Friday, December 5, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This and that and a fried rice recipe

I went to World Fantasy Convention last week. It was awesome. Just a bunch of like-minded people hanging out and talking about geeky stuff. (And for someone who doesn't really have writerly/readerly friends, that was pretty cool.) There was some major bar-hitting (seriously, what is even the point of after-dinner panels), but I skipped out on this because a) I am not a writing professional and as such this is not the once-a-year opportunity to see my friends, b) I am actually quite comfortable passing time by myself, and there was plenty to keep me occupied (um, the dealer's room. um, my friggin' notebook, I'm a writer.), and c) I was staying with a friend down in DC so any large chunks of free time were spent with him.

Some other things:
1. Caitlin R. Kiernan is fucking awesome, and I shall be reading everything of hers.
2. The only book I hoped to find was The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen, and I FOUND IT.
3. The most useful bit of advice came not from a panel, but from a random dude who sat next to me and we started chatting. He was there as a fan, and he said the worst mistake he made as a writer was thinking he could jump right into a novel. He couldn't. So, he got over his aversion to short stories, and started writing them, instead.
      a. The most important thing I need to learn right now is how to finish something. This is timely advice.
      b. I hate short stories. I read novels. I am having trouble finishing my novel (and all my novels). Perhaps there is something to this.
      c. Hey, there was a fantastic dealer's room with plenty of short story collections for about $3 each. I came home with six.
      d. I am now working on my first short story since college. We shall see how this goes. it's fanfiction, because I figure the easiest way to finish something is to remove as many unknown variables as possible. I promise there will not be bagel sex.

Gravelly Point Park. Watch planes take off and land at Reagan Airport, right over top of you! This was awesome.

Graffiti in Crystal City.

What I'm cooking this week

my outrageously kickass fried rice (not that I'm bragging or anything) It fucking rocks. My own recipe! (below)
black bean brownies - With my first attempt, I started with dried beans and cooked until firm, and this made the brownies really dry (the almond meal didn't help either). If you start with dried beans, cook until soft (or use canned--I prefer dry). I am going to try this recipe next.
my usual hummus - I just discovered a new cookbook: Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon, and there are a ton of new hummus recipes I want to try. Also, this whole cookbook is great.
hearty black bean quesadillas - these are especially good for breakfast
fall kale salad - It's kind of an amalgamation of these two recipes
island beans and rice - from Vegan Eats World (one of my favorite cookbooks ever: so many great international recipes! It doesn't matter if you're vegan or not, just use the recipe as a base and add meat if you want). Spiced beans and coconut rice! (Can you tell I'm on a bean kick?)
naan bread

I also need to find a better way to organize my recipe book (it's a binder that I love and want to keep using, but I have to constantly battle my hatred for binders in general). And I'm looking for some good recipe cards so I can pass around recipes for holiday gifts.

Fried Rice

1 batch oven brown rice, chilled completely (at least five hours)
1 lb ground sausage (mild Italian) - get the highest quality sausage you can find, it matters
2 cloves garlic and 2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2-3 large carrots, 2 bell peppers, 1 chile pepper, 2 big handfuls green beans or asparagus, all chopped small
5 eggs, scrambled with soy sauce
soy sauce, sesame oil (required!), and fish sauce (looking for a replacement for the fish sauce.... any ideas? Shit's nasty. I want to try ground seaweed. I've also heard pineapple juice, but I don't want to make everything sweet.)

Oven brown rice (the best method - from America's Test Kitchen)
3 cups uncooked brown rice
4 2/3 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
- Bake at 375 in 9 x 13 dish covered tightly with two layers of tin foil. Bake 1 hour.

1. Cook eggs with sesame oil in large (read: huge if you have it) nonstick skillet (or wok). Set aside.
2. Cook sausage, breaking into small pieces. Set aside.
3. Heat sesame oil, stir fry garlic and ginger. Add veggies and saute. Set aside.
- The trick is to cook the vegetables in a way that doesn't allow anything to get soggy. Carrots first, then peppers and green beans. If using asparagus, cook separately and only put back in at the very end, to keep crisp
4. Heat sesame oil, add rice a bit at a time. Fry until everything is hot and toasted. Drizzle with low sodium soy sauce, more sesame oil, and lightly (!) with fish sauce.
5. Add everything else back to skillet to heat through.

