Tuesday, November 19, 2013

O' Christmas Tree.... 2013!

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas! Or winter, at the very least. While the weather still has that Oklahoman unpredictability- it was nearly 80 degrees on Sunday- it's taken a decidedly cold turn over the last few weeks. We had a spat of low forties and high thirties, and a whole slew of 50's! Taco has been sleeping snuggled up against my side every night for the last few weeks. Poor thing, I think she gets chilly at night!

Though she's not amiss to snuggling in the blankets during the day either!

I decided over the weekend to tidy up our poor living room... I'd never really cleaned it before, not any type of hard core dusting and whatnot, and since we got our new gianormous HD TV in the bedroom... Well, the living room hasn't seen a lot of use recently. But the fun of spending hours in bed watching TV had finally worn off, and I began to long for sitting on couches again! I attacked the living room's grim with a vengeance, wiping down every blind, vacuuming ALL the things, even the couches, wiping down the fireplace mantle where the cats food goes, washed all the blankets and pillows I could, febreze'd everything... There was only one thing I couldn't clean...

Our incredibly grimy loveseat. We've had it for years, and I believe it was years old when we got it. I think it was a hand me down from Matt's parents, but I'm not positive. Years ago, when we lived in the tiny apartment in Stillwater, we didn't have a full bed we could both sleep on. We put the loveseat in the bedroom and pulled a twin mattress up next to it on the floor. Matt slept on the loveseat for a year or two, before we inherited the mattress from my parents... and it's at least 14 years old, can't wait to get a new one with springy springs in it, and neither can my back!

Anyway, there just isn't any way to really clean it, and reupholstering is one job I don't know if I'm comfortable tackling, especially since there's a broken cross beam in the bottom. Why bother reupholstering something I want to replace at the earliest convenience? That's where my lovely new brown slipcover comes in!

They never seem to fit like they show in the picture... I safety pinned the separate cushions to the loveseat itself, and slipped the cover right over the top of everything. I was thinking about maybe getting new foam to stuff everything with, but it's a lot more cost and effort for something I really just want rid of at this point. In any case, it makes it look much, much nicer, and I'll be able to take the slipcover off and toss it in the wash whenever I feel like it's getting dingy! And while I was busy cleaning up, I went ahead and set up the Christmas Tree!

I know, I know, it's way early for a tree. I usually wait until the day after Thanksgiving to put it up, but I was in the mood to just get it done. I love Christmas trees with a passion and it's a tradition I refuse to give up. But I'm the first one to admit that they're kind of a P.I.T.A to put up, you know? Branches poking you in the face, having to run the lights around it, individually put all the ornaments on, crawling around on the ground to get the skirt over it.... Not a lot of fun. Also, are they not the most unphotogenic things in existence? I never end up with a good picture to post.

My two new ornaments for this year:

After the hassle of cleaning, vaccuming, putting up the tree, then vacuuming again to get all the plastic pine needles off the floor... I needed some lunch! Matt and I decided to run to Burger King as I'd been wanting to try their new 'Big King', a clone of McDonald's Big Mac. We got our food and set down to eat, and I couldn't help but notice the big wall art they had up behind us...

Is that not the most bizarre picture?? I mean, really look at it. They've got like 6 chicken wraps. Everything is laid out on fancy plates, huge platters of fries, their drinks are in fancy glasses, they've got fancy dishes full of ketchup and dipping sauces for the chicken... It's a nice idea, but seriously. It's Burger King food. No one does this! That's not even mentioning that the group of people is just dripping political correctness. Oh, Burger King... LOL!

And the Big King sucked. It was tiny, and lackluster. I'd much rather get a tasty Whopper when I go to Burger King, and if I'm craving a Big Mac, I'll fetch one of those McDonald's instead!

Last but not least, I figured I'd finish up this blog post with a little doodle I did a while back, whilst filling in empty spaces in my sketchbook. It came out rather well in my opinion, especially when I was using a tiny photo reference on my phone!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Reading Once, Reading Twice, Reading with Chicken Soup and Wild Rice!

Hello all! It's been a lazy week since my last post, without much going on at all. I finished up a few books, did a lot of chores, cooked some dinners... Just life in general, I suppose! Of the two books I finished, one was very good, and the other very bad.... 

