Thursday, October 23, 2014

Coffin Hopping: How to Scare the Neighborhood Children

It's that time of year again...Yeah, baby! Zombies are coming, as well as vampires and werewolves, witches, ghosts, ghouls, demons and devils (and some pretty things, too, but those aren't nearly so much fun, are they?) In honor of the upcoming holiday, I've joined the Coffin Hop Web Tour again this year. In case you hadn't noticed by all the badges and to atrtink for those, obvs I couldn't do something that cool...this is a huge event with hundreds of authors giving away hundreds of prizes on hundreds of sights. So hop on over to the list of horror authors and join us for some scartitivites.
As my family debated Halloween costumes this year, I got to thinking about the trendiness that Halloween has taken on. And more generally, the fall season. As soon as October begins, everyone is clamoring to post the first colored leaf photo, Tweeting about their pumpkin spice lattes (#PSL, of course) and instagramming pics of their newly dusted off Ugg boots and flannels. (Don't be offended, I'm poking fun at myself here, too). Fall is the hot new season, and it has been for several years now. Poor summer. So neglected.

When I was a kid, I don't remember adults dressing for Halloween. Perhaps my mom would find an old black skirt and a turtleneck, top it off with a straw hat, and call herself a witch, but the adult costumes were always kept to a minimum, made up of things they already had in the closet. Nowadays, Halloween has become as commercial as Christmas--no big shocker. That's been going on for years, ever since companies discovered the market for scanty adult costumes and college girls realized they could wear lingerie in public, all in the name of Halloween. That's what drives the pre-fab costumes you can find on shelves at any mall. Sex sells at all times of the year, and Halloween is no exception.

I once witnessed a costume contest, the winner being chosen by the loudest audience applause, where an attractive young woman in a barely-there, fresh-out-of-the-Hot-Topic-package costume won (for the life of me, I have no memory whatsoever of what she was supposed to be, it was not in any way memorable or relevant to the audience's appreciation level). Also participating was a guy dressed as Pinhead who had shaved his head and literally stuck hundreds of pins into his scalp and glued them in place, not to mention his outfit was either made by hand or specially ordered off the internet. This was not a costume contest--it was a beauty contest.

But if you're past that age and you think scaring the neighborhood kids is more your style, ie, you no longer want to be/look at Little Red Riding Hooker, Naughty Nurse, or Sexy Santa (never understood that one), we still have the ghoulish and grim to fall back on. Oh yes. It might take a little more work than grabbing something off the shelf, but with the right makeup, face paint, and even items out of your closet, you can piece together a pretty gruesome costume.

Zombies are still hot this year, as they have been for the past five or so years. And talk about an easy costume. Got an old t-shirt, a pair of ripped jeans and some dirt outside your house? All you need is some fake blood and maybe a makeup kit if you want to smear some white and black on your face. Smear the blood around your mouth, grime up your clothes a bit, dribble fake blood down the front of your shirt. Smudge some makeup (Halloween makeup or just regular old eyeliner) around your eyes, then go wait on your lawn. It's even better if you have a whole family or some friends willing to join you in this endeavor. When the kiddos start coming along your walk, begin lurching towards them (someone should also fall and army crawl, that's always a good one) growling and expressing your general desire for brains. If you want to go above and beyond, you could even make a few quick "coffins" out of scrap wood or pallets and have a couple people pop up out of those for effect. Then, watch the neighborhood kids scream in terror...just don't expect to be popular with the neighborhood parents!

 In case you were wondering, I still haven't decided on a costume, but I will definitely be in costume come Halloween night. Until then, I'll be hopping around reading scary stories on some of the author blogs over at the Coffin Hop, as well as giving away free copies of my own books. For the five days before Halloween, The Superiors will be free on Amazon, so pick it up if you like dark vampire stories (no explicit sex). And if you want to read the second book or third, I'll be giving away copies to Coffin Hoppers exclusively. The first person to comment each day this week will receive a free ecopy of any of my books. Just leave your name and contact info (email, twitter handle, fb, etc) and I'll get you a free copy.

Thanks for hopping in my coffin with me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

YA Wednesday: Graphic Novel Review: Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Last week I posted about the Printz Award Nominatee Boxers. This week, I'm posting about the second book in the series, Saints. I believe they were nominated together as one volume. To see last week's review, click here.

Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2)Saints by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been on a graphic novel kick lately, so I grabbed this in an armload of them from the library. I saw it was nominated for a Printz award, which made me take it out of the stack and read it first.

It was pretty good, but nothing exceptional. For one, the graphics aren't as lovely as many of the graphics I've read. If I'm going to read a graphic novel, I want to be as captivated by the illustrations as the story. Otherwise, why not just read a novel? I didn't feel this was enhanced in any way by being a graphic novel. In fact, I'd rather read a novella about this supposedly based-in-history girl.

