertheless it was an interesting, fascinating tale of a tragic royal figure.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner


The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is the tale of one of history's most misunderstood women. Told in her own unique voice, Catherine slowly weaves the tapestry of her life, telling the story of how a young Italian girl, a commoner despite her family's vast wealth, eventually goes on to become the Queen of France.

This book read like many of Philippa Gregory's books do, and I really loved the first person telling. CW Gortner gives such character and life to Catherine via her thoughts, and you can tell his research was thorough because so many lovely details that are historically factual show up throughout the narrative.

Something else I really enjoyed about this book was just the setting itself. Through Philippa Gregory and a few other authors, I have read books about the time period and have gotten a feel for some of the politics of the age. However, this was my first book set in France around the same time, and I found it fascinating to see the world of the 1500's from a different setting than what I am used to. So many books are set in Tudor England, which is understandable considering the complete and utter turmoil that Henry VIII and his heirs threw the country into, so I have to admit it was refreshing to see all that and more from France's perspective. A few familiar historical characters also made their way into Catherine's world, such as Mary, Queen of Scots. It's always fun to recognize someone you've seen in another book or even heard about during a history class.

I just started CW Gortner's first book, The Last Queen. This one is about Juana la Loca [Juana the Crazy] from Spain, a sister to Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon. So far I'm loving it, just like Catherine's tale. So no doubt you'll see a blog entry about that too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

Tessa Russo recently gave up her career as a professor to become a stay-at-home mom, leaving her husband Nick, a highly-regarded pediatric surgeon, as the sole breadwinner for the family. They lead a so-called perfect life with a perfect marriage and children in a perfect house. Meanwhile, Valerie Anderson is a single mother to her son Charlie. She worked hard to graduate from Harvard Law, and she continues to work hard to give her son the life he deserves, despite his lack of a father figure in his life.

While Tessa and Valerie have little in common aside from living in the same town, all it takes is one accident to throw both their lives in turmoil, facing things neither woman ever thought possible.

This book was okay. I certainly liked it better than Baby Proof and Love the One You're With, but it wasn't as good as SoBo/SoBlue. I found myself really liking the character Tessa, but I just couldn't understand or relate to Valerie. I think the reason I liked Tessa though was that I found myself being able to relate to her incredibly well: She was uptight about things I often find myself uptight about, and often I found myself cringing at the way she handled certain situations, knowing full-well that I would handle them in the exact same way. It's always awkward to see yourself in a flawed character, and this was no exception. Valerie was equally flawed, if not more so. However, her choices were so off-base with anything I would ever consider normal, or even moral in some instances, that I had a hard time connecting with her.

I really think Giffin is a very gifted writer, so it bothers me that I don't love her books the way I should. I would love to see something completely different from her next time around--something a bit more shocking and fun. The constant rehashing of crappy relationships just isn't keeping my interest anymore.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer


Okay, for those three people in the USA who haven't read the Twilight series, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a novella based on a short-lived, yet significant character in Eclipse. Bree Tanner is a newborn vampire, and I don't think I'm giving much away when I say that her life as a vampire is a short one. No way, right? Anyway, this novella is Bree's tale during the several days leading up to her untimely demise.

First, for those of you who care to read this for FREE, it's available until July 5th at www.breetanner.com. This is how I read it, because let's face it: I never would have purchased this on my own. I liked Twilight, but the rest of the series was a steady downward crawl for me. And I hate to say it, but this isn't an exception. It's an easy read, and it's entertaining enough like the series is, but unfortunately it lacks all meat and depth that makes stories truly unforgettable and awesome. But like I said, it's entertaining, and if you like the Twilight series at all this is definitely worth a read! It won't take you more than a few hours of your time, and it is definitely interesting to get a different perspective on the world Stephenie Meyer created.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn


Isn't this cover just gorgeous? I really loved it! Kudos to the cover designer!

When Thea, a Jewish slave girl, is sold to the beautiful and rich Lepida Pollia, so begins her life as a slave in first century Rome. Life is hard, and her mistress is jealous and spiteful, so when Thea wins the heart of a gladiator that Lepida had wanted for herself, the lovers are cruelly torn apart.

But Thea has a gift of song, and before long she is performing for many of Rome's aristocrats. She soon catches the eye of Emperor Domitian, who quickly takes her as his mistress. Despite being charismatic and seemingly capable, Domitian has a dark streak, and Thea often finds herself the target of the emperor's evil games as she fights to keep her sanity.

Oy. There are so many various plot lines and twists in this novel that my description of it could go on for ages! It's such a complex story, so I'll just leave it at the above. But I couldn't decide whether I liked this book or really liked this book. I seem to flip flop on this issue with various books a lot, so it took me a while to consider it. The end result? I really like it. It was similar in many ways to Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, which I incidentally felt was a bit stronger, but this book definitely kept my interest and made me excited for the next installments that Kate Quiin is supposedly writing. However, as I will explain, it was certainly not perfect.

Here is my biggest problem with the book: A character says the phrase, "Bitch on wheels." If that phrase was around in Ancient Rome, well then knock me over with a feather. I even went as far as to look up the phrase the other day, and I couldn't find any conclusive origins about it other than it seemed to be a phrase coined sometime in the last hundred years or so, if not even more recent. A lot of the language in this book felt awfully modern as well, and that did bother me a little bit. Obviously, I get that there is going to be some of this as it's hard to tell how people spoke two thousand years ago, and I understand there's the difference in language as well. But blatantly modern phrases are so jarring in a historical fiction book such as this that it really forces me out of the world of Ancient Rome, and it becomes difficult for me to get back in.

