Saturday, November 25, 2017

Mug Meals, by Leslie Bilderback

Some time ago, we reviewed Leslie Bilderback's Mug Cakes. This cookbook, which specializes in one-serving treats using nothing more than a mug and a microwave, was so popular the author followed it uo with Mug Meals. 

This cookbook teaches you how to make everything from breakfast (and second breakfast, if that's your thing), snacks, soups, full meals, and desserts. Each recipe is supposedly quick, easy to make, and is perfect for one person. While some of the recipes seem like they would be exactly this, others I have to raise an eyebrow at. For example, the ones that require the maker to cook pasta in the microwave. This is, indeed, a messy endeavor and not really something you'd want to risk in your parents' kitchen (I microwaved pasta a few times in college, before I moved someplace that had an actual kitchen. Trust me when I say cleanup of this dish is more trouble than it is worth). One good thing is each recipe comes with variations to account for vegetarian chefs, allergies, flavor preferences, and substitutions when certain ingredients just aren't available.

Overall, this book seems as though it is very versitile, and several recipes look like they'd be pretty tasty. I wouldn't mind trying a few of them sometime.

--AJB 

Monday, November 20, 2017

La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), by Philip Pullman

Prequels are tricky. Especially prequels to awe-inspiringly awesome series that were penned decades after the final volume of the original was published. Any fan of the original Star Wars trilogy will tell you this (Jar Jar Binks? Really? Was that nerve-grating annyoance really necessary? I ask you...)

So as much as I was thrilled to learn about La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in Philip Pullman's new Book of Dust series, a part of me was very nervous. This series was to be an expansion of the original His Dark Materials/Golden Compass trilogy. Which I absolutely adored, by the way. To me, this trilogy was better than Harry Potter (Rowling), Books of Pellinor (Croggon), Raven Boys (Steifvater), and The Alchemyst (Scott) series combined. I love, love, love everything about it. And to this day it's my "go to" series and the one I measure all other series against. 

So yes, I was extremely thrilled when I learned of La Belle Sauvage, which was supposed to be set when Lyra, the main character in The Golden Compass, was still an infant. 

And yes, I was also extremely nervous. Would the new story be as good as the original? Would it make the original better? Or, like the Star Wars prequels, destroy it somewhat (or a lot)? 

I almost didn't read it.

But then I did. And I'm so glad I did! 

This new story focuses on 11-year-old Malcolm, whose parents run the inn near the nunnary where infant Lyra Balaqua is being cared for by the kindly sisters. Malcolm finds himself pulled into political intrigue involving the child, who even then is prophecized to be The Chosen One. Not your typical hero, Malcolm is rather ordinary. But he is brave and curious and observant and exceptionally likable. He accidently becomes a spy, saves Lyra from the evil Magisterium, and ends up being a key player in how the girl ends up at Jordan College. In that, this story is more like Star Wars: Rogue One rather than The Phantom Menace (thankfully!). No more spoilers, though. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed this story. Pullman did an excellent job returning the reader to the world of Oxford. The details! The world building! The characters! Everything! Reading it, I almost felt as though I never really left this world. I would absolutely recommend this book, both to fans of the original trilogy and to those simply looking for something awesome (because even if you haven't read The Golden Compass, you will want to do so after reading La Belle Sauvage). 

--AJB

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dramatically Ever After, by Bandeira, Isabel

If you enjoyed reading the first book, Bookishly Ever After, you'll probably love Dramatically Ever After, the second book of the series. So, here are my reasons why this book is so great. I hope you don't mind, I have written it into a list.

1. Em is very dramatic. She's always flouncing off, yelling, getting all worked up, or missing the very obvious hits (which is probably why the title is Dramatically Ever After). She is also pretty competitive. She likes performing and public speaking. She doesn't like accepting constructive criticism but she's smart and ambitious. She likes to figure out what things mean for her as person. She has a good character development. She realizes that she's been defining herself with a lot of false dichotomies, and that despising someone else shouldn't be part of your identity.