I did like the story quite well. Four-Girl was such a sad, confused child. I felt for her and was glad she finally got a name and found a place where she was welcome. It was so sad and amusing when she thinks she's a devil and goes around making ugly faces so everyone will know. It was at once tragic and ridiculous. I'm going to read the companion novel, but I can't say I'm holding my breath waiting for it.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

YA Wednesday: Graphic Novel Review: Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers (Boxers & Saints, #1)Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up both Boxers and Saints at the same time, and I couldn't tell which came first, so I guess I read them in the wrong order. But, they are each stand-alone books, and I don't think one necessarily needs to be read first. However, this book did clarify a lot that I didn't know in the second, so I would try to read this one first. While reading Saints, I didn't know exactly who The Righteous and Harmonious Fist was, etc (my knowledge of Chinese history being pretty much nonexistent).
I really enjoyed learning about the Boxers rebellion, although the book was more fantasy than history. I found myself wondering if people had given accounts of the fighters turning into gods, or where the idea came from. However, the graphics in this one were more enjoyable for me. I've read 3 of Yang's books now, and although they have good stories, I feel that a graphic novel should be equally strong in both story and graphics, or else why not just write a novel? I guess I feel that if a writer uses this format, the illustrations should add to the story, and in the case of this author, this is the first book I thought his story lent itself well to the format.

I enjoyed this book more than the other 2 I've read by this author, and I think the reason is the illustrations. The gods were all vivid and colorful, and those places in particular were enhanced by the artwork (if you told me 'then he turned into a god' I would not have imagined the colorful, striking images of their gods but a more austere, western version of god).

Overall, this was a very good graphic novel and an excellent story.

Content: lots of war violence.
Recommended for: Age 10+ for violent scenes.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

YA Wednesday: 2 for 1 Graphic Novel Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1-2)Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This had the thing. You know, the THING. The thing that makes you all swoony while you're reading. That makes you sigh just remembering it, like an amazing first kiss that still makes you shiver when you think of it years later. The thing that makes you fall in love.

I had seen the movie version of this book a few years ago and it was excellent (if you haven't seen it, go get it immediately), and I'd wanted to read the books ever since. Well, I'm so glad I did. I was not disappointed. It's only rarely that I can love a book and a movie both so much, equally. This book is worthy of attention and not to be missed. Absolutely powerful, brilliant, and stunning.

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Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (Persepolis, #3-4)Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know if it's possible, but I may have loved this book even more than the first one. Such a wonderful, heartbreaking example of what it means to be an outsider.

Displaced from her homeland, our heroine never feels at home in Austria. But after spending years there, when she goes home, she no longer fits into their conservative culture, either. I ached for her as I read this half of her story, maybe even more so than when I read the first part.

Amazing story that everyone should read. Recommended for anyone who's ever felt like an outsider.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

YA Wednesday Graphic Novel Review: Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet, Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper (Amulet, #1)Amulet, Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If for some reason you think graphic novels are shallow and devoid of emotional impact, think again. Amulet had me in tears within a few pages of sparse dialogue. Don't underestimate the power or emotional impact images can have on us, moreso even than words, and in such a small space.
Once I dried my tears and began chapter one, the book flew by. The plot picks up, the characters are realistic (yes, I require this even in fantasy, perhaps especially in fantasy), and the author's imagination is a wonderful mix of the odd, the fantastical, the touching, and sometimes the absurd. It has the whimsy of something like The Never Ending Story. If adorable pink robotic bunnies are your kind of thing, grab this book and don't let go til you've drunk in every last magical image and read every last thought bubble. I know I did. And I can't wait to grab the next.

Amulet, Vol. 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse (Amulet, #2)Amulet, Vol. 2: The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful illustrations, another wonderful story. My son and I can't get enough of these books. There is so much to see that he'll look at them for hours.

Amulet, Vol. 3: The Cloud Searchers (Amulet, #3)Amulet, Vol. 3: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These book are fantastic! The artwork is so amazing--haunting and eerie, comical, tender. I absolutely love it. It makes the story multitudes better. The story is pretty good, too. But the illustrations are what really keep me coming back for more. Plus, I love Miskit!

Amulet, Vol. 4: The Last Council (Amulet, #4)Amulet, Vol. 4: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once more, beautiful artwork, as in every book in the series. I enjoyed the storyline in this one a bit more than in the last. And was overjoyed to see the return of Miskit, the pink robot bunny.

Amulet, Vol. 5: Prince of the Elves (Amulet, #5)Amulet, Vol. 5: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought this was the last book in the series, but a lot was left up in the air, so I really hope Kibuishi will wrap things up with another book. I haven't read a lot of graphic novels before, but this series was so beautiful and breathtaking. I wish there were many, many more of them. 

