Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Five Bookish (and Not so Bookish) Thoughts

"Bookish (and Not so Bookish) Thoughts" is a meme created by Christine over at Bookishly Boisterous. I'll admit to not having read much of her blog yet, but this is such a fun idea, and I've seen a lot of my blog friends using it lately. Also, I'm sure many of you have noted my silence lately, so I thought posting this might explain some things and get me started again. So, (in no particular order) here goes!


1) Gabe is so big now! Three and a half years old...it's insane. The picture above is from his recent trip to the dentist for the first time, which went really well. I was worried that he would be worried (typical first-child business), but the dentist and nurses made it really fun for him. He's almost fully potty-trained (thank God for that) and showing a distinct interest in learning how to read. He is such a perfect mix of Tony, me, and his own little flair. Every day I'm amazed by him.

2) Tony's Grannie recently had heart surgery, and we've been spending a lot of time with family sorting some things out. It's a very tentative, stressful situation. I know I don't usually talk about a lot of personal issues on here, but I felt that my inattention to the blog has been telling and there's no harm in connecting with some of my favorite online buddies. You guys are awesome. I'm hoping that her healing process will be smooth and not quite so worrisome in the near future.

3) Speaking of the future, Tony just started his senior year toward a B.S. in Computer Science! I am so proud of him for everything--transitioning from the Army, switching majors to do what he loves, excelling in school while helping me raise our little boy...it's a lot. And this also means we're probably moving in a little less than a year. I'm making a lot of emotional as well as practical decisions right now about what I want to do next. It's a lot of pressure but also exciting! Who knows where we'll end up or what will be next for us!


4) Time to get positive! I received this little beauty in the mail last week! By far my favorite cover for A Room with a View by E.M. Forster!


5) I discovered a children's picture book by J.R.R. Tolkien the other day titled Mr. Bliss! I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I ordered it immediately and, come on, you can't go wrong with Tolkien!

I guess that's enough for now. I hope I didn't bum you guys out too much! Thank you for being patient with me. I have six or so unfinished book reviews waiting for you all to see them, so I hope I can find some time and energy to finish and post those soon. Have a wonderful day!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Diverse Books / TBR Pile: Then Again

Then Again is an autobiography by Diane Keaton about her life and her family, especially her relationship with her mother. She kind of jumps around in time the way we do when thinking to ourselves, but she primarily starts with her mother's, her father's, and her own childhoods and ends at the time she wrote the book, when she is 65.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: This is a very touching tribute by Diane Keaton to her mother, Dorothy Deanne Keaton Hall. There are some reflections on Keaton's career and past romantic relationships, but the book is primarily about her mother and becoming a mother herself. She reflects a lot on familial relationships, which are always complicated. Keaton mentions how different her children are from her and how happy she is about that--having two unique, vivacious kids with new perspectives on the world. I found her contemplations on work, adoption, and marriage very interesting. But mostly, her relationship with her mother while young and growing older really touched me. I have a mother who put her dreams aside to raise and support her children, too. Like Dorothy, you see the brilliant sparks of creativity and the inspiring love of others in her. We only grow closer as time goes on, so I can relate to Keaton's relationship with her mother. I read a couple of negative reviews of this book saying Keaton is weak and the reviewers no longer admire her. Their reason for this is her confession that she doesn't have a lot of confidence in her talent or her appearance and never has. I find that a bit ridiculous. The reason I read biographies is not to have someone tell me how great someone is but to show me the unique background and qualities that makes them human. I love the intricacies of life. In this particular instance, I admire Keaton more than I did before. She chose to follow her passion for performance, even though that was never an easy path for her as an introvert. I've always liked her work, and now I can admire her as an individual.

Recommendation: If you like Diane Keaton's work and are interested to know more about her background and events that shaped her life, this is a great book for that. Also, if you like reading about individuals and relationships within families, this is fascinating from that perspective.