What I'm reading

Kushiel's Dart - Jacqueline Carey
The Stand - Stephen King
The Black Fire Concerto - Mike Allen

Openly Straight - Bill Konigsberg
The Drowning Girl - Caitlin R. Kiernan
The Red Tree - Caitlin R. Kiernan
Ascension - Jacqueline Koyanagi
The Gunslinger - Stephen King

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

So disappointing....

As a correction to my previous post, the anagram is ACTUALLY:

Newt Scamander only meant to stay in New York for a few hours...

No Harry.

The internet is cruel.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014



JK Rowling posted a riddle in a tweet a little while ago: "Cry, foe! Run amok! Fa awry! My wand won't tolerate this nonsense."

Rearranging the letters gets you: "Harry returns! Won’t say any details now. A week off. No comment."

I’m serious.
Holy shit.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Backpacking Gear List (Summer 2014)

Well, I think we've finally done it. After countless hours of research, budgeting almost four months' worth of paychecks (and a few mistakes), we finally have everything we need to go backpacking.

Leave it to us to pick a hobby that requires enough gear to outfit an army. And you can't accumulate gear as you go, buying a little bit here and there. With backpacking, you need everything from the start. Sure, you can make sacrifices, but is it worth it? A pile of blankets will never be as warm as a proper sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Trust me, we've tried.

We are not beginning hikers, but we are beginning backpackers. There is an art to getting everything you need while keeping it light, and more importantly, affordable. We didn't want to go the ultra-cheap route because we wanted our gear to last and we wanted stuff we were excited to use. We also didn't want to go the ultra-expensive route because we are not bazillionaires and hiking is not our only hobby. But using gear lists really helped show the premium lightweight gear versus the great deals that are out there, and we were able to find something in the middle that worked for us.

I'm sure this list will change in the future, once we have been able to trail-test everything several times to see what worked and what didn't. But hopefully someone else will find this useful, just as I found other gear lists useful.

Any additional thoughts about the items follow after the lists. Prices reflect what we actually paid, not the full price. There are a few instances where Phil and I preferred different items, and I included that. Unless noted, assume we both have the same gear. A tip for buying discounted gear at Dick's, REI, or EMS: wait for sales around national holidays. We bought our packs during the REI Labor Day sale and saved $150. I did not include stuff sacks in these lists because I am not a gram weenie.

Pack, Shelter, and Sleep System (The Big 3)

Eureka tent components, sleeping bag and pad, and both packs shown.

Tent: Eureka Sunriver 2P $120 (5 lbs 3 oz total)
Lantern: Stowaway Collapsible Lantern $20 (8 oz)
Groundcloth: Ultrasac 55 gal. Trash Bag $20/box (2 oz)
    Phil's Portion - Main Vestibule and Poles
    My Portion - Stakes, Rainfly, Lantern, and Groundcloth

Sleeping Bag: Teton Trailhead 20 $50 (2.9 lbs)
Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite $40 (14 oz)
Compression Sack for Bag: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil 15L $33 (3 oz)

My Pack: REI Flash 45 $90 (2 lbs 3 oz)
Phil's Pack: Deuter Aircontact 65+10 $130 (6 lbs)
Pack Liner: trash bag from home $0 (0.5 oz)


PACKS. I felt very strongly about having a lightweight pack, and I didn't want a sleeping bag compartment. Phil didn't want to spend a lot of money and he didn't want something brightly colored. We were lucky to find that Deuter bag at such a good discount.

The guy at REI was shocked that I wanted a 50L pack for overnight camping. He kept insisting that the Flash was a day pack. How much stuff do you need for day hiking?? Maybe for climbing gear, but not for hiking. Everything (excluding the sleeping pad, but that's normal) fits inside my pack without a problem. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to strap the sleeping pad to the outside of my pack yet (the square shape is more than a bit annoying) but I'm sure I can work something out.

