Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Blogiversary to Me!



3 years ago today, I posted my very first post. Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-Holic was born. I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to thank all of you for coming to visit me, reading my posts, listening to me rant....and being my friend!

Hopefully, it will be another 3 good years!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Salon: 2010 Challenge Edition, Part One

The Sunday Salon.com I say Part One, because if I listed ALL of the challenges I'd like to join for 2010, I think Blogger would probably crash on me!! Sorry this is posted so late. Almost Monday. Oh well. Better late than not at all!

Isn't it funny how you can plan an entire year's worth of reading in one sitting, right here in front of the computer?? Actually, it's not all that difficult for me. I don't read nearly as many books in a year as a lot of you do. In fact, I actually think I read LESS books now that I've started blogging that I did before. BUT the quality of book has gone up, if that makes any sense. I was trying to figure out why the other day, and I finally realized that blogging/twitter time and reading time takes up the same allotment!! I only have so many free hours in a week. If I'm on the computer, I'm not reading. And vise versa. Probably why I've been offline so much lately. I've been immersed in The Ask and the Answer. OMG. I don't know if I can possibly wait for the next book!! SO GOOD!!

But....on to the topic at hand. 2010 Challenges and Group Reads. Oh my. There are SO MANY fun ones out there, it's just a matter of where start!! I know, I know. I rarely finish. But I like the JOINING. And the LISTS. If I actually finish, then I can bask in the glow of accomplishment. Otherwise, I meet cool people, read great reviews, increase my TBR and have fun. Nothing wrong with all that!! So, I've been keeping a list over the last few months of all the great challenges that are coming out for 2010. Thought I would make one post for all. WRONG! I went back to my list tonight, and realized that 24 challenges and 2 read-a-longs. And that's not even including the Once Upon a Time or the RIP challenge that Carl hosts yearly. So, I'll make a couple of posts and weed out the ones that I'm really looking forward to joining:

2009 marked the year that I read my first Graphic Novel. And my second...and third. You get the picture?? So, I knew that the first thing I would do in 2010 would be to join the GN Challenge. Hosted this year by my friends, Nymeth and Chris, the Graphic Novels Challenge 2010 is here.

Rules:

  • The challenge starts on January 1st 2010 and ends on December 31st (but we don't mind you starting early.)
  • you don't have to make a list beforehand (but you can, of course! Lists are great because they give ideas to people who aren't sure what to read. And if you do make one, don't feel forced to stick to it!)
  • We simplified the levels of participation: you can be a Beginner (3 Comics or Graphic Novels), Intermediate (3-10) or an Expert (10+). You're more than free to adjust your level of participation after the challenge has begun.
  • There will be mini-challenges! Look for a post with more info on that soon.
  • Overlaps with other challenges are totally fine.

I don't have a set reading list yet, but my brother sent me some suggestions, so I'm definitely going to be reading a lot of Graphic Novels this year!! Among them:

  • Rest of the Fables Series.
  • Rest of the Sandman Series.
  • Rest of the Preacher Series.
  • Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis.
  • Locke and Key by Joe Hill
  • The Walking Dead Series by Robert Kirkman
  • Y the Last Man by Brian Vaughn
  • Ex Machina by Brian Vaughn
  • DMZ by Brian Wood.
  • Scalped by Jason Aaron.
  • Bone by Jeff Smith
  • Girl Genius by Kaja and Phil Foglio

Like I said, my brother recommended a LOT of these series. Since most are not available in the library, my reading them will be based on my ability to BUY them. So, we'll see how that goes!!!


Marg, my wonderful friend, from Reading Adventures is hosting the Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge. Now, I know this actually started this month, but I'm hoping Marg will still let me join!! The challenge will start from 1 December 2009 and run through to 30 November 2010. There are several different levels of participation for you to choose from:
1-3 books - Cashier at Ankh-Morpork Mint
4-5 books - Guard of the City Watch
6-8 books - Academic at the Unseen University
9-10 books - Member of Granny Weatherwax's Coven
10-12 books - Death's Apprentice

You can either be reading the books for the first time, rereading, or even watching the TV adaptations if you like! As long as everyone has fun I will be happy! Please also do not feel limited to only reading the Discworld books as any books by Terry Pratchett will count for this challenge.For a full list of the Discworld books in publication order, check out this page on the author's website for his page at Fantastic Fiction. The number of books either written by Terry Pratchett or about his work is a bit mind boggling really.

I'm hoping to read the entire Discworld Series in the next year or two. Hopefully, I'll be able to slip in one or two or twelve this year! On the list of books I must read are:

  • Nation (not Discworld, but a gift this Christmas)
  • A Hat Full of Sky
  • Wintersmith
  • The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
  • The Colour of Magic
  • The Light Fantastic
  • Sourcery
  • Eric
  • Interesting Times
  • The Last Continent
  • The Last Hero

Natasha at Maw Books, Amy at My Friend Amy, and Hannah at Word Lily are hosting the 2010 Social Justice Challenge. They have created a dedicated blog for the challenge and write:

Reading opens new worlds to us and can sometimes expose the injustice in our own. We have all been powerfully moved by the injustice we have learned about in books and decided we wanted to host a reading project that would encourage us to learn more about these issues in the world.

The details of the challenge are as follows:

We will focus each month on a different area of social injustice in the world. During that month, we are asking that you read something from the list of resources or watch something suggested by that month’s host. That will complete step one of this challenge: Learn.

Throughout the month we will also be posting ways you can make a difference in this area. Don’t worry, we will provide several different options at many different levels of commitment. The important thing is to take an action step towards doing something to change things! That fulfills step 2–Take Action.

The hosts of this challenge have created several levels of participation for EACH MONTH of the challenge (participants agree to participate each month, but can customize that participation depending on their own individual needs):

Activist–At this level you are agreeing to participate fully in the activities of the month. You will read at least one full length book as well as choosing something from the other media list. You will also complete an action step. By signing up for the challenge, you agree to do a minimum of 3 months at this level. You do not have to decide which months in advance.

Intern–You agree to either read something from the reading resources (it can be an essay or children’s book) or choose to do something from the other media list. You will complete an action step. You do not have to decide which months in advance.

Volunteer– You agree to read at least one of the recommended blog posts, essays or shorter novels. You will complete an action step. You do not have to decide in advance which months they will be.Observer — Need a break? Just follow along with the blog for the month. This month has no commitment level. You can only do a maximum of three months at this level.At the beginning of every month there will be a mister linky where you can link to reviews of what you’ve read and where you share what you’ve learned. The host for the month will recap everyone’s posts and reviews. The resource lists will be continuously updated throughout the year and there will be a weekly recap to let you know what has been added.