This is my choice for the May "Age" category of the 2015 We Read Diverse Books Challenge and my fourteenth read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Literary Palate: Thornton Cupcakes

I know I haven't written a lot of actual book reviews lately, but there are so many other things going on right now! One thing I've been working on is cupcakes. My friend, MaryAnn, and I are creating a bunch of cupcakes based on book and TV characters of which we're fans. The cupcakes we made this week were especially delightful, so I wanted to share them with you! So, without further ado:

Our Inspiration

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
(picture taken from Goodreads)

I know many of you are familiar with the book and will appreciate that there should always be delicious cupcakes dedicated to the brilliance of this piece of literature.

Our Creation

Thornton Cupcakes

The Thornton cupcake is, of course, based on my favorite character from North and South: John Thornton. It is a dark chocolate cupcake with an assam tea buttercream filling and a semi-sweet chocolate glaze on top. Because we all know he has a little soft and sweet deliciousness under all that darkness and glowering! It was quite fun coming up with this one!

The Recipe

 Cake
1 cup unsalted butter                                             1 1/3 cups 1% milk
2 cups sugar                                                           1 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs                                                           2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour                     2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt                                                    1 cup Dutch process cocoa

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl until well-blended. Add 1 egg and beat until blended. Repeat with remaining 3 eggs. Add 1 cup of flour and the salt and blend. Add 1/2 of milk and blend. Add remaining cup of flour and the baking soda and baking powder and blend. Add second 1/2 of milk and the vanilla extract and blend. Add cocoa and blend until consistency of batter is uniform and smooth. If not using cupcake papers, grease or butter cupcake pan. Fill each cup 1/2-2/3 full and bake for roughly 20 minutes. Cool baked cupcakes before filling.

Filling
1/4 cup water
1 assam tea bag
3 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter

Boil water and pour over tea bag. Brew for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, cream 2 cups of sugar and all of butter. Consistency will seem dry or inconsistent; blend as well as possible. When tea is brewed, take out tea bag and pour over sugar and butter mixture. Stir in but not completely. Add last cup of sugar and blend well. After cupcakes are cool, make a hollow in the center of each with a melon baller/spoon/whatever works for you. Mine were probably an inch deep or less. Spoon filling into cupcake and smooth top for easier glazing.

Glaze
3/4 cup butter
2+ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter on stovetop or in microwave. Remove from heat and immediately mix in chocolate chips until smooth. Add more chocolate chips as desired for stronger flavor.

I have included the type of ingredients that I specifically used (certain flours or milk, for instance), but you are welcome to substitute with what you can or prefer to eat. I almost always tweak recipes that I use anyway. Just make sure you're aware that altered fat content/dry-wet ingredient ratio/etc. will alter the consistency of the cupcake and adjust other ingrdients accordingly. This recipe will be much easier to make in a mixer if you have one. If you don't or yours is currently broken (like mine), be prepared for some serious mixing! Keep in mind that I personally think the filling needs some work so the tea flavor will be stronger and the texture more consistent. I'll update this recipe when I find the solutions.
 
For Your Comparison

Richard Armitage as John Thornton
(picture taken from Google Images)

Let me know if you all like this post! The cupcakes and other treats will be an ongoing project of MaryAnn's and mine, so we'll have others to post if you guys are interested. Also, if there's anything else you'd like to know about our processes or inspirations, please comment and I'll do my best to answer. And I'd love to hear how yours turn out if you make some!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Guest Post: Janet Ursel on Christian Fantasy

I hope you guys are having a great Summer! I can't believe it's half over already. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm currently reading a book called Disenchanted by Janet Ursel. My review might be a little later than I had originally planned. Not being an ebook person myself, I bought a print copy and am waiting for that to arrive in order to continue the book. But while we're waiting, Janet has agreed to write a guest post for me about the genre in which her book is written: Christian Fantasy! Enjoy!