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Star Rating: ****-
 I picked up Dragon Keeper through Amazon's monthly Kindle deals right after I got my Paperwhite. Robin Hobb wasn't an author I'd yet read, but I'd heard of her and the synopsis of the book sounded intriguing. A world of dragons, but not the sort one usually expects. It sounded like something I hadn't read before, and I eagerly snapped it up for the sale price.
While the book had me enthralled, I have to admit, not a whole lot happens. This is very clearly a 'set up' book, one that's main purpose is to introduce you to the cast of characters you'll be following, get you attached, and ready to follow their adventures. That's certainly not to say the book was boring, there's just not any epic quests or major continent-crossing traveling going on. The action picks up at the end, and leaves you excited for the next book, ready to continue on with the travels of the characters you now care about.
The characters themselves were well fleshed out to me, and the world is interesting and wonderfully described. I found that Hobb has a good balance in her descriptive writing, and I never felt the need to skim through any long winded but ultimately boring explanations of the world. A large cast will keep you occupied as the story switches between their perspectives, and the interesting relationships between the humans of the world, Elderlings, Dragons, Sea Serpents, and Liveships left me intrigued and wanting to learn more. 
Perhaps the only part of the book I did not like, or rather, did not bother to read, were the small bits between the chapters about the bird keepers and their letters sent back and forth. Hobb uses these to break up the action, and apparently give little insights into the communications between the various towns and cities. However, the information they contained was rarely, if ever important, and I found myself either skimming or outright skipping them. A neat idea, but ultimately it didn't add anything to the story and was a minor distraction.
I discovered that this Rain Wild's series takes place in the same world as several of Hobb's other series, which is something I definitely appreciate. While Dragon keeper is apparently not the book that's first up to be read if you are reading chronologically, I was never at a loss of what was going on, or felt at a disadvantage for not having read the other books. Each of the series supposedly stands alone and is readable to someone knew to the particular world within the books.
Overall, I really did enjoy Dragon Keeper despite it being more character than action driven. With the pace having picked up towards the end of the book, and adventures starting to be had, I've already purchased the second book to start very soon. I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy or dragons, and look forward to sampling more of Hobb's work in the future!
I gotta say, I really enjoyed this book. The ending was SUPER ABRUPT, which would have been really annoying had I had to wait any length of time before starting the next book, but thankfully I was able to buy Dragon Haven literally right after finishing Dragon Keeper straight from my Kindle! I didn't even need to get off the bed!

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Star Rating: *- - - -
I purchased this book on it's release day mostly out of love for the author's previous work, The Thirteenth Tale. I'd read the reviews of it before I clicked buy (I nabbed the kindle edition), and I'd seen that the reviews were wishy washy at best and all of the negative reviews had the same complaints, but I had loved the Thirteenth Tale so much and waited so long for another book from the author that I went against my better judgement and purchased it.
I only made it to page 85 before I gave up on it. Honestly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the writing. It's just as it was in Thirteenth Tale, beautifully written and a dream to read. It's just that nothing was happening. People were dying left and right, but the author hadn't made you care about any of them. I was reading it when my husband came home from work yesterday, and in the time it took him to get out of his work clothes, grab a snack, and get comfy at his computer, two characters had bit the dust. Really?
It's very weird, because the beautiful writing keeps you reading and makes it almost a pleasure to be reading... well, nothing. Besides reading about the main character, William Bellman, work in a textiles mill, and people dropping like flies left and right, the plot didn't seem to be going anywhere at all. There were hints of some mysterious character starting to emerge when I quit, but after 85 pages of hardly any plot that was meandering nowhere, I'd had enough and couldn't bring myself to keep bothering. It wasn't spooky, there was no hauntingly written mystery as in Setterfield's last book, and there were no characters I particularly liked.
I returned the Kindle book to Amazon for a refund- I could buy at least two other books for the amount I spent on the brand new release of Bellman and Black. If you're buying Bellman and Black because you loved Thirteenth Tale, you're making a mistake. The pacing is completely different, there's little plot in evidence, and it lacks all the spooky wonder of Setterfield's previous work. Do yourself a favor, and check this out at the library before you buy it, just to make sure you actually want to spend your money. Some people have loved Bellman and Black, but for me the beautiful writing simply isn't enough to redeem it.
Bellman and Black is definitely the biggest book disappointment I've had in a long while. I loved The Thirteenth Tale. It was definitely one of my all time favorite books, and I've been desperately hoping she'd write another book at some point. I was beyond excited when I heard this was coming out a few months back. It's such a shame to me that while Bellman has the same brilliantly gorgeous writing, the story itself is nonexistent. I wanted to love this book so much, but it didn't pan out. I do hope she'll write another, and maybe it'll be a book that I'll enjoy as much as Thirteenth Tale...