Future gear wishlist includes an airmat and a specialist tent. Maybe a camp pillow. And a badass sleeping bag that compresses to the size of a cantaloupe.

A pretty awesome update: While getting this post together, I won an ultralight tent from! I'm super excited to try it out. Not only will we have a much lighter tent to carry, but we'll have a spare tent in case we want to go backpacking with friends. The only downside (and it's not really a downside, the tent was free!) is that we'll have to purchase the accessory tent poles because neither of us carry trekking poles. We can pitch it between two trees without poles, but how often can you find the two perfect trees? You can read SectionHiker's review of the Big Agnes Scout 2P tent here, and see the specs and purchase the tent here.


My setup.

My Setup
Packed away.
    Pot (with two cups): Stanley Adventure Cook Set $25 ( oz)
    Stove: Esbit Titanium Folding Stove $15 (0.4 oz)
    Silicon Handle: Lodge Silicone Hot Handle Holder $5 (3 oz)
    Windscreen: super fancy tin foil and paperclip $0 (0.5 oz)

Phil's Setup
    Pot, Stove, Windscreen: Esbit Solid Fuel Stove and Cookset $30 (7 oz)

Each setup also contains:
    Coozie: homemade $8 for sun shade, enough to make many (1 oz)
    Firestarter: Mini BIC Lighter
    Dishsoap: Hotel bottle with natural dish soap
    Sponge: 1/2 scrubby sponge with sponge part sliced to 1/2 thickness


NOTES. Both stoves use Esbit fuel cubes. We wanted something that was light, easy to restock, and not fussy. Our cooking is going to be simple for a while, either over the fire, boiling water, or no-cook granola bars. The cubes smell a bit like bad fish, but keep them wrapped up in a plastic bag and it's fine. Eventually we'll both switch to Snow Peak Ti mug/pot combos with either hot lips, squishy bowls, or camp cups, but the Ti pots are quite expensive. The biggest requirement for any cooking system (in my eyes) is that it all packs away inside itself.

It's funny how strongly we both feel about our separate set ups. I really love mine and dislike Phil's, and Phil really loves his and dislikes mine. But hey, whatever works!

The All-Inclusive Ditty Bag

Ditty Bag: homemade $3
Utensil: Light My Fire Spork $3 (because it doesn't fit inside the stoves)

Hand Sanitizer: CVS Brand 1 oz Pocket Spray
Travel toothbrush and a straw-pack of toothpaste tucked inside $2
Toilet paper in snack-sized ziploc
Lady Hygiene: Summer's Eve Travel Wipes $3
Deodorant: scooped into small tubs
Bug Spray: We have Sawyer Maxi-Deet, but I prefer this. Also this
Sunscreen: Banana Boat Sport Spray $2

2 butterfly closures
1 fabric BandAid, for the stupid easy stuff
1 sterile non-stick pad
1 roll athletic tape
wound irrigation syringe (most pharmacies will give you a couple without the needle for free, just ask)
- Medications (in pill packs):
          2 dipenhydramine (anti-histamine)
          4 lopermaride (anti-diarrhea) - Found it at Target for the cheapest.
          10 ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory)
          6 Tums (trail farts are a thing)
          2 emergency aspirin
- Creams (in straw packs):
          Burn and Sting Relief
          Benadryl Itch Relief
          Bacitracin Antibiotic Cream

Water Treatment: Sawyer Inline Mini Filter $25 (2 oz)
Repair: duct tape rolled onto wooden skewer
Temperature: MCR Mylar Blanket
Light: Tasco 250 Lumen Tactical Flashlight $20 for 3
Tinder: cotton balls coated in vaseline (can also be used for first aid)
Husky multitool
50' paracord
 - Epic Altoids Survival Kit
          razor blade
          knot-tying guide
          Mini fishing kit: 3 hooks, 3 sinkers, 15 ft fishing line (all in a straw pack)
          Needle and 15 ft heavy duty thread
          Backup Water Purification: 5 packs MSR Aquatabs
          Backup Light: Pico Zipper Flashlight
          Backup Fire Starter: Firesteel, with plastic top sawed off
          Another Backup Fire Starter: 4 storm matches in sealed straws, with striker
          emergency whistle
          large nail
          another fabric BandAid
          pocket cable saw
          button compass
          extra hair tie and two bobby pins
          3 safety pins
          pair of ear plugs

Expanded view of Altoids survival kit.
Altoids survival kit all packed up.

