Thursday, February 6, 2014

B is for Books

I love me some books.

In second grade, my elementary had a contest to read one million minutes. I was the highest reader in my class. I still read almost every day.

There's this whole paper book versus traditional book debate going on that I think is pretty ridiculous. I love all books and I think books are good for people and for society. I don't really think it matters how you read books, just that you read! (And I have never heard anyone get into an audio book versus paper book debate, so why the big deal about ebooks?)

I read both and just wanted to list out my personal opinions of each.

The smell. The feel.
You can look down and see how much of the book is left
Never worry about running out of batteries or having to turn it off during parts of a flight.
Easier to read the ending (I love to flip to the back of the book and read ahead)
Easy to flip through, scan back to something you read before, etc.
Gorgeous on shelves!

E-BOOK PROS (I have and love a Kindle Touch)
So portable. And pages won't get bent in my bag.
An entire bookstore in one small device. No need to pack multiple books on trips.
I have no problem highlighting passages and making notes (I won't mark up my paper books)
So much easier to read massive tomes
Searchable, so that can be nice.
One-handed reading can be super convenient at the gym, feeding the baby, etc.
Storage space for your books is never an issue

I read way more e-books but if I love an e-book particularly, I'll buy it in paper for my personal library too. I don't care what your read or how you read, just read!

As such, both of my books are available as e-books as in paperback. ;) (Shameless plug)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A is for Arabesque

I have not been a very good blogger this past year. I want to get better at it. So to get me out of my rut, I am going to blog through the alphabet, using each letter for inspiration for whatever topic comes to mind. I can't promise that the posts will be amazing or life changing, but at least there will be something new to read. :)

A for Arabesque

Joci has always loved to dance. In November, she began her first official dance class. It was mostly geared toward ballet, which she loves best. It was fun to hear her come home using words like "arabesque" and "plie" and "sashay."

I was quite impressed when I saw her review. She had no performance anxiety at all. She was so excited. The song was "Here Comes Suzy Snowflake." And she danced really well, doing the choreography pretty darn well for a four-year-old. By the second song, she was content to do her own thing and just run around the room and look at herself dance in the mirrors. :)

Here comes Suzy Snowflake!

The girl next to her was frozen the entire time. :(

Lalala...time to do my own thing...

An official certificate!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books of 2013

In 2013 I set a goal via Goodreads to read 25 books during the year. I had never really set a goal like this before and wasn't sure how high to set my goal. As a kid, I read a ton, but it has scaled back a bit as an adult. So I figured an average of two books a month sounded doable. I am proud to say that I blew my goal out of the water. I read 39 books (and reread about five books that don't count in that total).

I thought it would be fun to review the books I read in 2013.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Simply magical. If you liked the movie, if you like fairy tales, if you like The Princess Bride, you'll love it.

Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. It took me quite awhile to read this behemoth but I really enjoyed it. A classic sci-fi novel for fans of the genre.

The Selkie Spell by Sophie Moss. It was a fun an easy read and not what I expected. There are two more books in the trilogy and I need to read them. I am a sucker for legends and for all things Irish and this book combined both. It was great fun to discover a mystical creature/legend I was unfamiliar with. Yet this book doesn't really feel like a paranormal/fantasy story to me, just a new angle on a romance.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. Anyone who appreciates Tina's humor should read this. Every woman should read this. Every man who loves a woman should read this. Pretty much everyone.

Lust, Money, & Murder #1 by Mike Wells. I'm an indie author and feel like it's my duty to read other indie books. This one didn't pan out so well. Very short and incomplete. But, hey, it was free.

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch. This was an impulse buy on the Kindle Daily Deal and I struck gold. Fascinating historical fiction. Anyone who loves Europe in the middle ages or has a curiosity for the macabre, this story of a town executioner is simply a gem.  There are more books in this series that I need to explore.

The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare. LOVED this series. My new favorite books. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I loved the demon-hunting half-angels and as a historical fiction buff, I loved the Victorian setting. And as a romantic, the love triangle in this series is the epitome of all love triangles EVER. Good stuff.

The Mortal Instruments #1-5 by Cassandra Clare. These were a frustrating and inferior companion series to The Infernal Devices, but I read them all anyway, mostly because I was killing time waiting for the third book of The Infernal Devices to come out. They hardly seem written by the same author.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I'm a fan of her humor blog. The book was a lot more serious than I expected, but more life-affirming and insightful than I expected. Still funny.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I listened to this audio book and only sort of liked it. I am kind of burned out by dystopian fiction. This premise wasn't enough to keep my attention. Even though it ended on a cliff-hanger, I wasn't interested enough to seek out the next book. To be fair, I always struggle with audio books.