My other problem was that I had a hard time liking a lot of the main characters. Even Thea, who started off as a very sympathetic character, became much less so as the book went on. I never fully disliked her, but I would have liked to have cared about her a bit more. The same thing goes for Vix. He sounded like an utterly obnoxious little brat from the start, and this never changed. There were only several "main" characters that I truly liked for the entirety of the book: Julia, Marcus, and Sabina.

But with all that bad stuff out of the way, here is the good stuff: This book is utterly compelling, and I just had to keep reading to see where things would go. Even though I didn't necessarily care for all the characters, I couldn't wait to find out how things would unfold and how this book would end.

Aside from the language issue and some liberties the author took (a few of which I wonder exactly why), the book seemed very well-researched, a trait I can definitely appreciate in historical fiction novels. So that, combined with the fact that I was so anxious to keep reading, makes it an overall win for me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Father-Daughter Trip to New York City

I have a few book posts to write, but I'm not in the mood right now. So instead I'm going to tell you this: My dad rocks. Seriously, he's the best dad ever, and he even took me on a weekend trip to New York City this weekend! It was excellent. I took a bunch of pictures on my phone, but unfortunately my phone and I don't get along when I'm trying to pull photos off it. So for now, this post will be photo-less. If I feel like waging an epic battle, then they will appear at a later date.

My weekend started off Friday morning when I went to the airport and ran into OKC's Most Epic Jerk in the security line. I won't go into details because it was NOT good, but if you know me feel free to ask and I'll tell you the story! Let's just say it wasn't a pretty scene. After a short flight, I arrived in Dallas, and my mom met me at the airport and took me to breakfast since I had a three hour layover. We headed back to the airport, where I met up with my dad, and together he and I flew to LaGuardia.

Our hotel was just south of Times Square and about a block away from Bryant Park. It was really a wonderful location. So after getting a cab to the hotel and dropping off our stuff, we then hopped on the subway and headed up to the Bronx for a Yankees game. Neither of us are Yankees fans, but we were really excited to see the new ballpark. And it is HUGE! It was really impressive.

The next morning Dad and I headed over to Times Square to grab some bagels for breakfast. Now I know it's sooooo touristy, but we ended up eating our breakfast in one of the little sitting areas in the middle of Times Square. Once we finished we walked around the area and just tried to absorb some of it. That place is pretty much sensory overload!

After we decided our presence was no longer necessary in Times Square, we took the subway down to Ground Zero. I saw it about three years ago, but Dad had not been there. We ended up walking around the perimeter of it before finding a pizza place a few blocks away. The pizza was decent, but nothing spectacular. However, I did appreciate the garlic salt they placed in shakers on the table. That was pretty cool! :)

Full from pizza, we then headed back to the hotel, and from there we walked (mistake) to the Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier-turned-museum. It was pretty impressive, but man was it hot! We had expected to get away from some of the heat and humidity from back home. Uhh, wrong. We ended up not spending too much time on the Intrepid because we decided some showers were definitely in order before dinner!

So dinner was at this little Italian place called Ralph's. It was fabulous, and I was so glad we were recommended it! After dinner was the highlight of the trip though: Wicked! Our seats were pretty far to the left of the stage, but we were super close (row B), so that was cool! And it was excellent! I only wish I could've seen it when the stars were Idina Menzel, Kristen Chenoweth, and Rue McClanahan. I can't imagine how incredible it was back then! At any rate, I can't wait to see it again someday.

Sunday morning Dad and I had breakfast before heading up to Central Park. We stopped briefly at the Dakota (where John Lennon was shot), and then we wandered a bit around Central Park. After that we headed back to the hotel, stopped off at Bryant Park, and went to the library. Unfortunately, despite saying it was open, the library's doors were all locked. Lame. So we went back to Bryant Park and had lunch at a nice outdoor cafe. And then it was time to go to the hotel and for me to pack up and get ready to go home. :( Dad stayed since he had a business meeting the following morning.

Unfortunately, getting home was pretty much a giant hassle. My flight out of LaGuardia was delayed by over an hour due to heavy rains there, and they said I was going to miss my connecting flight home out of Dallas. However, when we got on the plane they said they'd be taking a shorter flight path that would get us in about 25 minutes before my flight home! I had a chance! ...Oh, wait, no I didn't. Because American Airlines decided to cancel my ticket and rebook me on the 9:05 AM flight to OKC that left the following morning. And they didn't even tell me! I found out because my mom had called to check my flight status and discovered this. Annoying! Because had they not done this, I could have made my flight. How do I know this? Because my BAG made my flight!

At any rate, Mom came and picked me up so I could spend 5 hours crashed on her couch. On Monday morning I was back at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, and at 9:05 I was on my plane waiting to take off. And at about 9:15 the pilot got on the intercom and told us to get out: the flight was canceled due to heavy rain in Oklahoma City. Argh!

American ended up putting me on standby for the next flight that left at 12:55, but naturally there were well over 100 other people all on standby, so needless to say my chances of getting on that flight were zero. And the next, and the one after that, and so on. I was officially booked for the 10:30 flight that evening (the one I was supposed to be on the night before!), but who wants to sit around an airport for over twelve hours?

Lucky for me, my mom decided she would drive me back home instead of leaving me to sit in an uncomfortable airport chair all day. So she picked me up, and we drove up to OKC. She spent the night with me and headed back home to Dallas Tuesday morning. It was an ordeal, but on the plus side it was cool getting to not only hang with my dad all weekend, but also getting to hang with my mom for a while too.

So that's about it. Sorry there aren't photos, and sorry this isn't exactly the best-written blog in the world! I was just word vomiting my trip. :)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My new shoes!