DITTY BAG. My ditty bag is 8 x 3.5 x 3.5, and it cost me about $6 to make two bags with enough ripstop nylon leftover to make two more bags. I started with an 11.5 x 14 piece of ripstop. Make sure to melt all cut edges of the nylon with a lighter to prevent fraying. They turned out really nice!

When day hiking everything goes into the ditty bag, but for backpacking it will be easier to keep the non-smellable things in the lid pocket of our packs, like the toilet paper and sanitizer (for obvious reasons) but also the flashlight, water filter, rope, and survival stuff. Then the ditty bag can go whole-hog into the bear bag at night to keep the smellables (first aid kit and soap) away from critters.

FIRST AID KIT. Amounts listed are for a 1-2 day trip, for one person. I keep it in a freezer quart-sized ziploc, which is bigger and sturdier than needed but will keep everything dry, and the bag can come in handy for more uses than storage.

BANDAGES. The athletic tape is heavy and bulky, but it can be use to stabilize a strain (mostly ankles or wrists) or as a bandage when the sticky sides are pressed together. It's clean, and you can make a bandage out of any shape. I still carry a few bandages because they are nearly weightless and can come in handy. If you've ever had a large scrape or burn, you know that nonstick bandages are a godsend.

LIGHT. These flashlights are heavy, but bright and sturdy and the batteries last a long time. Good if you need to pitch camp or hike in the dark. Will blind you for a midnight pee trip, though. Eventually I want to get a headlamp that includes a red LED that won't wreck your night vision or disturb other campers, but this isn't a priority.

SOAP. I really like the idea of using Doc Bronner's All-In-One soap for everything (toothpaste, dish soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, etc), but probably won't buy it until we are doing trips long enough for me to want to wash my hair. I'll put it in eye dropper bottles.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cool things - With an Update

Paper is not dead.

Franklin Ship Discovered. Time to read The Terror? It's been on my TBR list for a while! But it's a BIG book.

3D-Printed Prosthetic Hands Turn Little Kids Into Superheroes. Geeks are the best kind of people. is doing the SNAP Challenge this month, challenging herself to eat with $4 a day or less, the amount allotted to those receiving SNAP benefits. Here is her week 1 summary post. I thought it was quite interesting! Stay tuned to her site for more updates and recipes.

Cats make everything better.

Updated to add: You really can't miss this.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I Drank the Kool-Aid: An Announcement

We were hiking at the Pinnacle (a great hike if you live in driving distance!) and were investigating the cave that goes through the side of the cliff face and then back up a thirty foot chimney. It was awesome! But the SPIDERS, man, the spiders! And there was no way in hell I was going further into the crawlspace that started about fifty feet in. I'll dangle my feet off the side of the cliff and rock-scramble till the day I die, but I am not jamming myself between two rocks. WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THAT. Climbing up the chimney was a lot of fun, you had to put a foot on either side, and at one point Phil was balancing his weight with his head. It was our twelve-year anniversary.

Yup. Twelve years with this dude.

