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Book Review: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine

1 Mar

inkandboneRachel Caine’s Prince of Shadows was my absolute favorite book of a few years ago, so when I saw her name I had to pick this up (or, you know, grab it off the library’s e-book loan system — getting out and about with a newborn is no easy task!).

The Library of Alexandria was never burnt. Guttenberg’s printer was never built. Books are a precious commodity, but the Great Library now controls all of the real books past and present. The ownership of books is illegal, but that hasn’t stopped smugglers like Jess’s family from making a tidy profit in transporting books to wealthy collectors. Now Jess’ father wants him to join the Library’s service to act as a contact within the facility itself. But earning a place turns out to be a lot more dangerous than expected.

I thought that this book could have been so much better. I gave it three stars. I am still eagerly awaiting the sequel, but…

This world was so incredibly interesting to me, and it just wasn’t developed and explored enough! I felt like the plot was so fast-paced that we never slowed down to really look at the world surrounding these characters. It’s set in the future without many of the technologies we have today, but also with a lot of new and different technologies that we probably will never have. The whole library hierarchy and who controlled what was interesting, but it was never really explained in-depth. I wanted to stop and look at these things more closely, and I feel like it could easily have been done if maybe the author was given just a few more pages to do it in.

Similarly, the characters were all quite interesting but there were quite a few of them and I don’t think they were explored deeply enough. There were a couple of deaths and to be honest, I just didn’t really care enough about them to… well… care. I’d like to know more about each character’s history, something that I hope will be explored more in the sequels.

But all that said, it was a very fun read and the plot kept me flipping pages. I think it’s a good thing that I wanted more, not necessarily a bad one! Can’t wait for Book 2.

Book Review: The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman

12 Feb

the dark days clubLong time, no post! Life, re-reads (does anyone really need more reviews of Harry Potter?), and a terrible book slump got in the way last year, but I’m hoping to rekindle this blog and start posting reviews again. I’ve just finished a couple of really excellent ones and I wanted to share with fellow readers!

First up: The Dark Days Club. A mash-up of Regency England high society and demons. Lady Helen has been living in the shadow of her mother’s scandal her whole life. Little does she know that her mother was involved in something much deeper than trading intelligence with Napoleon. When she meets Lord Carlston, a man accused of killing his wife, the world as she knows it is turned upside down and she learns of her mother’s legacy: fighting demons who have infiltrated every level of society. And now Lord Carlston expects Lady Helen to take up her mother’s reins.

This was a very well written and well-researched book. Regency England unfolded perfectly on every page. I love books like that, when you can tell the author has put a lot of work into making the setting feel so real. There were times when I dashed to look something up — not because it was confusing, but because I wanted to know more! (That’s the history major coming out in me.)

The characters were witty and charming. I loved that Lady Helen was intelligent, curious, and forward-thinking — but while she was willing to throw off some of the more traditional womanly roles, she was also a product of her time and enjoyed things like dances and dresses. It made her feel real too and less like one of those heroines who is “strong” and totally ahead of her time for the mere purpose of having a strong, ahead-of-her-time heroine.

As far as plot goes, it was pretty interesting! I’m wary of “creature and hunter” type novels because they’re often a bit cliche, but I didn’t think this one was at all. It was clever, interweaving historical events and people with supernatural elements — and working out how a lady was able to have covert meetings with a man she’s been forbidden to meet! I will say there were a few points where the plot really slowed down but it didn’t stop my desire to continue flipping pages.

Overall, loved this book — it was the perfect thing to get me out of a book slump!

Book Review: Victory of Eagles (Temeraire #5) by Naomi Novik

18 Apr

victoryofeaglesIt’s looking pretty grim. Laurence is in prison, waiting to be hanged for treason. Temeraire has been confined to the breeding grounds in Wales. And–Napoleon has landed in Britain and is now settled in London. French soldiers are everywhere, stealing from honest citizens and setting fire to villages. When Temeraire hears news that Laurence is dead, he sets out to avenge his captain and save his country, but little can repair the damage that has been done, and it looks like Napoleon may be here to stay.

This was another good book in an excellently well-written and engaging series. However, I only gave it three stars because I didn’t like it quite as much as the last few. I’d say #4 was my favourite so far (though the next is set in Australia, so we’ll see if that will win me over!) so it’s tough to follow that one.

