Thursday, November 20, 2014

Naughty Reading On the Bus

Reading by Meggera-Hime

One thing I miss about public transit is being able to catch up on reading (whether academic or for pleasure) while someone else handles the wheel. I took the bus and trolley for about two years while going to community college, and I really enjoyed reading while the streets and trees and people flitted past.

Text itself, because of its nature as a code, lends a form of privacy to the reader. Unlike most images, a person has to decode and translate text in their heads in order to understand it. After many years of reading (or many hours of Hooked-On-Phonics), we've learned to do this fast in our dominant languages. Text, in its pure physical form, manifests as black marks across the page.

This is how I hid my naughty, inappropriate, and embarrassingly awful literary adventures from my mother for so many years--under the pretense of academic reading. Rip off the steamy, six-abbed cover of a Harlequin novel and you have an appropriate "literature" book... Anyway, I digress.

At first glance, a fellow passenger wouldn't really know whether I'm reading some high-brow classics, obscure hipster literature, or weird kinky stuff, unless the cover is extremely recognizable. And even this can be prevented by using an ereader.

Unless, of course, while I'm reading and having a great time, their rapidly-decoding eyes happen to land quickly on the words moan, caress, and thrust. Especially thrust.

To that poor passenger on the MTS back in 2011, I am sorry. :)

Someone I knew would take off the dust jackets of his books to read on the bus for privacy reasons. He said that with the huge tome, people just assumed he was reading the Bible and left him alone. I like seeing other passengers with books, and I was quite guilty myself of trying to catch a glimpse of the cover to see if they were reading something I recognize.

Nowadays, I drive to work, so I don't get the chance to read during transit. I tend to zone off when hearing audio books, even while on Zombies, Run! missions. But if you read on the bus, trolley, or train, kudos and happy reading to you.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Favorite Cookbook - The One That I Will Live and Dine By


I've been using this book for over three years, but hadn't felt I was ready to discuss its merits on an adequate level. After all, how can I properly review a book without having attempted several of its recipes?

Let me say this: this cookbook was what inspired me to start cooking.

Before I encountered the colorful and simple cover of The Frugal Foodie while working at a used bookstore, I had already been learning to bake cookies and cupcakes. However, I was an extremely inexperienced cook. I didn't know how to chop or prepare a lot of vegetables, and I followed recipes to the letter, which was probably why baking seemed a lot less intimidating to begin with.

The layout of the book was what made it so accessible and attractive to a cooking novice (or dunce) like me. There are tables on substitution ingredients, mix-and-match additives to a salad, etc. I love going back and referring to them.

However, what elevates this book beyond a simple collection of recipes is the philosophy that a person with a budget can create and dine on gourmet meals by using ingredients wisely and creatively. The philosophy in this book promotes a sustainable-but-luxurious gourmet lifestyle. It even romanticizes the act of cooking at home as opposed to out and unloading a lot of cash for a pre-made culinary adventure. I don't mind the romanticization of cooking at home. In fact, I am eager to embrace and adopt this ideal.

The language is beautiful, and the anecdotes and tips for frugal living greatly enhance The Frugal Foodie's re-read value. I've read it over and over again, not just as a reference for cooking, but for entertainment. 

In the introduction, Lynette Shirk stated, 

"Being frugal is about getting the most value from your food. It doesn't mean using absolutely the least expensive ingredients. You could probably pare your food budget down to pennies if you lived on potatoes and ramen noodles--but would you call that living? Making smart choices are how, when, and where you spend your money will fill your pantry and menus with delicious options. Splurge on a little balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings, and a few shallots and humble ingredients will come alive with flavor." 
As with most recipe books, there are amazing recipes and some that don't quite turn out as expected. I will share some pictures of my renditions of some of my favorite recipes in this cookbook. I improvise now, but keep in mind that these recipes worked well for me when I followed them faithfully as a cooking novice in 2011. 

"Bowled-Over Chili"
I used ground turkey instead of ground pork because that was what I had on hand, and it still turned out quite well. 

Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry, based on "Teriyaki Chicken "Skewers"
I took the leftovers from the "Teriyaki Chicken Skewers" and added some broccoli, mushroom, and shredded carrot to create a stir fry, and then served it with steamed rice.

"Pie: Mushroom and Onion"
This was the pie before I baked it. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the photo of the finished pie. The concept of a mushroom pie was strange to me at first, but it was delicious! I love the idea of using mashed potatoes as a savory pie crust. It's also vegetarian, which saves money on meat.


