Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fables: Legends in Exile

I've had this sucker on my to-read list for ages. So long, in fact, that I forgot completely about it until I was looking through a list of suggested graphic novels and this was what was offered. I then realized, oh right, I wanted to read this. Off I went to the bookstore and then back home with this in my hand.

This has a lot more dialogue than the other graphic novels I've read. While the other graphic novels seemed to lend a lot of time and detail to imagery, this was much more about the story. Wording was crammed into the pages and the images were more comic-book-like. 

The story is simple enough: all the fairy tales had to escape their realm due to an evil presence. They now live in New York and have different jobs while also intermingling with people like us. Snow White is the ruler of the gang and the Big Bad Wolf is an investigator. 

Right away we're taken into a 'who dunnit' scenario. Rose Red is missing, possibly murdered, and there's a ball to plan. I enjoyed that many of the "monster" characters came in and out of their monster appearances. The Big Bad Wolf has a shadow of a wolf and when he grows angry, he's more wolfish. The Beast of Beauty and the Beast becomes more beastly when he's stressed out. But overall, I found myself struggling with this story because I'm not really one to enjoy crime shows or story lines. 

I also find I'm still a stickler for the fairy tales I like. I love Little Red Riding Hood, I love Beauty and the Beast, I really have never liked Snow White. So having this comic centered around Snow White (her being a main character) was a real drag for me. Granted, this particular Snow White was much more bearable but I just... never found her that interesting and I am irritated that she often is made to be the top "princess" in fairy tale-based story lines. Why can't it be Belle? (Also, I  hated how snobby Belle appeared in this book). 

I suppose, if you're in for a good crime story and like fairy tales but aren't particularly disturbed by the story lines being twisted, or the characters you loved as a child appearing differently, this is a good read. If you're like me and you are nearly personally offended by anyone daring to make your favorite storybook characters act differently than how you see them, then maybe stay away.

I plan to give this book to a friend who was interested in reading the series. I think she'll have more enjoyment out of it. I certainly have read other books that play with fairy tales and make them unique and new that are better, but this just wasn't of my interest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1 Faust Act

We keep returning to graphic novels, don't we? 2015 should be considered the year I became a graphic novels fan. After so many previous posts where I say "I don't really read graphic novels," I think we're at the point where that would be a lie. I do read graphic novels but I'm just new to the entire thing. I'm still asking for recommendations and often a little lost wondering if I'm picking up the right book and whether or not there was a previous volume. Still, I'm reading graphic novels and actively looking for more. I get the sense of accomplishment when I read a graphic novel over the course of a night but I also have found I really adore the materials I've read and the artwork involved. 

So here we are, another graphic novel, and one that was suggested to me. When I looked up TW+TD I nearly got the wrong book (whoops) until I spotted the first volume. The cover alone captured my attention and it only was further captured as I read the blurb about it: 

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever. Collects THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1-5

Sounds awesome, no? When I grabbed the graphic novel I flipped through the pages and fell in love with the artwork. I am not sure if there's a difference between graphic novels that seem to worship art as much as the story, there definitely is a difference from them and some comics I've read, which are crammed with small imagery and a lot of dashed fonts, but I think I prefer the type of graphic novel that TW+TD falls into. The colorful, clean artwork is just so beautiful and bright!

For me, it took a hot minute to adjust to the full story. I wasn't entirely sure if we were being introduced to the gods bit by bit, if they were just arriving in this cycle on Earth, or what. As we start off the graphic novel, the gods have already been welcomed to the present day for this particular cycle. They were normal people, living their lives until suddenly they were informed they were gods. That's when the memories returned and people began to love and hate them. The world knows of this occurrence and the gods have many fans--people who flock to worship them and hope, desperately, that they may be one of the various gods that come back in cycles.