I saw that Book 6 was out and I can't wait to read it! Exciiiited...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Disaster Chef: Cinnamon Roll Pancakes

When I found this recipe on Recipe Girl a few months ago, I knew I wanted to make it even though it is soooo not healthy. But sometimes, you just gotta indulge. In this instance, my son asked me to make them, and I told him I'd make them for his birthday. Of course I then forgot all about it. But he didn't. On his birthday morning, he reminded me, so I put them together. They do take a loooong time, since they have 3 different components. I wouldn't just whip these up any day, since they took hours to make. But for special occasions, yes. My son already asked me to make them again for his next birthday. Knowing him, he'll remember, too.
Without the frosting.
For these, you have to make the cinnamon swirl, the pancakes, and the frosting.

First, I made the cinnamon swirl.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter,  melted
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Mix ingredients and pour into a ziplock sandwich bag. Set aside.
Next, I made the frosting. I'm not sure why mine turned out so dark, maybe the vanilla I used was too dark? I used pretty much exactly what the recipe specified, but mine was sort of caramel colored instead of a nice pearly white like the original recipe:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
2-ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Melt the butter, then stir other ingredients into pan, mixing well after each addition.
On with the pancakes. Mix together
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Mix together flour and baking powder, then other ingredients, mixing until moistened but still a bit lumpy.

Pour about 1/4 c. batter for each pancake into a skillet and let cook a couple minutes before cutting corner out of sandwich bag and drawing the circle on the pancake.You might have to squish the baggie a bit if the cinnamon mixture has separated. It should be toothpaste consistency as it squeezes out of bag.
Once turned, the cinnamon swirl melts into the pan, leaving a crispy, sugary, hollowed out swirl pattern in the pancake.
Turn it out onto a plate with the swirl side up. Drizzle with frosting to finish. They don't need anything extra--no butter or syrup.

As I said, these were sinfully delicious. I never use white flour exclusively, but I really wanted these to taste like cinnamon rolls, so I did this time. They were very decadent and delicious, very sweet and rich. I would make them again for special occasions, but not for an ordinary day. They are an indulgence for sure.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review Wednesday: Alt Ed (Contemporary YA)

Alt EdAlt Ed by Catherine Atkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

Reviewing this book is a bit challenging, because while it was going on, there was really nothing wrong with it, except for what didn't happen during it. Let me explain.

As I began this book, I was instantly drawn in. I loved Susan, our protagonist, for her sweetness and because she wasn't typecast as the fat funny girl. Call this a modern take on The Breakfast Club, where, instead of detention, these kids have an entire semester of after-school meetings with the counselor because of some bad behavior they each engaged in. Each participant is developed over the course of the book, morphing into wonderful, well-developed characters. As the book unfolds, we learn why most of them are there, although most of it is saved for what turns out to be the climax, since what should have been the climax is not actually included in the book.

I feel a bit guilty for withholding praise for what is NOT in the book, but with this one, I have to. There's an agent who posts on her blog the importance of knowing where to start your story. This author seemed not to know where to end her story. Normally, if that was the case, you'd think it was because an author dragged on and on after the climax, or left you with a cliffhanger. But this one just sort of...ended. Abruptly. In the middle of nowhere, right before what had been building towards what I thought would be the climax. It wasn't the kind of ending that lets you imagine what happens next, but the kind that makes you wonder if some pages were missing from your book, or if an incomplete draft got sent to the publisher and no one noticed. So while I enjoyed the book, I didn't enjoy the not-book that was missing.

I'm not opposed to book without happily-ever-after endings. I'm not opposed to a few loose ends--I like feeling like the characters live on after the last page. But this book leaves A LOT of loose ends. In fact, pretty much every end is left hanging.

(view spoiler)

Still, while I was reading it, I was completely captivated. It was one of those books that made me wish I'd written it. For someone who thinks the characters make the novel, this was perfect. Susan was sweet, but not too much of a pushover, and not a cliche. Amber was tough and wounded, but not a cliche either. Tracy, the perfect cheerleader who wasn't perfect, clashes with Brendon, the ostracized gay guy. Though some of the characters aren't exactly original, they all come alive enough that it doesn't matter that they are types, because here, they are real people who just happen to fall into a category. Each character is handled with compassion, realism, and care. Overall, Randy was the character who elicited the most emotion. He was the sweet jock, idolized by our protagonist but not quite as perfect as she'd like to imagine. He went along with the bullying, even when he didn't agree with it, which made him as culpable as anyone. I would have liked Susan to accept this a bit more than she did, but it didn't affect the story much. It was a nice change in today's YA landscape to read about a girl falling for the nice-guy hero. Honestly, I kept waiting for her to fall for Cal, because, well, that's how most YA girls are portrayed now--always irresistibly attracted to the asshole. Randy's character was so wonderfully drawn, someone we have all known, who goes along with his friends even when he shouldn't, easy-going and kind to everyone.

This is a wonderful book about bullying, conformity, friendship, family, stereotypes, and judging people, among other things. There are lots of books with the same message, but not many as good as this one. Would have been a 5-star if it had felt complete, or had a real ending. </["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]>

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