Other Recipe Favorites:

  • "Dinner 1: Chicken Curry." This recipe has made it into my regular meal rotation, and is friendly to improvisations. Instead of water, I recommend using coconut milk for a richer and creamier sauce. 
  • "Hard-Boiled Curry in a Hurry." Because I was rather impatient the day I attempted this, the eggs were mushy instead of choppable, but it was still incredibly yummy. This recipe uses eggs instead of chicken, but since it uses 12 eggs and my husband loves to eat fried eggs, I reserve the eggs for him and make the chicken curry instead.
  • "Classic Pizza Dough." This beats any pizza crust mix that I've ever used (most which result in a flat, awfully-textured crust). While I used jars and cans of pasta sauce as the typical fillings instead of the ones suggested by the book, this pizza dough was great because the crust would inflate tremendously and the texture would be chewy and soft. 

Recipes That Didn't Work Out For Me: (Granted, it was mostly my fault as a cooking novice. I will explain in the following examples.)
  • "Three-Day Sandwich." This was the first recipe I ever attempted, and in my great ambition to have my siblings and I feast "like kings from this majestic sandwich," I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients, many which I was unaccustomed to using. However, my biggest mistake as a cooking novice, probably in the history of humankind, was not knowing the difference between a "head" of garlic and a "clove" of garlic.

    The recipe asked for a clove, and I figured it must mean the entire head, so I peeled each clove in the head and threw them all into the blender.

    For the tapenade, I couldn't find any anchovy fillets so I figured sardines would do. To this day I still do not know what a tapenade is.

    ...It did not go well. But my mom loves garlic, so she enjoyed the sandwich a lot more than my siblings and I did.
  • "Lentil Burgers." Another vegetarian recipe like the mushroom pie, but ultimately I found it lacking in flavor despite adding the salt and pepper to taste. I tried adding chicken boullion, but that just gave it a really weird flavor. 

_____________________________________________________

Here is the table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Bankable Breakfasts
    Morning Fix, Shell Game, Commuter Sammies, Cozy Oats
    3-in-1 Eye-Opener Mix
    Cents-able solutions: Cost-Cutting Cleanup Concoctions
    Cents-able Solutions: Meal Planning 101
  • Chapter 2: Brunches--When Your Wallet Doesn't Have Bunches!
    Craveable Casseroles, Naked Quiches, Waffle Bites
    Cents-able Solutions: Be a Hipper Clipper
  • Chapter 3: Midday Money Matters: Lunch for Less
    Brown-Baggin' It, Bento Box, Down-Home American Diner
    Ladies Lunchin'
    Cents-able Solutions: Food Storage and Safety
  • Chapter 4: Snacks on a Shoestring
    Flashback Candy, Dirt-Cheap Self-Filling Cupcakes, A Way with Wings
    Cents-able Solutions: Grow Your Own
  • Chapter 5: Dinners on a Dime
    The Three P's: Pizza, Pasta, and Potatoes, Fowl Play, Retro Date-Night
    Restaurant Dinners
    Cents-able Solutions: Savvy Substitutions
  • Chapter 6: Pulled-Purse-Strings Parties
    Pasta Roll Play, Get Punchy, Stone Soup
    Cents-able Solutions: "Antidepressants"
  • Chapter 7: Clever Kids' Meals
    The Usual Suspects, Hippie Food, Baby Food, Colorful Birthday Party
    Cents-able Solutions: Snacks for Starving STudents
  • Chapter 8: Midnight Snacks
    Mediterranean Meze Munchies, Hot, Toasty, Cheesy and Melty
    Secret Sweets
    Cents-able Solutions: Dollar-Stretching Dot-Coms
  • Chapter 9: Thrifty Gifts
    Tasty Tokens, Dessert with Benefits, The Frugal Beauty
    Cents-able Solutions: Restaurant Recessionista
  • Acknowledgments 
  • About the Authors
__________________________________________________

Conclusion


There are still many recipes in this book that I plan to try, so I will be using this book for quite a while. I whole-heartedly recommend this cookbook to anyone who would like to experiment with recipes and enhance their frugal lifestyle (and cooking skills) with yummy bites. 

My rating:


Find out more about The Frugal Foodie by Lara Starr with Lynette Shirk:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review: THE WANTED by Lauren Nicolle Taylor (The Woodlands #4)


The Wanted
by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
(The Woodlands #4)

Here are some facts about this book:
  • The fourth and last novel in the series, The Woodlands 
  • Will release on October 31, 2014
  • A post-apocalyptic dystopian novel
  • Responsible for at least two late nights beneath the blanket 
  • Probably contains nicotine somewhere in there

Out of all the books in The Woodlands series, this one is my favorite because of the dual narrative and beautiful language that weaves together the sensory details with Rosa's inner thoughts. Rosa may think that she's horrible with metaphors, but her narrative voice is actually filled with vivid figurative language. 

