Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Butterfly Cupcakes: A Pinterest Success

Aren't these butterfly cupcakes just so cute and spring-y? I actually had good luck with something from Pinterest for a change -- here's the link to my "pinspiration." 

The wings are white chocolate-covered pretzels. The initial recipe used pre-made pretzels but I dipped my own -- and then used sprinkles to cover up the mess I made of the chocolate. The butterfly bodies are pastel M&Ms and the antennae are a pull-apart sour candy that I snipped into little pieces.

These decorations were fun and fairly easy to put together and the chocolate-covered pretzels added a yummy, crunchy, slightly salty element to balance out the sweetness. Success!


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Literary Lexicon #1

Hello and welcome to a new feature on the blog, Lindsay's Literary Lexicon! One thing I love about reading is that it's constantly teaching me something -- often, new words. I always like to keep my phone handy so I can look up unfamiliar words in my dictionary app, and I thought it'd be fun to share all the additions to my vocabulary (and other stuff I have to look up too, from flowers to snakes to castles). Do tell -- what new words have you learned lately?

1. conkers:
horse chestnuts; a game in which each player swings a horse chestnut on a string to try to break one held by the opponent
"She had beautiful hair. Conker-brown, but conkers when they're freshly fallen, before they dull." -- Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

2. whist: to be silent, hush
"When I met him he was thirty-six, already eleven unimaginable years into his unhappy union. He once said that you would imagine time spent like that would crawl by -- the inverse of it flying when you are enjoying yourself. But in fact those years, packed tightly with obligation -- tennis doubles and dinner parties and whist drives -- had been compressed instead." -- Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan

3. haptic: relating to or based on the sense of touch
-- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

4. ontology: a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being; a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence
"Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation" -- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

5. carapace: a hard shell on the back of some animals, such as turtles or crabs
-- Golden Son by Pierce Brown

6. aegis: a shield or breastplate emblematic of majesty that was associated with Zeus and Athena; a protection
-- Golden Son by Pierce Brown

7. susurrus: a whispering or rustling sound

8. inchoate: not completely formed or developed yet

9. funicular: having the form of or associated with a cord, usually under tension

10. logorrhea: excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness (I like this one!)

And, after repeatedly reading about them in "Fiercombe Manor," I looked up buttercups. I was surprised to learn they're part of the ranunculus family. And apparently the type of flower I always think of as a ranunculus -- round and vibrant with tightly packed petals -- is sometimes called a persian buttercup. (image source)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review: "Fiercombe Manor" by Kate Riordan

"Fiercombe Manor" by Kate Riordan
First published in 2015
403 pages
My rating: 2.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short of It:

This disappointing book had promise but the plot never developed enough for my taste and I didn't really grow to care about the characters. A bit of a snoozefest with some vagaries that were never explained.

The Long of It:
The cover of "Fiercombe Manor" totally pulls me in, from the mottled sky to the charming old manor to the nifty font. And it's supposed to be right up the alley of Kate Morton fans, so I was all set to love this book.

Unfortunately, I found this novel to be rather dull, and I was confused as to exactly what type of book I was reading for most of it. Was it a novel of secrets and lies? Was it a mystery? Was it a ghost story? (It's not a ghost story, but the elements that made me think it was -- suspicious noises, spooky lights where there shouldn't be any, mysterious coincidences -- were never actually explained, which was frustrating.)

"Fiercombe Manor" tells the tales of two women: unwed expectant mother Alice Everleigh in 1936, and Elizabeth Stanton, also pregnant, in 1898. Alice is sent to Fiercombe, tucked away in a secluded valley in England's Cotswolds, to see out her shameful pregnancy away from London. She quickly becomes engrossed in the shrouded, hushed-up story of the valley's past and its former occupants, the Stantons.

Meanwhile in 1898 we meet Elizabeth, wife to an overbearing English lord. After a severe case of postpartum depression following her daughter's birth as well as two miscarriages, she's praying to deliver a healthy baby boy. I had a pretty tough time warming up to Alice, but Elizabeth's slowly unfolding story is so pitiful that the reader can't help but feel some sympathy for her. I was definitely disgusted by chauvinistic culture of the 1800s and Elizabeth's husband's power to make decisions for her, and I mustered up a decent amount of hatred for the ignorant, arrogant man and the unenlightened ways of the era.

However, I'm sorry to say that "Fiercombe Manor" just didn't hold my attention, and I even thought about giving up on it. But I felt sure that the big twist -- the exciting reveal, the final connecting of the pieces -- would make it all worth it so I soldiered on. Sadly, I was disappointed in the predictable dual climaxes and I found myself skimming the last 20 pages so it'd be over faster!