We look like such a typical couple. It feels like the complete opposite of typical. Wearing a ring has been prompting all sorts of life-history questions, from coworkers, strangers, etc. It's weird having so much attention suddenly brought to the relationship when Phil has been such a bedrock of my life for such a long time. How do I explain twelve years of emotions? Twelve years of hard work? (And it is work, don't lie to yourself. But it's work with great rewards.) Boyfriend never seemed to carry sufficient weight whenever I explained our relation. Fiance doesn't either, to be honest. How about The person who energizes my soul and challenges my brain and strains my patience to the absolute breaking point but always makes up for it by being generally awesome. Too dramatic? Nah.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

August Book Reviews

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

If you only read one book this summer, it should be this. Absolutely blew my mind. And it was my third attempt at it, too, not because the beginning is slow (it sucked me in immediately) but because I wasn't in the right place to read it before. Old magic (jinnis and demons) mixes with new magic (computer hacking) mixes with romance and adventure and Middle Eastern culture. I loved every bit of it, and after reading the copy from my library I immediately went out and bought my own. I had a stranger come up to me on train platform while I was reading to tell me how much she loved the book as well. Any book that gives you a heartfelt squee moment with a total stranger is something special.

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson

Picked this up after Alif because I loved the Middle Eastern culture so much and I wanted more. I rarely say this about nonfiction books, but this was too short. I've tried looking for other books to explain Islam and the cultural differences between the US and the Middle East, but sadly I've come up short. Everything is either hokey or academic, nothing in between.

I loved seeing the differences between Egypt and America outlined here. Even though I live here, everything is so familiar that I never really thought about it. For instance, Egypt is very family-centric, parties and such are always full of cousins and aunts and uncles, but America considers close friends as family, something that was in contrast when the author and a family friend shared a hug and kiss hello.

I was also really intrigued with the ways she and her husband smoothed over the cultural differences. As someone newly thrown into the ridiculous hoops of this whole marriage business (paperwork is very likely the death of romance), I liked seeing how they meshed and clashed. I would have liked more detail about their conversations, arguments, and resolutions but this seemed like a topic where the author wanted her privacy. Fair enough. If you are interested in different cultures, definitely check this out. I'd love to read more fantasy books (and non-fantasy) with a Middle Eastern setting, especially by Middle Eastern authors. Any recommendations?

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

This book was nice and light while still managing to talk about academics and the science behind DNA and biology (and magic). A love story more than anything else, I enjoyed the research and the sojourn in France the best. It's Twilight for adults! But don't let that turn you off, I did enjoy it (people give Twilight way too bad a rap). I'll read the second one eventually, but I want a break first. This book was surprisingly dense to read for being such a light story. This is a great vacation book, if anyone has a summer vacation left!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cool videos

Jimmy Fallon and Adam Levine doing musical impressions.
Naked towel dance! Don't worry, it's safe for work.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Two Movies: Under the Skin and Enemy

I watched two movies over the weekend, both from the same studio: A24, both having similar themes on consciousness and identity and awareness, but both eliciting very different reactions.

Under the Skin is all about identity and what it means to be human. We work, we sleep, we eat, we poop, so what makes everything worth living? Connections and happiness (on this point I do agree with the movie). But how do we go about making those connections? Well, sometimes we have no idea and we do it entirely wrong. I saw a few different posts on Tor that had me really interested in the movie, but in the end it just didn't stand up for me.

I liked the message this movie was sending, but unfortunately there wasn't enough story to the movie for me to actually care. Scarlett Johansson is great, but there were only a few second-long moments where she was able to shine. The whole point of her character is that she can't genuinely connect with human emotion, so most of the time her face was completely blank and she was just driving around, picking up dudes. This movie was long and weird and I really can't get into things (movies or dance performances or whatever) that use disparate chords instead of music (call it a flaw if you must, I call it inevitable after a childhood steeped in music). Not to mention, I'm usually really good at deciphering thick accents, but these Scottish accents were like molasses and I had to keep asking Phil what everyone had said.

Under the Skin also left so many things unanswered there was nothing to connect to and I found myself caring even less about the little things I liked in the film. Why is she here? Who is the motorcycle dude? Why does the lonely man elicit emotion, but the crying baby does not? (I'm pretty sure the baby's sole purpose was to make her foreign-ness stand out to the audience: a cheap trick.) This is two hours of my time I will never get back, but watch it if you're into theory or you like comparing books to movies: this was based on Under the Skin by Michael Faber. I am interested in seeing how similar the two are, and which tells a more compelling story. I'm all about flipping gender conventions and expanding the idea of what it means to be human, but dude the basic requirement is that I have to give a shit.