The Monthly topics are as follows:

Religious Freedom
Water
Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
Hunger
AIDS crisis
Genocide
Poverty
Illiteracy and Education
Modern Day Slavery
Homelessness & Refugees
Women’s Rights
Child Soldiers and Children in War

SO looking forward to this challenge!!



Amazingly, as much fantasy as I like to read now, I've never read the "Classics". So, one night on Twitter I found out about The Lord of the Rings Readalong.

Starting January 1, 2010, we’ll be reading one book from the series (including The Hobbit) each month with a goal of finishing all four books in April. We’ll be taking turns hosting the readalong, so you can follow our intrepid fellowship of readers around the blogosphere. Here’s where you’ll find us each month:

January: The Hobbit at A Striped Armchair
February: The Fellowship of the Ring at The Literary Omnivore
March: The Two Towers here at Shelf Love
April: The Return of the King at Just Add Books

To join, go to The Lord of the Rings Readalong





Hosted by Darren of Bart's Bookshelf, the TwentyTen Challenge:

The aim is to read a total 20 books, over ten categories, in 2010. (Was this challenge based solely around the name? I’ll let you decide!)
So, on with the categories:

Young Adult Any book classified as young adult or featuring a teenage protagonist counts for this category.

T.B.R. **Intended to help reduce the old T.B.R. pile. Books for this category must be already residents of your bookshelves as of 1/11/09.

Shiny & New Bought a book NEW during 2010 from a bookstore, online, or a supermarket? Then it counts for this category. Second-hand books do not count for this one, but, for those on book-buying bans, books bought for you as gifts or won in a giveaway also count! \

Bad Blogger’s ***Books in this category, should be ones you’ve picked up purely on the recommendation of another blogger count for this category (any reviews you post should also link to the post that convinced you give the book ago).***

Charity Support your local charity shops with this category, by picking up books from one of their shops. Again, for those on book-buying bans, books bought for you as gifts also count, as long as they were bought from a charity shop.

New in 2010 This category is for those books newly published in 2010 (whether it be the first time it is has been released, or you had to wait for it to be published in your country, it counts for this one!)

Older Than You Read two books that were published before you were born, whether that be the day before or 100 years prior!

Win! Win! Have a couple of books you need to read for another challenge? Then this is the category to use, as long that is, you don’t break the rules of the other challenge by doing so!

Who Are You Again? This one isn’t just for authors you’ve never read before, this is for those authors you have never even heard of before!


Up to You!The requirements for this category are up to you! Want to challenge yourself to read some graphic novels? A genre outside your comfort zone? Something completely wild and wacky? Then this is the category to you. The only requirement is that you state it in your sign-up post.

The Rules:
Read 2 books from each category, making a requirement of 20 books total.
The categories are intended to be loose guidelines only, if you decide it fits, then it fits. (Apart from those marked **)
Categories marked with ** have tighter rules, and these must be followed.
Each book can only qualify for one category.
Crossovers with other challenges are allowed. To sign up, go to TwentyTen Reading Challenge

LIST TO FOLLOW!!

Finally, a new challenge I just found tonight!!

Hosted by Catherine from On the Nightstand and Pam from Bookalicio.us, is the new Vampire Reading Challenge: Fangtastic Fiction (seriously, who can resist a challenge with a name like that?)

Challenge Levels/Goals


The base challenge here (“Newly Turned”) is to read four books, one from each of the four categories below: classic, horror, romance and young adult. If a book can fit into two categories (or more), simply pick one category and then read another.
Once you have completed that, you can go wild with what books you read for your challenge list, so long as they have vampires in some form as a prominent part. For every additional four books you read, you go up a level. Where the base challenge is the equivalent of the first stages of a vampire, think of each four books as a century added onto their existence.
How old can you go?


First Blood
This is the category for vampire tales that were written prior to 1900. Examples of such books would be:
Dracula – Bram Stoker
Carmilla – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu


Things That Go Bite In The Night
This is the category for works firmly entrenched in the horror genre. Examples of such books would be:
Salem’s Lot – Steven King
Let The Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist


Kiss Of The Vampire
This is the category for all books that have romance as one of its main genres/focusses. Examples of such books would be:
Dead Until Dark (etc) – Charlaine Harris
Jessica’s Guide To Dating On The Dark Side – Beth Fantaskey


High School Is Hell
This is the category for all vampire books that fit in the young adult category. Examples of such books would be:
The Vampire Diaries – L.J. Smith
The Morganville Vampires – Rachel Caine


Bonus Challenge/Activity: Screams On Screen
As a bonus challenge/activity, why not take in vampires on the large and small screens as well? Keep track of how many movies or TV seasons you watch, whether it’s Buffy, True Blood or The Vampire Diaries on your TV, or Lost Boys, Underworld or any film adaptation of a vampire novel, and see how many you can total up during the year!
Other Information:

This challenge runs the entire length of 2010, so from January 1 to December 31.

Later, I'll post more challenges, like the Gilmore Girls, GLBT, Flashback, What's in a Name and Essay's Challenges!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Friendship and the Christmas Spirit

My husband and I were talking the other day about blogging and the internet. And people that you meet online. As like alot of people, he doesn't seem to understand the "community" into which I find myself today. I know that word has been thrown about a lot. People try to define it. Even to those of us that firmly find ourselves entrenched in it, it's hard to actually pin down. Mike finds it odd....and a "little creepy" (his words, not mine!) that I have so many people that I talk to online. People that I don't know in "real life". People that could be "stalkers" and "serial killers". He said to me, "Don't you ever WATCH the Chris Hansen Dateline episodes? Or Criminal Minds?" I had to laugh. From the almost 3 years I've spent book blogging, and the few years before that on a Book Message Board, those thoughts had never actually crossed my mind.

Maybe it IS weird to feel such a bond to people that I have never actually "met" before. But you what? I don't care. I think I've stated many times before, I don't have a lot of friends in real life. Don't get me wrong...I have tons of acquaintances. I can take a walk in Bartonville, and run into quite a few people I have gotten to know over the years. People that know me as Ana's Mom or Bella's Mom. Chad's mom or Mike's wife. I have people that I know from work. And people that I know from church, or the library, or even the gym. But friends that KNOW me??? Very few. Most of the ones I had, I seem to have alienated in my efforts to gain back control over our financial life. Working so much, I am not able to do a lot (if any) Girl's Night Outs or Fun Nights. I can not remember the last time I actually sat down at a bar with a friend and had a drink. Or even out to dinner with anyone other than my family. My one true friend is Mike. And these days, he is feeling the stress of life as much as I am. It's hard to lean on him when I know he is struggling too.