We're quickly introduced to a handful of these gods, while others remain a mystery, and it's to my utter surprise that I became completely enamored with Lucifer and the modern day interpretation of her (yes, her). The character development is a little sloppy at first because our main character (an utter fangirl named Laura) is already privy to all of the gods who are out in the open while we, the mere readers, are not. Slowly you catch on and before long, you're in the middle of it as Luci (Lucifer) is blamed for a murder and Laura tries to help prove her innocence.

It's fast paced and you're stuck from beginning to end and thank goodness I had chosen to pick up the second book when I bought the first because I dove right into that one as soon as I was done. But gosh, the imagery of this book, I fawn over it whenever I view it.

If you want to read this, be sure you have the second book close by!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Month in Reviews -- October

October was a whirlwind of good and bad. It was here and gone like a flash and here we are, entering the mid-range portion of November and I'm trying to wrap my head around that.

I took a bit of a hiatus on the blog during October because I wanted to focus my mind elsewhere. The month began with a lot of bad news: my mother needs heart valve replacement surgery, we were evacuated from our home in the middle of a cold and rainy night because there was a massive gas leak in our neighborhood, and we had to take one of our cats to the vet for an emergency procedure. It also was the start of one of the conference seasons at work, which is always pretty exhausting but this was the busiest yet. Add to that, I had graduate school class with lots of homework and a week-long trip to Louisiana to prepare for. Whoa. Just writing all of that makes me feel exhausted. Obviously, October was a busy time.

Despite everything, the fact still remains that October is one of my favorite months. With everything going on, with trying to get ahead with school work while also desperately needing breaks, we still managed to have fun on weekends and enjoy the autumn environment.

We went pumpkin picking at our favorite farm (I talk about that farm down below!) and visited countless farms for autumnal enjoyment. We were able to dive head-on into a huge corn maze and when that wasn't enough, we worked on a fancy costume that I planned to wear during Halloween. All of this plus lots of school work--I was so busy!

Then the end of the month finally arrived--the time I had been waiting for--my trip to Louisiana.

Two years ago I went to New Orleans to achieve a dream of sorts. Back when I was a teen I was a die-hard fan of Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles. I wanted to visit New Orleans, the location for many of her books, and see the restaurants and buildings that she so lovingly described in them. I fell completely in love with the Crescent City and I was so excited to return to it. This time, it was even better. When I was a teen and all involved in the Anne Rice community of the Livejournal days, I met a number of girls my age who loved the books just like me. We became friends through the Internet and over many miles, years passed, and some of us were even able to meet each other.

Ten years later, we're all still friends and over a year ago we thought, "Why don't we go to New Orleans together?" A girls weekend. I've never had one of those but this seemed the right time and for the right reason. So for over a year we pinched our pennies and planned our trip; finally, after all that planning, we were off to NOLA.

It was so fun getting to meet a bunch of book lovers that I've known for so long. When you're friends with people online for so long, you expect it to be weird that here you've known each other for a decade and you're only meeting each other now. Surely, it'll be uncomfortable, but what's odd about it is just how comfortable it is. Here you are, finally face to face, but it's so relaxed and normal--as if you've done this all the time. And you sort of have, it's just been online.

We dressed up and celebrated a rain-soaked Halloween on Frenchman Street. We ate a lot of great food, toured the Lafayette Cemetery, and adventured through swamplands and old plantations. It was a wonderful trip with great people. I can't wait to return to the city and I can't wait to see these friends again.

Now I'm back in Virginia and gearing up for the next few months. Thanksgiving and Christmas are my two of my favorite holidays (Halloween is the third). I really love Thanksgiving because I'm able to be surrounded by family and friends. I also love the traditions it brings. In my household, we cook the turkey carcass after the holiday into a soup that lasts us for awhile and is the right fix to the chilly incoming December weather. For the past few years, it's meant seeing my boyfriend's family, which is always a good time. For the holidays, they've been unique and crazy since I moved out of my parents' home. Last year was an insanely busy day: Christmas gifts in the morning, lunch at my boyfriend's parents' house, and dinner at my aunt's home in Maryland. This year may be much of the same but with a friend joining the fun. All of this but also my mother's upcoming surgery and the end of one of my classes (and the start of the next one).

