Thursday, December 26, 2013

Y'all! Let Me Tell You!

Y'all! Tonight we had BACON WRAPPED MEATLOAF for dinner and it was so amazing. I got the recipe from Jessica Seinfeld's newest cookbook The Can't Cook Book. I just had to jump online real quick and spread the good word. 

(The best part is that I made the meatloaf this morning before work & left a note for N to put it in the oven an hour before I got off work. I could SMELL the awesomeness before I even got in the door!)

Allegiant by Veronica Roth | Book Review

Allegiant by Veronica Roth:  My Thoughts

(Isn't this a GORGEOUS cover?!)

This was a GREAT conclusion to the Divergent trilogy!  I've read quite a few YA trilogies and this might be the most "stable" one out there.  By that I mean that I was hooked from the beginning of Divergent and remained really excited through Insurgent and was 100% emotionally invested still at the end of Allegiant.  I feel like sometimes the authors of trilogies would be better off just stopping after Book 1.  I will definitely recommend this trilogy!

Allegiant picks up right from the end of Insurgent, so Veronica Roth doesn't waste any pages explaining what has happened between books:  the action starts right away.  And it's EXCITING.

It's really hard to know how much I can talk about in a review of a third book in a series/trilogy and avoid spoilers!  So stop reading right here if you haven't read Divergent and Insurgent and want to keep them a surprise.

At the end of Insurgent the reader is left with a completely chaotic Chicago.  Utter anarchy and madness, now that all the factions have been disbanded.  Tris and Four are together "officially" now, but the rest of their world is in shambles.  Plenty of people are willing to try to make this whole new factionless society work, but there's another group forming, calling themselves Allegiant, who wants to re-instate the factions.  Then there's Tris, Four, and few others who want to follow Esther's directive to leave the city to go to the aid of the people outside of society.  What they find beyond the city is a complete shock, and they must make a lot of decisions quickly.  What is truly best for society?  And who has the right to make those hard decisions?

THE ENDING.  OH. MY. GOD. THE ENDING!!!!  It is horrible and wonderful and perfect and so not what I wanted but yet such a brilliant way for Ms. Roth to wrap up the trilogy.  Please please please comment and let me know how you felt about Tris at the end of the book!  I finished this book 5 days ago and I'm still emotionally reeling.  Wow.

This trilogy ended up being so great in all ways: it had a great story, fantastic character development, extraordinary world-building, an exceptional ending, and beautiful language.  I got all three books from the library, but have added them to my wish list to own someday.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Toy Time by Christopher Byrne | Book Review

Toy Time by Christopher Byrne: My Thoughts

My only complaint with this book is that it isn't longer!  Christopher Byrne covers dozens of toys in his book, and there were only a very few that I didn't remember playing with myself as a kid.  The book is so well laid out that I ended up reading it cover to cover.  You know, with some non fiction titles similar to this one you would just flip through and read about a couple of your favorite toys then put it down, but I couldn't do that.  The chapters were arranged brilliantly, covering inside toys, outside toys, traditionally boy toys, traditionally girl toys, board games, fads, and classics. The book has lots of pictures of the toys themselves and sometimes shots of the original ads; every page is full-color.  Each toy got 1-3 pages and the author never drowned me in descriptions.  Such fun!  I want to go play now... 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Weekend PinTest #1

Has anyone else been sucked into the vortex of Pinterest quite as much as I have?  I mean, other than the craft blog ladies.  Ya'll, I could lose hours of my life browsing that site.  A couple months ago I realized, though, that I was pinning much more than I was doing.  So now my goal is to try at least one pin from my boards every weekend.  Some weeks I attempt upwards of two or three!  I know:  my life is very exciting.  So this weekend's PinTest:  Reindeer Tracks cocktail! Click here to go to my "Been There, Done That" board on Pinterest (feel free to follow!  I love getting new Pinterest friends) and click here to see the original recipe.  (It takes you to a media cache photo of the original web page where the recipe was posted.  I tried and could not find the original on Three Olives Vodka's website.)

Reindeer Tracks Martini
I am such a sucker for girly froo-froo creamy chocolately beverages!  I must admit that I was a little reticent at first:  what on earth is that on the rim?!  How is this a festively fun Christmas drink with something dark and black going on?  It's cookie crumbs, ya'll.  Still not visually aesthetic for a Christmas drink, but yummy.  