So...I reach out here. In my blog. And I vent. Not all the time. And hopefully not all that much. Although this year, I do seem to be doing it more and more. Kind of a "blogging transformation"....but something that I'll discuss another day. Hopefully, you all don't get sick of hearing it. And do come back for the "Book" stuff. Because it's the book stuff that started this whole journey. I love to read. I love books. THAT is what makes my friendships with all of you possible. It's the common thread that brought us all together in the first place. But what keeps me coming back day after day is the friendships that I have made because of the books. No, I haven't met you all in real life. But I know about your lives. I know about your kids and jobs; your schooling and pets; hobbies and significant others. And I value that.

I know I mentioned a few days ago how I received a couple of books in the mail from 2 dear friends. The Secret Santa Blogging Exchange was one of those "conveniences" that got pushed aside this year because of all the "necessities". And I was really sad about it. Apparently, I pouted about it a little too much, because some of you took notice. My intent was never to cause a stir. But apparently, I did. This week is a bit busy for me. Christmas time in the restaurant business, although more lucrative that normal, can be challenging. Because we are an above average NICE restaurant, we are hit with lot of Christmas party business. This week, I'm working 3 double shifts: Dinner/party shift, then on to the Red Cross for overnights. 3 nights in a row. Then again on Saturday and Sunday. It's my last chance for some extra money for the holiday. But timing-wise, I'm going from one place to the next without a break. Normal season, I can have an hour or two between shifts. A little downtime or a chance to eat dinner with Mike.

Today, as I was running out of the house, I grabbed the mail and threw it in the car without even a glance. It went in with my clothes for my shift at the Red Cross. As usual, I was running late. (the pilot light on the water heater had gone out and jumping into a COLD shower about gave me a heart attack! By the time I figured out what was going on, I was running behind!) So when I went to grab my things tonight to change into, there was a pile of mail. On top was a package...with a customs sticker from Portugal. Tears welled up in my eyes when I realized that Nymeth (or Ana) had sent me a Christmas present as well. Not only did I get a wonderful card, a chocolate Santa, and a beautiful handmade bookmark, but I got a copy of the "best book ever!". Nation by Terry Pratchett, a book that has been HIGH on my wish list all year.

Then, just when I thought my day couldn't get any brighter, a small little envelope caught my eye. Now...I've been blogging for almost 3 years exactly. But before that, I was in a few online book clubs that met, at first on the Oprah message boards. Ana is 7, and I'm pretty sure I joined "The Classics Club" the summer she was a year old. I was one of the first members of the club. And although time constraints have kept me from reading with them for the last few years, I still keep up with them through email, and the yahoo group. Chris from Book-A-Rama and Michelle from Michelle's Masterful Musings are two old friends that I have known since that summer. I'm still a little fuzzy on who exactly is part of the founding group and who isn't. I just know I've known these beautiful ladies for years. I opened the card and found an insanely generous gift card for a Spa day. In MY TOWN. I can't imagine the research that went into finding this place (which is adorable, by the way. I've had the girl's nails done there. As a gift to them). But they did. And they sent it to me for a day to treat myself. So...tears in eyes turned into flat out bawling. At work. Tom, my third-shift cohort thinks I'm nuts anyway. Now, he's sure of it. When I told him I was crying because I was happy, he just shook his head!

Chris, Debi, Michelle, Christina and Nymeth: There is no way I can repay all your generosity. From the gifts to just listening to me vent. To giving me a shoulder to lean on or cry with. Just know that I thank you all so very much. You have truly made my year a little brighter. And you certainly know the real meaning of Christmas.

And if anyone asks me if I think online people can be REAL friends, I will whole-heartedly say YES.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Zombies Are all the Rage: Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Usually I'm pretty good at keeping up with my reviews. I have had days when I was struggling to find something to post about. But with the crazy last few weeks, I am not one, not two, but *4* reviews behind!! And I have other things to post. So hopefully, this will be a banner month of posting for me!! Today, the review is for Carrie Ryan's Zombie-themed book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (320 pgs, Delacorte Books, 2009). It is a YA book (of course) and I am using it as a selection for the YA Dystopian Challenge.

My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing toward you and then away. She once showed me a picture that she said was my great-great-great-grandmother standing in the ocean as a child. It's been years since, and the picture was lost to fire long ago, but I remember it, faded and worn. A little girl surrounded by nothingness.

In a post-apocalyptic time, there are few things certain in Mary's life. She has recently lost both her mother and her father to the Forest of Hands and Teeth. The forest is where the "Unconsecrated", or Zombies live. Her village is a little island of humanity in the middle of the forest. Surrounded by fences and watchtowers, the villagers have made a life for themselves amongst the un-dead. They are ruled by The Sisterhood, an order of religious women that control all the aspects of life in the lone village. And they are protected by The Guardians, men who defend the village against breaches in the fence system that would allow the Unconsecrated into the village. This is the only life that Mary has ever known. She was born long after The Return, and knows the concept of loss very well.

But for Mary and the other girls of the village, life only offers 3 choices. You can live with your family. But Mary's only family is her brother, and he blames her for their mother's "death". There is marriage. But marriage in the village is not about love. It is about preservation of the race. One has to be spoken for, then the couple will be bound for life. Mary's friend Harry has taken an interest in her, and she is positive that he is going to ask for her hand. Unfortunately, she is head-over-heels in love with Harry's brother, Travis. The only other option is to join The Sisterhood. And that requires a faith that Mary just doesn't have anymore.

But when a new, fast-moving zombie breaches the perimeter, everything changes. All the years of planning by the Sisterhood and the Guardians has gone out the window because Mary and a handful of others become the only survivors. Now they are on the run, one step ahead of the Unconsecrated and they are out to find if there is anything outside the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

For all the glowing reviews I had read of this book, I really expected to love it. And while I enjoyed the book, love it I didn't. I had a few problems with it, to be honest. Maybe it's me and I'm just reading too much into a YA Zombie book. Maybe it's just meant to be fun (or as much fun as a book of zombies can be about!) But I actually found myself reading it and finding a few moral conundrums. Most of this book is centered around Mary and her incredible need for things she can't have. And I found her to be a really selfish person. One might say that she really only followed her heart....trying to make all her dreams come true. I'm all about dreaming and reaching for the stars. I am. I think every person should have dreams. And dream big. I encourage it in my own kids. But when your quest to fulfill your life not only hurts people emotionally, but hurts people physically, where do you draw the line? Do you give up on something to save the people you supposedly care about?? Or do you do whatever it takes to make that dream a reality, no matter who you hurt? Does living in a world where death is literally looking over the fence at you on a daily basis make a difference? Do new rules apply?

