Friday, December 10, 2010

Cookie Truffles

I know that this has not ever been a cooking blog, nor will it ever be a cooking blog, but this weekend is my family's annual Cookie Bake. I come from a rather large family (my mother was one of ten children) and most of us all live near each other. So, the holidays are always very busy around here. One of my favorite traditions that we have is our Cookie Bake. All the girls, and some of the boys, get together at my aunt's house for one long day of crazy baking. We start around 9 in the morning, end sometime around dinner, and make hundreds upon hundreds of cookies. All of us have our own specialties that we bake and everyone chips in to make others. At the end of the day we each make huge trays for our own families and the rest of our uncles, coworkers, friends, really anyone who would eat a cookie. It's exhausting, but fun. Some of my fondest memories are of me sitting with my cousins decorating sugar cookies, or rolling out candy cane twists, or making these truffles.
So, in honor of Cookie Bake tomorrow, I'll share one of my favorite recipes. I love this recipe not just because it's delicious, which it is, but because it's super easy and people always think you spent far more time making them than you really did. Seriously, even when I tell people who are eating them how easy they are they don't believe me. :)

Cookie Truffles (I'm not sure this is the real name, so call them what you want)

1 package Oreo cookies (or generic Oreos. Don't use the Double Stuff, but Mint and Peanut Butter are delicious in this recipe too. I use the Gluten Free cookies so I can eat them also)
1 block cream cheese (non fat, part fat or full fat, doesn't matter)
1 package chocolate Candy Quik (or other microwavable candy coating)
Decorations- sprinkles (bigger ones work better), nuts, cake frosting, white candy quik
Mini cupcake cups

1. Crush the entire bag of Oreos (cookie parts and cream parts). I usually just toss them in my food processor and let it go to town, but you can put them in a baggie and smash with a rolling pin too. Just make sure they are crushed fine and evenly.
2. Mix the block of cream cheese with the crushed Oreo. It helps to soften the cream cheese first, but you don't want it to be too melty.
3. Roll the mixture into small balls. About 1 ounce in size. It doesn't really matter, but something relatively bite sized. Place them on wax paper or parchment paper.
4. Microwave the Candy Quik according to package directions. Dip each ball in the candy to cover completely, then return to the wax paper to harden.
5. Decorate! If you're using sprinkles or nuts, make sure you put the decorations on before the chocolate coating dries. I usually melt a little white candy quick and drizzle it over the balls, or make holly with cake icing and Red Hots candies.
6. Put them in the mini cupcake wrappers and enjoy!

Super easy, super delicious and they look really pretty! I hope you all enjoy your weekend! Let me know if you try out my truffles, or if you have any delicious cookie recipes to share!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wee Bit of Me Wednesdays

Well, I'm back. I survived texturing the closet... albeit barely. Now I've moved on to full-fledged panic mode. We've got TONS!!! FRIGGIN' TONS! of cleaning/repairing/etc to finish before our new dining room table comes in a week, and before we have a party at our house in a week and a half. Yep.... had a full on panic attack last night. It was special. But, blogging is a nice distraction from all the stuff that I really need to be doing, so here we go! It's Wee Bit of Me again. :) As always, thanks to Leigh and Jumblemash for getting me blogging weekly.

{one} if you were granted three wishes, what would they be?
I'm going to assume that I can't wish for infinite wishes.... which would be awesome. I think I would wish for peace, happiness and tolerance throughout the world. Then, I would wish for an unlimited supply of money. I know that money isn't everything, but I think I could do a lot of good with a lot of money. And buy some killer shoes. And third, I would wish for a completely clean bill of health, including but not limited to: no risk for cancer, no thyroid problems, and being able to eat whatever I want while maintaining a healthy weight.

{two} who is your favorite author?

I refuse to pick just one favorite author... it's just so limiting. So, here are my top 3 or 5ish authors whom I love: Paulo Coelho- The Alchemist is one of my favorite books of all time. I love him and how kind and giving he is. His web presence is fantastic too. Isabel Allende- Yes, I have a thing for South American authors. Her works of mystical realism are breath-taking. I know that saying an author's writing is lyrical is quite cliche, but her work is the definition of lyrical. John Steinbeck- another beautiful writer whose work can only be described as sweeping. East of Eden is still one of my all time favorites. J.K. Rowling- I'm actually not a huge fan of her writing; she uses passive voice entirely too often, but she is an amazing storyteller. I hope that my own YA Fantasy novel can have the brilliant themes, characters and fantastic plot arcs that her work does.

{three} what crowd were you involved in during high school?
Oh... you're all still with me after that last marathon answer. Well then. I was sort of a crowd defy-er in high school. I was popular, a jock, hung with the punk kids, was in band and choir, and did a ton of volunteer work, and just regular work in general. I don't know that I could really be defined in high school. :)

{four} what is your favorite thing to do when you have time to yourself?
I love to read, watch bad television, knit and sleep.