But what happened last month on this blog? Let's take a look.

Book Reviews:

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith
Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Other Posts:

Homestead Farm in Maryland

So here we are, it's November and I have a lot to get done. Posts are ready for December but not as much for this upcoming month. Bear with me as I get back to the swing of things and throw more reviews at you!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Books to Travel By

Books can do marvelous things. If you're a book reader, you already know that they can provide a means for escape from the regular life. As a teenager, I often read my free time away. It was my means of escape from my small town and the stressors of school. In books, I discovered new worlds and lands. I made friends and learned new things. It helped me become who I am today and I'm grateful for that.

Now as an adult with my own income and no need to ask my parents' permission to do things, I read books with a different view of escape. I gobble them up to get away from the stressors of the work week, sure, but I am also fantasizing things that I wish I could do and visit places that I very well may see myself.

I have a strong case of wanderlust that has been heightened over the years. I've always had wanderlust, if I'm being honest. I've always wanted to travel and see different things. My father, a truck driver, has seen most of America and I certainly inherited his desire to be on the move. Even when I am already plotting out one vacation, my mind is considering where I'll go to next. It excites me to see so much, and while I have yet to be out of the United States, I'm lucky enough to see the different regions of America.

Boy, does America have a wide range of sights and landscapes. It's amazing and beautiful and I feel so lucky to be able to experience it all.

But, unfortunately, I also have a job and without that job, I wouldn't be able to travel. I have to work to have the money to travel and the vacation days. I am not one of those people who can travel and "not worry about money" as some travel blogs promote. So what do I do when I'm stuck at home working up time off? I read. Well, not while at work but you get the idea.

I've been lucky to discover a number of books that, for me, really capture the feel of movement that comes with traveling. They both quench my desire to travel (temporarily) and ignite it into a feverish need. They expose me to different landscapes and give me that dreamy sense of being far and away. Interested in escaping? Check out these reads.


Wild takes the reader to the west of the United States to the Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl Strayed's life has built up to this moment of hiking from the Mohave Desert to Oregon and Washington state. Life sometimes has a way of getting out of control and dragging you along for the ride. When that happens and you finally have a chance to put your feet down and try to stabilize everything, it can be a little daunting and you may feel the need to get away--just like Cheryl did. While this book is very much a personal experience and the tale of Cheryl figuring her life out, it also has wonderful detail of the many ecosystems of the west coast that you can feel growing around you as you read each page.

Travels with Charley

Steinbeck is so often paired with school assignments that many people are left with a bitter taste in their mouths when they think of reading his books for pleasure. Travels with Charley should not be a feared book; it's actually very enjoyable and at times utterly hilarious. Steinbeck recounts his journey across America and back with his dog; not only do you get to hear about the different sites that are seen, but the different people he meets and how people behaved/were treated during that time period.

Traveling with Pomegranates

This book, written by a mother and daughter team, crosses the Atlantic to France and Greece. It's here that both women (with an age difference of thirty or so years) are both set to rediscover themselves and the world around them. There's a lot of personal growth and appreciation in this book, but you're also given the opportunity to see other countries in ways that I have yet to discover (and maybe you have not seen yet yourself).

Scorpio Races

Located on an island in an unnamed area, part of an unnamed sea, the Scorpio Races gives you the taste of saltwater and scent of ocean air. I felt as if I was right up against the shore and hearing the thrashing of waves while reading this book. The lack of specific location for this book is appealing because you can picture it to be just about anywhere (I picture it being an island somewhere between America and England, but closer to England than anything). 