The story is divided between the perspectives of Rosa and Joseph. Given the movement that Rosa and Joseph take part in against the oppressive regime of the Superiors, I had an idea of what would happen, but I had no idea how. The episodes between Rosa and Joseph are brief but important -- each scene moves the story forward and keeps me intrigued on what would happen next. 

Sometimes the perspective would switch and I'd whine, "No, but I wanted to find out what happened to Rosa." But soon enough, I'd be entranced with Joseph's side of the line. 

So what's going on in The Wanted?

Rosa is a prisoner of the Superiors and faces interrogations in multiple forms. They want information about her friends, the Survivors, and Joseph. She has to stay strong and defiant and not let them break her. 

I had no idea how Rosa was going to get out of that captivity. I was thinking that maybe Joseph could smash his way in to save her, but then that'd be really cliched and predictable. The story went nowhere in that direction. It was filled with plot twists that boggled my mind and kept me chasing down the rest of the story to find out what would happen. 

In the beginning of the series, I wasn't able to identify strongly with Rosa (even though I liked her a lot as a character), but in The Wanted, I cheered for her the whole way. I think it's partly because she has matured over the past few books, especially after the death of Apella, a girl who ultimately proved Rosa's judgmental views wrong with her sacrifice. And while Rosa does "size up" people when observing them, she's a lot less judgmental than before because she tries to see things from their side of the fence.

Joseph was forced to leave her and escape. He struggles with feelings of guilt over the violence he used in order to flee. In the meantime, he is helping with the Survivors' rebellion against the iron grip of the Superiors. With many readers, there was an issue of Joseph being too perfect. To me, he just came across as an optimistic sort of guy who knows what he wants. In this book, however, his optimism and values go under trials of loneliness, grief, guilt, and uncertainty. It was good to explore some inner turmoil and weakness within him because his negative reaction to certain actions shows us where his values are as a person. Even if he is an overall hero, he can still be prone to moments of weakness. 

Like with Rosa, some of the people in the Survivors have mellowed out a bit after their initial hostility towards each other, such as Deshi. I've gotten really fond of him and Rash as minor characters. I was even hoping for Deshi to hook up with another guy that comes into the picture in this novel, but *ahem* that did not happen, probably for the best. 

I'm going to miss Rosa, Deshi, Rash, and Joseph. They had a wonderfully cranky but loving dynamic. When I saw the novella The Willful, I was actually hoping that this series had been extended into a quintet. Overall, I enjoyed this wonderful ending to The Woodlands series. The main loop is concluded, but as with life, there is a lot of uncertainty in the details in the aftermath. Will Deshi and Hessa become close again? Will Rosa and Joseph move past this moment of disloyalty? Will they all be a family in five years, after things have settled down somewhat? I think so.

My rating:


Find out more about The Wanted by Lauren Nicolle Taylor on:

Check out my reviews on the other The Woodlands novels:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Becoming Fierce Blog Tour: GUEST POST: Gerard Collins, author of "The Long Last Year"


It's a pleasure to take part in the Becoming Fierce blog tour. Becoming Fierce is a creative non-fiction anthology of teen stories. Think of coming-of-age experiences dealing with peer pressure, finding one's place in the world, bullies, relationships, dealing and escaping from harsh circumstances, and more. This generation's Chicken Soup for the Soul. 

All the stories dealt with meaningful struggles, but I felt a special connection with Gerard Collins' youthful self in "The Long Last Year," in which he is trapped in poverty and tense family dynamics. The year after high school, Gerard watches his friends go off to colleges and other pursuits while he stays in the city, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. 

"The Long Last Year" captures the transition period in which young adults have to make tough decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Gerard can't afford to go to college. But as the year progresses, he finds that he can't afford to stay undecided forever. 

 An authorly photo of Gerard Collins (that I found on his Facebook author page, heehee

Below is Collins' insightful guest post about choosing between happiness and financial stability. This was something I struggled with during my senior year of high school, and is also something that I'm still grappling with. 

