Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dead Laptops, Graduation, Holidays and Other Blogging Interferences

Long time no see! Over the last 3 or 4 months it's become apparent that when life gets busy, the busy quit blogging.

Quick update. I finished my last quarter of culinary school in December. Yay! It was a busy 3 months but I'm done and I have a degree in Baking and Pastry to show for it. Woot! Now onto the next phase of life. When I figure out what that will be, I'll let you know. A lot of the high school's around here have implemented culinary programs. The career service lady at my school said it's to help those kids who aren't quite college material graduate with tangible, workforce ready job skills and I think that's pretty cool. So, I'm considering going back to school and getting a teaching degree so I can teach those life skill type classes in high schools. We'll see. I'm still investigating that option. The plan is still to open my own bakery but that's more of a long range goal. I'm not quite to that place in my life and I still have a lot of recipe experimentation and cake decorating practice to do before that happens. I need something in the meantime.

Also, because having finals and graduating in the midst of the holiday season isn't fun enough, my laptop decided to take a swan dive into Broken Town about a week before Christmas. My hubby is fairly good in the repair department and finally found the time to open her up and figure out the problem a few days ago. Luckily he can fix it, we just need a couple parts so I headed to my mom's yesterday to use her Google machine so I could see what these parts were going to run us. I just wanted to see if it was more cost effective to repair or just replace. Well, when I got there I found a brand new laptop waiting for me on their kitchen table because my dad is just that awesome! Yup, my dad, who is not the techy kind at all (he still doesn't even have a cell phone!) headed down to the Best Buy and (with the help of  some patient salesman) picked me out a new comp all by himself (he was so proud of himself, it was very cute). I love my dad! He's totally the best.

So new comp in hand (or lap), I'm back online and hopefully I'll get my s*** (stuff) together and get back to blogging sooner than later. I've read a few good books lately. I just need to find some time to tell you all about them.

Hope to see you soon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Everything We Ever Wanted By Sara Shepard

Everything We Ever Wanted: A Novel
Goodreads Summary

Sara Shepard, the bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars, delivers a powerful novel of family dreams, lies, and delusions.  Everything We Ever Wanted begins with a phone call with allegations that rock an upper crust Philadelphia family to its very foundations, unlocking years of secrets and scandals that expose the serious flaws in outwardly perfect lives. A moving, intelligent, and unforgettable novel, Shepard’s Everything We Ever Wanted is exceptional contemporary women’s fiction that will be embraced by book clubs everywhere.

My Thoughts
Sylvie Bates-McAllister is your typical rich matriarch. She comes from old money and serves on the board of the prestigious private school her grandfather helped to restore. She has two sons, Charles the uptight, responsible, possibly unhappily married son and Scott, the adopted, distant and troubled younger son.

When Slyvie learns that Scott, now a wrestling coach, has been implicated in a hazing scandal at the school that possibly led to a child's suicide, her world falls apart. This is where everything sort of fell apart for me. Instead of straight up asking her son for his part of the story, she dances around it, afraid of him or maybe afraid of hearing the truth. She drove me crazy! He's your kid, sure he's an adult but he's your son and he lives in your house. Just ask him!

Charles is no better. He had a blowout with his brother several years before and the two barely speak. Caught in the middle is Charles's new wife Joanne who is whiny and upset at being left out of the family drama. 

I couldn't find a single likable character in the whole bunch. They were all just moody, whiny and/or passive aggressive. They drove me nuts and I just couldn't get engaged in the story. The supposed scandal gets blown way out of proportion with just one phone call and before anyone has any details or even knows what is really going on. 

This entire family is severely dysfunctional. I'm OK with dysfunctional. I have experience with dysfunction. However, it's rather difficult to read about such dysfunction when there isn't a whole lot of resolution. The end comes on rather abruptly with one a few blurbs about where everyone ended up. I felt like we made a big mess with these people and then someone came up and suddenly swept it all away with little explanation. 