Enemy tackles the same themes, especially concerning identity, but to me it succeeds where Under the Skin did not. I cared about the characters. I cared about what happened. I wanted an explanation. I didn't get one, but I got enough information that I still cared, and I am still thinking about the unanswered questions. Are they two people or one person? Is it a past and future story, told nonlinearly? What the fuck is up with the spiders? (But if what I'm thinking is right, that the spiders represent his relationship with women, I love it!) Enemy feeds you just enough to keep you wanting more.

We watched this through Amazon Prime and after the credits there was an interview with Jake Gyllenhaal and the director Denis Villeneuve, which really didn't *explain* anything, but watching the lead actor and director both struggle to put the movie into their own words somehow helped to clear it up a bit for me. But still, it is so hard to put into words. There is another special feature about the women of Enemy that I also want to watch, but haven't yet.

I absolutely loved Enemy. While I already liked Jake Gyllenhaal, I respect him even more after watching him portray Adam and Anthony and seeing all the subtle differences between the two characters. Lots of reviews said this movie was slow, but I was never bored. It was like reading a good book: the faster you go the sooner it's over, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.  Definitely see this one.

Enemy was also based on a book: The Double by José Saramago. (In Spanish at the link but my library has an English translation!) This one I am definitely picking up, but I have a feeling the movie is going to outshine the book. It was just so brilliant.

I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks about these two movies!

Another favorite song/music video

Friday, August 1, 2014

Some good reads

Just wanted to drop in to share some articles I've enjoyed this week.

I've mentioned before how I stopped writing in March. Life got crazy, I still feel like I'm running on overdrive, and I'm desperately trying to sort everything out while working on the house and giving up my weekends for the endless stream of social gatherings and prior engagements, and occasionally fitting laundry and dishes into the mix. This post on The Art of Rest by YA Highway reminded me that I don't need to feel guilty about not writing, I need to enjoy what I am accomplishing. I have a library now, full of my beautiful books. I have single-handedly organized, researched, and purchased backpacking gear for two people. We have more (hand-me-down) furniture that makes our house look like a home and not an extended closet. I have cucumbers, tomatoes, raspberries, and daisies in the backyard. And my favorite coworker started a writing group. This non-writing spell will not last forever. =]

Hacking the Writing Life: On Being a Writer with Three Jobs by Kameron Hurley. I could never be a person to give up all manner of traditional jobs. And by traditional, I mean something other than 100% stay-at-home/self-employed. While I am an extremely motivated person with a hundred things I want to do, I still need something to get me out of bed and dressed or I'll just watch Netflix all day and never shower. Plus, I go stir crazy easily. I need something to get me out of the house. And... I don't know. I like seeing a successful writer who doesn't feel the need to quit society for the sake of their art.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A book, a short story, a comic, a movie

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North

This book is perfect.

There is a very high tier that only a few really brilliant stories can ever reach. Ready Player One, for instance. The Name of the Wind, of course. Among Others. Fire by Kristin Cashore. More recently, The Humans. The Feed trilogy by Mira Grant. These books have perfect pacing, a voice that has me thoroughly convinced it is the characters telling the story, and a plot that unfolds carefully and naturally and keeps me dying to know what happens even while I am pacing myself so I can make the book last as long as possible, all the while forgetting that I am reading the words of an author's imagination and not actually seeing the events unfold.

This is one of those books. Harry August is so vividly fleshed out he is a person, not a character. His many lives proceed logically: In his first life he goes with the flow. In his second he thinks he's crazy. In his third he looks for answers. Each life proceeds, and he learns more, does more, is more.

It isn't an easy read. It's paced like an interesting history book, as opposed to an interesting speculative fiction book (and you have to admit those are two very different styles of reading). But I never once wanted to stop reading or pick up something else. I settled in and took my time. The dense writing meant the pages turned slowly, and I am just fine with that. It lasted longer. When I only get through 25 pages per train ride, it's going to take quite a few train rides to get through a 400 page book. It was perfect. It let me savor every chapter.

