Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: Summer of the Mariposas

Title: Summer of the Mariposas
Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published: 1 October 2012
Pages: 352
Rating: 6 / 10
Challenges: N/A

Synopsis: "When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.

With the supernatural aid of ghostly La Llorona via a magical earring, Odilia and her little sisters travel a road of tribulation to their long-lost grandmother’s house. Along the way, they must outsmart a witch and her Evil Trinity: a wily warlock, a coven of vicious half-human barn owls, and a bloodthirsty livestock-hunting chupacabras. Can these fantastic trials prepare Odilia and her sisters for what happens when they face their final test, returning home to the real world, where goddesses and ghosts can no longer help them?

Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and maternal love." (from GoodReads)

My Review: Disclaimer: I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. There will be mild spoilers.

This was a quick, intriguing read. The book is divided up into three sections. The first deals with Odilia and her sisters discovering a dead body and deciding what to do about it. This was my least favorite section, as the sisters spent a lot of time bickering and were somewhat annoying. The fantasy aspect (the girls receive spiritual guidance from La Llorna - who inspires sympathy more than fear) was a nice touch, and paved the way for the more fantastical elements to come later.

The second section follows along the familiar hero's journey from The Odyssey. I loved the way the monsters were updated! Circe tries to turn them into to "pigs" by stuffing them with drugged sweets, the nuaga and lechuzas (Scylla and Charybdis?) were unsettling and scary, and the cyclops turns out to be a one-eyed chupacabras! The scene with the chupabras was frustrating, because I felt like the girls weren't learning from their past mistakes, but it actually turned into a pretty big turning point in their growth as characters.

In the third section, the girls get reunited with their abuelita, mother, and even long-lost father (for a bit). This section included a really interesting twist on the suitors from The Odyssey. Overall I found the book very enjoyable. I liked the literary and folk lore allusions, the way Spanish was woven into the dialogue and narrative, the motif of metamorphosis, and the fact that there was no romance! (At least, not for the sisters). All of the love in this book is familial, and that's something that doesn't get talked about enough in YA books.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book as well, leave me a message in the comments and I'll link to your review.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: Netherworld

Title: Netherworld
Author: Lisa Morton
Genre: Historical Fiction/Steampunk/Horror/Fantasy
Published: January 2014
Pages: 282
Rating: 2 / 10
Challenges: N/A

Synopsis: "In nineteenth-century Victorian England, a young widow finds that she has inherited more than her late husband’s property: The Furnavals serve as the ancestral keepers of supernatural portals scattered around the globe. When demonic entities begin crossing over from the Netherworld, Lady Diana realizes that a war is brewing, and she must be the one to confront it." (from Goodreads)

My Review: Disclaimer: I received an electronic version of this book from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers list in exchange for an honest review.

Here it is: I didn't like this book. I had to force myself to keep reading, even though it's relatively short, at least by my usual reading standards. I found the characters ridiculous and unbelievable and the historical bits anachronistic, and a huge chunk of the book was incredibly racist and offensive. The story sounded interesting; I expected Diana to be a steampunk Buffy Summers, kicking ass and killing demons. Instead, she's more of a Mary Sue (and I hate to use that phrase). She relies entirely too much on the men around her, and for a character who is purported to be intelligent I found many of her actions to be unconscionably stupid. I think (hope) this is meant to be an alternate universe, which would make some of the quibbles I have with the historical aspects of the story forgivable (but still bothersome to me). The worst part was the section which took place in China. My boyfriend is Chinese (so maybe I'm overly-sensitive to stereotyping?), and I found the trope of the "noble savage" a bit hard to swallow. Don't even get me started on the magic cat (who can understand English and is apparently indestructible). Or the two (TWO) near-rapes Diana endures after being seduced by demons pretending to be her husband. Or the resolution of the storyline involving her husband.