2. The dialogue was excellent. The flirty dialogue was excellent at building up romantic tension, and the conversations between friends were great, and I really liked the style of the instant messages and emails-- but what was even better was the debates. There were lots of discussions about volunteering and fundraising, and what it really means to make a difference. There were also conversations about politics, as well as faith and belief in God.

3. The background of Boston and college. I think it's really hard for books to find a balance between characters being obsessed with college or not bringing it up at all, but this book gets it just right and I really liked how that part of the story worked. The setting in Boston-- museums, coffee shops, and so on, also added some flavor to the story.

4. It's the perfect companion novel. In a companion novel, the story and format should have a different focus but a similar feel. The author exactly understands what teenagers go trough and it made the story more realistic. I also liked how different Em is to Phoebe (from the first book) which made the story different and they fit together perfectly.

This book is utterly enjoyable and realistic. I loved the hate to love romance and I highly recommend it! *JK*

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Before The Davil Breaks You (Diviners #3), by Libba Bray

Author Libba Bray's Diviners series, a paranormal ghost story set in New York during the Roaring Twenties, started out with a bang. The first book grabbed me right away and I couldn't put it down for anything. It had suspense, mystery, well-developed characters, amazing world building, and even a bit of romance. It was everything a great book should be and more. Even the follow-up, The Lair of Dreams, was excellent...although not quite as much. But the first two books of the series were made of awesomeness. And maybe that is the problem.

The third book in the series, Before The Devil Breaks You, promised equally amazing things, but didn't deliver. From the synopsis, I thought the story would be a horrifying, action-packed trek into a haunted mental asylum. And although the characters did, indeed, visit the supposedly ghost-infested building, the thread felt more like an anecdote than a main plot point. Instead of being the scary thrill ride I was anticipating, the story was a very slow burn that mainly consisted of character development, setup for the final book, and the author's thinly-veiled anger toward the current political climate (This last bit I didn't appreciate at all! I read to escape, not to get an earfull of the same sort of drama I could get by glancing at headlines). The story didn't really get good until the last 100 pages or so. But the author had so many balls in the air by that point that the action that DID take place was more quick flashes than anything with any depth. 

Bottom line: I struggled with this book. Unlike the previous two, I kept putting it down, kept skimming over the boring parts, kept wanting to give up on it and read something else (or do laundry or some other mundane task). 

But all series have slow books. All series some parts that, when adapted into a movie, get greatly shortened or left out altogether. For example, the infamous Camping Saga in Harry Potter or the meeting with Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings ("Tom Who?" say those who only saw the movie. "Exactly," I reply). Even the most EPIC of epic series have books or parts readers just don't care for. And this is the first reason why I typically don't like series. The second is cliffhangers. 

Because Libba Bray is one of my favorite authors, and because the first two books of this series were awesome, I'm going to overlook the faults in Book 3. Because I know it's only a setup for the Final Showdown that is sure to happen in the fourth and final book. All I know is Book 4 better be the bees knees! 

--AJB

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Bone Queen, by Allison Croggon

Prequels seem to be a thing lately. 

Alice Hoffman recently released a prequel to Practical Magic (which inspired a 1990s movie), all about the old Aunts. Philip Pullman just published The Book of Dust, which is set several years before the events of The Golden Compass trilogy. And Laini Taylor wrote A Night of Cake & Puppets, a companion to Daughter of Smoke & Bone that casts the spotlight on a swoonworthy romance between two popular side characters. Seems authors are anxious to tell what happened before, and fans of the original books are gobbling it up. And these are but a few examples of this seemingly popular trend.

Another is The Bone Queen, the latest novel by Alison Croggon. This new novel is set several decades before the author's Books of Pellinor quartet (The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow & The Singing) and focuses on events only hinted at in the series. The Bone Queen focuses on Cadvan of Lirigon's early years, before he was mentor to Chosen One Maerad of Pellinor. Still a young magician, Cadvan is lured to the Dark Side by the promise of powers greater than he could ever learn at the Schools of the Light. In doing so, he unleashes a terrible evil upon the land. Cadvan must regain the trust of his friends if he is to banish this evil back to the Abyss from which it came. But he knows that, even if he is successful, things will never be the same.