In a way I can understand the comparison to Kate Morton -- "Fiercombe Manor" is a past and present story about two women, one trying to unravel the mysteries and secrets surrounding the other. But, though I've only read one Kate Morton book, I can say that it was completely engrossing. All I wanted to do was read, whereas with "Firecombe Manor" I had to force myself to pick up the book. Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but I'd advise you not to be pulled in by the charming and intriguing cover and skip this one.

P.S. Another (minor but sort of annoying) problem I had was that I could never figure out how to pronounce "fiercombe." Is it fier like fire or fier like pier?

P.P.S. I do have a quotable quote to share that sums up nicely how I feel about old houses: "Fiercombe Manor is one of those houses people have always been fascinated by...You glimpse places like it sometimes, usually from a train window. Lonely houses tucked into the countryside, almost hidden in the folds of the hills. You wonder who lives in them, what's happened in their history."

Monday, April 20, 2015

My Current Favorite Authors -- And Why It Was Hard To Choose

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish was a deceptively difficult one. Favorite authors, how hard could that be? Ten, even five, years ago I could've easily rattled off a list of authors I loved, but my tastes have changed and so have my reading habits.

Before I started blogging -- and working at a library where want to devour pretty much everything in sight -- I would go to the library or a bookstore, browse around, find a book that looked interesting, and if I really enjoyed it then I'd probably go ahead and read a bunch of other works by that author.

But a quick glance at my Goodreads stats will tell you that nowadays I rarely read more than one book by a given author in a row -- or even in the same year. Now if I find an author I like, I always vow to make my way through the rest of his or her books... but then I seldom do, at least not in one fell swoop right away. I'm almost overwhelmed with the number of books I want to read, from brand new releases to books published in the 1800s, and it's hard to go back to a familiar author when there are so many more to discover! It's nice that I get exposure to huge variety of writers, but I'm also worried I'm missing out on a lot of authors who could easily become favorites if I'd read more than one of their books, people like Kate Morton, Barbara Kingsolver and Spencer Quinn.

While there are some authors who are automatic reads for me, like Dan Brown, Emily Giffin and Donna Andrews, they're not necessarily favorites. An author's writing really has to be something special to receive that accolade.

Below (and in no particular order because they're all great) are authors I'm constantly recommending and raving about -- my favorites.

"Red Rising" and the sequel, "Golden Son" were two superb books that I blew through this year. I can't wait for the trilogy finale next spring! Also, I must say that Pierce Brown is my new crush -- an attractive writer with geeky interests and good fashion sense. Sigh... He's a little bit dreamy!

Deborah Harkness's All Souls trilogy is currently my favorite series (although it may just end up being tied for first or eclipsed by the Red Rising and Bone Season series). Harkness is an amazing writer and I'm anxiously awaiting whatever she might put out next!

I love Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily novels and I hope the series never ends! I adore Lady Emily, and like that these period mysteries are cozy but not at all cheesy.

I have read every single one of the Stephanie Plum novels as well as most of the standalones, and I love the Wicked series. I'm so excited for the next book to come out in June! Janet is always good for a laugh.

Both "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken" were phenomenal reads. Hillenbrand is a master at writing non-fiction that's as engrossing as a novel. I wonder what topic she'll tackle next? I will definitely be reading it, whatever it is!

"The Mime Order" was absolutely unputdownable and is tied with "Red Rising" (and "Golden Son") for the best book I read this year. There are five more books coming in Shannon's Bone Season series, which means five more years of awesome reads!

I'm slowly working my way through the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. Featuring an older Holmes in semi-retirement and a young genius named Mary, these books are a must for any Sherlock fan.

"Me Before You" was such a moving read and I'm looking forward to both the sequel, out this fall, and the movie adaptation -- which, by the way, has the PERFECT cast: Emilia Clarke (aka Daenerys on "Game of Thrones) and Sam Claflin (aka Finnick in the Hunger Games movies). I also really enjoyed "One Plus One" and I am committed to eventually reading all of Moyes' books. Do you have a favorite? I think "The Girl You Left Behind" will be my next selection.

Do tell: who are YOUR favorite authors? Have you read any of mine? (If not, you should!)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Review: "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline
First published in 2011
372 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

Things pretty much suck on Earth in the 2040s. Global warming has wrecked the planet and we've basically run out of fossil fuels. Gas got so prohibitively expensive that refugees flocked to the urban areas with their last tank and many people are forced to live in "the stacks" -- mobile homes piled 20 high on top of each other.