This book was definitely not for me. Perhaps I'm just not a fan of the steampunk/horror genre. It is the first in a new series, but I will not be reading any others.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book as well, leave me a message in the comments and I'll link to your review.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab

Title: Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab
Authors: "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Genre: Children's Literature
Published: November 5, 2013
Pages: 237
Rating: 4 / 5
Challenges: N/A

Synopsis: From the back cover: "An abandoned house at the end of the block. A mysterious girl in an upstairs window. A strange black SUV lurking around every corner. When Nick and Tesla Holt are sent to live with their eccentric Uncle Newt, they find their new neighborhood is full of secrets. What the heck is going on?
To unravel the mysteries (and save their skins), Nick and Tesla must use everyday household objects to build electromagnets, rocket launchers, and other crazy contraptions - and instructions are included throughout the story so you can build them, too!"

My Review: I requested this book from Library Thing's Early Reviewers list specifically because the premise sounded so interesting. I'm a teacher, and I've seen first-hand how difficult it can be to get kids into learning. A book that includes science projects that you can do at home? Sign me up!

I'm obviously not the target audience for this series, but I did enjoy it. The projects range in complexity (a few require adult supervision or assistance with power tools), but they didn't feel gimmicky or shoe-horned-in, which was one concern I had before reading. The characters are well-rounded and likeable: Nick and Tesla are both intelligent, but have distinct personalities that have nothing to do with being twins named for a respected inventor. Their uncle, Newt, stays just this side of "Mad Scientist" caricature by attempting to (and somewhat succeeding at?) being a Responsible Caregiver. The plot is a pretty standard mystery story, but even I didn't figure it out until the end. The only quibble I have is that this is obviously the first book in a series because it leaves you with so many questions about Nick and Tesla's parents. I'm not sure if I'll continue to read the series personally, but I'll recommend it to younger readers without hesitation.

Full disclosure: I received my copy from Quirk Books through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. I'm planning on passing it along to my cousin and his kids, because his oldest daughter is really into engineering and I think she'd like making some of these experiments (with his supervision!).

Other Reviews: If you have reviewed this book as well, leave me a message in the comments and I'll link to your review.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vampire Weekend covers "Blurred Lines"

I hear this song EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Many times. I'm not a fan of the date-rape-y-ness, but I really love this cover.

Friday, July 12, 2013

My thoughts on Pacific Rim; or, Why Chuck Hansen should've been a girl

Tuesday night, Batman got passes for us to go to an advanced screening of Pacific Rim. If you're like me and knew nothing about the movie, here's the trailer:

I went in without really caring much about it, which probably worked in its favor. Because I thought it was awesome! Lots of fun, lots of action, an interesting world with a lot of possibilities for future sequels/prequels/spin-offs, etc. The plot was pretty by-the-book (it was exactly - EXACTLY - like Independence Day, but with mechs/Jaegers instead of fighter pilots) and the characters were one-note archetypes, but I really enjoyed it. If I were to see it again, I would not choose IMAX 3D (or at least, not in the front like we were for the screening) because I thought I was going to be sick for the first ten minutes. It took me almost the entire cold open to get used to the effects, and there were a few scenes throughout the movie that were incredibly headache-inducing. On the whole, though, it was one of the best action movies I've seen in a while.

Which brings me to my idea for how to make it even better! As you can tell from the trailer, the Jaegers are piloted by teams of two (and in one case, three). The partners have to "drift" - allow their minds to meld together - in order to successfully pilot the mechs, so it helps if they're related in some way. That's not always a necessity, though.

If you've already seen the movie, my AU/fanfic musings are below. If you haven't seen it and want to remain unspoiled, now's your chance to bail.

Still with me? Okey dokey...

I propose that the star of the movie should've been Chuck Hansen, the hot-headed, brash Australian with daddy issues. And I think he should've been a girl.

In my version (which I will happily act out with action figures, if anyone's game), the movie opens with the fight in Japan. Mako is rescued by Stacker, who has to give up piloting the Jaeger due to health problems. His partner, Herc Hansen, suggests allowing his daughter (still Chuck, because it worked for Pushing Daisies) to replace him. Fem-Chuck still has daddy issues: her mother abandoned them when she was young, so Chuck grew up idolizing her militaristic father and wanting to emulate him, even going so far as to apply for the Jaeger program to follow in his footsteps. She and her father are compatible driftmates (of course) and they go on to become one of the most successful Jaeger teams in the world. Chuck deals with feelings of inadequacy because she's trying to fill the void left by both her mother and Stacker. Plus, she's one of the first female Jaeger pilots and the near-future is about as progressive and female-friendly as our current society. She's constantly fighting for what she feels is her rightful place in society, and it makes her not very pleasant to be around as a result.