The book was well written but I just couldn't connect with the characters, the plot or really, the story itself.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres

Goodreads Summary
“I love socialism, and I’m willing to die to bring it about, but if I did, I’d take a thousand with me.” —Jim Jones, September 6, 1975 In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a church in Indianapolis called Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church. He was a charismatic preacher with idealistic beliefs, and he quickly filled his pews with an audience eager to hear his sermons on social justice. After Jones moved his church to Northern California in 1965, he became a major player in Northern California politics; he provided vital support in electing friendly political candidates to office, and they in turn offered him a protective shield that kept stories of abuse and fraud out of the papers. Even as Jones’s behavior became erratic and his message more ominous, his followers found it increasingly difficult to pull away from the church. By the time Jones relocated the Peoples Temple a final time to a remote jungle in Guyana and the U.S. Government decided to investigate allegations of abuse and false imprisonment in Jonestown, it was too late.

A Thousand Lives is the story of Jonestown as it has never been told before. New York Times bestselling author Julia Scheeres drew from thousands of recently declassified FBI documents and audiotapes, as well as rare videos and interviews, to piece together an unprecedented and compelling history of the doomed camp, focusing on the people who lived there. Her own experiences at an oppressive reform school in the Dominican Republic, detailed in her unforgettable debut memoir Jesus Land, gave her unusual insight into this story.

The people who built Jonestown wanted to forge a better life for themselves and their children. They sought to create a truly egalitarian society. In South America, however, they found themselves trapped in Jonestown and cut off from the outside world as their leader goaded them toward committing “revolutionary suicide” and deprived them of food, sleep, and hope. Yet even as Jones resorted to lies and psychological warfare, Jonestown residents fought for their community, struggling to maintain their gardens, their school, their families, and their grip on reality.

Vividly written and impossible to forget, A Thousand Lives is a story of blind loyalty and daring escapes, of corrupted ideals and senseless, haunting loss.

My Thoughts
Wow. I was born in the 80's so my knowledge of Jonestown was limited. I knew a bunch of people had committed mass suicide, and it was where the term 'drink the Kool-Aid' came from. A year or two ago, I caught the tail-end of a documentary about the group and it was horrifying. I couldn't understand why anyone, let alone over 1000 people would listen to anything this man had to say or uproot their lives to follow him into a jungle.

Reading this book gave me a lot of insight into how people succumb to groups such as this. Scheeres says right in the beginning that nobody joins a cult and it's true. These people didn't know exactly what they were getting into. In the beginnings of this church, Jones promised a color-blind, open-minded group that accepted and loved everyone equally. To be honest, some of their ideals would have definitely peaked my interest. Jones employed a whole host of smoke and mirrors to assert the fact that he was blessed with healing powers. That also drew people to the temple in droves.

Once part of the church, Jones and his goons made it almost impossible to leave. He had many convinced that he had super-natural powers and then promised harm would come to those who defected. He made members sign confessions stating that they'd molested their own children or other crimes which the church would hand over to police if they spoke out or left the church.

Then Jones got them all to follow him to Guyana in hopes of creating an ideal socialist community. What the found there was just short of hell. Under many different types of threats, the people became trapped in Jonestown as Jones himself spiraled into madness and began advocating mass 'revolutionary suicide' to his people.

This book explored all aspects of this case, not just the awful finale. It shows how certain people were drawn to the church and their reasons for staying. It was nice to get the whole story, though it does make the ending that much more heartbreaking.

I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking to delve deeper into the history of one of the biggest mass suicides in history.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Goodreads Summary
Over five years in the writing, Alice Hoffman’s most ambitious and mesmerizing novel ever, a triumph of imagination and research set in ancient Israel.

The author of such iconic bestsellers as Illumination Night, Practical Magic, Fortune’s Daughter, and Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman is one of the most popular and memorable writers of her generation. Now, in The Dovekeepers, Hoffman delivers her most masterful work yet—one that draws on her passion for mythology, magic, and archaeology and her inimitable understanding of women.

In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

This novel is Alice Hoffman’s masterpiece.

My Thoughts
Wow! This book is a breathtaking story about four remarkable women in ancient Israel during the Roman siege on Masada where 900 Jews held off the Roman forces for months. The book begins with the story of Yael, a tough as nails young women whose mother died in childbirth and whose father resents her very existence because of it. I loved her for her strength, determination, and fierceness. I worried when the POV switched to another woman that I wouldn't connect as I had with Yael but I needn't have worried. 