Little House in the Big Woods

A childhood favorite of mine: Little House in the Big Woods brings us back to America and the deep woods of Wisconsin. This, of course, is set many years ago and the world was much different back then. Depending on horse and cart to get around (otherwise, it's by foot), providing your own food through hunting and farming (sometimes purchasing if you're lucky), and protecting your home from the elements (this including wild animals). What I really loved about this book as a child and an adult is that you can so easily submerge into that past world. While simply written, there's accuracy and clear understanding to how the world was and the elements of Wisconsin (especially winter).

View other Wanderlust Wednesday posts.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"I speak for the trees!" the Lorax has been known to proclaim and I've always identified with this, oddly enough. I grew up with the trees, I lived in a little house nestled amongst trees and blueberry bushes. Wild morning glories sunned their faces in the dawn's early light, maple leaves were an outdoor carpet in the fall, and I climbed trees like a squirrel. Wood chopping, berry collecting, flower picking, fish catching were the makings of my childhood. There's something about the woods or forest, something about nature, that speaks to me on a spiritual level. I feel most calm, most at peace, when I am able to escape to nature. 

I came across Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in an article that has long been lost. The subject was something about wanderlust, or hiking, or perhaps nature itself and this book was a suggestion. The description captured everything I wanted to read: a dramatic year in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains! A meditation on nature and its seasons! Yes, I wanted to read about all of that, I could identify with that. Nature has always provided a source of meditation and I marvel at all the seasons--it's one of the biggest reasons I refuse to move to San Francisco, because I love to have four seasons (even if I dislike winter a little more than the other three seasons). And I have so many memories of my angst-ridden teen years when I would be fed up with whatever angst-ridden teens are fed up with and I'd escape to the woods, climb onto of a fallen down tree, and sit with a notebook or novel in hand. I'd listen to the wind, the groan of the trees, and see deer pick their way through the brush.

This, surely, was the book for me.

I took my time with Pilgrim. I began it and found it wasn't something I could read here and there. I had to sit down and read a chunk at a time, fully devoting my attention to it without the distraction of music or television. It became a book read just before bed or early in the morning, with my only company being lazy cats and songbirds outside my window. 

Annie Dillard uses the most perfect language to bring a brilliant mental canvas to life of Tinker Creek. She describes floods, winter storms, the warmth of the sunshine and brilliance of starlight. She's reflective and smart, often going into very detailed passages about different information on bugs in particular. I am not a fan of bugs, not at all, so all the details on bugs did get a bit grating after awhile, but I still appreciate the wonderful language that Dillard used. She's one hell of a writer, really. And while Pilgrim wasn't written as a solid start-to-finish book, rather it's a collaboration of journal entries that were brought together for this book, there's still certainly a rhythm to the writing. It's amazing that something pieced together could still maintain a flow while other books that are meant as one solid story can't even keep a consistent flow.

I often found myself pausing while reading to think of my own nature-filled adventures and the things I myself have seen. At times, I paused to reflect on what I read and think of the imagery that the words brought to my mind. All in all, it's just beautiful.

A friend of mine with similar adoration for nature will surely love the book (she really likes bugs) and while I skimmed the bug sections, I still enjoyed the book as a whole. It was all so lovely, so beautifully written, and it brought to mind all of the emotions and reactions I've had while in the woods. While on one hand, it made me want to run straight for the hills and live amongst the trees, it also reminded me of the forest and brought a little bit of the woods right into my living room.

I really despise writing or highlighting in my books and yet I wanted to do that over and over again with this book. There are so many beautiful phrases and sentences through out it, it's extremely quotable, so I may in the future buy another copy or download it onto my Kindle so that I may highlight to my heart's content. Also? I really like the cover I had (as seen in the cover photo up above). I love how simple it was. This is, so much, like a field book. I even brought it with me while I hiked Minnewaska State Park. I am certain that I will return to this book in the future and joyfully so.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Silver in the Blood

An impulse buy, if you will. Silver in the Blood was an out-facing book at my local bookstore and I grabbed it because, well, there was a wolf on the cover. I'm always down to read YA books about werewolves because there aren't many published books that focus solely on female werewolves. At least, that was the impression I got from reading the blurb about the book. I took it home and when I got around to reading it, it was a quick, effortless read. This isn't a book to break your brain over, it's entertaining and passes the time. Was it the best thing I've read this year? No. Was it the worst? Also, no. But I wouldn't categorize it as one of my favorite reads.