I had to show off my new shoes! I bought these yesterday, and somehow (miraculously) they arrived today, even though I had free shipping, which is usually slow as heck! How cool is that? (And this awesome shipping was from endless.com, in case you're interested) Anyway, I have been eyeballing these shoes for months, and I can't help it: I LOVE THEM. Which means I had to own them. It was meant to be.

So I have now officially fallen in love with Seychelles shoes. They are ridiculously cute. I'm an old soul, so anything retro in appearance is automatically awesome in my book. These shoes definitely fit the bill, and I could easily find another ten pairs to love and absolutely must have or else my life would cease to matter. Unfortunately, if I spent that much on shoes, the hubs would probably bite my head off. Literally.

So for now, I'll stick with my one pair and look at them strapped to my feet gleefully.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

The Southern Vampire Mysteries, a.k.a. the Sookie Stackhouse series, is not exceptionally well-written. Like, at all. And yet somehow this series keeps chugging along, Charlaine Harris is under contract for at least two to three more books, there's a hugely popular HBO show based on it, and most importantly... I read them. And I am a self-admitted sorta-book snob.

Dead in the Family is like the 53rd book in this series (okay, okay... it's the tenth. Eleventh if you include the collection of craptacular short stories). As it is a series, it's a continuation of what happened in the last few books: The Vampire territory of Louisiana is in turmoil, Sookie is still recovering from the torture inflicted on her by a few really screwed up fairies, and Eric is... well... still hot. Oh, and someone is pissed at Sookie and wants to kill her. Because each book features a new someone out to kill the Sookster.

Anyway, ever since its release about two weeks ago, I've been hearing snippets about this book, and they have all been bad things. That made me sad because even though the series is borderline ridiculous, it's still highly entertaining and full of awesomesauce such as sexy vampires, insanely hot male fairy strippers who pose for romance novel covers, and even Undead Elvis. Who doesn't love Undead Elvis?!?

So point being, I started reading this book with the knowledge that while it would be entertaining for me, it would probably suck all-in-all. But I am happy to report that it did NOT totally suck! I liked it better than Dead and Gone (Sookie book #9), so that was its first thumbs up. The book also introduced another famous undead person, which is thumbs up #2, because let's face it: I love going to Wikipedia and looking up photos of said person and trying to imagine him or her as a vampire. It's pretty awesome entertainment for me. I also like that there was a nice all-around focus on the supes in general. No focusing just on the vampires or just on the weres or just on the fairies. We got some diversity in this one, and that was fun.

There were a few downsides to the book, unfortunately. The first was that there was a lot of filler. I don't need to hear about every meal Sookie eats. I was also not a fan of one particular storyline, though obviously that is personal preference. I also felt that this did not follow a good novel format. What I mean by this is that the book started with one storyline, but then that one was left rather loose as two new ones took over. In other words, the book was all over the place it seemed. It almost felt as though someone asked Charlaine Harris to produce a book with a set number of words, but when she finished her first draft said, "Oh, crap! I'm about 50,000 words too short. I better add a few snippets of a storyline over here, and no one will notice if I totally neglect it and disregard it until the next novel. And I also better describe Sookie's meals in a little more detail to add a couple thousand over there. Uh oh, I'm still short though! Well, I guess I can throw a couple scenes in with this character. And that ought to do it!"

All in all, if you dig the series, read this one. But don't read them out of order or you will be so incredibly lost.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Win a copy of Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris!

I'm pimping out this contest for The Nerd's Wife because, let's face it, this would be a really cool prize to win!

TNW recently went to a Charlaine Harris book signing in Dallas and got an extra copy of Dead in the Family (the newest Sookie Stackhouse book) signed. And she's giving it away!

Click here to enter!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy #5) by Richelle Mead


I just realized how hard it is going to be to write this without spoilers. I can't really write a synopsis without giving away some HUGE issues in the past books, and I can't really talk about my theories or anything else equally fun.

But I will say this: I loved it! It isn't my favorite book in the series, but nevertheless it's just like the rest: A really fun, engaging ride. All the major players are back, including Rose, Lissa, Christian, Adrian, and Dimitri. And there are appearances by old favorites as well: Eddie, Queen Tatiana, Victor Dashkov, Ambrose, Jill (aka. Jailbait), and more. Some new characters were also introduced, and all in all it was an excellent segue from Blood Promise to The Last Sacrifice, which is being released in December.

I will say that this book went in some unexpected directions, and in some ways it felt like two novels in one. There were some elements that took me by surprise, and I am super curious as to how things play out in The Last Sacrifice. I can't wait to see if my theories are correct.

If you're looking for a fun series (that I think runs circles around Twilight!), I would highly recommend this one. You can find a blog post about the previous books here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Haunted Naperville by Diane Ladley


Do you remember a few posts ago (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) when I mentioned I was from Naperville, Illinois? Well, something awesome happened between now and then: My mom let me borrow her copy of Haunted Naperville.

Haunted Naperville is exactly what it sounds like: A collection of ghost stories and folklore from Naperville. It delves into some incredible history of the town, from the train wreck of 1946 to the manhunt for two small children who disappeared with virtually no trace just before Christmas in 1952 (I am sorry to say this story does not end happily). There is mention of Otto Klein, one of the most famous trick riders of his day who was friends with people such as Annie Oakley and Will Rogers. His life ended tragically at Madison Square Garden when a stunt went wrong and his head got in the way of his horse's hoof as it galloped.

These stories were ones I knew about growing up. I spent about a year or so living just a few blocks away from the train tracks where the train accident occurred (for some truly incredible photography of this event, click here. But I will warn you: It is devastating to look at, thus why I will not post the photos directly on the blog).