Years pass, and the Jaeger program is being shut down in favor of building the walls. Chuck and Herc travel to China, where they learn that Herc's old partner is putting together a team with the goal of blowing up the portal to the Kaiju homeworld. Mako is given the opportunity to partner with Raleigh. Stacker is against this, because he wants to protect his adopted daughter and keep her from turning into Chuck. Chuck is antagonistic to them both because she sees it as favoritism; she's used to being the female prodigy, but Mako is just as adept and has trained just as hard as she did. This is also the first time she's seen Mako since their initial meeting, and as a result Chuck is reliving her old feelings of inadequacy and abandonment. It messes with her concentration during the Hong Kong attack, leading to her father getting injured and their subsequent rescue by Gypsy Danger. When Herc is unable to go on the final strike against the breach, Chuck and Stacker team up. (They're highly compatible driftmates because they have both worked with Herc.) There's no need for Stacker to be snarky to Chuck about her "daddy issues;" if anything, he can relate because of his bond with Mako. When they have to sacrifice themselves to help Gypsy Danger destroy the portal, Chuck realizes that this is something she can do to really make a difference in the world and help save it. She's always wanted to make her father proud, and now she has the chance to do exactly that. Stacker recognizes this and realizes that he's giving his daughter a chance at a life free from the pressure of living up to him. He would much rather die a hero, helping to save the world, than have Mako watch him slowly die a painful death from radiation poisoning.

I realize that my version isn't perfect (Why doesn't Herc have radiation poisoning, too, if he's been piloting a Jaeger even longer than Stacker?), but I don't care. I'd much rather watch a female protagonist with actual characterization and motivation than three nearly identical (seriously, you can't tell these guys apart) men who are all variations on the action-hero trope. Also, I think it would be interesting to explore a father/daughter relationship, especially within the context of the drift.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Fourth!

...or, as my aunt told me on Facebook this morning, "May the Fourth be with you!" (I'm not entirely sure she understood my Star Wars Day post.)

Today I completed my fifth Peachtree Road Race. It was a great day for running - drizzling and overcast, with just a bit of wind - and I actually made pretty good time. I started out the race with my buddy Jason:
but I couldn't keep up with him for too long. 

My right knee has been bothering me since I finished my fourth half-marathon this past March. I went to the doctor for my yearly check-up yesterday and she checked it out (I even got it x-rayed!) and told me it's probably fine, just normal getting old stuff (hmph!), but I should take it easy after this race and work on strengthening my quads. So, I was a little worried about running today and decided I would take it slow. Of course, all that didn't stop me from signing up for three more races at the Expo when I picked up my number! 

Batman met me at the end of the race with chocolate milk and a car ride back to his apartment (which was awesome, because I really didn't want to walk that hill after doing 6.2 miles!). My post-race tradition is to hit up the Midtown Vortex for a veggie burger, Yokohama Mama-style, with tater tots and ranch dressing for dipping. Technically I'm still on the slow carb diet, but I took a mini cheat day. It was worth it!

Now we're just relaxing at home. Fireworks have been canceled or postponed until Labor Day, so I'm pretty sure we'll just be chilling out and playing Tetris for the rest of the day. 

Happy Birthday, America! :)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Links

Cleaning out my Instapaper links...

Interesting Reads:
Trust your memory? Maybe you shouldn't
"One conversation with Elizabeth Loftus may shake your confidence in everything you think you remember. Loftus is a cognitive psychologist and expert on the malleability of human memory. She can, quite literally, change your mind.