{five} do you have any hidden talents?
Hmmm... I can knit, sing, play clarinet, draw and paint decently. My most hidden and random talent though is probably my awesome butchering skills. I can take apart a piece of meat like a pro.
{six} can you fake any accents?
Not really on purpose, though I've been told that I sound Southern sometimes and like I'm from Minnesota sometimes.

{seven} have you ever been mentioned in the newspaper?
Oh yeah, loads of times. One of the benefits of growing up in a small town I guess. I was always in the newspaper for sports and music and whatnot. As an adult I've been in the paper a few times for stuff in college and teaching.

{eight} have you ever been arrested?
No.. not yet at least. ;)

{nine} what is your favorite job you’ve had?
Um.... I really liked teaching skiing. It was all the fun of teaching without the stress. I Like my job now pretty well too, most days at least.

{ten} do you have any scars?
Tons! I scar really easily. I have scars on my forehead from a dog bite as a kid and chicken pox, scar on my back from having a cyst removed, scars on my knee from surgery, and a wide variety of scars from things like the cat, my razor, ski edges... I'll never win any perfect skin prizes.

Whew! That was a long one. If you made it all the way to the end I commend you for listening to me blather on for so long! As a reward, I'll be back on Friday with an amazing holiday cookie recipe! It's so easy! And Fast! And Delicious! :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wee Bit of Me Wednesdays.... or Thursday

Well then... I missed a couple of weeks of Wee Bit due to illness and it being Thanksgiving here in the states, and the ever important Black Friday. The hubs and I started shopping at 10pm and didn't stop until about 9 the following morning. It was insanity, but I'm a huge sucker for a good bargain. :)

At any rate... I'm trying to get back to regular blogging. I've finished a bunch of books that I need to review, so maybe I'll get to those this weekend. Though the weekend is currently slated for re-texturing the walls of our pantry if we can find an air compressor.... should be riveting. But, without further ado... here is this week's Wee Bit of Me, just a little late

{one} if you were going to a remote place and could only bring one CD, what would it be?

I totally suck at picking favorites... I would probably take a Now CD, or Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation.

{two} are you generally more of an optimist, pessimist, or realist?

I think I'm a mix of all three. I know... that's a cop out, but I am. Realist at home, pessimist and optimist at work, optimist in the rest of my life.
{three} have you ever picked up a hitchhiker? if not, would you?

No way... and never would. Though I've considered hitch-hiking myself.

{four} what spice or seasoning is your favorite?

Salt. Kosher Salt preferably.

{five} what’s your birthstone? do you like it?

Peridot. It's okay. Some peridots are really pretty, but I'm generally more of a blue person. 

{six} do you know what your name means?

From Denmark. It's not a particularly exciting meaning, though my parents were doing to name me Dana regardless of my gender.

{seven} what is your favorite breakfast cereal?

I'm not much of a cereal eater. Before being gluten-free, probably Great Harvest, Grape Nuts or any Kashi cereal. Now, my options are pretty limited, so just Rice or Corn Chex.

{eight} if there was an extra hour in each day, what would you spend it doing?

Realistically? Sleeping. Idealistically? Writing.

{nine} if you could turn any book into a movie, which would it be?

my own! Ha... actually the book I'm currently working on would make a great movie... someday. :)

{ten} if you could go back and play out one day of your life to watch (like scrooge), what day would it be?

That is a really tough question. I'm not sure that I would go back. If I was forced to choose a day though... probably my wedding day. It went by really fast, but was so beautiful and fun!

Well... there you are. More to come soon, unless I'm buried in texture in the closet. Wish me luck!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Draculas- Crouch, Kilborn, Strand, Wilson

Many aspiring and experienced writers alike know of J.A. Konrath and his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. If you are a writer, or someone interested in epublishing, and you haven't visited his site yet, go, now... I'll wait.

Now that you're back, that site is how I found and virtualy met Konrath (aka Kilborn) who seems like a pretty nice guy. Because I've known him in the virtual world for a while (and even did an interview for his blog tour), I knew of the upcoming release of Draculas, a book written with three of Konrath's comrades and published exclusively electronically. I got an advanced copy, but ended up buying the book anyway because at $2.99, who cares if it's terrible. I waste more money on make up weekly. So, without further ado, here's my Draculas review. Which- FCC or whoever is in charge of making sure I don't take bribes for blogging reviews- I did get for free, but also purchased... so make of that what you will.