In addition to these stories, there are also some lesser-known stories. I had a wonderful time reading about ghost stories that I never knew about, but occurring in places that I frequented constantly. For example, one story told about mystery hoof beats inexplicably heard traveling down School Street. I lived a few houses down from School Street, and I would walk about seven blocks down it to school every day. It's so fun to hear about these legends and to be able to say, "I know that place!"

I always knew that Naperville had to have some ghostly activity aside from the popular "Lady in White" story (which is incidentally included in the book). The town was founded in 1830, and for some wonderful reason many old buildings are still in tact and SO well preserved. There's a living museum called Naper Settlement, where a handful of houses from various areas of town were moved to and now stand, each one a glimpse back in time. I spent a few months volunteering there as a tour guide (a gig that required me to wear this completely heinous 1830s-style dress), and even then I knew there had to be some stories that were being hushed up. That was always the problem with Naperville: Despite this history, and despite ghost stories being an important part of folklore, these things were hushed up because the town became so utterly yuppie. God forbid anything gets out that talks about the town in a less-than-perfect light.

And so, I heartily applaud Diane Ladley for creating this book. I applaud those who made the Naperville Ghost Tour a reality. The yuppies may hate you for saying that ghosts actually exist in Naperville's pristine and perfect shell, or that people have actually (gasp) committed suicide in our town, but guess what: It's life. It happens. It sucks, but there's no avoiding tragedy. It's a part of the town's history, and this history and the people involved need to be remembered.

It's amazing how few people know that two children in 1952 went missing, only to be found almost two months later underneath the ice in the DuPage River, right where today's Riverwalk is. In fact, the manhunt for these children was so intense that paths were carved to get machinery to the area to drain a quarry to search for their bodies. And some of these carved paths are now paved and part of the Riverwalk. So yuppies, your blissful walks along the DuPage River, days spent at Centennial Beach, and your paddle boats in the other quarry... well, you can thank a tragic accident for all of that. History is so, so important, and yet so often it is simply brushed under a rug.

I also will let you know that I am actually mentioned in this book! I don't believe my name is ever used, but I am in there, and I had no knowledge of this mention until I read an excerpt of the book recently. If anyone ever cares to pick this up, I'll tell you where you can find me if you don't figure it out immediately.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Umm, one word: LOVE. This book was freaking adorable on so many levels!

Okay, so I'd first like to point out that I have spent about twenty minutes trying to think of a creative, but straight-forward way to give you the synopsis of this book. And I don't know if it's because of the book itself, or if it's because I'm lacking creative brainpower right now. Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Anyway, here's the basics: Emily Benedict's mother Dulcie has passed away, so Emily is sent to Mullaby, North Carolina, to live with her grandfather, a man who until recently had been unknown to her. She always wondered why her mother never mentioned him or the town she grew up in, and she quickly discovers that while it seems everyone in the town knows of her mother, no one seems to want to clue Emily in as to what exactly her mother did. All she can figure out was that Dulcie did something that has caused many people in the town to act strangely against her newly-arrived daughter.

Meanwhile, Julia has lived in Mullaby for most of her life, and after escaping the town for what she thought was forever, she found herself right back there. Julia has a special gift of baking cakes, and she bakes them with the hope that one day a lost love will be returned to her. Julia quickly forms a bond with the newly-arrived Emily, but even she is reluctant to share the details of what it was that Dulcie did so many years before.

Okay, there it is. The above does not do this book justice, but unfortunately I'm having trouble explaining it. Goodreads has a much better description of it here, so I highly suggest reading that.

Anyway, this book felt very indulgent to me. It was sweet and savory all at once, and in a way it reminded me of the cakes that Julia baked throughout it. It was a surprisingly unique take on the "girl discovers her mom had a secret past" type of tale. The characters were all fun and refreshing, and I especially loved Julia. I admit that at first I thought Julia would be a throwaway character, but she surprised me with how complex she ended up being.

I would absolutely recommend this book to any girl looking for a fun, frivolous read that still has a little bit of depth to the story. I'm really looking forward to reading more books by Sarah Addison Allen.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My short trip to Dallas

I made a trip to Dallas this weekend, and I had a great time! Despite a horrible drive down there in pouring rain nearly the whole way, it turned out to be a very successful trip!

Mom and I headed up to Dover Saddlery so I could stock up on some horseback riding gear since I have none anymore (rather, I have none that fits me!). I had done some research and considered buying everything online, but I decided a while back that I really just had to go try things on. And I am SO glad I did! Everything I was planning on ordering online fit like crap in person, helmet included.

So, I left Dover Saddlery with two (way expensive) items:

Ariat Boots (with a round toe because they're just better)












Charles Owen Riding Helmet











After that, Mom and I headed to Penzey's Spices (if you've never been to one of these stores, you are SO missing out). I didn't go crazy like I usually do, which is shocking! I think I was still in a money-spending coma from the trip to Dover Saddlery a little bit before. I walked out of there with a few bags of course ground black pepper and a free bottle of Northwood Seasoning (can't wait to try it!).















After that was North Park Mall (why can't we have a mall like this here?!). This wasn't an expected visit, but unfortunately before I left for Dallas I realized that my dry cleaner had ruined BOTH of my dress shirts. Seriously? The tag clearly says "dry clean only," and yet they washed them. And they're toast. The dry cleaners are going to try to fix them, but I have a feeling that when I stop by on Tuesday they're going to be forking over some money to cover the cost of those two ruined shirts. And I will be finding somewhere that actually reads the labels on clothing to start bringing my dry cleaning to. Anyway, I need a dress shirt next week, which meant I had to go find one. I ended up finding a decent enough one at The Limited on sale for 20 bucks, and surprisingly I found another shirt I really liked there. I used a coupon I had, so that one ended up being less than 20 bucks too. Yay me!