"Christian fantasy. The term almost seems contradictory, doesn’t it? How does a religion that is all about truth reconcile itself with something that is all about non-truth, about what isn’t? It makes for an interesting dance sometimes. This is a little ironic, seeing that fantasy as a genre was virtually invented by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, both committed Christians, and one of their prime literary influences was George Macdonald, yet another committed Christian. Their goal was to take eternal truths and wrap them in different packaging, in order that people who would reject the normal package would find them more acceptable. Controversy has raged ever since in Christian circles about whether that was effective or even advisable.


"So Christian fantasy as a genre has existed in a weird twilight zone, too Christian for the secular market and too far from truth for many Christians. And yet writers of Christian fantasy persist, most of them writing for teenagers, which has proven to be the surest of markets. There are very few publishers of any description who are willing to take on Christian fantasy for the adult market.


"Those few writing to the adult market have often taken the same road as Tolkien and placed their stories in worlds that are entirely fictitious, with the spiritual aspects hidden beneath layers of metaphor, so that they go largely unperceived by most readers. There aren’t very many people who think of The Lord of the Rings as Christian literature, for example, and even devoted fans are often surprised to find out about Tolkien’s religious convictions. And that is why the debate about effectiveness rages. If you’ve wrapped those truths up so tight they’re no longer recognizable, in what sense is the work really Christian? Add to that the fact that Christians are often uncomfortable with magic being given positive connotations, and argue that the elements taken from pagan mythology more or less overwhelm the Christian content.


"Other writers take an approach closer to Lewis’s and connect their fantasy world in some way to the real world. There is still a layer of metaphor, but absolutely no one is surprised that Aslan is Jesus. This has to be handled with a lot of dexterity by the writer, or it could easily come across as too preachy. I personally think that Lewis pushed it pretty well to the limits of the acceptable, and some people think he went too far. I remember one of my English professors complaining about that, even as she read the Narnia books to her children. They were entirely too obvious and too Christian to her liking. I can’t think of anyone else who has succeeded in the general market with such openly Christian content. But then again, there aren’t many people who can write like Lewis.


"And then there are a few others, like myself, who abandon metaphor altogether. Christianity enters the stories on its own terms for entirely what it is and the characters have to struggle with it on those terms. This frequently takes place in a dystopic future, which is perhaps better categorized as science fiction. Again, there are some Christians who are uncomfortable with that, arguing that they are inconsistent with Christian eschatology. Such writers have to find innovative ways to connect the fantasy element to the real world, through some form of urban fantasy or portal stories.

"Writers like me, who take a different road than Tolkien, run the risk of being entirely rejected by the secular market. There are those, like Jeffrey Overstreet, who say that our main problem as Christians has been inferior quality, and that if we wrote to higher standards, the wider market would be prepared to embrace us. I’ve taken that as a bit of a personal challenge. I did my best to write at a level that can compete favorably in any market, and to examine faith experientially as part of a story, not as a glorified sermon. Faith, after all, is part of the human experience, and it seems to me that one of the great failings of the secular market is usually leaving it out altogether, which strikes me as being fundamentally dishonest, as dishonest as so many Christian books that leave out or sanitize aspects of life they find uncomfortable.


"So I am curious to see if DISENCHANTED will find an audience beyond the explicitly Christian market. I know there are many people who will reject it purely because of the Christian content. It’s difficult for me to see that as anything but bigotry. I personally have yet to refuse to read a novel because it was atheistic, or Muslim, or whatever, so I am not inclined to be charitable toward that kind of attitude. One of the great things about fiction is its ability to increase our empathy, to help us understand other points of view. I am hoping that DISENCHANTED will be good enough to delight those who are willing to look through an unfamiliar window. (I will confess, I tried to make Christians look through an unfamiliar window or two also. I’m ornery that way.)"

