Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review: How to be a Pirate (How to Train Your Dragon #2)

How to be a Pirate
by  Cressida Cowell
Date Read:  10/14/15
Rating: ★ ★ 

This was another fun book in the How to Train Your Dragon series.  I actually really like Fishlegs.  It’s nice that even though Hiccup is kind of an outsider in his tribe, he has a friend, a human friend.

I really enjoyed the parts where they would find something that says “DO NOT OPEN” and they opened it anyway.  Then shocker, something bad would happen.  The tribe should really start listening to Hiccup and give him more credit. He knows what he’s doing!  He may not have the brawn that the other Vikings do, but he’s smart and scrappy, and that’s just as important!

Hiccup had a horrible time learning how to sword fight at sea.  But I really liked the discovery at the end of the book!  What a cute way to say why he had been so clumsy!!!  <SPOILER> Having a dad who is left handed, he was taught sports all right handed. I think it would be really tough to have a dominant hand and then try to learn to do something NOT using your dominant hand!  Poor Hiccup!  But no one will know because they decided it was best not to tell anyone about their discovery and battle in the cave <END SPOILER>.

This book had good pacing.  It had quite a bit of humor.  I liked the lessons in this book about putting the greater good before your own and that you can “receive a hero’s welcome without coming home a hero”.

Overall, I still really like this series and look forward to continuing.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon
by  Cressida Cowel
Date Read:  10/15/15
Rating: ★ ★ 
★ ★  ★ 

I will first start by saying this book is nothing like the movie.  The movie basically took the names and the very broad concept of training dragons and that is it.  Well, I guess it also still made Hiccup a misfit, just for different reasons.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and I really enjoyed it.  The guy who read it had a great accent that just added to the story – you really got wrapped up in the Viking lore and such.  There were times where he would do the yelling parts though and it hurt my ears!  Haha.

This book focuses more on the “training your dragon” aspect of the story, which the movie briefly touched on in subduing the dragons.  I really liked the part when Hiccup read the book “How to Train Your Dragon” with all the credits and such, and then opened the body and it just read “Yell at it”. It made me laugh pretty hard.  Silly Vikings thinking they can just yell and control things.

Hiccup had to learn a different way to train his unusually small (and toothless) dragon.  I liked that the dragon language was called “Dragonese”…how cute!  Though, I wonder how Hiccup learned it if no one else in the tribe spoke it…

While Hiccup wasn’t the strongest or have the largest presence, you could still tell he was brave and leader material when he gave his first dragon to Fishlegs and had to go back to get himself another dragon while thousands of dragons were chasing them out of the cave.

Then the Green death, giant sea dragon, appeared on their shores and Hiccup and the others had to show their warrior strengths. 

One very different thing between the book and the movie was that the dragons talk in the book!  Well, that’s because Hiccup can speak Dragonese.  Toothless actually talked with a weird little stutter. I’m not sure if it’s just because he has a stutter or because he was still an infant dragon. Either way it took some getting used to, but he was so darn cute…even when he was making silly comments.

I also enjoyed the dragon scoring at the beginning of the book. I thought it was a nice touch in the movie that they put a scene in there where one of the kids scores the giant dragon they were fighting.  It was a lot of fun.

Overall this book was very entertaining.  This would be a great book to read to kids at bedtime, even if they love the movie.  Both have great stories, and you’ll still love Hiccup and Toothless in both versions!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: The Beatrice Letters

The Beatrice Letters
by  Lemony Snicket
Date Read:  10/14/15
Rating: ★ ★ 

I’m not sure how I feel about “The Beatrice Letters”.  I read this after I finished book 13.  Otherwise I think I would have been thoroughly confused.  I don’t think they should have released this before book 13 released.

First I will say that it was a very unique way to present the book.  I had a copy from the library, so it was quite beat up, but I could see through to what was probably originally very pretty. I was actually surprised that the letters hadn’t been punched out of the library copy.

I was hoping that this compilation of letters was going to provide some answers to some of our still unanswered questions…but all it really did was pose more questions.  Did the Beatrice really sink on their way back to civilization? If they survived, where are they now? Why doesn’t Lemony Snicket want to see baby Beatrice…she’s his niece after all?

I let others work on the anagram themselves since I had a library copy and people have been able to work on this for years.  The one that seems the most sensible is “Beatrice Sank”.  There was a poster included in the book that showed a boat wreck with a piece that said “Beatrice” on it with items that would have been the orphans. Then there is a cave on the other with a bunch of stuff in it.  So the original thought was that they made it safely to a cave…but after reading the letters, I believe it was Snicket who was in the cave, doing yet more research in the Baudelaire’s lives.

We do know that Beatrice survives the boat ride in the very least as she grows up writing these letters and following Snicket around trying to get in touch with him.  She mentions that Sunny was on the radio…which would have only happened if Sunny survived the boat ride as well.  But it’s unclear when they disappeared again and why.

I feel like Snicket (Daniel Handler) just leaves all these weird open ended questions because it’s easier than planning out his story and making sure he doesn’t contradict himself.  I would like to one day really see the full story and get all our answers…but I don’t believe even Handler actually has the answers to his own story.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rick Riordan's Sword of Summer, Norse American Tour Event and Trials of Apollo sneak peak info

My husband and I have been dying to see Rick Riordan for YEARS (5 years to be exact since he was last in Arizona).  He normally doesn’t go west of Texas on his tours, which is just too far to drive to attend an event.  We’ve been super bummed because he’s one of our favorite authors (and I heard he’s hilarious).  So when my husband saw the blog post with tour dates and locations for his Magnus Chase Tour and Phoenix was on the list, we signed up as soon as we were able to buy tickets!!


The event was held by Changing Hands Bookstore at an offsite location in a high school auditorium.  In order to get a ticket to the event, you had to buy a copy of the hardcover book at list price ($19.99 + tax) and this would get you up to 2 tickets to the event.  Since Riordan does not do autograph signings during his events, the book was also pre-signed by him.  The event was scheduled to start at 7pm, with the doors opening at 6:30pm.

My husband and I drove straight there after work and we didn’t arrive until 5pm. I had attended an event at the same location held by Changing Hands for Cassandra Clare’s “Clockwork Princess” release party and the line was super long already by then.  So needless to say, I felt like I was in the twilight zone when we were about the 10th or 12th family back in line.  There were maybe 30 people in front of us in line!  Woohoo, I knew we were going to get pretty good seats.

While waiting in line, we were able to pick up our signed copy of the book and they passed out these really cool foam shields. I believe it was part of Riordan's marketing; they had a lot of them. They opened the doors a few minutes late, but we were able to get a good seat in the 5th row in the middle. Hooray!  The event started late though, around 7:10pm.

Riordan finally walked out and basically gave a long history.  He started from when he was a baby!  He went on to explain about his dislike of reading as a child, the teachers that helped him find books he actually enjoyed, and the teacher that pushed him to submit his first story to a publishing company. While a lot of this history you can get from his website and such, it was still fun to hear it firsthand. He is a great entertainer and storyteller. 

We got to see some very strange covers from the published versions of his stories in other countries.  Some of them are utterly ridiculous…like this cover in Germany!  They've changed the cover since then, but I didn't get a picture with the new cover.

He talked about Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer a little bit, but since the book just came out, we did not get much information so as not to have any spoilers.  THANK GOODNESS!  We did get to see some character art of the new characters from Magnus Chase though.  If you’ve read the book, what do you think about these?  We heard a really neat story that there was a girl who did a really awesome fan art cover for Blood of Olympus.  Disney thought it was good that they included it as bonus content in some version of the book.  And they now have hired her to do the character art going forward.  What a cool story – to go from fan to being paid by Disney!!  Here are some examples of the character art for the Magnus Chase characters, and the 9 Worlds (my picture of Sam was too blurry so I didn't include it).

He told us that the Magnus Chase series is going to be a three book series as of now.  He said it’s possible it could change as he continues writing, but it is currently planned to just be a three book series.  He also went back to one POV in this series.

FINALLY… HERE IS THE BIG NEWS!  Rick Riordan announced he is working on ANOTHER series as well, that is in the world of Percy Jackson.   He stated that there were quite a few loose ends at the end of Blood of Olympus so he thought he needed to go in and round out Percy’s world.  This new series is titled, “The Trials of Apollo” and will be told from Apollo’s POV.  It is going to be a FIVE, did you catch that, FIVE, book series.  He also stated that since this is being written to really close out Percy’s world, we will be seeing ALL of the characters from all of the series throughout The Trials of Apollo’s series.  Are you as excited as me?! 

Here is the summary from Goodreads (it was word for word the description that Riordan read to us last night):
"How do you punish an immortal?
By making him human.
After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disorientated, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus's favour.
But Apollo has many enemies - gods, monsters and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go . . . an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood." 
Disney is also finally putting together a physical version of the the short stories “Demigods and Magicians”, the Greek and Egyptian crossover stories. My husband and I have been waiting for this to happen for a long time now and it’s finally here!  BONUS: if you purchase the hard copy of this compilation, there will be a sneak peak at a chapter from The Trials of Apollo!!

Release dates for the projects Riordan is currently working on are as follows: 
  1. Demigods and Magicians – April 5;  
  2. The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle – May 3; 
  3. Magnus Chase & the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor – October 4.

I hope this information was helpful to anyone who was not able to attend an event on Riordan’s #norseamericantour.  If you ever get a chance to see Rick Riordan in person, I highly recommend you take it.  He’s was great to listen to and has a great story of perseverance for budding authors!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Review: Mechanica

by  Betsy Cornwell
Date Read:  10/09/15
Rating: ★ ★ 
★ ★ 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review, through Goodreads First Reads.


While some parts were a little slow, as other reviewers have mentioned, I actually enjoyed this book.  It was a refreshing and unique retelling of Cinderella.  While similar in a macro aspect to Cinder, it is actually very different – I have read both.  Cinder is sci-fi, while Mechanica is just that – she’s an inventor who lives a life similar to Cinderella’s.

There were points where the plot was very slow.  There were a lot of descriptions about her research and how she was inventing things and cleaning things, etc.  But I still didn’t find myself bored.  It was slow, but not necessarily boring.

I did feel that the background was way too long.  You ended up needing some of that information to understand Nicolette, but I think there may have been another way to interject that history rather than just giving us 62 pages of history.  Or maybe some of it could have been cut down.  Unless of course if there is going to be a sequel which would play more on the faerie history and such.

I enjoyed following Nicolette’s journey of acceptance.  She learned to accept who she was and worked to take back her own life.  She didn’t just lie down and let herself be run by her step family.  She worked hard to achieve her dreams.  There was no fairy god-mother in this story.  (Ok sure, Jules helps her find a ball gown, but that doesn’t count).  Nicolette built her invention herself, sewed her own gown,  made her magnificent shoes, did her hair herself.  She was her own fairy god-mother, and I thought that was a nice touch.  It’s empowering to younger girls.

While I also enjoy my romances, especially with dreamy princes, it was also refreshing to have a story where the main plot point was not on romance.  From the summary of the book I knew she wasn’t going to end up with the prince, I still found myself really liking him.  Rather than focusing on love in the sense that we usually think about, Cornwell focused on self-love and friendship love.  Not all love is romantic.  I think this was a unique take on still including a “love story” though not in the typical sense.  It was refreshing to watching the friendships with Caro and Finn develop and how they became a family.

It doesn’t appear that this is set to be a series yet.  But I feel there were unanswered questions that needed to be cleared up – big ones.  What is so sinister about the ashes? What will happen with the impending war? I feel like it was set up for a sequel, so I hope it comes to fruition.  And I secretly (or not so secretly since I’m writing it on goodreads) hope that she still ends up with the prince in the end.

Brooklyn's First Birthday Party

Brooklyn’s first birthday party was a success!  I had a vision in my head of how I wanted it to turn out, and this time I believe I succeeded!  The decorations were beautiful, the food was delicious, and the guest turnout was amazing!

I’ll start with the decorations. I decided I wanted to finally use my cricut machine because I wanted specific decorations and I was not interested in spending a butt load of money on Etsy to get them.  After patrolling Pinterest for several days I decided I wanted to make a banner that said “Happy Birthday”, a banner that said “ONE” for her high chair, and a banner to display a picture from each of her first 12 months.

The Happy Birthday and "ONE" banner were a bit of work but they turned out great and exactly what I wanted. I hung the “Happy birthday” banner over the window in our dining nook – which was next to the high chair.  As you walked further in to the house, this was what you first saw.  I hung her “ONE” banner on her high chair, perfect for pictures of smashing her cake.

In addition to the “ONE” banner, I also attached 4 balloons to the back of her high chair.  It completed the look and gave a little extra color to the kitchen.

I also created a monthly banner to display a picture of her every month, starting at 0 for newborn.  This was a neat way to show how much she grew each month.  I thought it turned out great.  I hung it in the living room where everyone walked in and it ended up being near where we opened all her gifts.

I saw a cute idea on Pinterest for a caption contest. We decided to make a challenge because we didn’t want to have games.  I used publisher to make the file and then saved it as a PDF and printed it out.  I found a lot of silly pictures of Brooklyn throughout her 12 months and taped them on some matching paper so that guests could write captions on them.  We didn’t end up getting very many, and I believe it’s because we didn’t specifically tell people to do it.  It was just on the wall as guests looked around at all the decorations.

For Brandon’s 30th birthday I had seen an idea to make the number 30 out of pictures.  It was such a hit that I decided to do it for Brooklyn’s first. I created a giant number 1 out of 4x6 pictures.  I was thinking it wouldn’t be enough pictures, but once I got it up on the wall, it was enormous and had plenty of pictures.

I also created a first birthday chalkboard poster.  I found a really cute free file here and then used my free photoshop trial to edit it.  I had to download the font pack though. I just performed a google search for KG Font and found the free package for download.  If you have an old version of photoshop, you may not be able to use these fonts.  Then I saved it as a JPEG and printed it in 8x12 size at Costco.  They were by far the cheapest.  I decided to hang it in the kitchen so as people waited in line for food and drink, they could read all about Brooklyn’s favorite things.

I wanted something out front designating our house for Brooklyn’s birthday.  I created a "Fun to be One" sign that we staked in to the grass in the front yard.  I attached some balloons to it.  It was windy though, so the balloons were just blowing around like crazy.  It still worked though and helped people find our house easier.

I also wanted to have a cute way to display Brooklyn’s smash cake.  I saw a super cute idea on pinterest to take a plain cake stand and glue some frilly ribbon.  I was able to find some supplies at Goodwill and created a cute cake stand for her smash cake.

The final decoration I had was a Sparkle sign.  Again, I used publisher to create this file.  I wanted to add a little bit of sparkle.  We have a weird little nook in our walkway from the front rooms to the kitchen and family room area. I decided this 5 x 7 size would be perfect in a frame sitting here. The nook has a light also, so I turned that on to highlight the sign as people walked through.

The food was a hit.  Brooklyn’s birthday party was a brunch.  Again, thanks to pinterest I found some great ideas for food.  The first was mini-chicken-and-waffles (what better brunch food? It literally combines breakfast and lunch in ONE dish!).   I used mini Eggo waffles from Walmart.  We toasted them in the toaster and then we put a drop or two of maple syrup in the middle of the waffle and topped it with a Chick-Fil-A chicken nugget.  I placed a toothpick (with a flag that I made) through them to hold them in place.

We also created donut and fruit kabobs. We were shocked at how fast these went.  I didn’t expect them to be as big of a hit as they were.  We bought glazed donuts at Walmart, Strawberries, and bananas.  We cut the strawberries and sliced the bananas.  Then we placed them in the following order on a wooden skewer: donut, strawberry, banana, donut, strawberry, banana.  These things didn’t last very long!

We made some mini quiches to bring some more savory to our brunch.  This is the recipe we used and it was actually relatively easy. We just had to make several batches which took a while.  There weren’t many quiches left over at the end of the party.

We made some mini apple pies that added some more sweet in addition to our fruit.  They were super easy and would be a great dessert to bring over for holiday parties.  There were none leftover at the end of the party - and I didn't even get to try one first!

Finally we made some pumpkin dip to add some seasonal flare!  We served it with vanilla wafers and everyone said it was delicious.  The recipe makes a TON though, so we still have a ton left over.

I was able to reuse some decorations I had saved from my baby shower and some things that were brought to us after Brooklyn was born.

I first used a mason jar to house the paper straws I bought. I cut a piece of pink ribbon and a piece of gold ribbon and tied them around the jar in a bow. I then used my fall serving tray (which I hadn’t had a use for yet!) to place the straws, cups, napkins and plastic ware.  I placed the plates just next to the tray.  I think it was a great set up.  I used mason jars that were from my baby shower to hold the plastic ware and just covered the ribbon that was already on them with a pink ribbon I had.  I used tape to hold the ribbon so I didn’t have to get out my glue gun…and I can also remove the ribbon if I need to use them again.

I put some beverages in glass pitchers that we received for our wedding. I used orange juice, milk, and spiced apple juice.  We put them in a tin bucket that was filled with ice to keep them cold.  We also brewed coffee and had water bottles in an ice chest in the backyard.  I forgot to take pictures of these.

I covered the tables with plastic table cloths I purchased at Party City.  I was able to cut them all to size to fit my tables and ended up having extra.  It worked out because I was able to place some of the extra under her high chair for her cake smash.  Although, she still managed to get cake in places where there wasn’t a table cloth liner!  I was even able to put table cloth on the gift table (chest) to keep it all tied together.  On the tables, I placed a mason jar with glass marbles and pink flowers that were from my baby shower. I was even able to use the ribbon that was already on most of these jars.

Finally I hung a couple of balloons on the banister at the bottom of the stairs.  We bought a helium tank from Walmart for $35.  You could just go to Party City to have them do it for you, but then you have to drive them all the way home.  It was more convenient for us since her party was early to just have the tank ourselves.  And I was able to pick and choose how many I really wanted and which colors as I wanted, rather than having to try to figure it out ahead of time.  It also comes with a bag of balloons so now I have some for future birthday parties!

The party was so much fun and Brooklyn had a blast.  She wasn't sure about the cake at first, but after she got a few tastes in, she devoured it!  And it ended up in her hair, on her headband and in her ears!  We want to thank every one who came out for her party and celebrated her big milestone!  She was spoiled by everyone and it was so nice to see so many of our friends and family!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book Review: The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events #13)

The Penultimate Peril (#12)
by  Lemony Snicket
Date Read:  10/06/15
Rating: ★ ★ 


I was super excited to finish this series.  I was hoping for an exciting conclusion and some bombshells to wrap up our questions.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. While I didn’t think this book was quite as much as a letdown as some, it still didn’t meet my hopes and expectations.

This story took a strange turn as the Baudelaires ended up shipwrecked on a strange island.  There was a group of colonists who were basically in a cult.  The head of the cult was strange and conniving and completely just thrown in there.

With all the characters that had graced us again in the previous book, I expected this big schism or something between VFD and all the villains.  But no.  VFD gets completely forgotten in this book. We never learn what the big schism was that tore apart VFD. We never learn what the sugar bowl is or why it is important. What I felt the most frustrated at was that other characters DID know, but kept telling the children that there are things in the world children shouldn’t know. Seriously? He did that because he did not even know what the sugar bowl was. He just needed something for the plot to focus on for a while.

I feel as though Snicket (or the actual author) just wrote and never had an outline for his story. He didn’t know where it was going to go and that is why there were still so many unanswered questions.  Did the Quagmires die? We assume so with the whole “Great Unknown” line, but we don’t know for sure.  We assume The Baudelaire parents used the poison darts on Olaf’s parents making him an orphan, but we do not know why.  We finally discovered who Beatrice is, but we do not know why she left Lemony Snicket to be with Mr. Baudelaire instead.

The love story between Olaf and Kit was just thrown in there too.  While I appreciated that it showed Olaf’s compassionate side and that he wasn’t always evil, it came out of nowhere!  There should have been something that pointed to that when you go back to think about it. But there’s nothing. It just made the fact that they both died a little sadder.  When Olaf said that he lost his true love, I assumed it was Esme, but after that scene, you change to assume it was Kit.

While I appreciate the theme of the book, that we can never know all the answers to life’s questions, this is still a story and there should have been more wrap up.  All stories end and we understand that the characters move on without us, but there is still a satisfactory ending to that specific story.

Although I did feel that we did get some answers if you paid attention to the details and the obscure side notes. It wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting. I didn’t expect Chapter 14.  I didn’t like that he purposely held the information regarding the name of the boat that Violet discovers.  At least we only had to wait until the end of the chapter, but that just seemed to kind of be the theme throughout the series – he would pose questions or uncover information and not reveal it to the reader. Probably because it didn’t fit in with the story.  Another reviewer said something that I thought was interesting. When the children with staying with Esme Squallor, she mentioned that Beatrice had stolen from her, and the children didn’t react to this statement. If their mother was Beatrice, they should have reacted to that.  Another ploy from the author to try to prevent the reader from connecting Beatrice as their mother.

I also didn’t like the way the author handled the world. Yes, it’s a terrible place where terrible things can happen to good people, good people do bad things, and people die. But the lives of the Baudelaires were far from normal. I understand that the author was trying to tell us that even though bad things happen, you can’t run from it.  You have to persevere and live through it, otherwise you’ll miss the happiness in life too.  I just wish he could have done this in a more realistic way.

There was one point that he makes in this book though that really stood out to me.  He stated that “It is almost as if happiness is an acquired taste, like coconut cordial or ceviche, to which you can eventually become accustomed, but despair is something surprising each time you encounter it.”  This has really stuck with me ever since hearing it.

My final thought is that I listened to this as an audiobook, so as far as I’m aware, the children were on the boat going back to society. In my mind they made it.  However, another reviewer said the book actually had a picture at the end of the sea, with broken pieces of wood with one having the name “Beatrice” on it, implying the boat was shipwrecked again.  So either the Baudelaires drown or they became cast aways on another island. I think I’m glad I listened to the audiobook so that I can envision my own future for the Baudelaires where they raise Beatrice and grow old together.  I may pick up the Beatrice Letters at a later date to see if we get any other questions answered…but if all it does is pose more questions, I think I’ll skip it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book Review: The Penultimate Peril (A series of Unfortunate Events #12)

The Penultimate Peril (#12)
by  Lemony Snicket
Date Read:  09/30/15
Rating: ★ ★ 

I enjoyed the new setting of this book. We were introduced to several new characters in this book and also got to see several old characters. I thought it was an interesting way to sort of recap a lot of the series by bringing these old characters back in.  It’s starting to get hard to keep all the characters straight though.

I appreciated that Count Olaf is no longer in disguise and not trying to hide that he’s evil. I just feel like we’re not really getting any answers to any of the questions that have been posed throughout the previous 11 books.  Nothing has been tied together.

I liked the chapters where the Baudelaires were split up and each had a chapter. I thought it was a cute idea to have each chapter end the same way, with them thinking relatively the same thing, at the same time.  I’m just starting to get tired of all of this build that got me so excited, but not getting any answers yet.

I do appreciate that Snicket has focused on the fact that sometimes the children have had to do bad things in order to get out of their predicament, but then have them questioning whether they are still good people. SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN’T read and plan to read the Divergent series: I hated the ending to Allegiant (the Divergent series) because the main character defeated the bad guys by doing the exact thing they were planning to do to her, to them.  How does that make her any better than them???  So I do appreciate the fact that it makes you question whether doing to the wrong thing for the right reasons still makes you a bad person or not.

There was a violent, gruesome death in this book that I wasn't expecting. We haven't had a violent death in quite some time. I found myself hoping it was Carmelita (I can't stand that girl), but of course it wasn't.  These poor kids have had a pretty rough life, and I hope they get some semblance of a happy ending.

Interested to see where this goes now that they are back with Count Olaf.  I’m hoping for a big ending and info dump to answer all our questions, but I’ve seen some reviews that makes me expect to really not having anything answered. I guess I should have read the reviews of the last book before I decided to spend my time reading/listening to 13 books…
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...