Crouch, Kilborn, Strand and Wilson are all excellent writers in their own right and when they collaborated they set out to write a serious horror novel and bring vampires back to the scary side of town. Overall, I think they succeeded. The book was pretty terrifying. Taking a page from Kilborn's Afraid, the book alternates between various points of view and is one long cannonball of a novel. It was exceptionall difficult to put down. I'll not spoil the plot here, but the very short summary is that a strange skull is found in an Eastern European farm field. The skull looks human, but has ridiculous fanged jaws that appear to unhinge like a snake's. A reclusive and near death millionaire purchases the skull, and well... mayhem ensues.

Now, I'll preface my opinion here by saying that I don't read much horror, so my thoughts on this particularly horrific book may be skewed. Overall, I did like the book. It was fast paced and well written. I couldn't tell where one author stopped and another began. The characters were believable and I liked the diversity of personalities. It was quite gory, but it worked, and didn't feel like too much given the gross situation. I did want more though. The book was short, at least I think it was, it's hard to tell length with an ebook. Regardless, I was a little diappointed when it ended. Granted they left it pretty open ended for a sequel, but I wanted more immediately. I liked the treatment of the vampires, no sparkles or dating teenages in this book. I think that it is well worth the price if you like horror or vampires at all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wee Bit of Me

Well... at least I can do something regularly. :) Many thanks to myleighashley and jumblemash for their bloggy inspiration. I have finished a couple of books too; I just need to write the reviews. Those will be up later this week.... fingers crossed.

{one} do you collect anything? if so, what and how long have you been collecting?
 Nothing in particular... yarn I suppose and maybe jewelry.

{two} what is one cleaning tip that you swear by?
 Uh... clean stuff up? No, I wish that I had been born with the cleaning gene, but sadly I was not. I have been following Flylady recently, and that's helped a lot!

{three} who would you call for bail money?
 Well... the hubs, but if he were with me, probably my friend Pehle or Jenny

{four} what is one thing you miss about being a kid?
 Besides everything! I really miss just sitting in my backyard and reading away a summer day.

{five} name a few of your guilty pleasures.
I've got far too many! Television, knitting, shopping, wine and cheese

{six} how early do you start your holiday shopping?
I'm always shopping. I do a lot of it after Thanksgiving, but I usually have picked up quite a few things throughout the year. 

{seven} what is a family tradition that you would like to pass on to your significant other/children?
I love the Chili Supper that my family does the weekend before Christmas, Black Friday Shopping and Christmas Day itself being super low key.

{eight} what do you consider your greatest achievement?
Uh... surviving this long? No, I'm pretty proud of my wedding and my master's degree.

{nine} what do you do to pamper yourself?
I love getting my hair cut and colored and I try to paint my nails once a week. 

{ten} if you were to start your own restaurant, what would it be called?
Hee! When I was little I remember my best friend and I deciding that we were going to open a cafe. We made menus and everything. The name... Lizard Alley... I know, right? Terrible. :)

Well... until next time. Book reviews will hopefully be up soon!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wee Bit of Me Wednesdays

Wee Bit of Me is back again... two weeks in a row of blogging. That's a record for me. :) At least as of late.

{one} do you still use a checkbook?
Occasionally. I never have cash, so if somewhere doesn't take a credit card, it's got to be a check.

{two} what size shoe do you wear?

6.5-8 it totally depends on the shoe, though I think my feet have been getting bigger in recent years.

{three} scary movies or happy endings?

Definitely happy endings. There is enough scary in the world without scary movies.

{four} do you prefer spontaneity or stability?

I'm an off mix of both. I like stability and predictability, but there's definitely a spontaneous part of me.

{five} what is the most embarrassing cd that you own?

I'm not sure I'd be really embarassed by any of my CDs, since all my friends know of my ridiculous love of pop music, but maybe some country CDs from my high school days.

{six} do you watch reality tv?

All the time. I get completely sucked into bad reality TV, but usually only the shows on VH1: Rock of Love, Tough Love, The Ultimate Catch... bad, crappy television.

{seven} what is your favorite home-made meal?

Hmmm.... that is hard. Probably Thanksgiving dinner, or White Chicken Enchiladas.

{eight} do you have any allergies?

No deadly allergies, but I don't do well with gluten or soy.

{nine} if you could open your own restaurant/store, what would it be?

I've thought it would be fun to open a one-stop wedding shop. Dress, planning, invites, etc. Everything wedding all in one place.

{ten} would you ever go skydiving (or have you been)?

Never been, and probably wouldn't go. I'm not much of an adreline junkie.

Well... that's all for today folks. I just finished another book, so I hope to have a review posted some time this week, but we'll have to see how it goes. :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ladder of Years- by Anne Tyler

Ladder of Years- by Anne Tyler

As I was sitting a month or so ago, twiddling my thumbs at Parent-Teacher Conferences, since I rarely have parents show up, one of my assistant principals came down to my room to chat with me. We somehow got started talking about books and our family lives and she recommended this book to me. She said it was one of her favorites, and promptly sent a student with a copy for me to borrow the next day. I'm always intrigued by book recommendations, especially since I get them surprisingly rarely, so I dove in and hoped for the best.