Lawlessness, poverty and depression abound. So it's no surprise that most people spend their days inside an ultra-realistic video game called the OASIS. In addition to being the world's biggest and most complex game, avatars conduct real-world business in the OASIS and kids can opt to attend public school in the virtual reality.

When the co-creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a virtual treasure hunt, the winner of which will be awarded his massive fortune. James Halliday was a teenager in the 1980s and has carried his love of that decade's pop culture with him through life -- and it's a key component to completing the quests he's left behind. Get ready for a huge dose of '80s movies, TV shows, music and video games!

Eighteen-year-old Wade Watts -- a.k.a. Parzival in the OASIS -- is one of millions of OASIS users on the hunt for Halliday's prize. He lives with his drug-addict aunt in the stacks, and his escape from the daily misery is his devotion to all things '80s and his dedication to solving the treasure hunt. When he becomes the first person to unravel the first clue, Wade unwittingly stands at the center of a series of events that could have a huge impact on both the virtual reality and the real world.

I loved this novel, which manages to be both fun and serious at the same time. There are cool things like space ships, giant robots and endless '80s references (if you're like me, you'll want to watch and listen to all of them, plus time-travel back to an '80s arcade) as well as more weighty topics like evil corporations, friendship and trust, not to mention the fact that the world has gone to shit.

The only reason I didn't give "Ready Player One" 5 stars is because the writing wasn't really anything special. It was by no means bad -- it was perfectly adequate -- but it lacked any pizazz or beauty. The quirky and unique plot more than makes up for the slightly dull writing, though, and I'll definitely read anything Ernest Cline writes next. And I'm totally excited for the movie version of "Ready Player One," due out in 2016. I can't wait to see a visual depiction of the OASIS!

Monday, April 13, 2015

12 Awesome Bookish Quotes

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt over at The Broke and the Bookish is all about quotes -- specifically, inspirational quotes from books. But I'm woefully poor at keeping track of quotable quotes when I'm reading, so I decided instead to compile some of my favorite words about the joys of books. Some were spoken by book characters, others are authors' quotes. Several of these are prints on Etsy -- wouldn't it be lovely to surround yourself with beautiful book-themed art?

This is my all-time favorite bookish quote! I love dogs, I love books, I love a good chuckle. Spot on, Groucho Marx!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: "Neverhome" by Laird Hunt

"Neverhome" by Laird Hunt
First published in 2014
243 pages
My rating: 3 stars
Image from Goodreads

The cover is lovely, the prose was absolutely wonderful, and the storyline -- of a woman who poses as a man to fight in the Civil War -- had potential. But "Neverhome" just didn't quite do it for me.

Constance Thompson is haunted by some hefty tragedies, like her mother's suicide and a baby who died the day it was born. On top of that, she's married to a weak-willed man more suited to tending house than shooting a gun. With something to prove -- to herself most of all -- she decides to dress as a man and represent her farm and the state of Indiana in the war.

She vows never to turn and run from anything, and truth be told she's pretty badass. Constance is smart, cunning, brave and strong, and she puts many a man to shame. But her strengths don't keep bad things from happening to her, and she'll have to rely on all her wits to make it back home to Bartholomew and their little plot of Indiana farmland.

"Neverhome" is written as if Constance is telling us her tale and Hunt has done a brilliant job with the prose. There was just so much voice to this book and the writing was filled with beautiful metaphors and turns of phrase. I copied down several passages that caught my attention. For instance:

"He did not look grand and gray any longer. He looked old. Like the fist of years had found out his face and struck a sure blow."

"She had a small voice. About the size of a popcorn kernel only got heated halfway at the bottom of the pot."

But despite the fairly interesting story, the fascinating Civil War atmosphere and the stellar writing, I had a really hard time connecting with Constance. Even though she was admirable in many ways, Constance wasn't very likeable. And I never really cared what happened to her; the most I could muster was mild curiosity over whether she'd make it home alive or not. And the ending! Talk about a cherry on top of a shit sandwich -- Constance's story is just so damn depressing.

"Neverhome" was fairly short and I loved the writing as well as the depiction of life as a Civil War solider, but it's hard to recommend a book I was never really invested in. There are several other new-ish novels about women who put on pants and fight in the Civil War, like "My Name is Resolute" and "I Shall Be Near to You." I can't vouch for how good they are, but you might give one of them a try instead.
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