Motherhood - the Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck. I love me some Ms. Bombeck. I didn't think this was her strongest collection of essays but they were all new to me and I giggled through it all.

Charly by Jack Weyland. I'd read this as a teen and found it again. Even cheesier but still has a place in my heart.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. An interesting story. The narrator's voice and the writing style of the book will stay with me. The climax of the book wasn't life-changing for me. I haven't seen the movie, but was somehow disappointed a bit by the book. I thought it would be more powerful. Still worthwhile.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer. I read this as a form of research as I was writing my seafaring novel. There isn't really any comparison between this book and mine except they both happen at sea. This book is so fun and colorful. There are more in this series that I need to read.

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I started Divergent with a bad attitude - I was sick of dystopian fiction. It started out so similar to The Giver by Lois Lowry which is dystopian at its finest, but after a few chapters, I was sucked in and could not longer compare it to The Giver. I loved the first two books and the love story was fresh and engaging. I feel the third book jumped the shark.

Looking for Alaska by John Green. Loved this book. I haven't recommended it to too many people because of the language and the frustrating ending. Some people I know can't stand endings like that. I sort of relish them. This book made a great impression as a reader and as a writer and I won't ever forget it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. While I don't feel that it is as powerful as Looking for Alaska, it is more accessible and sweeter. I think it sits better with the audience. I've recommended this one more. I also really love the title.

A Song of Ice and Fire #1-5 by George R. R. Martin. These books are powerful and fantastic and I loved every single word of them. I haven't been so engrossed in a series since maybe Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. They are meaty and visceral and real and so multi-faceted. True brilliance. I am careful about my praise and recommendations though as they are full of bad language and bad deeds. I am infinitely frustrated that there is no real timeline for the rest of the series. Write swiftly, Mr. Martin!

The Selection and The Elite by Kiera Cass. While I thought these books were sorta cheesy, I also devoured them and couldn't put them down. The Hunger Games meets trashy Bachelor reality TV. A perfect indulgence. A great series for traveling or a beach read.

Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly. A nonfiction book about pirates in the Caribbean. Very interesting subject matter. Very engrossing for nonfiction. I'll read it again.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I needed to read this classic. I think it will stay with me a for a long, long time. I am glad I read it before watching the movie. I very much liked it (though not loved) and will recommend it to others.

Dead Sea Games: Adrift by J. Whitworth Hazzard. I read this as part of an indie reading challenge. The zombie genre doesn't appeal to me and I doubt I would've picked up this book without be "assigned" to read it, but it was really great and I am so glad I read it. Very fun.

Minstrel by Marissa Ames. Another indie book. Meatier than I expected. And for "fantasy" it didn't really feel fantastical. Very accessible and real. Looking forward to the next in the series.

Drawing Breath by Laurie Boris. I read this indie gem yesterday in about two sittings. Surprisingly poignant and gripping. If you're bothered by shady morality, you might not get past some of the motivations of the characters to see the great storytelling.

And in case you are curious, my 2014 goal will be 45 books. Read on!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Picture Catch Up

It's been a few months since I've downloaded pictures from my cameras. Here are some pictures from the last few months.

Cousin sleepover

Cute Noelle rocking the shades

Zoo with cousins


Elk rut at Yellowstone



Joci was in charge of decorating my cake

Halloween - 20's flapper

Joci did a cheer camp earlier this December. She loved it and had a lot of fun learning the cheers and performing at a local high school basketball game half-time. 

One of my SD cards had this old picture of my parents and nephew from 2011 at Nielson's Frozen Custard.

Another older photo of cowgirl Joci playing with Lincoln Logs

Look how tiny Noelle was. And how bald!

Christmas 2013

Noelle enjoying her loot

Joci admiring her favorite gift

Monday, December 2, 2013

Will It Always Be Like This?

I am still very sad about losing my mother last December. I am in denial about it many days. I think back to that day in the hospital, holding her hand as her fingernails turned blue and the beep-beep-beep of her machines sped up rapidly then stopped and it doesn't seem real.

I am dreading December 7, 8, and 9th. How can I relive those days? The day I heard she had gone into the hospital...I was sick with worry...texting furiously with my siblings and the news kept getting worse. I couldn't sleep and decorated my Christmas tree in the middle of the night to keep my mind busy. It worked in the moment but at what cost? Will I ever be able to decorate a tree again? December 8...flying to see her and learning, realizing that I would never speak to her again. I would never know her last words. I would be motherless. And December 9, the date on her stone. The date she died. That day was actually easier than the previous two, strangely.