Ladder of Years features Delia (coincidentally the name that I chose for myself in high school Spanish class), a middle-aged housewife who feels rather, well, beige about her life. She married Sam, the doctor set to take over her father's practice, right out of high school, promptly had three children and now that her kids are mostly grown and her husband completely settled in his practice, she doesn't have much to do with her time.

The book opens at the grocery store, where an attractive young man asks Delia to pretend to be his girlfriend so he doesn't have to encounter his estranged wife and her new boyfriend. She is secretly thrilled by this little escapade and when she later bumps into him on the street, begins a clandestine, though small affair. Her building dissatisfaction with her home life comes to a head when she is with her extended family on their annual trip to the beach. She's fed up, so she picks up her beach tote and walks away without ever looking back.

Now, in theory, I should have loved this book. I have upon many occasions, since the age of oh... nine or so, fantasized about simply running away from my life to try something new. Not that my life is particularly dissatisfying, or bad in any way, but there's just something about how beautifully free I would feel walking away from it all. So, I should have liked this book. I should have related to Delia and her plight to start from scratch. I should have, but I didn't. At all. I was rather disappointed by the whole thing. The writing was lovely, but I had a really hard time getting a sense of time in the setting. The book itself was published in 1995, but the social morays and way people acted felt more like 1950 something. But, then there would be other indications that it was more recent, computers, medical stuff, etc. It probably shouldn't have bothered me as much as it did, but I just felt lost in time. The characters also felt flat to me. Now, that may have been the point, showing how Delia was really nothing in her world, felt see-through, blah, blah, blah. It still didn't work. The plot was meh and the end really left me wanting something more substantial.

I may not have connected as well to this book as the middle aged housewives this book was geared towards would have, but who knows. It just didn't speak to me. It was interesting enough, I guess. I did keep turning the pages because I wanted to see what was going to happen to Delia, but it's not a book that's going to stick with me. So, I guess, in the end, I would probably recommend this book to anyone who has kids, a husband and not much else on their reading list. Otherwise... skip it.

Read my other reviews HERE.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Still here- with a Wee Bit of Me Wednesday

Well... yeah... not a whole lot to say. :) I'm still alive, still reading, writing, knitting and panicking, but just not blogging about it. In an effort to get back into the groove of blogging, I'm going to start participating in Wee Bit of Me Wednesdays which I shamelessly stole from Jumblemash (who is awesome!) and who stole it from myleighashley (also awesome). I have read roughly one bazillion books since April, bought a Kindle, went back to work and have not been writing at all... so I do have quite a bit to talk about, but blogging just seems so daunting, for no particular reason. At any rate, I'm going to do Wee Bit Wednesdays so I can have something to write about. Hopefully it will get me back into the groove of blogging. I'll keep my fingers crossed. :) So without further ado...

{one} have you ever seen a ghost?

Oh, goodness... a complicated question to start. Yes, I believe I have seen a ghost. When I saw my mother right after she passed away there were a few moments where she was standing next to me before she left. An interesting experience to say the least.

{two} when was the last time you dressed up for Halloween?

Last year. I generally dress up every year, but the hubs was out of town last year and so I only sort of dressed up. This year we're going to a club themed party though, and I'll be rockin' a totally sweet 80's outfit. We'll see if I wear it to work on Friday as well. I may just blend in with all the retro 80's looks the kids wear.

{three} what’s your favorite candy?

That is a tough one. I used to love Twix, but since I can't eat gluten any more that's out. I do love caramel though, or Skittles.

{four} did you have a favorite costume growing up?

I think my absolute favorite costume was the black cat costume that my mom made me. It was a huge furry body suit that she accidentally stitched her thumb to in the process of making. It was warm and fuzzy (two of my favorite feelings) and perfect for cold Colorado Halloweens.

{five} did you carve pumpkins this year?

No. Halloween always sneaks up on me and I never quite remember to carve pumpkins.

{six} what’s your favorite scary movie?

I'm not a huge scary movie fan, but I did love Zombieland, though that wasn't really scary. The Shining  is good, as was the Aliens trilogy, but I don't really like hard core horror.

{seven} haunted houses or corn mazes?

Mmmmm.... not so much on either. Corn Mazes are fun, unless they have those ridiculous chainsaw dudes. And I really don't care for Haunted Houses. These aversions may also be due to the fact that both places are generally infested with high school kids acting dumb, which I get enough of at work. :)

{eight} are you superstitious?