See? Maybe I am making too much out of nothing. But Mary just bothered me. (SMALL SPOILER ALERT). She spent most of the first part of the book pining over Travis. So in love with him, she could think of nothing else. Even when she was bound to his brother, she would do just about anything for Travis, even though it hurt her friends. THEN, when she gets the guy, she's bored with him. He's just not enough to make her happy. She ALWAYS seemed to be putting her needs above everyone else's. And that bothered me. Alot. Again, maybe I'm trying to put more into it than I should. Or maybe, in a world where death is so close all the time, one's needs become more important. Still, I would have liked to see more compassion and less narcissism.

But other than my problems with the main character, I loved the storyline. With the YA world bursting the seams with vampires, this new line of zombie stories is rather refreshing. And Carrie Ryan has a knack for story telling. She has created a very believable world in a place and time that should be completely unbelievable. Besides, she's a hopeless romantic to boot:

"The Sisterhood has it wrong," he says. "It's not about surviving. It should be about love. When you know love...that's what makes this life worth it. When you live with it every day. Wake up with it, hold on to it during the thunder and after a nightmare. When love is your refuge from the death that surrounds us all and when it fills you so tight that you can't express it." He rocks forward and backward as tears stream down his face.

See? Isn't that nice? A sentiment I agree with!! Of course, I didn't love this story, but I did like it, and I'm anxious to see where the next book takes us. (supposedly this is one of a trilogy, with The Dead-Tossed Waves set to be released in March.) If you are a fan of YA paranormal, then this might be the book for you. Especially if you a fan of Zombies!! 3.5/5

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Happy Post

I feel bad for not posting this sooner. The weekend was a rough one, with way too many shifts at work and Jesse's funeral. I felt so bad by Sunday night that I could barely drag myself to work.

And then came Monday. Bella and Ana's Christmas play was on Monday. A morning performance, for the grade school classes (and if you couldn't make it to the evening show.) My mom and dad came up for the morning show. Ana was an Elf in the chorus. And Miss Bella had the leading role. She played Mrs. Santa Claus in the Oak Grove East production of "Santa Goes Green", and environmentally friendly little play about Christmas, recycling and saving the planet. Quirky and cute, Bella had more than double the lines of anyone else. Even Santa himself. She looked adorable. I had problems trying to upload the video, so I will save you having to watch. But just know that I am one proud mama!!





I ended up at both performances. Ana and Bella were fantastic. And I even cried. Just a little. Because I was so proud.





But the other event that caused me to be lifted from my deep depression happened after I got back from the morning performance. The mailbox door wouldn't close, so I figured there was something in it I should probably take in the house. And there was. Not one, but 2 packages. Bot addressed to me. When I use this blog to whine and vent, I guess I don't realize that people actually read it. And 2 of my favorite people in the world sent me a Christmas present to cheer me up. Chris and Debi, the two of you are so incredibly sweet I don't even know how to express my thanks. I love both of you very much. And I consider you family...as well as friends. If you ever need me for anything, know that you can count on me!! See? They know me so well:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2009 Virtual Advent Tour Day 6: The Toland's and Santa

The past few years, I have participated in the Blogger Virtual Advent tour. I've talked about some of our family traditions; some of the things that make the holidays special to the Toland Family. This year is going to be a little different.

For the past 13 years, Santa Claus has been a big part of the Christmas tradition for us. Yes, the kiddies know that Christmas is actually a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. But face it. With kids in the house, there is always the idea of Santa Claus! But I have a sinking feeling that this will be the last year for the man in the bright red suit. Chad, at 13, has spent the last few years actually helping me with the girls' presents. But this year, Miss Bella informed me she no longer believes. With Ana so close in age to Bella, I can see the end in sight.

There have been many years in the past, at 2 a.m., as I was stuffing stockings or putting together toys like the Princess Kitchen that I longed for the days for all the "sneaky" stuff to be over. Longed to be in bed at a civilized hour, sleeping like the rest of the family. But now that the time has come, I feel an overwhelming sadness that my kids are growing up. How has this happened? It seems like only yesterday we were standing in lines at the mall, Ana hiding behind my legs trying to get a glimpse of Santa Claus, too scared to actually sit on his lap unless I was there to hold her hand. Or Chad, big and brave, all ready to jump up on St. Nick's lap, with a smile on his face. Or Bella, with a HUGE list in hand, ready to let the jolly fat man know exactly what she wanted under the tree.

Every year, our school has a Santa Breakfast: pancake and sausage breakfast, Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting in big fat chairs handing out candy canes after listening to every child's wish list; crafts for the holidays, and lots of music. Yesterday, we attended probably our last. The girls were more interested in playing with their friends than sitting on Santa's lap (though the girls did make the effort, just in case!)

Every year we leave Santa a plate of cookies and milk (one year, I even suggested a sandwich and soda to wash it down...I think I missed out on Christmas Eve dinner because of work!) And every year, Rudolph gets a special treat as well. Usually an apple or a carrot, especially for him. Sometimes we sprinkle "reindeer" food outside the door. It's made with oatmeal and glitter, and looks so pretty on the snow. And if there is snow, always walking around outside in Mike's big boots, leaving a trail of footprints.

I love that my kids are getting older and we are able to enjoy our time together doing activities. And I'm sure that Christmas will be just as special for them, even if they don't believe in Santa any longer. The sadness will definitely be mine alone. If this is any indication of future events, I don't think I will gracefully accept the idea that my children are growing up!!


Here is a picture of Christmas past, we my little believers!

Don't forget to stop by the other Day 6 participants in this year's Advent tour:

Melissa @ Book Nut

Chris @ Stuff As Dreams are Made On

Lily @ Reading Extravaganza

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND BLESSINGS TO ALL OF YOU!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A New Month

For some reason, I'm having trouble processing the fact that it is now December. Christmas is a few weeks away, and I'm not even close to being prepared. My blogging this year has been a bit sporadic. I am keeping ridiculous hours these days, so for the moment I've decided I'm OK with it. I'd love to be able to post more. As it is, I've got about 10 posts I really need to do: at least 4 book reviews, some challenge reviews, some wrap-up posts. I'll get to it. And after the 1st of the year, I'll do better. Things will slow down. But for now, I guess we will just have to take things one day at a time.

The last week has brought some really tough stuff. Mike, Chad and Belle all succumbed to the "plague", as it is now known at our house. This flu is one that hangs on for it's life, that's for sure. I'm still, even after 2 weeks, carrying around a bit of a cough.

I'm also looking for a new job. As much as I like my job at the Red Cross, I don't see any way I'll be able to get off 3rd shift. After 2 years of nights, my body is starting to feel the effects. I am truly a night person, but for my sanity, I really think a day job would be better. Of course, times are tough, and finding something else might not be as easy as I would like to think.