Basically, I didn’t like that Laurence and Temeraire were separated. Obviously they HAD to be, for the sake of plot, I know–but I enjoy the interaction between the two so much that this was a bit disappointing to me. When they finally got back together, things had changed (again, it wouldn’t have been realistic if they hadn’t!); not only was their position in the eyes of their countrymen lowered, but now Temeraire was a captain of his own forces, and Laurence was dealing with regret and loss of rank and capital. He was gloomy. Down in the dumps. And none too pleasant to read about.

The writing style was a bit different this time too; Temeraire and Laurence were getting different sections, and sometimes something would happen in, say, Temeraire’s section but we wouldn’t get the whole story, only to be told about it in Laurence’s section a few pages later. Some of the placement was a bit odd to me.

Nonetheless, this was a thoroughly engaging read and definitely a novel with some marked character development. I can’t wait to move on to the next book to see where Temeraire is going to take me next!

The Meal Planning Jar – Getting Organized and Eating Healthy!

5 Jan

005What’s for dinner?

I hate this question. I hate asking it and I hate hearing it. I hate having to think about what I’m going to eat later that day. I hate standing in front of the open fridge trying to piece together items that might make something palatable to put on my plate. I hate not having that one thing that might have made one meal or the other possible.

And when that happens, I usually end up ordering pizza.

Most of these problems can be solved by meal planning once a week, but even that was torturous for me. Trying to think of what meals we hadn’t had in a while, what would suit both of our tastes, who was going to be home to start cooking when, if the recipe that night was too complicated for our busy schedules, just gave me a headache. We ended up cycling through the same six or seven meals each week, and when that got boring, the hours spent scouring online recipes for something new we might like became too tedious and we slid back to it:

The dreaded question. The fridge-staring. The groaning. The pizza-ordering.

While browsing Pinterest one day, eating a slice of pizza, I came across that “date night jar” you’ve probably seen floating around. You know, the color-coded sticks with date ideas on them? You pick one out and it tells you what you should do that night. Magic. So the idea hit me: what if there was a magic jar that told me what to eat tonight?

So I decided to make one.

Prep Time: 10 minutes.

001Ingredients:

1. Popsicle sticks.
2. Markers (paint also acceptable)
3. Jar big enough to hold popsicle sticks.

The recipe is easy to follow:

1. Write your favorite meals on the popsicle sticks. This can be as open-ended as “pasta” or as specific as “lemon chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans.” For more vague entries, you could write side ideas on the back of the stick and pick one when you do your meal planning.

0022. Don’t forget to include some of your favorite restaurants so that you have the option to go out!

3. Add in a “Try Something New” stick for varied flavor (because finding one new thing is a lot less stressful than finding seven!)

4. Optional: color-code your sticks. For my jar, I used red for beef dishes, green for chicken dishes, and gold for restaurants (though the green looks like blue and the gold looks like green in the picture below!). This helps me keep the menu varied throughout the week. You could color-code however you’d like; another idea is “crock pot meals, 30-minute meals, more involved preparation.”

5. Put all finished sticks in the jar. Keep blank sticks somewhere handy–you never know when you might think of another idea to add in!

004

6. One day each week–let’s say Sunday–pull out seven random sticks. That’s what you’re having for dinner each night of the week. You could either clip the sticks to a weekly calendar or simply write the meals down and pop the list on the fridge. Either way, you now know what you’re eating and can grocery shop effectively so that you’re not staring at the fridge in the evening, thinking about ordering pizza.

And there you have it! Making the jar takes barely any time at all–I whipped up about 10 sticks in 5 minutes (so much easier to think of food I like when I’m not thinking about the whole week at once!). I’ll be adding more throughout the day as I think of things, and I’m sure my husband will have some ideas when he gets home too. Here’s to a new year of stress-free meal planning!

**If you have kids, this is a great way to get them involved in decision-making for the weekly meal rotation! Let them contribute to the meal ideas that go on the sticks. By letting them have a say in what meals will be offered, you might find that there are fewer complaints come dinnertime. Let them pull the sticks out each week, too. If you treat the jar as something that can’t be argued with, if they pull out something they don’t like, you can just shrug and say, “Well, the jar says we have to have asparagus, so we’re having asparagus.” Can’t blame you, right? 😉

Book Review: The Caller by Juliet Marillier (Shadowfell Trilogy, #3)

16 Aug

TheCallerClick to see my review of Shadowfell (#1) and Raven Flight (#2).

In this exciting conclusion to the Shadowfell Trilogy, Neryn must venture far in search of the remaining Guardians who can teach her what she needs to know before the rebellion at midsummer. But before she can learn what she needs to know, King Keldec throws a wrench in the rebels’ plan by introducing a Caller of his own, a Caller who craves power and raises up an army of Good Folk for Keldec’s sinister purposes. To make matters worse, Flint is in trouble, and Neryn must make an important decision: risk everything for the cause, or save Flint and live in an Alban that is quickly deteriorating?