Her work is reminiscent of films like "Memento" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," where what you believe happened is probably far from the truth -- whether you're the eyewitness to a crime or just trying to move past a bad relationship." [via]

Masturbation Is at the Root of the Culture Wars
"The 19th century's secularized anxiety about masturbation was rooted in a fearful reaction to women's growing demands for political and economic power. Simply put, doctors and moralists feared that masturbation made men more dependent—and women less so. Kellogg and Graham worried that boys who masturbated would not only lose their physical vitality, but would become more easily influenced and even dominated by women. The boy who could resist pleasuring himself as a teen was learning the strength he'd need not to allow himself to be manipulated and hen-pecked by his future wife. At the same time, Granville, Baker-Brown, and their peers worried that a woman who learned to give herself sexual pleasure might pursue self-sufficiency in other areas. At a time of rising male anxiety about feminist demands for suffrage, female masturbation became an unsettling symbol of women's independence." [via]

Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alight as long as you do good
I already like him more than Pope Palpatine! [via]

For the Homestead:
Use a French Press to Add Flavor to Your Beer
These all sound delicious, but I really can't wait to try the Framboise with cocoa nibs - yum! [via]

The Best Pocket-Sized Tools for Your Inner MacGuyver

How to Build the Essential Toolbox for Every Level of DIY

The Sweethome
"It’s a list of the best home gear, each item chosen mindfully and in accordance with many hours of research and interviews with the world’s most knowledgable experts and testers, all in service of backing up our own testing and opinions. It’s not a blog. We don’t do news and we don’t post multiple times a day—we just want to help you pick out great gear and get on with your life." [via]

Literary Fun:
Four Literary Pub Crawls We Love

How to make a multi-book secret stash

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NYC 2013, Part One

Last week, Jon and I went to NYC. It was an incredibly packed trip - we had something planned almost every day! This is already a super-long post (really unusual for a blog that rarely gets updated anymore), so I'm dividing it up. Here are the highlights from the first half of the week:

Our first night, we went to a D20 Burlesque show. This one was especially awesome, because it was a tribute to Joss Whedon!
Even the drinks were Whedon-themed! I had a Slayer-Ade and it was delicious.
"Anya" and "Xander" sang and danced (and stripped) to "I'll Never Tell" from the "Once More with Feeling" episode of Buffy.
The best was definitely Astonishing X-Man Cyclops - he even had tasseled pasties over his eyes to mimic optic blasts!

That evening, we saw ASSSSCAT 3000 at the UCB Theater. It was so crowded, we actually sat ON the stage. I didn't take any pictures in the theater, since that was a big no-no (and would've been really noticeable during the improv, considering we were practically sitting in their laps), but one of the shows is available on YouTube:

At the crack of dawn (seriously), we arrived at the Dominique Ansel Bakery to wait in line for our cronuts:
Let me tell you, the whole cronut thing is NUTS. Jon discovered them while he was researching stuff for us to do in the city, and the hullabaloo over them only intensified in the days leading up to our trip. This is an approximation of a conversation I had with my mom the day before we left:

Mom: Are you guys going to get cronuts while you're there?
Me: How do you even know what a cronut is?
Mom: They were talking about them on the news.

Holy cow. You know it's big when my mom has heard about it. So anyway, we got to the bakery a good two hours before the opening and ended up being 10th and 11th in line. One of the men in line in front of us turned out to be a homeless guy who had been paid $40 by a yuppie to wait in line for him. (!) When Dominique opened up the shop, he was really nice and said hi to everyone, but he refused to allow one guy in because he was an honest-to-God CRONUT SCALPER. Seriously, these people buy the cronuts for $5, then turn around and sell them for $20 - $50. EACH.

Long story short(-er), the cronuts were delicious. Maybe not worth standing in line for two hours again, but definitely worth it for the experience. We also went back to the bakery later in the week to try some of the other pastries; I actually preferred the salted-caramel eclair to the cronut.