Finally, as part of my job, I work with a fleet of drivers. Both paid and volunteer, our drivers carry the blood/blood products to the hospitals in are region. There are over 42 hospitals and the distance between them is high. A drive can be over 300 miles. Because the work is sporadic, most of the drivers are retired gentlemen. It is hard sometimes to call these older men in, to put them on the road late nights. I love them all and their willingness to help out night/day whenever they can. But I lost my favorite driver to a horrible accident the other night, and it's been a hard few days for all us at the Cross. The guilt of someone dying on our watch is a bit more than we can handle. Jesse was the sweetest guy. He always had a smile and loved to sit and chat. If I was on my own, he would come in with an "extra" apple fritter, because he knew they were my favorites. My heart just breaks for his family at this time. Because his Red Cross family has been just a bit destroyed by all of it.

I may be back later today with a review. But if I don't, just know that I will. I'm getting tired of writing posts that say, "I know it's been a while but ...." Like I said earlier: At the moment, I'm OK with being sporadic. I'm hoping to change that a little when the New Year hits!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Decorate for Dax, St. Jude's and Thanksgiving

This past year, I feel like I have gone through many times of depression and pity parties. And most of the time I feel justified. I'm tired. I work too hard. I don't see my kids enough. Blah, blah, blah. A lot of the time I think I have it rough compared to most people. Then reality smacks me in the face, and I feel ashamed.

The Lockes are a local family. And they are dealing with the ultimate sadness with a grace and dignity that is almost unheard of. Their 2-year-old son Dax is sick. And he is not going to get any better. Sweet little Dax has been a patient of St. Jude's, and is now home to spend his last few weeks. "Decorate for Dax" has become the mantra around here. Because he loves the lights of Christmas, friends, neighbors, and even strangers have come together to share the lights with Dax. People have decorated early. Photos have been sent in from all over the country. And money is being raised for St. Jude's Research. I know how important this is. As a survivor of childhood cancer, I know all too well the value of a place as wonderful and caring as St. Jude's. This year, my kids and I are spending a few days helping a friend (who is a St. Jude's Runner) raise money for the cause. And I donated some of my tips from yesterday in Dax's name. I only wish I could do more.


This story breaks my heart. Please go and read about the sweet, brave little boy. And if you have a few spare dollars, donate them to a cause like St. Jude's. At the Thanksgiving table tonight, I broke down, so incredibly thankful that I don't have to go through what the Locke's are going through today. My kids are healthy and strong. And I thank God every day for that. It makes me feel a bit humbled and ashamed of being such a terror the last few months. And I will work my double shift tomorrow and Saturday.....and I will be incredibly elated to do it: because I know that at the end of the day, I can go home and hug my kids.


If you would like to make a donation in Dax's name, please follow this link.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Under the Weather.....


In case you were wondering if I dropped off the face of the Earth. Nope. But I've been sick. Yuk. That's how I feel. But after the last few days, it's definitely a step up. Since the weekend, I have been sick. Mike went to a racquetball tourney in Lombard this weekend. I sent the kids to the grandparents, and as soon as I got home from work...I went to bed. Sunday night Mike came home, took one look at me, and called in to work for me. Apparently, I had a 102 degree fever. I haven't left my bed...till today. I can't remember the last time I felt this bad. Fever, coughing, sore throat and headache. I'm finally starting to feel better. Let's hope I can make it through the holiday.....alive!!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Having a Rory Gilmore Moment......


I never once watched The Gilmore Girls when it was on TV. We have DirecTV, and can not get the CW channel. So for over 7 seasons, I missed out on this FANTASTIC show. When I was off work, with my arm in a sling about 2 months ago, I really wanted to spend time reading. But every single time I picked up a book, I fell sound asleep. Probably partly from the sheer exhaustion that had built up, and partly from all the pain medication. So....I went to the library to try to find something that would hold my interest.....and I stumbled across the first few seasons of The Gilmore Girls. And I fell in love. Absolutely, truly in love. For those of you that haven't watched the show, it's about a single mother, Loreli, and her teen daughter, Rory. And Rory is a reader.

Now...to the Rory moment: Because we have been slow at work, I've spent more than a lunch hour reading. Lately, I have taken to carrying a tote bag to work with me. It's just more convenient. I throw my small purse in it, a bottle of soda, a bottle of water. My written reading journal. And books. Not just one either. But a few.

Last night, I was sitting in the break area, and my co-worker came up to me and peered in my bag. Tom looked at me kind of funny. Then he asked me, "Why do you have so many books? You can't possibly read them all." How do you explain it to a non-reader?? The fear of not having something to read. Well. I tried. I said, "Tom. Look. This is the fiction book I'm reading right now. It's a paranormal/Gothic book. But in case that doesn't interest me at the moment, I have another fiction book. It's historical fiction. I'm also reading a book of essays. I have a de Lint book of Newford Short Stories going. Oh...there's also a graphic novel thrown in there. Just in case the mood strikes me. And finally, a memoir. Non-fiction. A girl just doesn't ever know what she is going to be in the mood for when she leaves the house."

Apparently, I did a lousy job of explaining. Tom looked at me like I had just sprouted a third eye. Oh well. Check out the video below. See why I adore Rory. It's me!! Is it really a sickness? On a side note, I did see that someone was doing a "Rory" Challenge. I. Must. Join.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday and Thursday Randomness


Booking Through Thursday:

Today’s question was suggested by Barbara:

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

Interesting question, but one that is incredibly hard to answer. I mean really, how do you compare Jane Austen to some of our modern authors? What made Charles Dickens so special all those years ago? At least part of it is the quality of the writing. During the 20th Century, we've seen some really fantastic authors whose quality of writing is unbound: John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kurt Vonnegut.

But I also think a part of the equation is a great story. Do we have some phenomenal story tellers today? Damn skippy we do: Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, J.K Rowling. Is Harry Potter or The Stand considered "Great Literature"? No way. But are they still fantastic STORIES? Absolutely. Will people still be reading them 100 years from now? I'd like to think so. I guess only time will tell!!

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Hey all!! I know. It's been a few days since I posted. I haven't been around a whole lot. I was off work this weekend, and my computer was acting up a bit. First, it was a Network cable that had gone bad. Once that was cleared up, a few more problems popped up. I've decided it was a case of demonic possession!! My mouse/pointer started doing all sorts of weird things. Moving to different places all by itself. I changed an adapter, and it's seems to be working ok. For now. If that doesn't work, I'm in the market for an exorcist!

I'm not going to be able to participate this year in the Blogger Secret Santa. I'm really kind of bummed, but I figure the more corners I cut, the better off I'll be. Christmas is coming up quickly. I would, however, like to send out some blogger Christmas cards this year. I just have to figure out how to stalk all of you and find your Real Life addresses!! Is it weird to ask?? I've been trying to decide.....

