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!