Because of the dense writing, the chapters are short. They skip around, giving an overall picture of his entire existence. This is better and gives us the best of both worlds: we get to read about the interesting, badass stuff right away, but we also get the full emotional effect of realizing that he is an ouroboros, destined to be born again and again. This book does not skimp on anything, and it is stronger for that.

Don't let the time-travel aspect turn you off. The book isn't about time travel, much in the way Feed isn't about zombies. I really can't recommend it enough. It always takes something special to pull me out of a book slump, and this one did it. It will likely be reread a time or two in the next few years.

Claire North is the penname for Catherine Webb/Kate Griffin, who wrote A Madness of Angels and the following books in that series, which I have heard neverending praise for and yet still have not managed to read (I even own them!) After reading TFFLHA, AMoA is definitely higher on my list.


Polynia, by China Miéville

A short story, that I enjoyed?!? Well, it happened. Read it here. It's short, it makes you think, it's less weird than the other Miéville stuff I've read (arguably, the weird stuff), but still has his unique stamp. Of course, it suffers from what I think all short stories suffer from: it isn't fleshed out enough, the characters don't stand out enough, it didn't really have an ending, it more just ends. But I recommend it all the same.


Ms. Marvel #1-3, written by G. Willow Wilson

Image from themarysue. That's the cover on the left, and Kamala trying to get a hold of her new powers on the right.
I haven't read many comics, and I don't know much of anything about how comics work or how often they come out or what I'll like. But every once in a while something catches my eye, and I try it out.

I am absolutely loving the new Ms. Marvel series. (Do comics come out in series? I don't even know!) Written by G. Willow Wilson (author of Alif the Unseen), it's about a young Muslim teen inheriting (??) Ms. Marvel's powers. I love all the culture, and Kamala Khan is so easy to relate to (she is just a girl trying to balance family and school and LIFE), and on several occasions I was cracking up while reading it. I need to get back to the comic shop to pick up issues four and five!

So how DO comics work? I read somewhere that this was going to be a five-issue series, so does that mean Kamala Khan is done after that? Or is this first mini-storyline done after five? I sure hope there are lots more.

Also on my reading list because of this comic: Persepolis and Alif the Unseen. And I will be checking out the new female Thor comic once that comes out (sometime this fall).



When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it looked dumb. Even Chris Evans didn't make it worthwhile. We rented it because it was late and had thrown dinner together at 9:30 after all kinds of housework and yardwork and didn't feel like thinking. But we were extremely surprised—it was great! The whole time I kept expecting it to devolve into full-on cheese, but it always sidestepped the cheese carefully and was instead genuinely heartbreaking. It is based on a short story (according to Wikipedia, the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige (1982) by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette), and you can tell the plot doesn't quite support a two-hour movie, but it never felt too long which I guess is saying something. Also, take a look at rest of the cast: John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris. None of those actors are likely to be in a cheesy post-apocalypse movie. I'm not familiar with the Korean actors, but I liked them both. Give it a shot.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hello, Strangers! My life in a paragraph.

Don't worry, it's all my fault that you are strangers. Life has been crazy! No excuse, I know, I know, but TFB. We got a lot of used furniture from a family friend, and have been shifting and disassembling the house to find a home for everything. Not to mention gardening, or really Phil Reviving the Plants that Gina Let Die. But! My library is looking awesome! The couch is upstairs, as are the bookshelves, and all my books except for those in storage have homes on the shelves (eventually, everything will be on the shelves). It is wonderful! I don't care that it seems a bit frivolous in this modern day to have a room full of books, it is so relaxing to have my own space to retreat to when I don't feel like dealing with people or noise. My phone took a little swim in a pool of condensation and I blew the SD card reader and lost all my photos and music (the music was backed up, the photos were not). I did a full day of laundry! Which means I get to buy a book. Brewing and broken gaskets and infected White Chocolate MooHoo (sad Gina)! Arranging fans to blow heat out of the house so I can still use the oven! About ten projects have come in at work and I am ripping my hair out. My car inspection is *ahem* TOTALLY ON TIME. Also, a wedding, visiting friends, cleaning up after dinner parties is harder than cooking for dinner parties, and this summer heat can just march it's frilly ass down to Florida. Loving the thunderstorms, though. Have lots of new camping gear and no free weekend to take it for a spin. Trying to read as much of my library haul before it's due. Is this giving you a headache? Yeah WELCOME TO LIFE.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Shenandoah National Park