What now?
The last year of high school can be exciting. Soon, you’ll move out on your own, make new friends, and start a new life. There’ll be no one to boss you around, but neither will there be someone to cook your meals, clean your house or pay for your clothes. You can do whatever you want.
Everything seems bigger and more important in that year. Your grades will decide if you can get into a good college and/or get a job. This last year will instigate your own sense of who you are and, to a great extent, who you are going to be.
Not only is school more serious, you’re also expected to make solid plans and hard choices.
Most of us have heard that cruel question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I first heard it, I was in elementary school, and my eyes nearly crossed with confusion.  I was already a good reader, a good speller, an excellent petter of dogs, and winner of many games of hide-and-seek. What more did I need to aspire to be?
When the day comes — first day of graduating year — it starts waving and shouting at you like some pushy monster: “Haven’t you decided yet? Tick-tock, buddy! Who’re you gonna be? What do you want to do ... FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?”
*cricket cricket*
*blink blink*
Personally, all I ever wanted to do was not work for a living, to not have to work a nine-to-five job that amounted to servitude and a wasted life. Without knowing it, I wanted to be a writer — which turned out to be a lot of work. But then, so did everything else worth having. Money, for example, is totally worth having. But I wasn’t convinced of that when I was a teenager. I could see all the things I wanted, and none of them cost money.
A car. A girlfriend. An apartment. An education.
Er. Wait a minute.
So, I came to a slow reckoning that money was actually important.
The ticking grew louder.
All those people — my teachers, parents, friends and busybodies at the grocery store — wanted to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I didn’t have a freakin’ clue.
Fact is, I had to do something.
Now that I teach at a university, students often say there are too many choices, and it’s hard to know what to pursue. Teenagers enter business school and pharmacy, one after another, like blind sheep over a low fence, sometimes only to tumble headlong into becoming an arts major, while their parents wring their hands and wail.
It’s the same old thing, really — pursuit of money versus the pursuit of happiness. Of course, making money can bring happiness, of a sort. The confused ones are often the more creatively, less financially, motivated. If you know from the get-go you want to be a doctor, lawyer, oil biz executive or Quickie Mart owner, you’ll find money enough. You just won’t have the nagging guilt that you should be doing something more worthy of your artistic side. You’ll also find a spouse, a piece of land, social acceptance, a car and all those other perks of good, moneyed citizenry that people tend to crave. And you can paint portraits or sing in a choir, in your spare time.
But some of us get fooled into thinking that happiness is based on something more abstract — so intangible that nothing material could ever complete us. This philosophy leads to uncertainty and the romantic notion that it’s better to do nothing than to do something that will destroy your soul.
I believed that if I did what I loved, the money would follow. But even then, I didn’t know what I loved. Still, more often than not, young people know what they would love to do if money didn’t matter, but their parents, teachers, peers and society in general tell them not to choose foolishly.
I think that’s where the confusion happens — when you tell a 17-year-old to choose stability over happiness, you are saying that happiness is secondary, or the by-product of being a good bread-winner and consumer, even though, at the same time, we are telling them “Just be happy.”
It would be nice if every day spent taking classes in business or med school would make us happy. It does happen, but it’s not always the case.
Kids can only choose wisely if they’ve been prepared by enlightened parents who know that happiness doesn’t mean the same for everyone. Money can bring freedom to choose, but how one makes that money is a matter of choice.
Free will is paramount to our ability to be happy, rather than slaves to someone else’s ideology, no matter how well intended.
When you’re standing at the crossroads of the long last year of high school, it would be a little less daunting if someone said to you, “It’s okay to be unsure. Find your passion, but get on with your life, first. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Also, maybe someone should say it’s all right to be afraid — sometimes, fear keeps you from making bad choices, but only if you listen to its dire warning.

Thanks for reading! 20% of the proceeds from the sale of Becoming Fierce will go to a youth-oriented charity! Find out more about Becoming Fierce on:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (9/15/2014)

Hosted by Sheila from BookJourney
Hi! It's great to be back with the It's Monday! crowd. I've been working six days a week, so it is taking me a longer to finish reading a novel. I've also been cooking up recipes from a cookbook, but I'll put up the review another week since I'm still working through it.


An old society of dragons co-exists with modern human life on the surface. Dragons possess the abilities to telepathically extract a daily newspaper in their minds (like downloading a book through Wi-Fi) and to transform between their human and dragon forms. The appearance of a mysterious figure in Bentwhistle's workplace leads to strange and ominous occurrences that have the young dragon scratching his head as he seeks to solve the puzzle. Read my review here.





A guide on frugal living for the "underachiever". The tips range from reducing your entertainment costs to eating more inexpensively. Read my review here.


Thanks for checking out my post! Have a fun Monday. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Bentwhistle the Dragon: A Threat from the Past by Paul Cude

Amazon | Goodreads

A few months ago, the author Paul Cude contacted me to review his two books: Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Threat from the Past (Book 1) and Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Chilling Revelation (Book 2). I took a look at the book blurb that he included and was super excited about the idea of an underground dragon society co-existing with modern human life on the surface. 