One of the guys I work with just got a Twitter account. He was asking me questions about it, and I told him I'd follow him. When I went to work yesterday, he told me he followed my link to my blog, and read some of my book reviews. Now, my blog isn't something I advertise to my "Real Life" friends. In fact, most don't know a thing about it. I don't know why, but I've never really felt the need to bring it up. It's just my own little thing, and I kind of like to keep it that way. No one I work with has ever said anything about it and honestly, I didn't figure anyone has ever read it. So, I asked Tommy what he thought. He said, "Wow. They are really good. Like totally professional. Like something I could actually READ in a Newspaper. I can't believe you really wrote them!". I'm still not sure how to take this. Should I be flattered? Or a bit insulted that he didn't think I was smart enough to string together some intelligent, coherent sentences?? I'm going to go with flattered. For the moment, it's easier!!

What am I reading? I'm about 1/2 way through Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest. I was really excited to start it, but I've kind of lost a little steam the last few days. I also started the book of essays, Couldn't Keep it to Myself. A fantastic book. Since I'm working all weekend (on the overnight scene), I'm pretty sure I'll get a fair amount of reading time in. I need to get a few graphic novels under my belt. I have so many books from the library, I REALLY need to get some finished!! Just trying to figure out what to read next!!

Melissa de la Cruz, author of the Blue Blood series, is going to do an interview for me!! I'm pretty stoked about it too. Her publicist contacted me about reviewing the last book in the Blue Blood Series. Told her I would love to, but I haven't read 2 or 3 yet! So, she kindly sent me all 3 books. AND said she would schedule an interview!! I'm hoping to get to one big review for the books, and the interview before Christmas.

I'm thinking that's all for now. I'm already contemplating my 2010 Challenges. Scary, but the list is already getting huge!! I could probably plan out my entire year of reading already. Sheesh. A post for another day!! Maybe tomorrow!!

Later!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What is With All the YA Vampire Books? Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz


Good Lord, there are a bunch of books/series that fall into the YA Vampire category: Twilight, Morganville, House of Night, Vampire Academy, Vampire Diaries. The list seems endless. And now Melissa de la Cruz has decided to dip her toes in the Vampiric waters. Blue Bloods (336 pgs, Hyperion, 2007) is Book One is this series that offers a new twist on an old legend.

One hundred and two people arrived on the Mayflower in November of 1620, but less than half lived to see the establishment of the Plymouth Colony the next year. While no one had died during the Mayflower's voyage, life after arrival was extremely difficult, especially for the young. Almost all of the lost were hardly sixteen years of age.

Life in New York City was rather unusual for Schuyler Van Alen. At fifteen, Schuyler is rather a loner. Enrolled at the exclusive Duchesne School, she really only had a couple of friends. Oliver, her best bud since 2nd grade. And Dylan, the new guy at school, who didn't want to conform to anyone's idea of a prep student. Schuyler is also a non-conformist. She prefers vintage to Prada; Converse to Jimmy Choo. While she doesn't know her father, her mother has been in a coma for as long as Schuyler can remember. It is for this reason that she lives with her rather cold Grandmother, Cordelia.

Now that Schuyler is fifteen, she has been noticing some changes. Mainly, the strange blue veins that seem to be showing up on her arms, but also a few others. When a Duchesne student is found murdered, the death haunts Schuyler in ways she never thought it would. Then, she receives an invitation to join the most prestigious charity organization in the city: The New York Blood Bank Committee, or just "The Committee". And while The Committee DID do charitable work, there was also another element to it. It is within this group that Schuyler and the other kids learn about their true origin. For they are not regular human teens: they are all Blue Bloods, a group of immortals. An ancient group of vampires that have lived since the beginning of time and are invincible. Or at least they are supposed to be. But it might not be true. The student who was murdered? A Blue Blood. What does that mean for the others?

First of all, I have to say I wasn't super crazy about this book. I mean, I liked it. And truthfully, the storyline is really unique. But it seemed like the entire book was just a set-up for the rest of the series. And because of that, it made it hard to get to know the characters very well. The characters that did get introduced all appeared a little flat. I mean, they were very stereotypical: Schuyler, the quiet loner. Jack, the rich guy that keys in on the loner. Mimi, the uber-rich, nasty mean girl. Oliver, the loner's best friend. Nothing rang of uniqueness. Also the book felt more like "Gossip Girl" than "Dracula". What I mean, is that it spent way more time talking about rich teens that Vampires.


I will give de la Cruz big kudos for coming up with one of the most original vampire origin stories I've ever heard. Truly a great storyline. Because I really liked the storyline, I'm hoping the rest of series will be better, especially since we've already established the "set-up". So, although I thought Book 1 was lacking a little, I see enough of a reason to continue on with the series. 3/5

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Just Can't Seem to Get Enough of the Morganville Vampires!


I admit it. Vampires, zombies, werewolves, faeries.....I love them. There is just something so fascinating to me about the paranormal. The books I have read dealing with them are fun. They take me to a new place, with completely new problems. Although the books aren't great literature, they help me escape. Again. I love them! Even though the RIP challenge ended at Halloween, I have a huge backlog of books that I wanted to read for the challenge, but didn't quite make it through. So, I'll probably be reading them through the end of the year. Today's paranormal read is Book 5 of the Morganville Vampire Series: Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine (256 pgs, Signet, 2009).


It was all going wrong, and Morganville was burning -- part of it, anyway. Claire stood at the windows of the Glass House and watched the flames paint the glass a dull, flickering orange. She could always see the stars out her in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas -- but not tonight.

As with every other book in the series, this one picks up immediately after book 4 has ended. Amelie, Morganville's Founder and reigning bad-ass, had been staked at the Feast that was hosted in her father, Bishop's, honor. Although she was still alive (or alive as a vampire could be), she is weak. And now the vamps and humans alike of Morganville are going to have to take sides. Will they stick with Amelie and try to keep the peace and bond that exists between humans and vampires? Or will they join sides with Bishop, who wants to wipe out Morganville once and for all, using the humans basically as cattle. To top it all off, now there is a faction of humans that are joining in the mix: the humans that want to take back Morganville for themselves, killing off all the vampires in the process.

Claire and her friends are caught right smack in the middle. Although Claire would love to free from the vampires of Morganville, he allegiance still stands with Amelie. Not only is she pledged to her, but she is also trying to help find a cure for the mysterious disease that is starting to show itself amongst the vamps. Because her friend Michael is now a vampire, Claire will do whatever she can to help save him. But at what price to her friends and family? And what is going to happen with Amelie's forces collide with Bishop's?