Dacia and Lou, cousins from New York with family in Romania, have left behind their socialite status to visit their Romanian family under some spooky pretenses. Right off the bat, it's hinted that something is going on and they are purposely being kept in the dark on the matter. But along they go, traveling to Romania and encountering odd things along the way. They write to one another and there's a wonderful sisterly bond, something appealing to me because while I do not have a sister, I've felt I have a sisterly bond with some of my cousins.

The letters are somewhat off putting though, at times it seems the letters are a preview of an upcoming chapter while other times it seems they're misplaced in the timing of the book. Really, the book wouldn't lose anything if the letters were taken out entirely.

Upon arriving in Romania, things continue to get strange. While there's so much attention to the fact that these two girls are socialites of New York City, the story does not once take place in NYC. I would have enjoyed seeing them in their environment, rather than entirely out of place. The Romanian family is an odd bunch but they seem to have a great boy cousin whom they befriend and there is, of course, a slew of men that are practically tripping over each other to get to the girls.

It's this constant (well, almost constant) focus on men and flirtation that gets a bit old. Dacia can't seem to keep track of all the suitors she has and neither can the author. Lou, in the meantime, sounds so much more appealing as a character. She sounds sweet, attractive and smart while Dacia seems to often be a bit of a loon. Still, it's clear the girls love one another and will do anything to protect each other, which is good, because they need that support as they are thrown into the secret world of their family.

We're introduced to vampires, 'werewolves' of sorts, people who change into bats and people who change into a ghostly mist. I don't want to get too into the hows and whys that these creatures are introduced, as that could be too spoilerish, but when it happens... it happens. You are thrown into the story without any chance to look back.

After this, there's a slew of drama that happens and it just seems that there's always a positive result to everything that's going on. That says a lot considering we're dealing with two girls who previously had no real world experience nor any knowledge of these secrets. It just seemed to be too perfect of an ending.

There's a lot that could improve this story and I found myself rather disappointed by the end of it. I could relate to the sisterly bond the cousins had and that was wonderful, I like to see that kind of relationship in books, but past that I was left feeling generally odd about the entire thing. The "monsters" could have had such a better explanation. The characters who had positions and beliefs seemed to have very faulty ones at that. Everything seemed to be explained in a very off-handed manner and in the end, all was tied up too neatly.

Maybe you can qualify this as a beach read or something for escapism, but it's not much more than that. I do give the author credit, also, for giving a decent description of the Romanian world. However, I've never been to Romania so I can't quite judge the accuracy of it all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Homestead Farm

Where: Poolesville, Maryland
When: October 2014

While in college, I spent a fortnight at my aunt's home in Maryland. At the time, I was a New Yorker who only went south to attend school in Pennsylvania. I loved my aunt's home and spending time with my cousin, but had very little hold of the area -- who knew I would be living in the neighboring state of Virginia a few years later!

The time spent at my aunt's during that hot summer hold many memories for me, but one specific memory is of Homestead Farm. It's a favorite of my aunt's and she would have a regular supply of preserves from the farm filling her fridge for breakfasts and snacks. 

Last autumn, I wanted to do something fun with my group of friends. Something autumnal. I wanted to visit Homestead Farm the entirety of the past summer but never got around to it, so I figured I would see if they had anything going on for the fall. Do they ever! 