Our Monday night was spent at my favorite Brooklyn bar, The Way Station. It's Doctor Who-themed! The walls are decorated in steampunk paraphernalia and the bathroom entrance is a TARDIS (because it's bigger on the inside):

The reason we went to the Way Station on this particular night, however, was because of the band playing there: The Doubleclicks! My current favorite song (and not just because they dedicated it to me, the only English major in the crowd) is "Oh, Mr. Darcy," which you can hear here:

We didn't have anything planned for Tuesday, but while I was getting ready in the morning Jon managed to get us tickets to that day's taping of The Daily Show. This involved going to Hell's Kitchen in the afternoon to stand in line to pick up the tickets, then coming back an hour and a half later to wait in line for the actual taping.
The show was great; John Oliver is incredibly funny and the guest was one of my favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan.

Continuing our comedy motif, that night we went to the Sweet Comedy Show. It was kind of a weird show - the comedians were great, but there were some very drunk hecklers in the balcony that really detracted from the show and threw off the vibe of the room. By a strange coincidence, I had read this excellent essay by Patton Oswalt earlier the same day. To read about how hecklers can affect a show and then to actually see them do it was disconcerting. I was glad when they finally left (after being called out by the comedians and yelled at by the rest of us in the audience), but I felt really bad for the comedians who had to put up with them during their sets.

That seems like a really weird place to end this part of the travelogue, so instead I'll leave you with this list of the 10 most satisfying cases of hecklers getting destroyed. Stay tuned for Part Two!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Slow Carb Day 1

Last month, some of my friends started the Slow Carb diet and really enjoyed it. It's basically a modified paleo diet: no dairy, fruit, or carbs. It sounded terrible to this particular cheese-bread-and-banana-lover, but they lost a lot of weight and felt healthier, so my boyfriend and I decided to give it a try, too. We He invested in a fancy scale that measures BMI, fat %, muscle %, water %, etc, and I set up a new Excel document so we can track the numbers (nerd alert!). One thing I've already learned: weigh yourself in the morning! I lost 4.5 pounds between last night and this morning.

We just finished our first meal on the diet: a breakfast of egg whites, spinach, black beans, and salsa. It was more eggs than I'm used to eating early in the morning (1 1/8 cup of liquid egg whites!), and it's definitely filling. We get a cheat day on Saturdays, so went spent yesterday eating whatever we wanted to prepare. This included dim sum, Moe's (which is actually okay on the diet, provided you forgo the rice, cheese, chips, and sour cream), and King of Pops. One of the suggestions for the diet is that you take a picture of everything you eat. The idea is that if you are too embarrassed to post the picture where others can see it - and mock you for not sticking to your diet - then you probably shouldn't put it in your body. I've been using Foodspotting for a while now as just a way to keep track of foods that I like, so if you're at all interested in seeing what I'm eating you can follow me there.

The creator of the diet claims that you can lose 20 pounds in 30 days without exercising. I'm curious to see if that's true (my friends didn't lose nearly that much), but I'll also be continuing with my walking/running training with my Nike+ app. I just recently finished my first half-marathon of the year and am contemplating doing the Women's Nike full marathon in San Fransisco later this year with Team in Training. My only hesitation would be the fundraising costs associated with it, but I feel like I have a good support system in place and have gotten to the point in my training where I can take it to the next level. I was really proud of my performance in the Publix Georgia half. I beat six of my records (at least according to Nike+): 1 mile, 1k, 5k, 10k, half-marathon, and distance.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Running tips from a fat girl

This past New Year's Eve, my boyfriend and I went to my sister's house. When someone inquired why I wasn't drinking, I explained that we were doing the Resolution Run 5k the next morning, so we didn't want to be hungover. One of my sister's well-intentioned friends then started talking about a woman she worked with who had lost a lot of weight by running.

Now, I love my sister's friends (even though quite a few of them have morphed into those annoying, "let me tell you all about my precious child" people that I purposely hide posts from on Facebook), but this kind of thing happens to me almost every time someone hears that I run or have completed a few half-marathons. Yes, I am overweight. No, I am not running (well, walk/running) to loose that extra weight. At least, not completely. In the three years since I've started participating in running events, I've only lost about 15 pounds. Part of that is because I'll never really be as serious about it as some people, but another part is that I just run for fun. It got me thinking, though: I've actually learned quite a bit about this sport, and (since one of my resolutions is to write more) I decided to dust off the old blog and share what I know (or at least, am somewhat opinionated about) with the Internet.