Book blurb for Bentwhistle the Dragon in a Threat from the Past
Bentwhistle the Dragon in A Threat from the Past is an adventure story children and adults alike will love, about the present day world in which dragons disguised as humans have infiltrated the human race at almost every level, to guide and protect them. Three young dragons in their human guises become caught up in an evil plot to steal a precious commodity, vital to the dragon community. How will the reluctant hero and his friends fare against an enemy of his race from far in the past? 
Fascinating insights into the dragon world are interspersed throughout the book. Ever wondered how dragons travel below ground at almost the speed of sound? Or how they use magical mantras to transform their giant bodies into convincing human shapes? 
In an action packed adventure that features both human and dragon team sports, you’ll get a dragon-like perspective on human social issues and insight into what to do if you meet a giant spider grinning at you when you’re wearing nothing but your smile! You’d be flamin’ mad to miss it.
The narration reveals a lot of insight into the daily life of dragons living on the surface. Many concepts introduced in this novel are unique in terms of the general portrayal of our favorite mythical lizards. Here, dragons can shift forms between human and dragons. Younger dragons grow up in nurseries in which they learn to shift between their forms. They have communal telepathic abilities that allow them to retrieve and read a daily newspaper in their minds, similar to the way we use Wi-Fi. I like the idea of a technologically advanced dragon society, and of course, there are older dragons who are more uncomfortable with surface life and think that humans still drive wagons and carriages. They even have their own sports culture, which is fascinating and the dynamics reminds me of Quidditch. 

I love how well-developed and original the world is, but all the emphasis on world-building ultimately takes away from the plot and character development. The main thrust of the plot is the mystery of Mr. Mason's malicious presence in Peter Bentwhistle's workplace. Following a sudden death of a dragon (which is extremely rare in dragon society), Peter begins to notice a lot of strange things happening in his workplace, along with the introduction of Mason, a mysterious figure who seems to have a strong influence over Peter's normally-benign boss, Mr. Garrett. As a result of escalating suspicions about Mr. Mason's motives, Peter begins to investigate what Mason really wants...

Pacing is a big issue in this novel, mostly because there is so much world building that it slows down the plot, even though the mystery is quite intriguing. The world is clearly huge and complex, but I think it would be a lot better to condense the story so that it's driven more by plot or Peter's mission. There are many chapters about Peter's daily life before or after work, as well as several long anecdotes about Peter's past that, at most, have only tenuous connections to the main plot. About 40% into the book, the plot lost its momentum as it began to meander into daily life, games, and routines, and this continued until I was 80% finished with the novel. I found myself losing interest with the characters and the plot for the middle part of the story. 

Ultimately, the story sacrifices plot, pacing, and character development in favor of world building. I love the world of dragons and their super-fast subways, but the characters don't grab my interest enough for me to continue reading in this series. The sense of urgency regarding Mason disappears in the middle (besides his odd appearances and insulting behavior towards Peter) and doesn't come back until towards the end, and so I had to struggle to finish the novel. 

My rating: 


Find out more about Bentwhistle the Dragon: A Threat from the Past by Paul Cude:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: #FRUGALITYPAYS: Money Saving Tips for the Underachiever by Antonio Starr


#FRUGALITYPAYS: Money Saving Tips for the Underachiever
by Antonio Starr

After browsing some money saving blogs like The Simple Dollar and The Frugal Duchess, I figured that it'd be great to see what other folks have done to save some dough. 

#FRUGALITYPAYS knows its audience, which consists of people who are "just a tad too lazy to take on this daily challenge. We are the underachievers!"

Well, there you go. These tips are aimed at the lazy and the people who are new to the frugal lifestyle, who are still probably paying a ton for cable and buy expensive beverages on the go. 

For its audience, Antonio Starr's book is a small compilation of basic frugal living tips that deal with automatic bill paying, reducing entertainment costs, and not buying bottled water. The tips for saving money are solid, but if you aren't a huge spendthrift when you first read this book, then you probably aren't going to get anything new from it. 

"Bring your lunch to work instead of going out or you can do what I did once, which was to find a job that offers free lunch lol." (page 45)

Lol, okay.

#FRUGALITYPAYS is concise, but at 91 pages, it can definitely go further into some of the categories. It's not even about fluff, but quality content. For $2.99, I would have liked to see some more tips on saving money in the categories about eating beyond the good ol' cook-at-home, use-a-slow-cooker, plan-your-meals things. But once again, I must remember that this book is aimed at the Underachiever.