And the final highlight of my Dallas trip this weekend was this amazing restaurant. My parents recently discovered it and couldn't wait to show it to me as well. Four Winds Steakhouse is in the middle of freaking Nowhere, Texas, in a former residence in the middle of a field. Supposedly the house was once owned by a Dallas Cowboys player, but I don't know who it was. Regardless, umm, holy crap was the food amazing. We shared a goat cheese appetizer and a tomato & mozzarella salad. I'm a sucker for a good tomato & mozzarella salad, and boy did this not disappoint! My entree was a filet mignon, and I think this is the first time I've had a steak that I didn't even have to season with salt. It was perfect. I was stuffed, but I had to finish that darn steak. I couldn't let myself leave any of it.













That's about it for the excitement! Otherwise, I pretty much chilled down there. It felt good to relax a little bit.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan


So help me God, I have been waiting for this book to come available to me from the library for what feels like FOREVER. For. Ev. Er. For. Ev. Er. (make sure it sounds just like that kid in the movie The Sandlot... For. Ev. Er. For. Ev. Er.). But I finally got the email saying it was mine, so I praised Jesus and promptly went to the library and snatched this sucker up.

Something really cool happened when I started this book, which was written by the Kings of Young Adult. About five pages into it, I realized that even though I knew the basic premise, I had not actually read the summary on the dust jacket. So I flipped it open, and one word jumped out at me immediately: Naperville.

Umm, holy crap! I grew up in Naperville!

Emily Giffin (of Something Borrowed and Something Blue fame) is from Naperville. In fact, she and I graduated from the same high school, albeit about fifteen years apart. One thing I loved about the above books was that her two main characters Rachel and Darcy were from Naperville as well, though Giffin for some weird reason chose to make the Naperville in these books in Indiana. But John Green and David Levithan stay true to life and keep the town where it belongs: near Chicago. And that means that JG and DL get a giant freaking thumbs up from me and my slightly OCD-ish desire to make every piece of the puzzle fit into the big picture nicely.

Anyway, needless to say I got really excited because I love references to my hometown. I get to "legally" imagine the characters walking the halls of my high school. I get to wonder which neighborhood they live in, and I can pick one that I think best fits. It just adds to the fun of reading, in my opinion.

So Will Grayson, Will Grayson is basically the story of two average sixteen-year-old kids with the same name (I'll give you one guess what their name is). They both live in suburbs of Chicago (Evanston and Naperville) and encounter each other in a chance meeting at a porn shop. This happy coincidence is a turning point in both their lives, and from there the two Will Graysons go on to discover more about themselves and what matters most.

I really loved this book. I loved how JG and DL gave each of these Will Graysons such wonderfully distinct voices and personalities. The supporting characters were great, and I found myself laughing out loud at so many classic one liners scattered throughout the book. This book was so different from anything I have read lately, and it was really a refreshing and fun read. Despite these laugh out loud moments, I don't think this book was meant to be purely comedy. The themes of this book are much more serious, and it explores various relationships in ways that I think few YA books ever have before. And the ending was absolutely beautiful. It was unexpected and completely refreshing and so full of awesomeness that I can't describe it. You imagine this whole book is leading in one direction, and then SMACK! It hits you right in the face and goes somewhere totally different. Love.

My only complaint about the book was that I would occasionally run across small continuity errors. One Will Grayson at one point mentioned he lived in an apartment, and yet throughout the rest of the book his dwelling is called a house. Things like that in books sometimes throw me off a bit, but overall it didn't overly impede my enjoyment of the book.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Horse God Built by Lawrence Scanlan

As you know by now, I'm a sucker for books and a sucker for horses. I love horse racing, and I had such a good time watching the Kentucky Derby this past Saturday that I decided to finally pick up a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf unread for a whole year.

The Horse God Built is the story of Secretariat. But what separates this book from other stories about famous racehorses is that it is also the story of a member of the Secretariat team that no one ever paid a whole lot of attention to: the horse's groom, Eddie Sweat.

Now if you ever go look at some photos of Secretariat during his racing days, you will often see a short man standing near him or holding his lead. In the winner's circle, he will often be dressed brightly and maybe wearing something awesomely 70s like plaid pants. But no one ever looked at this man. They only looked at the horse, his jockey Ron Turcotte, his trainer Lucien Laurin, and his owner Penny Chenery. And yet this man was always there. He was the one who was photographed wiping away tears the day he brought Secretariat to his new home after he was retired from the track. He was the one Secretariat knew best, and likewise he knew this horse best. They were uncommon friends who impacted each others lives in amazing ways.

While this book isn't nearly the sensation Seabiscuit was, it still has merit in its own way. I too had never paid attention to the groom, and so it was amazing to read a side of the famous Secretariat story I had never heard before. There were also some wonderful tidbits about other aspects of racing in the book that I thoroughly enjoyed, but really it was this unassuming man Eddie Sweat that carried the story. A man who lived a dream by enjoying the company of the world's greatest racehorse, but who died a pauper. And yet this man is remembered by many in the industry as one of the best grooms of his time.

There was a mention in the book about how grooms are not currently being inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame, but that perhaps this is something that should change. After finishing the book, I have to say I absolutely agree with this and hope that Eddie Sweat will be the first one given this honor (albeit posthumous). I don't think anyone deserves it more.

One final note of awesomeness: In the upcoming Disney film Secretariat (October 8, 2010), Eddie Sweat is being portrayed by Nelsan Ellis, better known as Lafayette from True Blood. Is that not completely awesome or what?