I just can't seem to get enough of this series! One thing I can definitely say about Rachel Caine: the woman can write an interesting story!! Once again, the story starts out fast, and just keeps accelerating!! There really isn't much more to say that I haven't said about previous books. It is fun, fast-paced and exciting. But be warned: Each book, this one included, leaves you with a HUGE cliffhanger. If you like closure in your stories, you will not get it! However, if you like YA books or you like vampires, you really should read this series. Or, if you just want to read something a little "fluffy" and escape, then you should read this series. Or....if you just want to pick a book that is fun, read this series. Best advice I can give. Highly recommended. 4.25/5

Monday, November 9, 2009

Library Loot, Christmas Shopping and A Much Better Night....

Well, I guess my pity-party worked, because I feel much better today. Honestly, I think it's just my way of releasing all that stress that builds up. I don't really have a lot of close friends that live around me anymore. It's weird. I have tons of acquaintances. But they usually fall into group of people that think of me as "Bella's Mom" or "Mike's Wife" or something like that. Most of my close friends don't really live around here. And truthfully, with the schedule that I keep, I seem to have alienated the ones that are still around!! So, when I feel the need for someone to unburden myself to, it seems the most logical place is to take to my blog and dump. Whatever the reason, I feel "lighter" today.

I even started Christmas shopping!! OK, that may not seem so amazing, unless you REALLY know me. My usual start for holiday shopping is around Dec. 18th! But the girls picked out some iPod's, and Best Buy is running an amazing sale this week. Plus I could put them all on an 18 month plan with no interest. Each kid is getting a "big" gift, then probably a lot of books!! I'm still not sure what to get Chad. Truthfully, I don't even want to think about Christmas. Normally, each year we have a Santa Saver account that I drop money into each week. This year, with Mike being off, not so much. But I'm trying to pick up one extra day at the restaurant a week. That day, all my money is getting put up just for Christmas. Mike and I have pretty decided against buying each other much. But the kiddies have worked hard all year. They deserve a nice Christmas. They are going to get it too.

Well....I guess I should just get on with my library loot. I swear, I really need to stay off the library's website. Seriously. At least this week, I actually returned about 6 books. This is the list of books that I have picked up in the last week:


This is actually one of the books I'm most excited about. I'm reading it as a part of the Women Unbound challenge. It's Couldn't Keep It to Myself by Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution. Lamb teaches writing workshops at the prison and these are some essays that have come out of that experience. So far, I've only read Lamb's introduction, but it had me in tears. Can't wait to read more!





Non-fiction read #2, and another Women Unbound Challenge book is Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang. Deals with the hardships of women in China. I'm really not a huge non-fiction fan, but this sounds really interesting. I guess we will see how it goes.







The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper is a memoir that I wanted to read for the Non-Fiction Challenge (which I failed at MISERABLY!) I liked memoirs. And I've read a couple based in Africa. I'm hoping this is just as good. If I can get to it, I think this will be a great selection for the Women Unbound Challenge.






Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison is a fiction selection for the Women Unbound Challenge. See what I mean about the library website?? I find a challenge I want to start, make a list of books, and then just go online and FIND them. I've been wanting to read this book for years. Figure now would be a great time!! Heard great things about it.








Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater is a book I've seen lately across the blogosphere. YA and paranormal are my favorites these days, so this one jumped right out at me. I'm thinking it has to do with werewolves. Always kind of liked them!!









The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson was kind of a spur of the moment kind of book. I saw it on the shelf as I was browsing. I remember reading a lot of good reviews. Another YA book, it seems a little science-fictiony. Can't hurt to try it!










Halloween may be over, but that doesn't mean my love for horror novels is completely satisfied. I read about Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge at Carl's blog. He always finds fun creepy reads during RIP time. Thought it would be a good one for those long nights at work when I'm alone and want to scare myself silly. Or maybe not!






I've been loving Rachel Caine's YA series, the Morganville Vampires so much (I have a review to write for Book 5, which I just completed), that I wanted to try her adult series. Ill Wind is the first book in the Weather Warden series. It looks like it will be a fun read!









Breathers by S. G. Browne is another zombie book. I read Chris' review and thought it looked like a whole lot of fun. Besides, the cover just rocks, doesn't it??









Dangerous Angels by Francesa Lia Block is a selection for the GLBT Reading Challenge. I've read a couple of Block's books before and just the lyrical way she writes. When Nymeth and Debi reviewed this one, I knew I had to add it to my challenge list. Besides, it's another book with an awesome cover!!










I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti is a book I read about during the Read-A-Thon. I think I saw it over on Eva's blog. Then again, it was really LATE and I could be wrong about that. Regardless, it looks really good. Ammaniti is an Italian writer and this is his American debut.









Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie is a book that I KNOW I read about on Eva's blog. I've wanted to read Alexie for a while now, and this one deals a lot with music. Another one of my loves. Can not wait to given this one a chance.










Finally, a book I am SO excited about. And one that was a complete impulse. I just happened to be passing the New Release shelf at the front of the library and this book practically jumped off the shelf at me. In fact, I think I might have even squealed out loud!! The Gates by John Connolly is his newest novel. After reading The Book of Lost Things and just finishing Nocturnes, Connolly is becoming one of my favorite authors. I can not wait till I get a chance to read this one!!




That's it was for this week's Library Loot. Of course, it's more than enough for me. The number of books coming in seems be WAY higher than the amount of books going out. Gotta work on that!!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Salon...a Whining Post AND Short Story Sunday

Commence Whining: I haven't done a Sunday Salon post in MONTHS. Lately, I haven't really felt that I have anything of any value to say. I mean, I love blogging. But recently, I've just felt so bogged down with life that the little time I have to blog, I can't think of anything to say. Does that every happen to you? I mean, I actually have a ton of posts I could write: A RIP Wrap-up, a couple of book reviews, a Library Loot post, more challenge post. Or even something family related. And yet when I sit down at the computer, the blahs hit. Nothing I type is interesting. Nothing really excites me. And all I can think is this: "Who wants to Read this Crap anyway?" Am I actually doing something worthwhile here?? I hope so. I'd hate to think that I'm just wasting my time. With so little time, sometimes I feel like I'm on the fringe of blogging. Not really here enough to make the little connections that are necessary to keep going. Not being able to participate in all the fun, like the Read-a-Thon. Not keeping track of the friends I have made well enough.


I don't know. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm just feeling the pressure of the season, and the stress of Mike not working. Or the stress of all the hours I've been putting in. Or the pressure of spending quality time with the kids when all I really want to do is crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head and sleep well into next week. Or maybe it's the fact that my shoulder isn't healing all that well and I'm constantly in either A). Pain or B). a Pain-Killer Induced Haze. At one point a few years back I was actually taking some anti-depressants. Maybe I should find me some "happy" pills again.