Sort of. I'm not super superstitious, but I do knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, say rabbit rabbit, etc.

{nine} have you ever owned a black cat?

Yes, one of my favorite kitties, Ralphie. He was the sweetest cat.

{ten} what are you plans for this coming Halloween?

We are heading over to a friend's house for a Halloween Party. It should be fun! I'd like to hope that we'll get Trick or Treaters, but we've only had two ever in the six years we've been in the house, so I don't think I'll worry about it this year.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More on Gilbert and Eat, Pray, Love

I saw this video on which if you have not been to that website...GO! NOW! It's amazing. Anyway, I saw this right after I finished the book, and it just made me love Gilbert even more. I really like this idea... makes me feel a little better when I'm struggling with my own writing and creativity.

And.... just in case you hadn't seen it yet. The trailer for Eat, Pray, Love the movie. Which stars Julia Roberts (who I love) and is coming out this summer. I never have high hopes for a movie that has been adapted from a book, but we'll see. It looks like it has potential at least.
And... despite my best web-editing efforts, I can't the the video to scale to the proper size. So, if you know how to fix said problem, leave me a comment. Otherwise, I guess, just deal with it. :)

Eat, Pray, Love- Elizabeth Gilbert

I am sort of surprised at myself for avoiding this book for so long. I bought it a few years ago, at the height of it's popularity, but let it languish on my bookshelf. For some reason it irritated me, sitting there, Gilbert's pretty blonde face smiling, gloating at me from the back cover. "Every woman on the planet loves me right now," she said. It was probably my own irritation at my life that made me mad at her. Who was she to go have some grand adventure in three of the most beautiful places on Earth, and be able to write a book about it, and get paid to write about her travels, AND get a cool cover for said book as well!? It was just too much for me as I sat and stared at the white wall of my office, struggling to complete my first novel, and so, the book sat. It wasn't until this spring when an audio book copy of it turned up on the book trading shelf at work, that I finally gave in to the crowd and picked it up. I always liked audio books, especially those read by the author, and hadn't listened to one in a while, so I decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did.

Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir of Gilbert's journey to find herself and her purpose in life after a traumatic divorce and major life crisis. On the surface that quick synopsis might sound like any other divourcee's memoir of love lost and life found, but Gilbert's story is different. Her marriage has ended, it seems, for no major reason; she just wasn't happy any more. Initially, her husband refuses to grant her a divorce and after a long and arduous battle with lawyers, Gilbert is finally set free... a little too free. The on-again, off-again relationship with her boyfriend is off-again, she's depressed, anxious and beginning to feel a little crazy. So, she plans a year of travel, to three very different but equally stunning places around the globe, with the hopes of finding her pleasure, passion, devotion, and herself.

To me, on the surface, this book still sounds irritating. I'm not a huge fan of the "find yourself" novels that have been popular of late. No one else's journey has ever made me realize something in myself and generally I'm just mad that they've been able to leave their lives behind and embark on the journey to begin with. I didn't feel this way with Gilbert's work, however. Her writing has such a frank and earnest tone that I couldn't help but immediately relate to her and, dare I say it, love her. She has just the right amount of self deprication and self esteem to drag me with her around the globe and never once feel a twinge of jealousy. I was there in Italy with her experiencing all of the pleasures of pasta and gelatto. In India, I meditated alongside her and deeply felt her desperation for spiritual guidance and serenity. Indonesia brought her balance and made me reflect on the delicate balance of my own life. I was completely taken in by her descriptions, her adventures, even her evervescence.

I felt empowered after reading this book, not irritated. I felt like she had given me a blueprint and permission to explore my own world and desires. I am unlikely to get divorced, quit my job and travel around the world for a year, but I feel like I could now. So, while I really didn't want to like this book, I ended up loving it. As a writer, I also appreciate how she structured it (which is explained in the preface). I liked her attention to detail; how every word had a place and while it felt carefully crafted, still flowed like a long conversation with your best friend.

I'm quite glad I got over my aversion of following the crowd and my anger at those whose lives are more spectacular than mine, to read this book. It was definitely worth the time and I think is one that I might even visit again to refresh my own commitments to food, prayer and love.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fearless- Max Lucado

I'll preface this review with a couple of caveats. First, I received this book for free from publisher Thomas Nelson. Second, I'm a bit new to religion in general. I wasn't raised anything and have only recently come to church. I'll not divulge my faith or personal beliefs here, but from what I've heard Lucado is more conservative and evangelical than I tend to be. I've tried to not let any of these factors temper my review.