"One thing I despise are books that are full of fluff! I hate having to spend three hours reading a book only to realize that the author could have delivered the same message in a third of the time. With #FRUGALITYPAYS, I get straight to the point because my aim is to add immediate value to your life starting with the first paragraph of the first chapter...Some of the tips in this book are more strategic actions as opposed to direct money saving tips such as buying from a clearance rack, etc...." (from the Introduction)

Something tells me that an Underachiever wouldn't be looking up actual books to read on saving cash. They'd probably hit up Google for "how to save money" tips that they can find without buying this book. I find that the actual audience of this book is actually quite different from its intended audience, since a frugal enthusiast is more likely to pick up this book than a reluctant underachiever or spendthrift.

My rating: 
 
(Unless you're an underachiever. Then it's five stars.)

#FRUGALITYPAYS: Money Saving Tips for the Underachiever by Antonio Starr

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Adjusting to a Full Time Routine: From Student to Employee


If you're one of my dear readers who've been following this blog, you may have noticed that it's been feeling like a ghost town lately. But don't worry--I'm still around, just taking a bit longer to finish reading novels for review. But I do aim to post more frequently, if not about books, then about life and other reflections. If anything, this blog will take a more personal turn, but I will still be reading and reviewing books.

One of the biggest life changes that I've been going through is transitioning from being a student for most of my life to full time employment. Right now, it's a bit beyond full time since I'm working six days a week. Alongside the job, I spend my day off writing an article or two for a college publication. Feel free to come visit me at CollegeNews anytime!

Shifting from Full Time School to Full Time Work:

  • Regular Schedule; Better Time Management Skills -- I wake up and go to sleep at around the same time each day, something that I never quite mastered as a student. A regular routine has many benefits, but the biggest one is that it makes it a lot easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I have a gym routine, and I eat at around the same time each day.
  • No More Fat Finals Week -- I gained so much weight studying for finals. The stress would cause me to eat tons of unhealthy snacks. Even the guy at 7-Eleven recognized me as I stumbled into the store in my pajamas and a blanket on a regular basis towards the end of every school quarter. "Finals?" he'd ask. He'd be right every time.
  • Gratitude for My Parents -- I wasn't able to appreciate all the sacrifices my parents did for me until I started working full time myself. They were able to push through all the problems at work, the long, monotonous hours, and occasionally, work drama and come home to take care of me and my siblings by cooking, helping us with homework, playing with us, etc. 
  • Less Leisure Time -- As a student, I was used to having lots of time to dabble in hobbies and hang out with my husband, family, and friends. Even with a full schedule of classes, I had lots of time in between classes to sketch and write for fun. Now most of my days have an 8-hour block set aside for work (9.5-hour block if we take into account my waking-up and driving to and back from work). In a 24-hour day, this leaves me with about 6.5 hours before bedtime, and currently, I'm spending these hours with my husband.
    Now I have the funds to buy all those art supplies that I drooled over as a student, but I don't have the time to commit to art. I'm becoming more picky about which hobbies I want to commit to, instead of dabbling in a million little hobbies.
  • Feeling Old; Nostalgia for Teenagehood -- Sometimes I go to my old favorite teenage haunts and I get a bit wistful for all the adventures I had there with my friends. How did I ever have so much time on my hands? 
  • I Enjoy Each Moment to the Max -- Whether it's reading a magazine while propped on my tummy on the bed or just doing stretches in the room, I relish the moment and the little bit of time I get to relax. 

Reality Shock; Feelings of Future Closing In

This might not be something that most people can relate to, or maybe they can. In my early twenties, I felt like I had my entire life ahead of me--world and future both included in one shiny package. I felt that I could become anything I wanted, although the issue of balancing between passion and practicality was always there. As I went through school, I started to realize the limitations of my abilities, and so certain options didn't play out well enough for me to continue pursuing them.

Now I'm dealing with the question of Okay, I've got a degree in literature and writing. What can I do with it? I went to college for a total of about 6 years, and the result is a B.A. degree. Where do I go from here? A part of me is reluctant to go for more schooling because I already spent so much time in school. That part wants me to suck it up, make the most out of my degree, and see what I can get with it. The other part wants to maximize my potential with...you guessed it, more school! But is the investment worth it?

Photo Credit: HD Wall Source

Conclusion

Life tends to be a lot more open-ended than the genre novel, and having a Conclusion seems to be oddly inappropriate at this uncertain stage in my life, but I have a horrible addiction to closure. These are some things that I've been thinking about lately, and chances are that I will still be trying to figure them out in a few months. In the meantime, I plan to live simply and appreciate all the wonderful friends and family in my life. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (8/4/2014)

This awesome meme is hosted by Sheila of BookJourney. 