I'm not writing this for any type of sympathy. I think I just need to let it all out. Truth of the matter is, I am sitting here, seriously lonely right now. I'm working the weekend at the Red Cross. Saturday night/Sunday mornings are the worst here. Next to one security guard, I'm literally the only person in the building. I'm here mainly for emergency purposes. I like alone time. But tonight, I'm just craving an actual person to talk to. Unfortunately, even Twitter is rather deserted tonight. I guess every once in a great while I need to step back, take a breath, and re-evaluate things. Tonight seems to be one of those times.

End Whining.

In all actuality, it was a good week. The kids parent/teacher conferences were this week. Bella is getting all B's, except Reading, where she is excelling. (go figure!) She lacks a little self-confidence, but she got the lead of Mrs. Santa Claus in the Christmas play, so she's actually doing better. Ana is reading at a 5th grade level (in 2nd grade). The teacher is moving her to an Advanced Readers Group with 3 other kids because she's afraid her 2nd grade work is going to bore her. Straight A's. And Chad....all A's, except for a B in Art. He's taking High School level Algebra and is in all Accelerated classes. His teachers are already recommending AP classes for him in high school. So yeah...I'm pretty proud of the Kiddies. We even went to see a movie tonight: Cirque du Freak: Vampire's Assistant. Is it just me, or is John C. Reilly like the coolest nerd ever??


I have 2 book reviews to do. I've actually been reading. Right now, I'm reading a fantastic collection of essays. I don't really like essays, but this one is well-worth reading. I can't wait to review it!!

So....on to a few Short Stories for this Sunday: Again, from John Connolly's Nocturnes.

The Inkpot Monkey - Mr. Edgerton was suffering from writer's block. Mr. Edgerton was a modestly successful author. But lately he has been unable to write a word. Always looking for inspiration, he wanders into an old antiques store and sees a little inkpot, with what looks like a tiny stuffed monkey. According to ancient Chinese mythology, the monkey will provide artistic inspiration in return for the residues of ink left at the bottom of the inkpot. Mr. Edgerton is willing to try anything to escape the writer's block, so he buys the little inkpot monkey. But is he really ready to give all the monkey wants in return for the inspiration??

The Shifting of the Sands - The decision to reopen the rectory at Black Sands was not made lightly. The people at Black Sands were not a religious people. In fact, they went out of their way NOT to be. But they were a prosperous group, and lucky too. In fact, for a sea-faring community, they were incredibly lucky. Not even once has a Black Sands native been lost to the sea. However, once every twenty years an outsider drowned in the area. 20 years ago, it was the rector at the church. But now that a new rector is in town, will he survive or will he have the same fate befallen upon him?

Some Children Wander by Mistake - The circus seldom came to towns in the North. For William, the thought of the circus was incredibly exciting. He was pretty much a loner at school. He has dealt with his share of bullies, too. But he loved the idea of the circus. Because he LOVED Clowns. And the circus brought with it the promise of clowns. But while William does get to see the clowns, it's not at all the way he pictured it. Because he finds out a little truth in life: Clowns are not made, they are born.

Deep Dark Green - We never should have gone near Baal's Pond. There was a mystery surrounding the dark waters of Baal's pond. At one time, there was a house on that very spot. But something sinister lived in there. Something that took the village's children. So the villagers took it upon themselves to destroy everything. And with some stolen kegs of gunpowder, the river was re-directed over the spot on which the house sat. Now, that is where the deep, dark waters of Baal's pond sits. The kids say you should never swim there. For if you do, you might not ever come back.....

I am once again amazed at how wonderful and creepy Connolly's short stories are!! As a self-confessed Coulrophobic, I have a deep-seated and extremely unnatural fear of clowns. They freak me out. Always have. *shudder* So let's just say that Some Children Wander by Mistake completely played to all my fears!! I KNEW there was a reason I hated them!! But really, each story was good. Like I said in previous posts, if you liked fun, creepy, eerie short stories, go get this book!! (Will post the last of them next Sunday!)

Till then, Happy Reading!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

One More RIP Book....We Have Always Lived in the Castle


I realize that the RIP Challenge is over. I haven't had a lot of time to post the last few weeks. (To be honest, I think I did finish a day or two late anyway!) I still haven't even finished reviewing my short story collection from John Connolly (which I DID complete and found incredibly creepy and just wonderful). But I'll get to that too. For now, you are just going to have to settle for this review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (210 pgs, Penguin, 1962). It is going to be used as a selection for the RIP IV Challenge.

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

If that's not one of the most unique and creepy opening paragraphs, then I don't know what is. Mary Katherine Blackwood, most commonly known as Merricat, lives with her sister Constance and their crippled Uncle Julian. Constance is a total recluse who refuses to leave her home. She had been accused of the murder of the rest of the family (a poisoning by arsenic), but had been acquitted by the courts. Unfortunately, the rest of the town didn't seem to agree with the ruling. In the beginning, we see Merricat going to the village for supplies. Everyone is a little distant, but it becomes clear that the Blackwoods are pariahs in town.

But their lives have routine. And all is the same until the day Cousin Charles enters the picture. And that is the beginning of the end.
There is not much more I can say about the storyline itself without giving something away. And trust me, it is best just to read it for yourself. From the beginning, things seem just a little "off". Merricat is an eighteen year old girl; and yet she is treated and acts like a child. And then there are her strange little rituals and her weird imagination. As the story progresses, with Merricat as the narrator, the reader isn't really even sure how much of the tale is real. She is not exactly the most reliable of narrators.

Shirley Jackson is amazingly adept at creating a story that is amazingly creepy in such a simple way. Not in the real sense of monsters or demons, but in an even scarier, psychological way. It truly is a gift of a great writer. From the beginning you know that something isn't right. And even though the "surprise" isn't much of a surprise by the time it is revealed, it is chilling in it's own way. From deep in your gut, you can just FEEL that it is all wrong.

It is a ingenious little story, and yet I hate to admit that I didn't like it. I can see the brilliance in the writing, but did I enjoy it? Not really. And I've been really trying to figure out why. I think it's because I didn't like any of the characters. To me, not one of them was likable. Although it is written to make Constance seem all sunshine and roses, to me she was just as much of a loon as Merricat. Actually, she was even crazier. (again, I can't say much more than that). Uncle Julian is old and senile. Cousin Charles is only out for his own personal gain. The villagers were mostly a vile bunch. And I disliked them all immensely. I guess, for me personally, I have to connect with someone to enjoy the story. Or at least this one anyway.

BUT, I loved The Lottery. And I really want to read The Haunting Of Hill House. I'm not giving up on Jackson. As I said, the story really is extremely well-written. It's good. I just didn't like it!! If you like creepy little tales, maybe this one is for you!! 3.5/5