Now then, on to more other things!

Chicken Soup with Rice was one of my favorite books as a little girl; I have fond memories of my mom reading it to me. I dunno if it contributed to my rampant love of soup, but I'm sure it didn't help prevent it!

The weather is due to take a shocking turn for the chilly tonight, so in preparation I decided it would be best to make some soup! As if I need an excuse! I selected a lovely recipe from Allrecipes.com yesterday, and just finished whipping it up a little while ago!

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup 1


1/2 cup butter
 1 finely chopped onion
 1/2 cup chopped celery
 1/2 cup sliced carrots
 1/2 pound fresh sliced mushrooms
 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
 6 cups chicken broth
 2 cups cooked wild rice
 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
 1/2 teaspoon salt
 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
 1 cup slivered almonds
 3 tablespoons dry sherry
 2 cups half-and-half

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion, celery and carrots and saute for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute for 2 more minutes. Then add the flour and stir well. Gradually pour in the chicken broth, stirring constantly, until all has been added. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer.
  2. Next, add the rice, chicken, salt, curry powder, mustard powder, parsley, ground black pepper, almonds and sherry. Allow to heat through, then pour in the half-and-half. Let simmer for 1 to 2 hours. (Note: Do not boil or your roux will break.)
Have I mentioned the lighting in my kitchen is horrible for taking photos?

The soup turned out quite tasty, though it's a little too rich for my tastes. I did make a few alterations to the recipe. I didn't add the almonds, as I don't like nuts. Next time I may boil them in the soup in cheesecloth to get the flavor, and discard the nuts themselves... I also added a halved and sliced leek in with the veggies, since I love leeks!

Rather then use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I boiled a one pound Cornish Game Hen in water with the veggie trimmings instead. This gave me the perfect amount of meat and a way to use the veggies trimmings I'd normally discard. I used some of the larger leek leaves, filled them with dried parsley, thyme, bay leaves and sage, and tied them up into a packet with twine. That let me season the broth from the game hen, without ending up with a bunch of unappetizing re-hydrated herb bits floating about in it. Then I used some of the broth to cook the wild rice with, and saved the rest in a bowl to freeze and use later.

And as every comment on the original recipe suggested, I doubled the curry powder. It really makes it very, very chickeny. I don't know why, but I guess it's just a curry powder kind of thing!

This recipe made an absolute ton of soup though! Thankfully our friend Lance is going to come by tomorrow and take some home with him to try!

Anyway, last but not least, this came in the mail for me over the weekend!

My super cool Charizard wallet! We saw it in a shop in the mall, but their online store had it $5 cheaper. I protested it would not be cheaper after the cost of shipping, but Matt worked his internet magic and found a coupon for the website. It was only a few dollars off when all was said and done, but a few dollars is still pretty good! Love it!


Monday, November 4, 2013

Kindle Book Reviews!

It's been a long time since I've posted any book reviews on here. I used to do it all the time for every book I read, but I fell out of the habit during my "I can't be bothered to write a blog post" days. In case anyone reading this is wondering, I have a Goodreads account HERE and a Shelfari account HERE. Feel free to friend me! Both accounts are just clones of each other, but I browse the discussions on both, and I love new friends!

Anyway, since I got my Kindle Paperwhite I've been a reading machine, even more so than usual. I generally read a lot, but it's spread out, only bits and pieces a day of late. Now I've been reading hours on end nearly every day! It's been nice to get back into my reading groove.

First up is the new book I actually went out and bought a physical copy of Hyperbole and a Half:  Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. 

Before I post my review, if you haven't read Allie Brosh's blog, Hyperbole and a Half, you NEED TO. You just do. I can't recommend it enough! Here's a link for you: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/ Stop reading this, and go read that, it's worth it.