First Things First

Running is probably the best individual sport there is. It's free, or nearly so (more on that below) and the only person you have to compete with is yourself! I usually run with my boyfriend, who is and probably always will be faster than I am, and I really enjoy pushing myself to go faster and further than before...most of the time. If you have a pair of shoes (even if you don't; running barefoot is a big movement right now) you can be/become a runner.


What I wrote earlier about running being free is totally true. BUT, if you do have the funds I would recommend getting some decent shoes. I was fitted for and buy mine at Big Peach Running Company in Atlanta. Yes, shoes can get pricey, but I wear mine out. They're supposed to be retired after 800 miles, but I have a pair that I still use for short walks because I'm frugal. As far as clothing goes, I love Danskin (available at Wal-Mart) for tights and sports bras. (Boys, you're on your own as far as underthings are concerned, sorry!) I've also amassed a pretty large collection of short- and long-sleeved running shirts, but those are from various running events (which I pay to enter). A membership in a local track club is also a pretty good investment - I've been a member of the ATC for three years running, and I love it! I live too far away from the city to go to any meet-ups, but I am guaranteed a spot in the Peachtree Road Race (which is worth the cost of membership alone, IMO), I get a shirt from Big Peach, and I have access to free or discounted race events throughout the year. YMMMV (pun intended)


1. If you're running outside, don't listen to music. If you're running with someone, it's rude - you should be talking to your running buddy, not ignoring them. If you're running by yourself, it can prevent you from paying attention to your surroundings, which can be dangerous. Most running events include a rule about not listening to music on race day, because you may not be able to hear warnings from race officials or volunteers. I know this is one suggestion that most people will ignore or scoff at, but it's a pretty important one so I'm putting it first. If you need music to motivate you to run, stick to the treadmill at the gym.
2. Drink water and eat something. The week leading up to a big race, I keep a water bottle on me and fill it up constantly. The day of, I have a glass or two first thing and then drink a cup at every available water station along the route. If it's the summer, drink more (duh). As far as food goes, I usually have a peanut butter sandwich and a banana an hour or two before the race. If you're doing a longer run (10k+?) and want to carboload, I've been told it's more effective to do it two nights before, but I usually wait until the night before. I don't eat as I'm running, but during my half-marathons or longer training runs I like to suck on hard candies or peppermints. Chomps or honey are good for a sugar boost during a long run, as are gels - just make sure you drink PLENTY of water with them. And when you get finished, chug some chocolate milk or a beer. (Sidenote: yay, SCIENCE!)
3. Be smart. If you're running outside, try to go with a friend. If you prefer to run alone, make sure someone knows where you're going and what time you should be back. Stick to well-lit areas that you know and are comfortable with. These things should be common sense.
4. Make sure you stretch. I used to get the worst shin splints, and I realized it was because I wasn't stretching out my calves properly. I usually wait until I've warmed up a bit before I stretch out, and I always stretch after a run. After a long run, or when my legs feel particularly sore, I've done ice baths but those hurt almost as much as the soreness. Elevating your legs also helps, and remember not to push yourself too much.
5. Not so much a safety tip, but just a good thing to do in general: be courteous. If you're running in a race, keep to the right unless you're passing someone (just like when you're driving - in a perfect world). If you're running in a group, try not to cluster up too much, because it can prevent faster individuals from passing you. If you're going to stop or slow down, don't do it in the middle of the road (unless you really want to get trampled). Say hi and thank you to the volunteers and police officers who are helping out. At water stops, slow down and step to the side, and toss your cup into the bin provided. Just throwing your empty (or worse, full) cup on the ground creates a hazard for people coming after you who could slip and is unnecessary litter for volunteers to clean up afterwards. (If you're serious about your time, wear a water belt so you don't have to worry slowing down or stopping.)

That's all I have for right now, but I'm sure I'll think of more as the year progresses. I've finished one 5k already, but I have a few more events scheduled (including The Color Run, the Peachtree Road Race, and the Publix Georgia half-marathon). Eventually I'd like to work up to a full marathon, but for now that's still pretty far in the future. Happy running!