I finally finished reading a book that I had put down on a break while I was still in college. Aside from that, with a full-time job, I have less time for hobbies, so I have to decide on which ones I want to keep. Ultimately, one of my biggest goals is to write a novel, even if it sucks. Then I'll write another one.

My husband and I have been watching an anime called Attack on Titan in the evenings, which is amazingly done. The concepts of the 3D Maneuvering Devices and the titans are well-executed. I thought the idea of human-eating giants was a bit silly at first, but then the insight into the human condition that the film makes so fluidly sucked me in. I'm stunned by how well-paced and cerebral this series is. 

What I Finished This Week:


Road of the Patriarch by R.A. Salvatore

There is an entire fan community devoted to this adventurous duo of a flamboyant dark elf and a hard-hearted human assassin. I put some examples of fan art in my review of this book here

What I'm Reading:


Bentwhistle the Dragon: A Threat from the Past
by Paul Cude

I took a break from this book to read Road of the Patriarch, but now I'm coming back to it. 

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Thanks for reading! Hope your week went well!

ROAD OF THE PATRIARCH by R.A. Salvatore


Road of the Patriarch 
(Sellswords Trilogy #3)
by R.A. Salvatore

Pairing an intense, usually objective-driven character with a flamboyant, slightly reckless character leads to a lot of adventures that wouldn't otherwise happen, especially on the part of Artemis Entreri. I was intrigued by his character when he appeared in the Drizzt series as the noble dark elf's relentless adversary. What else was there to his character, I wondered. I was curious about the sort of past that would create a lone individual who prefers to identify himself with his weapon skills than other attributes. 

I'm not the only Artemis fangirl.
Credit: Yoski

Among the books in The Sellswords trilogy, this one is the juiciest in terms of getting to know Entreri's past. The novel begins with a teaser into his childhood but it doesn't resurface until the latter half of the novel. The first half focuses more on Jarlaxle's imperialistic antics, which drive the story forward but feel a bit pointless and cumbersome in Road of the Patriarch. Despite all the action scenes during Gareth's invasion of Entreri's "castle", I was actually pretty bored with this part and didn't really see how it was necessary, aside from Jarlaxle's pet project getting them kicked out of the land. However, it was cool to see Entreri face off against the well-intentioned King Gareth in a philosophical debate about righteous claims to kinghood. 

Entreri's decision to pursue his "ghosts" is an impulsive decision, influenced by the magical flute that Jarlaxle encourages him to play. My issue with the magical flute is that it's an obvious plot device to inject character development into a character that's tough as a rock. It felt a bit too artificial and easy, and I felt that since the catalyst for Entreri's emotional growth was a physical objected, the effects would only last so long before it was either taken away from him or smashed. 

I can understand the benefits of having a static character, and it looks like Salvatore wanted to keep Entreri from becoming a completely different person. A lot of readers like the character for the way he is--ruthless, smart, and with a potential for tenderness buried somewhere within. And granted, he's in his forties--by now, his personality and life views are set firmly as opposed to the way it'd be for a youth unsure of his role in the world. 


In the latter half of the novel, we get to see a closeup of Memnon, the town that Artemis grew up in. The descriptions of the unchanging state of poverty and ignorance in the town created a vivid image in my mind, as well as a sense of indignation at the religious cleric who exploited these qualities of the poor to take their gold in return for "prayers". The closure that Entreri pursued in his hometown ended in a satisfactory way for me. 


Ultimately, I thought this was a great conclusion to the trilogy. The imperialistic ventures into Gareth's realm weren't the most interesting to me because none of the minor characters were that eye catching besides Gareth and his moral dilemma. Jarlaxle's manipulative schemes make things a lot more interesting (and occasionally infuriatingly complicated) than they would be with Entreri's tendency to pursue objectives directly. I loved the exploration of Entreri's past and getting to know what he hides from. Jarlaxle and Entreri cross roads (separately) in R.A. Salvatore's newer series, the Neverwinter Saga

My rating:


Road of the Patriarch 
(Sellswords Trilogy #3)
by R.A. Salvatore
 Amazon | Goodreads | B&N

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (7/13/2014)

This meme is hosted by Sheila of BookJourney. :)

This week, I finished two books and also got a job as a secretary in a law office, along with two writing gigs. I've been feeling a bit homesick while transitioning to the new routine, but it's good to have landed a job.