Here's a statue in the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington depicting Secretariat, his jocket Ron Turcotte, and his groom Eddie Sweat:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Do you hate me?

I'm sorry I haven't been gracing your blog rolls in the past week. It's been a long (read: not very fun) week, and honestly I have not been in the mood. Forgive me. I'll try to be better for the rest of May.

Even though I got about halfway through last time I did it, I started the Couch to 5k program from scratch the other day. I took the dog out with me (if I'm starting from scratch, he can do it too!), and needless to say by the end of the workout he was not particularly happy with me by the end. Poor Fuzz. I plan on taking him back out tomorrow for Week 1-Day 2, so hopefully he'll be a little more willing. The weather is at least supposed to be much more dog-friendly (low 70s). I really need to motivate myself by signing up for another race. Unfortunately, I can't decide how long I want to wait before I race. To be blunt, the thought of running a race in the middle of an Oklahoma summer scares the poop out of me. So I may wait until the fall.

That's about all. Wish me luck. Someone cheer me on so I don't quit this thing!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Horsing Around

I'm bored. I can't seem to stop yawning today, and I want nothing more than to do one of two things: Go home and take a nap, or go find some quiet bench in the middle of some quiet park and take a nap outside. But, alas, I am in the office for a few more hours. So I decided to tell my followers a little story:

There is something about me that is extremely well-known to old friends of mine, but much less known to newer ones: I am absolutely 100% horse crazy. Yes, you heard that right. This 26-year-old can't get enough of horses, and almost ten years of not being around them all the time has taken its toll.

When I was in middle school and high school, I rode horses because it made me happy. I started riding when I was in fifth grade, and I actually fell off during my second ever lesson. While trotting around the indoor arena a horse kicked the wall in its stall, the horse that was in front of me spooked and bolted, and because I was so inexperienced my horse decided to follow suit and started a pursuit. The other kid stayed on, but go figure this kiddo fell off. I wasn't seriously hurt and got right back on, but I can't lie. I was definitely shaken.

But here's where this story gets a little weird: After that incident, I was terrified of riding. I never told anyone about it, but after that each day that I had a horseback riding lesson I would shake the whole drive to the stable. I don't remember how long this lasted, but I recall it being several years that I was scared to pieces. And yet at the same time I loved it more than anything else. How's that for odd?

Anyway, I devoured horse books (both fiction and nonfiction), I looked up all sorts of facts about horses and horse care, I began to avidly follow Thoroughbred racing (something I still like to do as a hobby, and by the way my Kentucky Derby picks are Lookin At Lucky, Ice Box, and Devil May Care if you need my betting advice), and I pretty much was consumed by all things horse-related. I could spend hours browsing tack shops, and I would go through the mail order State Line Tack magazine until the pages began to fall apart.
I always was told that a rider wasn't truly a rider until he or she had fallen off at least ten times. That happened with no problem. I broke an arm in seventh grade, and I even broke a leg when I was a sophomore that left me in various casts for over three months (frankly, I think that episode counts for like 20 falls, but I digress). I competed in a multitude of schooling shows, and in my first ones I generally placed last or next to last. But as I grew as a rider, my scores improved as well. Soon I was placing first or second more often than not. It was hard work because I really don't think I am one of those "natural" horseback riders who can pick it up with no problems. I always had to work at it to be good.

At any rate, I rode up until I graduated high school. I couldn't afford to ride in college, and for some reason after college it just never happened. I did some research on stables in the area and even e-mailed one or two, but I never got this habit back off the ground. But lately I've been going a little stir crazy in my life, and since horseback riding was always a very steady influence in my young life I figured that perhaps it would help now as well.

I found a stable I like, and hopefully I can get this train rolling in the next few months. It's funny though how I was defined by horses ten years ago. Everyone at school knew I was a rider, and my friends always knew that whenever my weekly riding time was I would be completely unavailable. But these days it's not been an obvious part of who I am. Some people have expressed a lot of surprise when I have mentioned this part of my past to them, and for some reason that really makes me sad. It makes me sad because this is a huge part of me, and I want to get that part back. I want my friends to know me through and through.
So wish me luck! I have no doubts that it's going to take months, if not longer, to get back to the level I used to be at. There will be no jumping over three foot walls or oxers anytime soon.

(I would like to point out that no, this is not a photo of me.. just what I used to do!)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett


I admit it. I have been avoiding this book like the plague the past few months. This book has just been too popular, on too many bestseller lists, and after seeing it front and center at every bookstore the moment I walk in the door I have not had any interest in reading it.

Unfortunately for me, my grandma received it as a gift for Christmas from my mom, loved it, and promptly handed it over to me for some reading. Instead of cracking it open, I tossed it on my bookshelf and let it sit for a few months while I played the staring game with it. However, it was only inevitable that the book would win at some point, and a few days ago when I was feeling rather dejected and in need of a good read... I picked it up.

The Help takes place in 1960s Mississippi and is a story told by three remarkable women: Aibileen, a black maid struggling to find happiness in her life after her son died; Minny, another black maid who has the magic touch in the kitchen but a sharp tongue that has gotten her fired many times; and Skeeter, a college-educated white woman in search of answers about the maid who raised her and then suddenly disappeared from her life. Together, the voices of these three women weave a unique and utterly honest tale of what life was like in a racially divided Jackson, Mississippi.

Here is where I admit that I was wrong in continuing that stare-down for so long. This book was excellent. With all the hype, honestly I was expecting some kind of trite Nicholas Sparks-esque novel, entertaining enough but generally lacking any literary merit. Boy was I wrong. The words flowed so wonderfully in this book, and the story was so engaging and unique. The characters were all incredibly flawed and beautiful, and there was such an understated feel to this unique story. The plot was well thought-out, and with each mystery (what was the Terrible Awful thing Minny did to Miss Hilly?) came an eventual answer that fit into the story like perfect pieces to a puzzle.