As a child my mother would take me to pick pumpkins each year and we would ride a hay-covered wagon to a big muddy field where pumpkins were scattered and still on the vine. Upon going to school in Pennsylvania, later on moving there and living in the country, then moving to Virginia, I had yet to find a similar experience. With or without my friends, I was determined to not only visit this farm that I had wonderful memories of, but pick a pumpkin.

But friends were able to tag along so we piled into my car and drove along the beltway and into the rolling hills of Poolesville. The parking was packed into a grassy field and the area was pretty crowded, but the lines moved quickly and the farm certainly has figured out how to deal with the autumnal crowds.

We immediately bought our tickets to the hayride and I was nearly jumping with joy. A hayride, to a field, to pick pumpkins RIGHT OFF THE VINE was something I hadn't done since I was a kid. Now this is how you pick pumpkins. I was ecstatic to teach my "city" friends a thing or two. What was even better was that the hayride wasn't a quick drive around a barn or anything. We actually were taken away from the crowded farm area and into the fields. There were multiple pumpkin fields and it seemed that each hayride took pumpkin-getters to varying fields. This helped maintain a wide selection of pumpkins (by size, shape and quality) but also prevented the fields from getting too destroyed by trampling feet.

After we hopped off the hayride, brushing off sticky hay that clung to our sides, we headed off to look through the wide selection of pumpkins. There were so many! Typically, I spot a pumpkin and I know "that's the one," but the majority of my friends were overwhelmed by the selection, torn between a number of pumpkins set out before them, and we missed our hayride back to the farm.

Not to worry! Other hayrides came through after a little bit and it wasn't so far that we couldn't walk back if we were really desperate to return beforehand. It was pretty wonderful being able to go through the fields alone, just the group of us, and take our time as we selected the perfect pumpkin. I appreciate that we weren't ushered back to the tractor when we weren't finished.

With the precious cargo on our laps, we headed back to the farm with the warm autumn sun on our faces. We checked out shortly after and brought our pumpkins to the car, nestled safely in my trunk, before returning to the farm to enjoy all the other options they had. Food, a market, little goats, a large lake to sit about, piles of hay for children to climb on, and an apple orchard to pick your own pink lady apples.

The food -- hot dogs, pie, cider -- while simple, was delicious. I think in part it was the atmosphere. You're sitting outside, eating a warm, freshly cooked hot dog while children laugh and the warm breeze catches your hair. The cider was absolutely delicious and we ended up buying two gallons of the stuff. It was the perfect autumnal day.

Afterward, we checked out the animals at their little homes and sat by the lake for awhile. It was beautiful and peaceful, despite how busy it was, but the day was starting to draw to a close. We spent a great deal of time relaxing by the lake and looking at the blue-blue sky with the occasional plane flying by.

One of our friends suggested we give apple picking a try and all were in. Despite my experiences with pumpkin picking, apple picking was something I had never truly experienced. In the Catskills, there were plenty of apple trees. In my neighborhood alone we had a number of them around my home. Rumor was that it was formerly a apple farm before the land was bought out for homes. I associate apple blossoms with spring and the thunk of small apples with the fall. But to pick apples off trees that are actually large enough to eat? Nope, never have done that before.

Pink lady apples were our choice for the time that we were there. Rows and rows of apple trees were passed by in pursuit of the pink ladies. Apparently, different apples are ripened enough for plucking at different points through out the fall. The farm has them in orderly lines trailing back further from the farm and we were, more or less, at the midway point.

The trees generally were short enough to reach up and grab apples without issue, but some people were able to snag ladders or poles to get the apples that were closer to the top and a bit more out of reach. We ended up getting far more apples than we intended but ultimately ended up eating and baking with those apples for weeks afterward.

Leaving the farm that day, I was tired but incredibly satisfied. It was a blast from the past, both a visit to a farm I had always loved when visiting my aunt, and a reminder of how fun pumpkin picking can be. While I'll be spending Halloween in New Orleans this year, I still intend to go back to this farm and enjoy the festive activities of my favorite season.