Each of the four women have incredible stories of survival, love and loss which become interwoven as they come to work together taking care of the doves at Masada. This story is very heavily detailed though it's so beautifully written that it just flows like water. I took my time reading, savoring it like a delicious meal from the first word to the heartbreaking climax. 

Honestly, I can't say much more than to tell you to go pick this one up. It's a lengthy one but oh so worth every single page.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: All These Things That I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Goodreads Summary
In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

My Thoughts
This was an interesting one. I loved Anya right away. She's tough and doesn't take crap from anyone as you'd expect a mob daughter to act but at the same time there is a vulnerability to her. Her family situation is precarious and she's all too aware of it. She's the glue that is holding her family together and the it's obvious that the stress is weighing on her but she copes the best she can.

Set in 2083, All These Things I've Done paints an interesting picture of the future. One where water usage is heavily regulated and coffee and chocolate are illegal drugs. The government is still intact but things aren't looking good. Crime is rampant and everything is in decline but Anya just plugs along, trying to keep her family together and deal with the stigma of how she is and what her family does. When everything hits the fan is when Anya reluctantly embraces who she is and her legacy.

Though the book could stand on its own, I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the series. I'm excited to see Anya take on her rightful role and see where that takes her.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: The Traitor's Wife by Kathleen Kent

The Traitor's Wife. Kathleen Kent
Goodreads Summary

In the harsh wilderness of colonial Massachusetts, Martha Allen works as a servant in her cousin's household, taking charge and locking wills with everyone. Thomas Carrier labors for the family and is known both for his immense strength and size and mysterious past. The two begin a courtship that suits their independent natures, with Thomas slowly revealing the story of his part in the English Civil War. But in the rugged new world they inhabit, danger is ever present, whether it be from the assassins sent from London to kill the executioner of Charles I or the wolves-in many forms-who hunt for blood. A love story and a tale of courage, The Traitor's Wife confirms Kathleen Kent's ability to craft powerful stories of family from colonial history.

My Thoughts

Just before I started to read this, I'd been working on documenting my family's ancestry. It's a project I've worked on off and on for quite sometime. I'd just been going through my colonial ancestors the day before I picked this up so the subject matter drew me in immediately. I love history. My husband doesn't believe that because he tends to focus on the wars, impersonal details and technical advances part of history and I don't like that stuff. I prefer people. I love to learn about how people lived in the past. I love hearing their personal stories, how they survived, what they did and why they did it.

I was fascinated to learn that this story is based on real people. Martha Allen was a real person who was one of the nineteen women who were named as witches during the Salem witch trials and hanged as a result. This story doesn't cover that though. You'll have to read The Heretic's Daughter to read up on that part of her life. This story is set several years before and follows her meeting and courtship with Thomas Carrier, a Welshman with a dubious past.

I really enjoyed their romance. Sure, it was a little slow going but hey, they were Puritans. What do you expect? I thought they were very sweet and I loved that Martha wasn't afraid to speak her mind (though that probably didn't help her in the end). She's a woman after my own heart. I don't like to take other people's crap either. So, I related to her despite our 400 year old time difference.

I really enjoyed reading about this time in history. I think the last book I read in Colonial America was The Scarlet Letter. I think this one was much more engaging and easier to read.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Goodreads Summary

Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice.      Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward? This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

My Thoughts 

I'll admit, this cover pulled me in first. It's pretty. Elsewhere is a sweet story about life after life. I thought it was a new and interesting take on the afterlife. Liz Hall has a hard time adapting to life in Elsewhere and accepting the fact that she has died. Even harder is accepting the idea that she will continue to age there but in reverse. As a teenager, that's a huge setback. I remember thinking that I would NEVER turn 16, it was just taking sooooo long. Now, I think I would kill to be 16 again but that's besides the point. 

As she slowly begins to adapt to her new life, Liz is able to find happiness with her new friends and with the grandmother she'd never met in life. She also finds fulfillment in her work with dogs. The dogs in the book are just so cute.  Eventually, she finds peace and acceptance of her situation. 

The book is an easy and quick read. (I finished it in under a day) It mixes light-hearted moments with more serious ones. I did have quite a few questions regarding the world of Elsewhere that weren't covered but considering it's audience as a YA book, I could let that slide. I found it entertaining and enjoyable.

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