All in all, this was a great conclusion to a wonderful series by a talented author. There isn’t a lot I can say that hasn’t already been said in the previous two reviews: the characters were well-drawn, the plot well laid out, and the setting was beautifully described.

My only complaint is that the ending felt rushed, but then, that’s something I say about a lot of final books in a series–and perhaps it’s just because I want the story to continue. But the much-anticipated battle didn’t seem to last quite long enough to be satisfying. I wanted more problems to arise, maybe a momentary lapse in Neryn’s abilities to keep the other Caller from turning the Good Folk.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. I liked that Neryn was given time away from Tali and the others to make her own choices and decisions–I feel like she came into her own in a big way, and it made the book all that more enjoyable.

I can’t wait to see what Marillier writes next!

Worldbuilding Day 10: Mood and Culture

12 Jan

Today’s exercise is about the mood and culture of your story and world. There are a a few different parts to this, so click the link to find out more information. With this one, I’m going to describe the overall feeling in each Bellador and Kedron.

Bellador: happy, uplifted, protected, content, naive.
In general, the people of Bellador have never been in a better place. Their land has fully recovered from the war, the mining and metalworking businesses are booming, there is a growing middle class, their king is kind and fair, and the crops are doing well. Mostly, everyone is content and happy. However, there is one suppressed group–people who can do magic–and they would do anything to see the king ousted from his throne so that they could practice their abilities freely. In this way, most people are naive; they believe that magic is something that happens elsewhere, but never here. They have grown to believe that magic is evil and have not been educated in its benefits. Mostly, they are cut off from the rest of the world and are generally wary of outsiders. Any time magic or outsiders are mentioned or encountered, expect the mood to turn sour quickly.

Kedron: wary, tense, hopeful, tentative

The people of Kedron have been through a lot, and their memories are long. They have been under the rule of a good king for twenty years, and the country has thrived under his rule, but they remember what it was like to have a king who cared only about himself, and they worry it could happen again. They are also the only people aware of the Sarians’ arrival, which is making everyone anxious. They are also nervous about MC’s arrival, but hopeful it will bring even more good to their lives.

…not sure if this was exactly what the exercise called for, but I think it was a good thing to think about!

New degree-related opportunity!

3 Jun

Hey everyone! Once again, sorry my blogs have been so few and far between lately. I haven’t been keeping on a good schedule at all–hoping to amend this soon. Anyway. Thought I’d do a quick update on the job-related part of my life, which is going surprisingly “is this real life” well.

As I think I’ve mentioned, I’ve posted an ad advertising freelancing services. It’s gotten me a number of semi-to-unrelated hits, from editing to doing a kid’s homework to calligraphy. A little while ago, I got a reply from a lady who is starting up a business doing creative writing classes, and she asked if I’d be interested in teaching a couple of classes one day a week.

My thought process here was this:

Um… YES.
Why am I saying yes? I have no teaching experience. I never wanted to be a teacher.
I love creative writing classes!
I know creative writing classes.
I could totally teach creative writing classes.
I should be more nervous about this.
Screw it. Um… YES!

We met up on Saturday and the opportunity still sounded fantastic at the end. What I really like about it is that it’s doing something with my degree directly. It’s something I’m passionate about, which I think is partially why I’m so not-nervous when it’s in my nature to be nervous. Unlike all those admin jobs I kept applying to pre-freelance, I actually want to do this and I mostly know what to expect going into this. Not to mention, the regular (and extremely awesome) pay also means that I don’t have to look quite so hard for freelance jobs, which cuts into my time significantly. Actually, with this, my one-day-a-week nanny position, and my recent Today I Found Out article raise, I’ll be making a full-time Australian minimum wage salary for working just 12 hours out-of-home each week. (Plus writing from home, of course.)

Back to the degree thing–people looked at me like I was crazy for doing an English degree. There were people attempting to usher me toward Business or something “sensible.” It’s an amazing feeling being able to follow my passion and having it pay off and being able to DO something with it rather than have it sit on a shelf gathering dust. I walked away on Saturday feeling completely elated and full of fresh purpose. And also kind of like I was about to get hit by a bus–because things can’t be that easy and awesome, can they?

Have you ever taught creative writing classes? What do you like to see in creative writing classes, particularly outside of a school setting? What are YOU passionate about and how has it worked out for you? I want to hear your stories!

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