And so I have to somewhat grudgingly recommend this book to you. It was an easy read, and I daresay it will continue to ride the waves of popularity for a while longer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Love Stories of World War II


Okay, please don't groan. I know what you're thinking, "Umm, yeah, I think my grandma might be interested in reading that..."

Truth be told, this was never something I ever thought about picking up. But it was for research for my next writing project (which I seem to be kind of stuck in place on--someone want to kick my butt into actually writing the first sentence of the freaking novel down?). It's the second of many, many books I plan on reading for research. In fact, I have three books at home that I consider research in addition to one waiting for me at the library. Sigh. Good thing there are some awesome books coming out this summer that will get me out of this little rut.

Anyway, Love Stories of World War II was compiled in 2001 by Larry King. Yes, THE Larry King who is currently going through some serious marital issues for the gazillionth time. The book is comprised of multiple real stories of love from the World War II era--some end happily, and as to be expected some end with tears. Some of them made me want to throat punch one of the people in question for being stupid (yes, seriously, there's one in particular), and some made me want to cry right alongside them.

Each story is so unique, and it really gave a unique insight into the time period of World War II. You always hear about the battles, the victory gardens, Rosie the Riveter, and occasionally you hear about those USO dances where the boys in uniform are greeted by plenty of pretty girls to raise their spirits. But to see what happened to these unlikely couples was really interesting. Most of the stories also included a few photos or a copy of a card or letter sent home. This added to the visualization for me, and the reading went by quickly. And most importantly, this book made me want to go and hug my husband. I love a good happy ending, and this book was full of them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

College Girls by Lynn Peril


First, I suck. I've been meaning to post this blog for almost a week, but I've either been too busy or just not in the blogging kind of mood. Which is a shame because this is a really good book!

College Girls is a nonfiction look at, you guessed it, college girls through the years. The author explores how women first were given the opportunity to a higher education, and how not only the collegiate landscape changed, but the girls themselves. Also included are societal impressions of college girls, from the thought that they were all spinsters in the 1890s to husband hunters in the 1940s and 1950s to women with loose morals in the 1970s.

This is the first nonfiction book I have picked up in a while. I originally planned on reading bits and pieces of it for the purpose of some research, but I was so fascinated with the description that I felt the need to just read it cover to cover. Frankly, I'm glad I did. Never before have I felt so proud to have a college degree. Periodically my jaw dropped with surprise at the things people actually believed 100+ years ago (women should not study during their menstrual cycle because it would disrupt blood flow and thus damage their reproductive organs?!), and parts of it I found immensely interesting. I loved the photos and various advertisements that were included because it really gave a great feel to the particular time period represented.

My only complaint about this book was that the author spent too much time I felt on early early early college days (1800s) and not as much time on college girls in the 1930s and on. I would have loved to have seen more information about those eras, how the Depression affected colleges and the girls there, how WWII impacted college, and so on.

One more complaint: This book actually made me miss college days a little bit. You never realize how fun they were until they're long gone.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chipping away at my work in progress

I am ashamed to say that the novel I have been working on has been shelved for now. I'll probably keep at it here and there for the purpose of keeping the juices flowing, but for now I have something else on the horizon that I'm really excited about!

This new project is daunting, and I cringe to think about how long it will take to even complete a first draft, let alone go through the revisions and fact checking! You see, I am going to be writing a historical fiction novel. Despite the fact that I absolutely love the genre, I never really had any interest in writing a historical fiction because it's just so. damn. daunting. I'm a history minor, and so I will never half-ass a project like this. And while that's certainly not a bad thing, at the same time this is going to take a while. But regardless of how scary being at the start of this process is, I think this story is a good idea that I'm not about to pass up.

I've already made some good steps though: I have been writing out some ideas, and sometime soon I will be starting on an outline. I read one book for research purposes (that I loved!), and I have a stack of other library books that will be tackling sometime in the near future. This evening I also made contact with an old college history professor I had, and hopefully I will soon get a response that will point me in the right direction for some of the information I will need.

One thing I'm unsure of is whether I should do the bulk of my research before I start my first draft, or if I should just start writing and then fill in the details as I go. There are a few facts I need to find out in order to shape the plot, so obviously that will come first, but what about the little details? I'm not sure! I have a hunch that at first I will be doing a lot of trial and error before I get into a groove.

Regardless, I am super excited about this project. I'm not ready to share the details yet, but I think I'm going to have a lot of fun writing it. I am really looking forward to the process, and hopefully within the next few years I will be satisfied enough with it to begin to query agents.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater


Aside from being a total musical prodigy, Deirdre is your typical teenage girl: She clams up before performing in front of anyone, works at a local ice cream shop, and she's often texting her best friend James when she's not hanging out with him. But then something strange happens: While in the bathroom before a big musical performance, a boy suddenly appears. And this isn't just any boy: His name is Luke Dillon, and Deirdre could swear that she had a dream about him the night before. He's stunningly beautiful, is a gifted musician, and he seems to bring out the best in Deirdre. So it's no wonder that soon her heart is fluttering for this boy, despite knowing that somehow he's very different, and possibly very not-safe.

But Deirdre isn't so typical as she thought either. After meeting Luke, she begins to discover some disturbing facts about herself, the strangest of them being that she is a Cloverhand, or a person who can see faeries. These faeries know that Deirdre is special, and their queen is out to get her.

Honestly, it took me a little while to get into this book because I was so. utterly. confused. during the first part of it. There was so little explanation, and the author simply catapulted into the story without any hesitation. It was interesting, but I found myself very lost and unsure of what each character's motivation was.

Once I got my bearings and was able to figure everything out, I ended up enjoying the book. I loved that while it was a YA paranormal romance, it was different because it was about faeries and not something overdone like vampires. I'm always interested in reading something "trendy" but with a variation of some sort. This story was unique (with the exception of a love triangle, but I doubt I'm giving much away here since a girl with a male best friend means there's ALWAYS a love triangle), and when it ended I was really excited about reading the sequel, Ballad.

But here is where the big issue comes. I actually started Ballad, and I am ashamed to say that I could not finish it! It was completely not what I was expecting, and it was a big disappointment after enjoying Lament. Bummer. But regardless, I'm still desperately excited for Stiefvater's latest book Linger to come out this summer.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Some Whimsical About Me-Ness

I finished a book last night (yay!), and I do need to blog about it. Unfortunately, I'm not in the mood right now and everyone will have to wait. So for now, please enjoy some me-ness in the form of my dog:

This is Blackie. I first had the pleasure of meeting him in November of 2003, when I went to a local no-kill shelter with a friend to play with some dogs. My childhood dog Rusty had passed away in September, and I was just needing a dog fix. The very first kennel in the shelter held this cute little black mutt. He barked and barked, but the second I let myself into his kennel to pet him he calmed down. He jumped up and put his front paws on my arm, but it wasn't the typical dog reaction of "OMGOMGILOVEYOUSTRANGEPERSONSOIWANNAKNOCKYOUOVERI'MSOEXCITED!" He was gentle and utterly adorable. Unfortunately, I was in college, broke beyond my wildest dreams, and I absolutely could not afford a dog. But cute little Blackie stayed on my mind.

A few months later I decided to go to the same shelter and take a dog out for a day. They had a great program where people could come by and basically have a dog for a day, and it was win-win because not only could we get in some awesome doggy time, but the dogs could get out and do something fun. The girl at the shelter asked me if I had any particular dog in mind, and while I did (BLACKIE!!!), I didn't want to pass up another dog that hadn't had a chance to go for an outing in a while or something. So I told her to tell me which dogs hadn't been chosen in the longest time, and I would take one of those. She immediately replied, "Blackie really needs a day out." Fate, much?

With my pockets loaded up with dog treats, I took Blackie out to the local university campus, and we wandered around. As we did so, the cute little booger discovered the treats and kept trying to get his nose into my jacket pockets. I was sold, then and there. We then headed over to a friend's apartment, where we hung outside for a little while. I reluctantly took Blackie back to the shelter and wished more than ever that I could have a dog.

I took Blackie out one more time after that, and he was always on my mind (love at first sight, I'm tellin' ya!). Finally, I was in a good enough financial situation that I could afford him, and so on June 1, 2004 he left the shelter after a nine-month stay and became MINE. Mwahaha!

This dog is seriously awesome. I love him so much, as does his daddy (who was gracious enough to take not only me, but the dog as well). From the look on his face when I gave him his toys on day one, or watching him engaging in an epic battle of wills as a dog trainer was forcing him to try and lay down, or the day he passed his Canine Good Citizen class (I couldn't have been prouder if he was my real human kid), each day he makes me laugh and smile. I get him, and he gets me. It's a good feeling.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Confession: I am wearing Wranglers

Obviously, this has NO relation whatsoever to any kind of book (though I admit it could make a pretty awesome title.. ooh, ideas!). However, I felt it necessary to mention.

Here's the scoop: I am from Chicago. I lived, ate, and breathed Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Aeropostale, and Nordstrom in high school. Heck, I even worked at two of the aforementioned places. I got to Oklahoma for college, and despite the culture shock I refused to give up my big city jeans. There would be nothing but the approved brands for this butt!

And then Lucky Brand came into the picture. Oh, Lucky Brand, I couldn't afford you on my meager part-time retail wages in high school, but with college graduation came a real job which resulted with me receiving a real crappy paycheck. Suddenly you were a lot more attainable, and I rejoiced in your awesomeness... until you started falling apart after so many wears just like every other pair of jeans in the world does. And you fell apart at approximately the same rate as Levi's fall apart, and suddenly I realized you needed to stop invading my closet so frequently because Levi's were approximately $70 cheaper.

With marriage came more practicality. No longer needing to impress, I instead went for comfort. Yes, I do want to look decent. I cringe at the thought of sweat pants and a t-shirt everyday (not that there is anything wrong with this some days!). But at the sacrifice of my bank account? No. And that's where the current story comes into play.

Someone gave my husband a pair of jeans for me. For free. They were Wranglers, and it made me want to shrivel up inside because I do not wear Wranglers. But they fit, and not being one to pass up free jeans, I accepted graciously. However, I have been highly skeptical of the fact that they're freaking Wranglers!!! Alas, they are about as comfortable as a pair of tight jeans can get, and they even come with a stretchy waistband, which I admittedly find enthralling. I think all jeans need stretchy waistbands.

And so, Katie is wearing Wranglers today. Tomorrow will be the pearl snap button shirt, snakeskin boots, and maybe a bolo tie for good measure. Sigh. So long, Chi-Town.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And because Julie rules.. another award

It's Award Day!












One of my favorite bloggers (who I haven't sent an award to because I always see she already has them from others!) gave me this one. Please follow her blog Book Hooked if you don't already because she rules. Thank you Julie!

People who deserve this award:
Mrs. Messi's Musings
My Overly Ambitious Attempt at 101 in 1001 (Ebonie)
Chic Fit Geek