So yesterday on my way home from work the hubby (we'll call him N on this blog) calls to ask me to pretty please pick up some half-and-half for him for White Russians and I thought this would be the perfect excuse for me to also pick up Oreos (for the cookie crumbs) and try this cocktail!

Here we'll digress for just a moment so I can tell you about the wonderful man in my world: N.  He's very much a man's man, very no-frills.  He has three drinks:  Jim Beam & Diet Coke (year-round), White Russians (winter), and gin & tonic (summer).  I love that steadiness and predictability in my life; I love the look on his face when I pull out a food processor and martini shaker to start experimenting.  It's a lovely look of pure horror:  "what is she doing now?!"

Back to the cocktail.  I run into the first issue at my local liquor store:  they don't carry chocolate vodka.  In any brand.  I'm looking at a WALL OF VODKA and there's no chocolate.  I can get vodka infused with hibiscus (that's not even a food, right?  flower?) but I can't get chocolate vodka.  I even ask the store employee.  Nope.  No clue what they have against it, but they don't carry it.  So I settle for what I figure is the next best:  Whipped Chocolate by Pinnacle.  The bottle says it's a mixture of whipped cream vodka and chocolate vodka.  I'm cheap and the recipe says I can use all chocolate vodka instead of a mixture of cake vodka and chocolate vodka, so I head over to Harris Teeter to get the half-and-half and Oreos.  

This is when I decide to get all the fixings for rice krispie treats too.  This is for a different PinTest that may happen in the near future, for Jim Beam Rice Whiskey Treats.  So now I'm in the checkout line with a box of Rice Krispies, a bag of mini marshmallows, a package of Oreos, and a pint of half-and-half.  This could only get better if I also had 5 boxes of Sudafed....

When I get home and start assembling the ingredients and tools I realize exactly how strong this beverage is about to be:  three different hard liquors and a splash of cream.  Nice.  Oh, and I may have made a substitution on the cream?  The recipe just says "cream" so I used the half-and-half.  But then I started thinking maybe they meant heavy cream, like for whipping?  But I already had a little infusion of whipped cream taste in my vodka, remember, so I wasn't too concerned.  

The rimming was an entirely other matter.  In my experience, water is not sticky enough to hold heavier rimmers like rock salt or crushed cookie to the rim of the martini glass.  I was pondering this problem while hanging out with my sister a week ago, and she looked at the recipe and immediately gave me the solution:  dip the rim in the cream and then in the crushed cookies.  Voila!  Worked like a charm.  The crazy bit?  CareBear (my sister) doesn't even drink.  She's just apparently a bartending savant.  

So I loved this drink and will probably add it to my repertoire.  I'm not sure if the cookie rimming will happen each time (that involved dragging out the food processor to get really finely ground crumblys) but the beverage itself was yummy.  Then when I finished it I still had a pretty martini glass mostly rimmed in cookie crumbs and I made a grasshopper in it, because Reindeer Tracks is pretty strong.  You should stop & consider before downing two in a row.  A good end to the evening.  I'm pleased with this PinTest.

Oh!  Along with looking forward to rice krispie treats with whiskey in 'em, I'll also be posting soon about another PinTest that's in progress.  But it's a Christmas gift for someone so I don't want to post and risk ruining the surprise!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows--My Thoughts

In the Range there are 1,000,000 souls. All of these souls have been around for nearly 5,000 years. People are born, they live a normal lifespan (about 70-80 years), die, then are reincarnated to do it all over again. All the souls have memories of all of their past lives. So when Ana is born, a newsoul (or "nosoul" as the mean people call her), no one quite knows how to react. Most people are sad, understandably, because she replaced a soul that they had all known and loved for over 3,000 years. Some were confused as to what this means for their own futures: are they still guaranteed reincarnation? Or is this the new norm, that death is permanent? Ana's mother-in-this-life (you have to put "in-this-life" behind every relationship/age/gender adjective; you might be fat/female/90 in this life but were thin/male/10 in the past life) is quite cruel to Ana; she doesn't even give Ana her name until she's well into adolescence. She doesn't bother teaching Ana any trade or skills, not even how to read, because why? She's a newsoul; no one knows if she'll be reincarnated. If she's not coming back, why bother investing time in her?