Janet Ursel

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

TBR Pile: Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is, amazingly, the first book I've read by Kate DiCamillo. Okay, I take it back. I may have read Because of Winn-Dixie a while back, but I don't completely remember. Anyway, DiCamillo is quite well-known in the children's book community for her frequent medals and honors. This book was the Newbery Medal Winner for last year, 2014, and it definitely lives up to the hype.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: This book is purposely dark in a way that's appropriate for children. It is technically about Ulysses the squirrel and his adventures becoming a superhero with the support of his self-professed critic sidekick, Flora. But DiCamillo addresses many more underlying issues in the background: finding purpose and self-importance as a pre-teen, parental divorce, conflict with parents, feeling neglected or silenced, etc. The illustrations are fantastic as well as the writing. Not only did K.G. Campbell perfectly represent each character, but the drawings also added a graphic novel element to parts of the story, complementing Ulysses's heroic feats. This is just an overall great book. Visually appealing and humorous, but deep and heartwarming, too.

This book is my thirteenth read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge. I'm pretty excited to be reading so many of my TBR books this year, especially since I didn't read many of them last year. Hopefully you all are tackling those mountains as well--there's still half a year to go!

Friday, July 10, 2015

2015 Where Are You Reading? Challenge: Quarterly Update #2

This is my second quarterly update for the Where Are You Reading Challenge 2015 hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is one of my "Just for Fun" Challenges for 2015. (The location I list for each book will be based on where most of the story takes place. If the story is in a fictional location or the reader doesn't know of a specific location where the story takes place, I'll list it as "Other." If the primary location is fictional but part of the story takes place in a real location, I'll list the book under the real location mentioned.) I'm listing all of the books that I finish in 2015 except for children's picture books, whether I'm writing a review of them on this blog or not. This post will be where I update that list until my next quarterly update.

Australia
Don Tillman: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Germany
The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning by Chris Colfer
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Greece
Billionaire Boys' Club: Romancing the Billionaire by Jessica Clare

Italy
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

United Kingdom
England: His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
                Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
                The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
                Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton

United States
California: Then Again by Diane Keaton
                    Dilbert: I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot by Scott Adams
Kansas: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
Massachusetts: Still Alice by Lisa Genova
New Jersey: Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich
New Mexico: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
New York: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
                    Yes Please by Amy Poehler
                    Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
                    Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
North Carolina: By Book or by Crook: A Lighthouse Library Mystery by Eva Gates
Ohio: Mr. Lemoncello's Library: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Pennsylvania: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Rhode Island: Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper

Other
The Mortality Doctrine: The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Age of Legends: Empire of Night by Kelley Armstrong
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

2015 Literary Pickers Reading Challenge: Quarterly Update #2

This is my second quarterly update for the Literary Pickers Reading Challenge 2015 hosted by Sophia at Delighted Reader. This is one of my "Just for Fun" Challenges for 2015, and I think I'm doing pretty well (although I haven't compared it to anyone else's list, since I'm not actually competing in the challenge). I've copied the items I found up until this point, and this will be where I update that list until my next quarterly update.
 

Objects

   Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
   A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens




   The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville

   The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
   Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper







   North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell



   The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein


   Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

   Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot






   The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis








   Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

Transportation
   Disenchanted by Janet Ursel
   The Land of Stories: A Grimm Warning by Chris Colfer
   The Virgin's Guide to Misbehaving by Jessica Clare
   The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
   Billionaire Boys' Club: Romancing the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper

   Yes Please by Amy Poehler
   Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen


Places

   A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
   Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

   Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

   Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton
   Billionaires and Bridesmaids: The Billionaire and the Virgin by Jessica Clare

   Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

   Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich
   Red Rising Trilogy: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Personages/Animals
   Poetry magazine "July/August 2014"
   The Mortality Doctrine: The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
   Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm
   The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio
   Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
   The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer


   Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

   Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

   Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

   Age of Legends: Empire of Night by Kelley Armstrong



Clothing




   By Book or by Crook by Eva Gates

   The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini






   Blacktop Cowboys: Saddled and Spurred by Lorelei James



The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
   His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

   Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie



Food

   Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
   Dilbert: I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot by Scott Adams