What I Finished This Week: 


The Night Has Claws & The Night Is Found by Kat Kruger (Magdeburg Trilogy #2 & 3)
The best werewolf trilogy I've read so far. Kruger has done her research on the mythology and created an intricate world of werewolf politics and cultures. Check out my book review and Q&A with the author! Kruger knows her stuff.


Also:

Feel free to enter in this raffle to win a digital copy of the entire Magdeburg Trilogy by Kat Kruger :):

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blog Tour: Q&A with Kat Kruger


Welcome to this stop of the Take a Walk on the Wilds Side blog tour, celebrating the upcoming release of The Night Is Found by Kat Kruger. Read my review here (hint: I loved it!). 

Today we will be featuring a Q&A with the author behind this suspenseful werewolf trilogy. Say hi to Kat Kruger!

Kat Kruger, author of The Magdeburg Trilogy

Q&A with Kat Kruger

Q: From the references to old werewolf cases in the books, it's clear that you did your werewolf lore research prior to creating the Magdeburg Trilogy. How did you decide which folklore/pop culture elements or "rules" of werewolves to keep in your own mythos?

A: I'm a big fan of the genre and werewolves in general so the research came fairly easily. The challenge for me was more in making the scientific connections and pushing the boundaries of paranormal into the realm of scifi. For the most part I re-interpreted the rules. Anything that could be explained scientifically I kept, whereas anything that was more along the magical line of thinking I discarded as superstition. When I wrote The Magdeburg Trilogy, my rationale behind the world was to ground it in reality to make it as believable as possible. 

Q: I notice that you pay a lot of attention to the power dynamics within groups and relationships. Did you model certain relationships after observations of particular human relationships or are the relationship dynamics based off of wolf mates and packs? I'm curious about what your process is. 

A: I didn't consciously model the relationships after ones from my real life. That's not to say there aren't some similarities when I look back on the way my characters interact with each other though!

When I wrote these characters I definitely had an idea of how I wanted to approach the power dynamics. The born werewolves versus bitten humans have different behaviour patterns because they're different species.

Connor starts off as an outsider to both groups because he's a hybrid. Although he muddles his way through the relationships it's kind of par for the course because he's always been a bit of a lone wolf.

Madison is a human who went through the trauma of being attacked and bitten by her ex-boyfriend Josh. Theirs is probably the most complex of all the relationships because Connor appears at a time when Madison is mentally ready to let go of Josh but doesn't quite know how.

Amara is a bit emotionally detached because I based the born werewolves on a scifi theory that Neanderthals evolved into werewolves. Some evidence points to Neanderthals lacking in the social capacity of humans and I sort of went with that. That said, her romance with Arden is based more on wolf mates.

With Arden, it was more straightforward for me to write his relationship with Connor. (SPOILER ALERT) Arden is actually half-human so he has a combination of alpha wolf aggression and pent-up human emotion that makes him more volatile than the rest of his pack mates.

Q: Who was your favorite werewolf while growing up? And now?

A: Growing up it was Etienne of Navarre from the movie Ladyhawke. Now I'd pick Cole St. Clair from Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver trilogy.

Q: This isn't directly related to your novel but I'm curious about your perspective as a writer. What's your take on the portrayals of werewolves in Twilight, who seemed to be concentrated into the Native American community as opposed to the more ethnically diverse werewolf population in your series? 

A: I'm going to be a nerd about it and say that from my perspective technically the "werewolves" in Twilight are shape-shifters who can take on any form so I don't include them as part of werewolf lit per se. That nerdiness aside, as a species overall I think werewolves would be diverse like humans and dogs. Having grown up in Toronto, I was always surrounded by a diverse population. It just comes naturally to me to think in these terms so naturally that's how the Magdeburg werewolves appear. 

While I appreciate the fact that Myers was open enough to include minority group representation in a paranormal world, there's actually diversity within the Native American community itself that I don't think was fully explored in that series. Pretty much every culture on Earth has some kind of werewolf folklore and there's some cool Native American lore that could have been expanded a bit more in depth. But, like I said, I think of Twilight as more of a vampire & shape-shifter series so I can't really criticize it for not exploring diversity among its werewolves.

Q: Do you own a wolf-like dog? What pets do you own (if any)? 

A: No, but I wish I did! I had a senior rescue wire-haired dachshund named Chili Dog but he passed away a couple of years ago. One day I'd like a big wolfy dog like a Belgian Shepherd or Tamaskan. I'll probably name him/her after one of Arden & Amara's kids.
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Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed meeting the mastermind behind this addition to werewolf lore. And now, a giveaway!

Giveaway (courtesy of Fierce Ink Press) of a digital copy of the entire Magdeburg Trilogy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway