Monday, September 30, 2013

Nerdiest Date Ever

So remember how I mentioned that my husband was taking me on a nerdy book date for my birthday? We went last Friday, and it was awesome. In a super nerdy sort of way. So here's what happened:

First, we found out a few weeks ago that one of our favorite fantasy/sci-fi authors, Brandon Sanderson, was going to be doing a book signing in Houston on Friday for the release of his latest book, Steelheart. Awesome serendipity that it happened to be the same week as my birthday. We went earlier in the week to pick up the book and get our line number, but we were a tad late to the event itself (you know, had to put the kid down for the babysitter) so we were way in the back. But with enough zoom on our camera, this was our view:

Brandon Sanderson himself!

Anyway, we listened to him talk about his current projects, and he read a couple of excerpts from a few books, and that was all fun and exciting, but the best part of the evening? Hands down, it was the other people there. I mean, we are talking serious nerd fest. And really, nerds are the nicest people in the world, because they were all super chatty and friendly (maybe they just felt like this was a safe place). We met some serious gamer types (Sanderson has worked on a few video games), and chatted with some hardcore fans who follow all the forums (we learned some very interesting tidbits about world-jumping and a certain character who shows up in every book, and now we feel like we are part of the inner-circle), and there were a few hipster types too. I didn't feel like it was completely my scene, but my husband confessed that there was only a shred of pride and social awareness that kept him from being completely one with these people. Anyway, after waiting in a super long line, we finally met the man himself:

The conversation was short. It went something like this:

Us: "Hey! We've been reading your stuff since our BYU days, and we love you!"
Brandon: "Cool"

But he was still super nice, signed our huge stack of books, and made our night. Now I just need to read the book (and actually, I need to read The Rithmatist too, Sanderson just pumps them out too fast for me to keep up).

To complete the theme of our fantasy-nerd-book date, we ate dinner at this place:


I love this little restaurant so much. We discovered it last summer, and it's this little gem of nerdy decor mixed with awesome food (if you ever come to Houston, this is absolutely the first place I would recommend). They decorate with all sorts of Lord of the Rings stuff (not just movie posters, we're talking vintage Hobbit collectible figurines and such), and the place attracts the kind of clientele you'd meet at a Sanderson book signing, so it was obviously the most perfect place for our dinner. Plus, they put literally an ENTIRE avocado on their avocado burgers, and any place that doesn't skimp on their avocados will have my loyalty forever.

There is a burger underneath that pile of avocado.

You guys, should I be ashamed to say that this was one of our best dates ever? Or that this is what I would choose to do to celebrate my birthday? Probably, but also, no. Because it was so much fun, and sometimes, you just got to let your inner nerd out.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Summer Reading Fluff

I know, I know, we just had that equinox thing that means it's now officially fall. And I know most people are back to school or work and wearing sweaters and boots and all that sort of thing. But here in my neck of the woods, it still feels an awful lot like summer (stupid Houston weather). Add the fact that my husband hasn't started working yet (next Monday is the official first day of work date) and we're still reveling in slow-morning-late-night-summer-schedule goodness. So excuse me if my reading taste of late is still leaning to the light and fluffy beach type reads. I promise I'll be reading something more serious soon. Maybe next week. Or the week after that. In the meantime, here's what I've been enjoying:

Austenland  by Shannon Hale

This one is pretty different than other Shannon Hale books I've read and loved, and while I don't think this is her best book, I liked it for what it was. I think if I had read this book in high school, it would've been my favorite favorite. I totally believed then that no real boy could ever live up to an Austen hero. Of course, then I met my husband, and history is history. But, I still thoroughly appreciated the Austen-obsessed-nerdiness of this book. This is not a story of substance, so don't expect much, but it is fantastic light-hearted romantic comedy. And yes, I will be seeing the movie this weekend with my sister (a birthday week GNO celebration), and I am super excited for it.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

This another book I wish I could have read in high school. My 13 year old sister-in-law recommended this to me ages ago, and I'm sorry I didn't get my hands on it sooner. I see exactly why she loves it. This is the most perfect, and perfectly innocent, romance book out there. Once again, don't expect much substance or incredibly stellar writing, but if you want a nice "proper" escapist historical fiction Regency romance, this is it. Donaldson recently published another book, Blackmoore, which I'm dying to get my hands on.




Grave Mercy  by Robin LaFevers

This one was one of those free audio books I downloaded this summer (I'm still trying to work my way through all of them), but I'd never heard of it before, so I had pretty low expectations. But! I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this one (even my husband liked it, we listened to it on a recent road trip to Austin). It had a very unique historical fiction premise (13th century Brittany). Assassin nuns who serve as Death's handmaids? Some really good complex political intrigue? A nicely developed romance? A little light fantasy? What's not to like here? Fair warning, it's not even close to being completely historically accurate, so don't expect that. And if some spotty usage of Middle English phrasing bothers you, don't read this. Otherwise, I found this one to be a lot of fun, and I'm even considering looking into the next one in the series (that's saying something).

Monday, September 23, 2013

Notes on a Birthday

Today is my birthday. I'm not yet old enough that I feel ashamed about sharing my age, but I also feel some discretion is advised in sharing details like this with the web at large. We'll say I'm now officially late-twenties, and leave it at that.

We had the official party last night (a s'more bar, it was perfect and delicious), so today was more of a chill day full of simple pleasures. Like sleeping in. And not having to make dinner. And taking a long nap. And tonight I'm even going to take a bubble bath (it's been years since I've taken a proper bubble bath. I'm really more excited about this than I should be).

And of course, what would a birthday for me be without books?

-My sweet husband gave me two books, The God Who Weeps and The Happiness Project. I've read both of these books already, but they are definite favorites and books that I want to read over and over and over again. I'm very happy that they will be joining our personal library. He also gave me the game Banagrams (which, you'll remember, I talked about here), and we've already played several rounds. I see many more rounds in our immediate future. (There were other presents, but do you really want to know about the stash of chocolate that should last me at least a week a month?)

-My husband asked me if I wanted to go anywhere today, for fun or just to celebrate. We went to the library. I'm pretty sure this is pathetically nerdy, but just wait until I post about our birthday date that is happening this coming Friday. It will pretty much be the nerdiest bookfest imaginable. I'll take pictures.

-Of course, I spent a good portion of the day just reading. I'm in the middle of an excellent audio book right now, and I'm very much looking forward to listening to it while soaking in my bath tonight. In fact, I think I'll go do that right now.

What a lovely day it's been.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Story of a Child Prodigy (or not)

I used to be an English teacher, and I remember one of the more popular concepts we tried to push on our students all the time was the idea of "making connections" with the content they would read. The three big types of connections we talked about were text-to-text connections, text-to-self connections, and text-to-world connections (I have this vague memory of giving each of my students a packet of sticky notes with three different colors, and they had to comment in their books with the sticky notes using these three types of connections. I'm sure my students loved doing that).

Okay, enough of the teachery explanations. Fast forward four years, and here I am a stay-at-home-mom with a bustling little 21 month old toddler. We have this ritual where every morning after breakfast, he gets to pull every single book off his shelf and we read all of them together. So the other day, we were in the middle of one of our favorite books (Jamberry) when my son stopped me on one of the pages where the characters are climbing out of a river, pointed, and emphatically said "Wa-wa!" (translation: water). Now, my son has been identifying common objects in books like this for months now, so I wasn't terribly impressed. I probably said something like, "Yep, that's water. How funny that they are all wet!" and then tried to move on with the story. However, my son thwarted all my efforts to finish the book. He kept turning the pages back, and I was getting a bit frustrated (usually he loves moving on to the part about the "thoo-thoos" or choo-choo trains).


Finally my boy jumped off my lap and ran to grab a new book. This time he came back with one from our Corduroy Treasury. We got no further than two pages into this one before he stopped on the scene where Corduroy is going water skiing (does anyone else think it's ridiculous that this teddy bear is going water skiing?) and once again said "Wa-wa!" My thoughts were along the lines of yes, great, you can identify water, let's move on now. But then he snatched the Corduroy book out of my hands, picked up the Jamberry book again and began rifling through those pages. I thought maybe he wanted to continue reading that book, so I tried to pick up where we had left off, but once again, he kept turning the pages back. I finally said something like, "Okay, if you don't want me to read to you, then you can sit here and play with the books by yourself."

I stood up to go take care of the breakfast dishes. A few minutes later my boy came over holding both books open to the pages he had been stuck on, and proudly held them up to me saying, "Wa-wa! Wa-wa!" And that's when it finally clicked. My son had just made his very first text-to-text connection. He had seen the water in one book, remembered the water from the other book, and put them both together. And he was so excited about this discovery. You guys, this was huge. My little English teacher heart got all fluttery, nearly bursting with pride. I mean, this is genius, is it not?

Okay, yeah, probably not. But still. It just warms the cockles of my heart to see my child interacting with books like this. I hope and pray that I can keep him this excited about books in the years to come. The world needs more men who read, and not just read, but think deeply about what they read. I fully intend to raise my son to be a reader. I think we're off to a good start.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: The Belgariad Books 1-5

Pawn of Prophecy
Queen of Sorcery
Magician's Gambit
Castle of Wizardry
Enchanter's End Game
by David Eddings

Okay, so if you haven't figured it out yet, today I'm reviewing not one book, but five books. To be precise, books 1-5 of the Belgariad series, by David Eddings. I'd had a few recommendations for this series, and it'd been on my to-read list for a while, so, last May, when I was scrolling through my library's electronic catalog looking for something to listen to and saw that Pawn of Prophecy was available for immediate download, I jumped on it.

Here's a brief summary of the whole series: Garion is a boy who has lived his whole life on a quiet farm with his Aunt Pol, thinking he is nothing but an ordinary boy. But then the mysterious and ancient sorcerer Belgarath shows up to enlist Pol's help (as it turns out, Pol is Belgarath's daughter, and is actually the mysterious and ancient sorceress Polgara) because an ancient and powerful artifact has been stolen, and they must track it down before it falls into the hands of the evil god Torac. Garion gets swept up in their quest, meeting some wonderful characters on the way, and eventually learning the crucial role he plays in this epic quest as foretold by an ancient prophecy.

I listened to books 1-4 over the following month as I packed and cleaned and prepared to move. I started book 5 about two days before we left Chicago in June, and I've been trying to finish it ever since. At first, I blamed it on the fact that I was living with my in-laws and just didn't have a lot of opportunity to listen to audio books. Then, I got distracted by other books. Every now and then I'd come back to Book 5, starting all over again because I kept forgetting what had happened. But now that I've checked it out 3 times without being able to finish it, I'm just calling it quits. I'm just not interested enough to finish the last half of this book.

I'm not exactly sure why I can't finish this series. I mean, it had all the elements I love about a good fantasy. It had some really fun and funny characters, it had the epic hero's journey storyline, it had magic and some pretty fantastic world building (seriously, Eddings has written over seven thousand years worth of history on this world, creating detailed myths and scripture and the like. He has a lot of other books, not part of this series, that are based in this world). And there was even a little romance thrown in, which is always my favorite. So really, the recipe was perfect.

But then, it wasn't. There were just too many little things that started to bug me. Garion, for one, is a pretty thick main character. It just takes him FOREVER to figure out what has been foreshadowed for the entire series. Then sometimes the quest/journey business would just drag, sometimes there were too many other characters and side-stories to keep track of, and sometimes, the romance just drove me nuts (Princess Ce'Nedra is everything that is horribly annoying about girls). So here I am at the end, and because of the formulaic nature of this genre I have a pretty good idea of how it's going to end, so I'm finding that I just have a really hard time caring about how it all gets resolved. I just don't care anymore.

And there are too many other books on that to-read list to give any more time to this series.

So, if you are a total fantasy nerd who really appreciates a well-built world and a good, solid hero's journey, feel free to check this series out. It just might float your boat. Then again, you just might sink half-way through. It's not for everyone.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Beyond Scrabble

We are game playing people around these parts. Big time. Normally, my husband leans toward strategy games, but every now and then I can convince him to play a word game with me (mostly because it's so much easier to find word games you can play with just two people, strategy games usually require more friends). Yes, of course we own Scrabble, but it's not my favorite. Here are a few of my favorite word games.

Boggle

My mom and sisters and I used to play some pretty epic Boggle matches back in the day. We played "house rules" with no timer, going for as long as we could find words (we we're always just trying to beat my younger sister, Angela, who is the best Boggle player I've ever met in my life). My husband much prefers to play by the regular rules, and I'm okay with that. Whatever it takes to get hi to play with me. This game will always be my favorite word game for all time.


Bananagrams

We were only introduced to this game a few weeks ago by some friends of ours, but I'm obsessed. It's similar to Scrabble, only you build your own board and can rearrange it however many times you need to until all your tiles are gone. It's infinitely enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. Basically, it is so much fun.





Quiddler

My husband gave me this card game a few years ago, because he knew how much I loved word games and this was one of his favorites. This game is just fun. My favorite is the crazy designs of each letter on the cards (they would not work well as flash cards for beginning readers).







Any other good word games out there we should be playing?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Student Mom: Choosing a Program

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

When my husband made the decision about which law school he was going to attend, a lot of factors went into his decision. He looked at things like school rankings, what programs were a viable option with his test scores and grades, and which city he wanted to live in. He flew to several schools for interviews, entertained several offers, and in the end accepted at his first choice school. We moved across the country and spent three years living off of students loans while my husband devoted all of his time to his schoolwork.

For most serious students, this is a typical grad school experience. It will not be mine.

I do not have the luxury of choosing my program based on school rankings, or which area of the country I'd like to live, or employment prospects, or anything like that. Because I am a mother, my choices are far more limited and based on entirely different factors. I'm lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area that is large enough to offer several choices of varying prestige and ease to get into. I'm not applying for the most prestigious of my options (that particular university only offers doctoral programs in literature, and I'm just not ready for that commitment level), but I did choose a fairly reputable school that I have a decent chance of getting into (cross my fingers) and, most importantly, that's close enough to home to make actually being on campus a realistic option. So those were the factors that went into my decision.

I recognize that other mothers in my position may not have even the small number of options I had to choose from. Their options might be limited to night school or online programs. But what I've come to understand during this whole process of choosing a grad school is that it doesn't matter how prestigious the program is. It doesn't matter if I were only going back to school online. What matters is that I am doing it. Because for me, going back to school is not about academic accolades or prestige. At least, that's not my main priority. For me, going back to school is simply about being a better mom. It's about sharpening my mind, setting an example, and developing as a person so I can be a better mom.

Choosing a program is about choosing a situation that works for our family, and that's my advice for any other mother out there thinking about grad school. If you have the luxury of moving your family, then go for whatever program your heart and test scores aspire to. But if, like me, you are tied down to your family responsibilities and are limited by time and location, don't let that stop you. There are options. It's just a matter of choosing to make those options work.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fairy Tale Retellings

I've said this before, but I love fairy tale retellings. I feel like fairy tale retellings are a really hot thing right now (although, when I think about it, retellings have been hot for several decades. Disney anyone?) and frankly, some are better than others. I recently read two such retellings, one that I loved and one that I hated, and I'm trying to figure out what the difference was between these two books. So, let's analyze!

Enchanted by Alethea Kontiss

Okay, this is the one I didn't like. To be fair, it started out with great potential. I was kind of excited for a good "Princess and the Frog" retelling, because I haven't read one of those before. But then it got strange really quick. And then the plot got complicated, because this wasn't just a "Princess and the Frog" retelling so much as it was a retelling of EVERY fairy tale you could possibly cram into one story, with a new overarching storyline to try and weave them all together, but it just didn't quite work for me. I can't even put my finger on what exactly was wrong, other than it was just too much story for it's own good. Things were rushed, or not developed well, or just plain didn't make sense. Frankly, it was not a well told story, and I didn't care enough about the characters or the love story to stay engaged. By the end, I was just bored, and I only finished it because I have this compulsion about finishing books. I have no desire to read any other book in this series.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I was wary about this one at first. Maybe I was being judgmental, but the premise turned me off a little bit. A cyborg Cinderella? Sounds pretty weird. Then there was just that unfortunate name association between Marissa Meyer and Stephanie Meyer which just made feel like Marissa's writing would be of the same ilk, and I felt vaguely skeptical. But! Lay your first impressions aside, because this one was just fun.

So, it wasn't perfect. The romance in this one felt more than a little unbelievable (she never gives a good justification for why a prince would fall for a mechanic) but then, it's Cinderella. The romance was never very believable, and you just sort of have to suspend your disbelief because it's really quite enjoyable once you get past that. The whole dystopian world, civilizations on the moon, cyborg second class citizens, it was a fun setting. I really liked seeing the plot unfold in this setting, and enjoyed the complications with the technology, the plague, and the political tensions. Also, it was just well written. Meyer did such a nice job, and I am dying to read the next one in the series (have it on hold as we speak).

So what was the difference between these two books? Why did I love one and hate the other? The level of writing had to do with it. The likability of the characters and the unique setting played a factor. But mostly, I think the lesson is be careful how you mess with a good formula. Fairy tales are popular because their plots follow certain tropes. Kontiss meshed and messed with the plot structure until it lost any charm the original fairy tales held. Meyer reinterpreted setting and complications, but kept the basic fairy tale in tact. In the end, that formula worked so much better for me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Home


Moving is a beast. It has been one crazy week packing up and driving across the country and unpacking and settling in. We finally have most of the essentials out of boxes, we got our internet up and working, and I'm finally back to a place where I can think about something other than the chaos around me. My books aren't unpacked yet, so I won't feel "settled" until they are, but the unpacking prognosis is not looking good. I brought back a couple boxes of my childhood books from our recent visit to my parent's house, and even though we bought another bookshelf today, I don't think they're all going to have a home. First world problems, I know.

It was a wonderful summer of fun and family and mooching, but oh, it is nice to be back in a place of our own. Here's to finally being home!