And I get to go through it. And the holidays. People say the first year with all holidays and milestones are the hardest. That's probably true. But that implies that it gets easier, that it gets less. I am also dreading the year mark because it somehow puts an expiration date on my grief. Even now...if it somehow comes up in conversation and I say, "My mother recently died" and a person asks when and I say, "Last December," the sympathy I get is so much less than when when the answer was, "Last month." But the truth is that the pain an emptiness isn't easier now than it was a year ago. Not at all. Not at all. And I am not supposed to suffer from it any more. People don't want to hear about it anymore. I shouldn't be crying like this anymore.

It's why I haven't blogged much in the past year. I used to blog several times a week. I just don't anymore because anytime I scratch away the superficialness of my life, all there is is this gaping grief over my dead mother. People don't always get that either. They ask about details, how old she was. They are sympathetic when they hear her death was unexpected, but that sympathy wanes when I say she was 70. Like, that's sort of expected, it's not all that tragic.  I get it. Logically, I get it. But I can't move on from it. I still feel like her death was this giant injustice. I feel like my father remarrying was a shattering betrayal. And why do all these thoughts come at 1:33 in the morning so I'll have a crippling "cry hangover" in the morning?

My sweet Jocelyn, my sweet baby who carries my mother's name, speaks of Grandma Normandie daily. She says and asks the most beloved things. After praying about Grandma to God one night, she turned to me and said, "When will Grandma be done being dead and come back?" Those moments just turn to me mush and make the tears flow because I feel the same way. Today I mentioned that I was worried about the weather because it looked like it might storm. She told me she was worried, too, it might rain, and Grandma Normandie would get rained on because Joci was pretty sure there weren't houses in heaven.

This tidal wave of emotion just slammed into me today when I switched the calendar to December. Is it always going to be like this? I hope not because wow this hurts...and I hope so because if it ever stops hurting, does it mean I've started forgetting?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Past

As I was making pies Wednesday night and cooking up a storm Thursday, I couldn't help but remember the first Thanksgiving Justin and I spent alone together.

It was the second of our marriage. We were living in Moscow, Idaho, attending the University of Idaho. We didn't have enough money or vacation time to go to either of our faraway homes (both were a 9+ hour drive away) and I was working in retail with Black Friday the next day. And since I was adventurous in the kitchen, I decided to cook Thanksgiving dinner for only the two of us.

I don't remember everything about that day. I do remember that a grocery store sold the back end of turkeys--the thighs and legs--which was great because we both love dark meat and we cooked those small little half turkeys all the time, so that wasn't a big deal.

I remember the pumpkin pie being a big deal. It's Justin's favorite. And when I went to make it, I only had sweetened condensed milk, not evaporated milk. I went out shopping and every store was closed. I even tried every open gas station in Moscow. Big surprise, no gas station carried evaporated milk.

We called Justin's grandmother who told us how to modify our recipe so we could use our sweetened condensed milk (too bad Pinterest didn't exist then or I could've probably figured it out). And I also remember nothing being done at the same time. The potatoes were cold by the time the turkey was ready. And when we cut into the turkey, it was still pink and bloody inside. It went back in the oven. We microwaved the potatoes and yams and tried again. The turkey was still undercooked. We finally had to just microwave the turkey.

It was just the two of us, figuring it out together. A perfect memory of our early marriage. But now I can make the whole feast for fifteen timed perfectly!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Write a Book

Take 26 letters.

This concept amazes me. Oh, how I love language.

Spend 2-3 hours a night arranging those 26 letters in a hundred million different ways. Add sleepless nights. Listless days. Countless hours of staring into space. Add genuine tears—sometimes tears of frustration, tears of self-doubt, tears of happiness, love, and sadness. Then delete a great deal of those 26 letters you’ve arranged so painstakingly and begin arranging again. Add a sliver of your soul, a pinch of your passion, a good deal of your own dreams and desires. Do this, every day, for hours. Repeat for months and even years.

And then you’ll have written a book. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Guest Post by Author Marissa Ames

Since becoming an independently published author last year, I have crossed paths with some pretty great people. I think indie authors are pretty awesome people - they march to the beat of their own drum, play by their own rules, and truly support and promote the art of writing and the world of literature. Marissa is one of those people. She reached out to me and made me see that being "independent" did not mean being "alone."