Star Rating: ****- 
 Hyperbole and a Half has been one of my favorite blogs for a few years now, and when I heard there was a book coming out, I was unbelievably excited! Allie Brosh's work is simply amazing- Her stories are charming and hilarious, and coupled with the deceptively simple MS Paint drawings, she rarely fails to reduce me to fits of laughter.
So why only four stars instead of five? Frankly, I was disappointed in some of the story choices that made it into the book. Don't get me wrong, the stories in it are hilarious, especially some of my older favorites from her blog that made it into the book, such as "Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving" and "Dinosaur (The Goose Story)". Her newer stories detailing her struggles with depression and the emotional ups and downs behind that are heartening, and even amusing in their own way- a wonderful way to express concepts and feelings that are very hard to discuss.
Unfortunately, the newer stories I read in this compilation didn't seem to hold up to those I've read on the website. There were a lot of stories that I was really looking forward to having in a print collection that didn't make it into the book, and I personally believe are a much better representation of true Hyperbole and a Half. I understand the publishers couldn't make a massive, ridiculously huge tome of a book, it would be too costly. I'm sure it was also very, very important to the author to have some of her newer and even more personal stories put into the book as well. There were just so, so very many hilarious tales that I'd wanted so badly to have in the book.
Don't get me wrong, the book is fantastic. It's a must buy, especially if you are a fan of the blog already, and all the tales I wanted to be in the book are accessible for free on her blog, whenever I'm in the mood to read them. I'm very, very glad I purchased the book, as it's a wonderful printing on all glossy paper, crisp and clear. The new stories are great, even if I wish there had been a few more older tales mixed in. With luck, she'll produce even more books, and eventually release all her stories in print form!
So yes, I'd definitely recommend this book, if you like a fun and funny tale, coupled with bright, amusing illustrations. Be sure to check out her blog as well, it's totally worth it! Hyperbole and a Half never fails to put a smile on my face, and I'm sure it won't fail to put one on yours.
 After waiting so long for this one, it definitely didn't disappoint. I found out later that there was a hardcover edition, and that would have been nice to have, especially since the books so darn thick... But the binding on the paperback is great so I shouldn't have to worry about it falling all to pieces on me! But seriously, go check her blog out, it's amazing!

Anyway, on to the Kindle Books I've torn up since I got my Paperwhite!

Die for Me by Amy Plum
Star Rating: *****
I really enjoyed this book, despite it being a tad predictable. The characters are all interesting and engaging to read about, the dialogue is snappy and reads well, and the story really moves along at a swift clip. I wasn't ever bored, and overall the book is a quick read. Looking forward to picking up the next in the series at some point, and would definitely recommend.
 I picked this up through the monthly real that was going on when I bought my Kindle. It's not the usual type of YA fantasy I read. Sure, I read the entire Twilight series, but that was mostly so I could feel justified in my opinion that the series was generally rubbish. I don't read a lot of romance or paranormal romance- especially not YA. Why read a romance if there's never any hope of getting to the good stuff?

That being said, I really did enjoy this book. It was fun, far better then Twilight ever was in my opinion, and worth the read. Definitely not ground breaking, and a bit predictable as most YA/romance tends to be, but I'll get the next in the series at some point!

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchet and Stephen Baxter

This one was interesting, especially since I rarely ever partake of science fiction- I'm mostly a fantasy girl! Here's the blurb on the back cover:
The possibilities are endless. (Just be careful what you wish for. . . .) 
1916: The Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong and the wind in the leaves. Where have the mud, blood, and blasted landscape of no-man's-land gone? For that matter, where has Percy gone? 
2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Police officer Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive—some say mad, others allege dangerous—scientist who seems to have vanished. Sifting through the wreckage, Jansson finds a curious gadget: a box containing some rudimentary wiring, a three-way switch, and . . . a potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way humankind views the world forever. 
The first novel in an exciting new collaboration between Discworld® creator Terry Pratchett and the acclaimed SF writer Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth transports readers to an infinity of new worlds. All it takes is a single step. . . .
This was another book I got from the Kindle book monthly sale, after sending myself and reading the sample. I bought it as soon as the sample ended... My review from Goodreads:

Star Rating: ***** 
I really, really enjoyed this book. It's not something I would typically pick up, but I had just gotten my Kindle Paperwhite and it's one of the books on sale in their monthly deals, so I decided to try the sample. Needless to say, I quickly bought the full book, and it's sequel as well, which I'll be starting shortly.
This is the first Terry Pratchet book I've had the pleasure of reading, and the first time I've even heard of Stephen Baxter honestly. The story is well written and moves swiftly along, and the characters are all interesting and engaging. I'm not one for Sci-fi, so I can't say how this really compares with other Sci-fi novels- I did enjoy the lack of extreme and somewhat pointless technical jargon I've encountered in other sci-fi novels. Every question the book caused me to think up was duly answered, but that's not to say the book was predictable. It was more that it was thoughtful and well researched with plausible occurrences. Around the time it occurred to me to wonder what would happen to the economy of an earth that's quickly emptying of people, it was answered.
I've seen people complain about the ending, but I didn't find anything wrong with it personally. It's clearly intended to lead into the second book. It's a little disappointing that there isn't a clear end, but it's a fairly common issue with stories that run across multiple books. Not really something to complain about.
All in all I found this to be an enjoyable. Nothing ground breaking, nothing jaw dropping. Just good old fashioned fun and interesting story! Would recommend!
We did buy the sequel as well, lucky for me it was also on the monthly sale! Score!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Billed as an 'adult fairy tale', style I typically enjoy, I was less then impressed by this book. My review:
Star Rating: ***-- 
This book for me is hard to quantify. Overall, I did enjoy it. The characters are interesting, the story is hauntingly intriguing, and the writing is lyrically wonderful. But the book itself feels like it's trapped in a sort of limbo between being too long and detailed to be a short story, but with too little depth to be considered a proper novel. To me, it felt like it was short story that was expanded into being not quite a novel, and left with too little 'umph' to carry it along. I enjoyed the read, but the lack of explanation and overall depth left me feeling somewhat disappointed.
Would I recommend this book? Perhaps, but only if it were checked out from a library for free, or gotten used. It's a very, very quick read, and not worth the cost of the trade paperback in my opinion. I'm glad I put off buying "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" long enough that I ended up getting it as the cheaper Kindle version after I got my Paperwhite. This being the only book by Neil Gaiman I've read, I'm not quite sure what to think overall, and can't properly compare it to his other books. I imagine it will be a fair amount of time before I pick up any of the rest of his works based off of this one. I'm glad I've heard this story, but it's not one I'll ever come back too.
I enjoyed it, but I didn't. It was weird, and interesting, but overall lack luster. Glad I read it, not worthe the price I paid. Ah well! Not every book can be Amazing!

The Great Hunt: Book Two of the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
Star Rating: *****

I've had an annoying relationship with Wheel of Time honestly. I'd considered reading it years ago since it's epic fantasy, but heard a lot of bad things about some of the books in the middle of the series. I knew the author had died partway through finishing the series and that another author was finishing it. Besides those tidbits, I'd never paid it much mind. 

Skip ahead to a couple years ago, and I had just discovered the book wonder that is Brandon Sanderson, my absolute favorite author. I'd read several of his books and had been somewhat patiently awaiting the sequel to The Way of Kings, Mr. Sanderson's first novel of his own epic fantasy series. "What's taking him so darn long?" I wondered. Well, it turned out, that he was the author chosen to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series! I've been a bit resentful of WoT since then, because it's delayed the release of Sanderson's own books for quite a while.

Well, the recommendation of WoT from a few friends, on top of the knowledge that if I read them I'd eventually get to the books written by Sanderson, convinced me to pick them up despite my misgivings on the series. Glad I did honestly! So far as I know, the first 5 or 6 books are well worth the investment, and the middle ones bearable for the awesomeness towards the end! I loved the first, and dove right into the second.

I don't usually write in depth comments/reviews for sequels and mid series books, as they're frankly hard to review. Mostly a quick blurb on whether I enjoyed it (I very much did!), and whether I'll be reading the next (it's already loaded on my Kindle to start soon!). So there it is.


Right now I'm in the midst of Robin Hobb's Dragon Keeper. I snagged it from last month's book sale as well. I've got a few more books lined up ready to read after that, so perhaps I'll have another book blurb post soon!