So Ana runs away from home, from her mother-in-this-life, and heads to the capital city where she meets Sam. He's the same physical age as her and they become quick friends. They share a love of music and Sam and his friends "adopt" Ana into their group. Sam chooses to see her and her possibly briefer life as a butterfly. A beautiful butterfly. 

This book also has magic evil shadow creatures called sylphs and dragons... you know, in case it wasn't interesting enough already.

This book took it just one step too far for my comfort with it's talk of Janan, their god. Janan built Heart, their capital city, for them, and left a note on the temple's walls telling them that he grants them reincarnations. But toward the end, there's a lot of talk of how all-powerful Janan really is. Could a man stop him? If Ciana can cease to exist and Ana can happen, is everything really under Janan's control? The author's kind of blatant in her views... and I'm not thinking she's pro-omniscient God. But it's fiction, and there's a LOT MORE book there, so I'll read the sequel.

I really did like the redemption in the relationship between Sam & Ana. At first I didn't like Ana at all. She was too brittle and mean and cold. But then I had to refigure my thinking: what if everyone around you had known each other for THOUSANDS OF YEARS and you were only 18 years old? What if the only person you'd ever had contact with was an old soul who didn't care for you? You'd be pretty cold and distrusting too. So yeah, Sam had to work really hard to break through Ana's cold exterior, but that's to be expected.

Finally, I'm left wondering about the dragons. WTH? And the sylphs. They're there in the book, and the people fight them, but nothing is resolved. I guess that's for book 2 in this trilogy...

Sanctum by Sarah Fine | Book Review

Sanctum by Sarah Fine--My Thoughts

I just read two books in a row that had to do with peoples' souls! Does that trip out anyone else when that happens? Like, you read a book where the main character has a pet elephant and then you pick up the next book on your TBR pile by a completely different author and it ALSO has a main character with a pet elephant? Except with Sanctum and Incarnate, its that the book is focused on all the unknowns about human souls. 

I read this book sort of for work, and I didn't really want to. I put it off for a long time. The description is that the story follows Lela as she dies and descends into hell to try to rescue her best friend who committed suicide. WOW--deep, dark, depressing, questionably immoral.... But ya'll, it's so, so, so much more. And it's so well-written! I didn't want to put it down!

So as I was saying, Lela is a girl who has had the roughest time of it so far in life: abandoned at age four to the state foster system, run through a series of bad/incompetent/abusive foster homes, ends up doing a term at the state juvenile detention center... she finally strikes foster mom gold and makes a best friend. That's page 1. This book is just PACKED with action!

Unfortunately, Lela's new bestie is depressed and commits suicide. To be honest, I almost stopped reading at this point (I think we were still in chapter 1) because whoa--major sad. And Lela knows the horror of the dark city where Nat's soul has been sent. (Can't tell you how she knows-spoiler.) So Lela is all kinds of sad, as she should be, and is out walking late on a stormy night and ends up dying herself. She's been through the wringer and back in life, but in death she gets to go to The Countryside (a very transparent analogy for Heaven). But instead of staying in that beautiful not-sad place she chooses to BREAK INTO Hell to rescues her friend. Who does that kind of thing?! The Guards of the Shadow City are totally confused by her actions too, and they try to kill her (yup; you can die again and again once you're in Hell) but yay the head of the Guards is a human boy (who's totally hot too-bonus factor) who takes an interest in what Lela is doing. I won't spoil it and tell you whether he takes a helpful or hurtful interest in Lela's goal.

I knew going into this that this is the first book of a trilogy and I was prepared--I have a copy of Book 2 ready to go on my Kindle. Because total *literal* cliffhanger ending! I can't wait to get into the rest of the trilogy. I promise you won't see this ending coming!

(Oh, and I'm still on the fence over whether or not it's immoral to read this. Yeah, it kind of plays fast and loose with a lot of ideas about where your soul goes after death, but ya'll-it's fiction. The author isn't being declarative; she's entertaining... and wow is this an entertaining read!)