Being fearless is something that I've always equated with the young kids I used to teach skiing to when I was in high school. Watching tiny three and four-year-olds barrel down a ski hill without regard to cracked heads, torn ACLs or aching muscles is the definition of fearless. Seeing as how they only have two or three feet maximum to fall, this lack of fear isn't too hard to imagine. However, most of us grow past three feet and even if we didn't the knowledge that we gain in life often comes at a price. Sometimes the adage that ignorance is bliss is all too true. It's hard to be fearless when you're farther than three feet from the ground and have a much better idea of what life's consequences. Lucado breaks the book up into chapters that all focus on various fears that people have in modern society. Fears of overwhelming challenges, violence, not mattering, and not protecting the kids, are some of the difficulties that Lucado expounds on.

In each chapter, Lucado illustrates the fear through personal anecdotes and stories of this type of fear manifesting in regular people's lives. He then pulls quotations, parables and psalms from the Bible to illustrate why people needn't be afraid of any of these calamities because God and Jesus are on their side.

Overall, I liked this book, but I have some reservations about it. I love the message: don't worry; just live your life and do what you can about your own actions. I think this is something that everyone, can or should be able to practice. We can't change everything in the world. We can't change other people actions or thoughts or practices, but we can take charge of our own thoughts and actions and practices, and create change in the world that way. What I don't like about this book is how heavy handed it is with God and the Bible. Now, I understand that is is a Christian book from a Christian publisher and for that audience, I think it's great. For me, it worked. For the rest of the population, I think they would be turned off by it, which is unfortunate because I really love the message. Granted, if you weren't a Christian, or someone who believed in God, you'd be unlikely to pick up this book to begin with, but I still wish the message were more accessible to everyone, faithful, agnostic and atheist.

I would say, if you're Christian of any persuasion, read this book. If you're religious of any other persuasion or not religious at all, read the book, but listen to the words, and don't worry about the tradition from which they have come. These are good ideas for every human, not just Christians.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian- Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian- Sherman Alexie

When I was in college, I read Alexie's collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I loved his work then, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick up this book. It was only sort of on my radar, but when I found myself sitting in my school's library waiting for students to finish reading tests, I was drawn to it on the shelf and thought I would read a little bit. Well, a little bit turned into the entire novel in short order. (Note to the FCC- since I know this is your favorite blog to read... book was checked out from my school's library)

Arnold "Junior" Spirit is a Spokane Indian living on the rez in the Northeastern United States. He is poor; his friends are poor; the entire reservation is poor and without much hope. Junior is excited to start high school, despite the beatings he is sure to receive. He's been a town punching bag since birth because of his plethora of physical defects and personality quirks. He would likely be in much worse shape if his best friend Rowdy wasn't always looking for a fight and willing to stick up for him. When Junior receives his math book in his first class and finds that it's the same book his mother used thirty plus years prior, he loses all patience and decides that he must get off the rez and go to the white school in the farm town 22 miles away. This decision leads to a backlash from his tribe and he soon fits in nowhere. Throughout the novel Junior's life gets better in some areas, but completely falls apart in others. His sense of humor and wit however, never falter.

I really loved this book. The voice was spectacular, probably due in part to the semi-autobiographical nature of the writing, but Alexie really nails it. Junior's humor and observations cut right to the bone. Alexie never shies away from the difficult and unsavory aspects of life as a teenage boy, or life as Native American. Though it was lightly uncomfortable at times for me, a white woman, to read, I could still relate and sympathize with Junior's pain and coming from a small town myself, his deep desire to leave and make his mark on the world.

Though this book is technically YA fiction, it is worth everyone reading. The pain of being a teenager is something that no one is impervious to. Though, I particularly think this book would be fantastic for reluctant readers, particularly boys. I plan to have my literacy class of struggling juniors, all boys, read this. The pacing is well done, and while the themes and issues have a remarkable depth, the language is easy to read. I also loved the cartoons throughout. They were hilarious and totally believable. I dislike books where pictures just seem to be added in but don't actually add anything to the story. These drawings moved the plot just as much as words, sometimes more so. Overall, a triumph of the teenage years by Alexie. I'm sure that this will be a favorite of many.

You can read my other reviews HERE.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reading up on the Best YA Fantasy

I've started working on a Young Adult fantasy novel. The idea is actually from a short story that I wrote when I was 11. At the time I thought it was the best story ever and that it definitely needed to be published. The story was written for a school assignment, so I already had it typed up and I figured it was just a matter of mailing it off and waiting for my book to hit the shelves. I diligently copied the addresses of publishers from the inside covers of my books, typed up a cover letter and sent my story off into the world. Needless to say, I didn't get a seven-figure book deal. :) One or two houses wrote back, with a form letter that stated they didn't accept unsolicited manuscripts. I shelved the story for 17 years, but recently it came back to mind. It really was a good story idea... not executed in the best manner, but I decided I wanted to see if I could make something of it. Hence... my latest book project was born.