Marissa Ames
Her first novel Minstrel debuted the beginning of this month (my copy just arrived today!) and I was lucky enough to interview her. She has also put out a companion short story called "Darrion."

Tell me about Minstrel. Minstrel is the first of about 6 or 7 planned books that tell the story of Tir Athair and its conflict with Tir Saoirse, from the viewpoints of different characters. Minstrel tells the story of the start of the civil war, from the viewpoint of a court minstrel who gets way too involved in royal politics. 

Arriving in the royal city of Cynegil just after the good king’s death, Liam and his traveling troupe face arrest for entertaining during a time of mourning. The new king, Riordan, offers them a choice: play for the court as he demands or be punished for the crime. With little recourse, they acquiesce. While the troupe entertains within the hall, Liam witnesses the dissension between the king and his twin brother, Shamus. When Shamus enlists Liam to record the kingdom’s history from his own viewpoint, the king becomes suspicious. And when Liam becomes involved with Molly, the mysterious redheaded washerwoman, and Tristan, the royal soldier with a deadly secret and a skill for causing unfortunate accidents, his life becomes even more complicated. As the kingdom staggers beneath drought, famine, and conflict, Liam and Shamus must flee Cynegil with prices on their heads. Will they survive their journey or will they become just another ballad to be sung? 

Tell me about yourself. I grew up in Salmon, Idaho, where the movie theater played the same movie for two weeks. We could either get in trouble or build our talents. So I wrote my first novel when I was 12 years old. I'm not saying that novel is good! Everyone has to practice. Now I live in Reno, Nevada, with a husband, two children, and an entire urban farm. When I'm not working my day job or taking care of the family, I spend way too much time on Facebook or in my imaginary worlds. Why did you choose this genre? I've been a fantasy geek for my entire life, and I've been fascinated with medieval times since I was a child. When I was a teenager, it was a geeky obsession that drove my mother crazy. I actually listened to cassettes of Irish drinking songs while other teens listened to Metallica. I even gathered rocks in my dad's 2-acre horse field to build a castle, but got distracted after earning the money to buy the cement. (I wonder what dad ever did with that cement.) As I matured, my obsession waned but the interest and knowledge I collected is still there. 

What inspired this story? About ten years ago, I wrote a story that took place in Tir Athair. The conflict between the two kingdoms was such an integral part in the story that I felt I needed to tell the story of how it all got started. Since I like to tell stories of greatness from the viewpoint of someone who isn't stereotypically great, I needed a main character who could give me that insight. While listening to a song by the band Blackmore's Night, I had the idea to make my main character a minstrel. 

What would you say to someone who generally isn’t drawn to fantasy to give Minstrel a try?
It's a very character-driven story, with a lot of moral themes. Also, I like to refer to it as "low fantasy." There aren't dragons, magical orbs, or cataclysmic events. It's about normal people trying to survive.

At what moment did you like your main character least? In the first third of the book, before Liam starts getting in trouble with the crown, he and the other members of his troupe have a "falling-out". I've heard it said that everyone who is offended, and reacts in anger, feels he's justified in his actions. Liam has some of those moments. As we all learn, we're not always right when we react this way. 

At what moment did you hurt for your main character the most? At the risk of giving away the plot... Halfway through the book, when Liam leaves the city with the prince, he leaves behind something that's very important to him. When he returns for it, he learns that it's no longer his. 

What are some of your favorite books, authors, TV shows, movies and/or influences? 
Tamora Pierce was my favorite author growing up, and her books helped instill a sense of self-worth with her girl-empowering fantasy stories. I loved how Dragonlance focused on individual characters while telling an epic story, and I admire how Jim Butcher instills so much humor and character into The Dresden Files. As far as TV and movies, I'm a sucker for the fantasy series that throw in a huge amount of character development instead of relying on swordfights and pretty dresses. The Walking Dead is great for that. It's not about the zombies; it's about the characters. 

Fill in the blank—if you like _____________ you will probably like Minstrel. 
If you like Tamora Pierce, but don't want to stick to teenage characters. 
If you like your George R.R. Martin to be toned down just a little... 
If you like historical fiction and medieval times, but aren't fussy about the details or the artistic license.

I got my copy of Minstrel today. I have a lot on my to-do list, so I told myself I would only read the first chapter. Well, three chapters later, I finally had to pry myself away and get back to reality. So now the really important stuff, where can you get your copy? Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It's available in print and in e-book format. Remember on Amazon, you can see the first few chapters for free, but I think you'll end up buying it.

Follow and support Marissa here:
Twitter: @MarissaAmes


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