Although not as awesome as the original series, The Bone Queen was still amazing. Written in Croggon's Tolkienesque style, which includes incredible world-building, and appendix, and detailed notes on the text, this story gives fans of the Pellinor series some insight into a key character. Those new to the author's books will enjoy it too, but not as much as those who already have a background about this world. 

As for me, I liked this book. It makes me want to re-read the original quarted, which I'm sure I will enjoy even more now that I have more backstory to work with. --AJB

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Mirrormask

Its no secret I'm a fan of Neil Gaiman's weird brand of fantasy. I adored Stardust, The Graveyard Book, and quite a few of his short stories (in particular, How To Talk To Girls At Parties). I even enjoyed Coraline, even though it creeped me out far more than a book meant for children probably should. 

When I learned of Mirrormask, which was written by Gaiman, I was excited. Even better, the film was produced by Jim Henson Comapny, whose films Dark Crystal & Labyrinth I love. What could go wrong? A lot, as it turns out. The film is dark and strange and left an odd taste in my mouth. The storyline feels like it jumps around a lot as well, and I found it difficult trying to follow such randomness. 

The movie centers around Helena, a teenage artist whose parents run and perform in a circus. Helena wishes for a different life and, in anger, lashes out at her mother. When her mother falls ill and must have an operation, Helena blames herself. That night, Helena is transported to a strange world where everyone wears masks and all the buildings resemble her drawings. Here she learns she must find something called The Mirrormask in order to wake the White Queen and stop the darkness from devouring the land and all who reside there. She also learns the cause of the darkness has to do with the Queen of Shadows' missing daughter. Helena is joined in her quest by Valentine, a juggler. As the two travel through the increasingly strange lands, they encounter hungry sphinxs, Very Useful Books, floating giants, and odd creatures that resemble both birds and apes (but don't think Wizard of Oz flying monkeys...think creepier). Helena must confront the Queen of Shadows and find the Mirrormask before it is too late. Because if she doesn't not only the Mirror world, but Helena's world will be destroyed. 

Overall, I'm not certain exactly how to feel about Mirrormask. I didn't love it, but did I hate it? I'm not sure. I'd have to watch it again to be sure, but I'm not certain I want to. 

p.s. I DID love the library in the movie! Just saying. 

--AJB

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dorm Room Feng Shui, by Katherine Olaksen

Several years ago, when I was in the midst of my witchy/New Age-y phase, I read a few books on Feng Shui. I found it interesting, and have since put to use some of the tips I got out of it, but I never really got hard-core into the practice. I don't color coordinate my living space in accordance with the Bagua Map or make certain that particular knick-knacks are placed in particular corners. But I do tend to favor simplicity over clutter. And I value neatness. And I know enough to tell that my current home, and its surrounding property, naturally has a positive Chi flow and a good balance of Yin to Yang (that comes without too much effort on my part). 

At its most basic, the theory behind Feng Shui teaches that a person can improve their overall life and health by becoming more organized. There's a whole lot in there about elements, colors, interior design, and zodiac animals and such too, but we won't get to that here. So in short: Organization.

And what better place to begin that journey to being a more organized person than college? 

College is the first place you're really getting a taste of what it's like to be on your own. It's up to you to go to class, do your homework, clean your room, eat (reasonably) balanced meals...and your mom isn't going to be there to get on your case about any of it. Sounds awesome, right? But if you don't start adulting NOW, you never will. So get organized.

I picked up Dorm Room Feng Shui because it looked interesting and because I wanted to see how author Kathleen Olaksen applied the (actually quite complicated) principles of Feng Shui to college life. The book was short, less than 150 pages, so I didn't expect much.

I was surprised. Olaksen did a great job of packing a lot of info into a small space without losing too much essence. And she made it relative to younger readers. The book is fresh and fun and not at all dry. I would recommend this to anyone (college student or otherwise) who is looking for an intro to Feng Shui or who is just trying to improve their organizational skills.

A fun read :) --AJB