When I wrote my first novel (which I'm not even going to try to market), I just jumped straight into writing. No outline, plan, nothing. I did really well with that until about halfway through the book and then I got stuck. I had no idea how to get from the middle of the book to the end. I stopped, tried to write an outline and managed to slog through it, but I never felt like it really worked. The plot ended up being really jumbled and messy. So, to combat this problem with the current book, I decided to write an outline and have a really good, clear idea of where I'm going with this novel (and potentially this series) before I ever start that first sentence.

In preparation for writing my own YA adventure/fantasy, I decided to read seven other YA fantasies: classics, epic bestsellers, and honored authors. Here are my thoughts on each of these books, from a writer's perspective. I tried to analyze what I liked, didn't like, thought worked, would like to copy...etc. For the FTC- like they'll ever look at this blog- I purchased all of these books myself, none were gifted from the authors or the publishers.

The Sea of Trolls Nancy Farmer

Quick Synopsis: Farmer boy is taken on as an apprentice to a bard (wizard). When the Berzerkers (bad guys) capture his little sister, he has to venture to the land of trolls to help save her.

This is the second time I've read this book and while I like it, it doesn't blow me away. I really like Farmer's use of Norwegian myths and folktales. She really brings Norse mythology to life and integrates it into the story without sounding like she's telling a folktale. Things I didn't like: I don't really buy the relationship between the sister and brother. The little sister is ridiculously whiny and annoying and it's hard to believe that her brother keeps going out on a limb for her just because she's his sister. The book drags a little in places and then moves too quickly through some of the parts that I thought would be most interesting. This book definitely inspired me to use myths and folktales in my own novel, but I want to make sure that my characters' motivation are more believable and my pacing better.

Twilight: Stephenie Meyer

Quick Synopsis (in case you've managed to avoid any teenage girls): Clumsy, new-girl-in-town, Bella meets godlike Edward. They fall in love, but he's a vampire and could eat her at any minute. She doesn't care.

Oy... I have such mixed feeling about this book. On the one hand, it, and the entire series, is totally engrossing. I was reading this for a second time and I still couldn't put it down. On the other hand, the characters are irritating, the plot is trite and I hate the underlying "you're nothing without your man" message. I think there are a couple of things that Meyer does really well in this book. First, Bella as a person easily slips away and as a reader you can place yourself in her position. Second, she preys upon what many women want, or would at least like: a stunning, rich man who worships you. We all want to feel wanted and she really drives at the core of that desire. I don't like how simpering Bella is; she can't do anything for herself and I really don't think that is the kind of message that anyone needs. I don't particularly care for her writing. It's very flowery and repetitive. I know Edward is gorgeous, I don't need to be reminded of it every other sentence. I do think that a love story resonates with the population (obviously) so I'd like to incorporate some romance into my own novel... but not quite this much.

A Wrinkle in Time: Madeline L'Engle

Quick Synopsis: Meg Murray's scientist father has been missing for quite some time when she and her genius little brother Charles are approached by some odd beings to tesseract (a wrinkle in time) across the universe to save him from dark forces.

This is a classic in Ya fantasy/sci fi and while I do like it, I felt like it had some points which I would not copy. To be honest, it actually moved a little quickly. I wished that L'Engle would have build this world and all of the nuances of it a little more. It also ended a bit abruptly. I do like the combination of our 'regular' world and a fantasy world. Her characters also have clear, strong personalities, but at some points they felt a little too one sided and not entirely believable. The "villian" also isn't well developed and thus isn't very scary.

Harry Potter and the Sorcer's Stone: J.K. Rowling

Quick Synopsis: Eleven-year-old orphan, Harry, finds out that he's a wizard and is sent off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He also learns that he survived an attack by the most dangerous wizard in the world as a baby and now that wizard is after him and on a quest to return to power.

I really love Harry Potter. I think that Rowling does an excellent job of building a world and making it very believable. We're helped from it feeling like an info dump by the fact that Harry conveniently doesn't know anything either. Her characters are multi-dimensional and have real and believable flaws. Voldemort, our villain, while not really in this novel, is still built to be a formidable and scary force. As a storyteller, Rowling is impeccable. The plot moves, is interesting and the reader becomes very invested in the characters. However, as a writer, I don't think Rowling is the best. Her writing is passive often and sometimes plot points are left unanswered. Harry Potter is a phenomenon for a reason though. It's a great book.

Magyk: Angie Sage

Quick Synopsis: The Heaps are a magical family of wizards who, after their seventh son died, have been unknowingly raising a princess for the last ten years. When the evil wizards DomDaniel returns to take reign over the kingdom they flee with Princess Jenna to try to keep her safe.

I remember when this book came out and it was really being pushed as the next Harry Potter, sadly it fell woefully short. At least the first novel, I haven't read the rest of the series. The premise is interesting, but I found the plot to be very predictable and slow moving. I also felt that the characters didn't actually "do" anything. Lots of stuff happened to them, and all of the plots points were a result of who they are externally, not who they are in their personalities. I'm not sure if that makes sense, and I hesitate to explain it more, lest I really give the plot away to those who haven't read the book. The characters didn't feel are well rounded or deep. I also got pretty annoyed by how the book was typeset. Any magical words were bold and in a different font. This, coupled with all of the 'y's in words (like Magyc), really irritated me. Overall, it was an okay book, and cute, but it didn't intrigue me enough to read the read of the series.

A Great and Terrible Beauty: Libba Bray

Quick Synopsis: In 18th century England, Gemma Doyle is sent to a finishing school after her mother is mysteriously murdered in India.  At the school Gemma befriends some of the popular girls and they soon form a secret club revolving around Gemma mysterious magical abilities.

There are a few things that I really liked about this novel. I really enjoyed the time and setting of the book. I'm not a huge historical fiction person, but this was interesting. I liked the bond between the characters and how their personalities played off of each other. They all had strong traits, but it didn't feel gimmicky or stereotypical. The plot was interesting, but it was very slow moving. I didn't feel like there were enough interesting questions consistently raised to keep my interest. I kept reading because I generally keep reading, but I can imagine others putting the book down several times in the book. The only other thing that bothered me was how the girls spoke in the book. They sounded far too modern and at times it jarred me out of the story.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis

Quick Synopsis: Four children find a secret world called Narnia in the back of their uncle's wardrobe. In this world one of the children falls into the clutches of the evil White Witch who has forced the world into a perpetual winter, with no Christmas. The three other children band together with a lion to bring good back to Naria.

This is another classic and I really love this book, as well as the entire Chronicles of Narnia series. I know that some people don't care for the "Jesus allegory", but I find that it isn't as in your face as some make it out to be. I would really like to have a deeper meaning in my novel as well. Maybe not quite as overt as Lewis, but something with some substance. The characters don't have quite as much depth as I would like, and like A Wrinkle in Time, I felt like it could have had more meat to the plot and description. The book moves quickly from the ordinary world into Narnia and then even faster through the plot points, but I wish that Lewis had slowed down at times.

So, there you have it. My take on some of the best YA fantasy novels. Or at least the best fantasy nobels that I knew of and had to read. :) I'd love to hear your take on the best YA, or Adult, fantasy. What are your favorites?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New blog

So, it has again been far too long since I've written here. I'm not sure that anyone particularly missed me, but I'm back, regardless. 2009 went out with... well... it went, and I'm glad to see it gone. '09 was a year of a lot of trials for me health, work, writing, life in general. I'm really hoping that '10 is a true fresh start and will bring some peace and organization to my life.

I didn't make specific resolutions this year. Normally, I am the type to make resolutions, and promptly break them a few days later, but my overall resolution is to just get my life together. I want to organize my time better, organize my writing time more, get my health back in line, get my finances and career back in line, just get my act together in general. We'll see how it turns out, but so far I feel like I'm on track at least.

Since I'm trying to focus my time more and eliminite superfluous things I'll be paring down the focus of the blog. Not to make excuses, but part of the reason I haven't blogged is because I never feel like I have things to talk about that really fit into my "read, write, knit, panic" idea. I'm constantly knitting, but rarely remember to take pictures of my works in progress, or when they're finished for that matter. And a knitting blog without pictures is pretty boring. I always have plenty to panic about, but I'm also trying to focus on the positive more. So the knitting and panicing aspects of this blog will be no more. I'm going to focus on writing about what I've been reading, and what I've been writing. I've read mixed reviews on whether authors should reveal their process as they work on a novel, but I have always wondered how authors write and find it terribly interesting. I don't know if my own journey to publication will be quite as intriguing, but I'd at least like to document the process.

I also debated blogging about my heath trevails and what I'm doing to try to solve the variety of problems that I have. There isn't a lot out there from a first hand perspective about the illnesses that I have, so part of me feels like I should tell my story to help others, but another part of me really doesn't want to add anything else to my plate. We'll see. If I do decide to blog about it, I think I'll start a separate blog so as not to muddy the waters further.

At any rate... if you're still even reading this... look for more of a focus on reading and writing in the coming months. I'm going to shoot for blogging twice a week or so. If my track record is any indication this means that I'll blog twice a week for about a month and then no one will hear from me until July. Trying to break old habits though.

So, here's to a productive 2010 for all readers of this blog. I'd love to hear your resolutions, or goals, or whatever your hopes and dreams are for the new decade. I'm always inspired by the dreams of others. :)


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