We had a wedding in Shenandoah this past weekend, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We MUST get back there for a hike! We saw a baby bear, too. It was adorable.

Friday, June 6, 2014

So many awesome things

I know I've really only been sharing links lately.... nah who am I kidding these links are awesome. I am writing for myself lately, trying to really dig in deep and find all that crazy nightmarish shit that lives in my brain, but it leaves me a bit dry when it comes to blog posts. But these things.... they are awesome! And they must be shared. (I hope I'm not breaking any Tumblr etiquette rules by reposting onto my blog instead of on a tumblr (I probably am), but I don't have one and am not interested in getting one, mainly because I am tired of having so many profiles on so many sites, but I still like to check up on a few good ones.)


This is what I want to say to everyone who thinks "cis" and other new pronouns are ridiculous:
“Bullshit. The point of using someone’s preferred pronouns is to demonstrate that you respect their identity and want them to feel safe around you. If you think grammatical correctness is more important than making other people feel accepted and safe, then you are an asshole.”

- From Anagnori's “A Non-Binary Person’s Guide to Invented Pronouns” (via lottelodge)

i feel like reading fanfic has kind of broken my desire to read published stories bc like theyre so bland tbh like. where the hell am i gonna get queer android romance in a bookstore. who writes about past assassins working together in a coffeeshop. all i see are straight white people making out like really like REALLY (via)

Thursday, June 5, 2014


This Indian take on steampunk turned out to be everything I wanted out of steampunk. I love it so much.

Something else I love: I read this HP fanfic a long time ago, and recently sent it to a friend. You can have it too. SO GOOD. Post-DH.

For a long time now I've been trying to revamp my breakfasts. I can't/shouldn't eat eggs, and Frosted Flakes and toast gets old real fast. These trail mix cookies are freaking delicious, and a great on-the-go/running-totally-late breakfast. The ingredients are expensive, but totally worth it and they will last you a while. (I used Craisins instead of slivered almonds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) instead of sunflower (because why not), and left out the cacao nibs because I couldn't bear buying another pricey ingredient.) I also got Whole Grain Mornings from the library, and loved it so much after flipping through it I immediately bought it. It got a lot of press after it published, and I am just giving you another reason to listen to all that press. It freaking rocks. I love how it is divided into seasons, and then further divided into weekday, weekend, and brunch recipes.

I've started putting sweetened condensed milk into my coffee. Love.

HOLY HELL. Watch this video. It makes my soul burn. Content warning: death and war. But so good. via


Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Privacy

Let me clarify something from my last post. I am all about making sacrifices to keeping people safe in society. I am willing to do things that I think are inconvenient or miserable—like airport security, the invasion of privacy re: riffling through my luggage, bodyscans, etc—if that means saving lives or bettering the world or getting everyone to hold hands and love each other.

I am not okay with abuse of that willingness. If the TSA decided to throw away my suitcase, we'd have problems. If the contents of my laptop needed to be scanned, for the sake of rifling through photographs or whatever, we'd have problems. If I get someone in security who proceeded to grope me or some other disgusting abuse of their power, you can bet we'd have some fucking problems. There is a fine line between acceptable and awful, and even I don't know exactly where that line falls.

Here is a great article from Cory Doctorow about privacy and protecting yourself, including tools and software you can use for privacy. Am I completely, 100%, without-a-doubt on Cory Doctorow's wavelength? No. But I'm also not dealing with trade secrets or security details or anything really dangerous where I'd require internet privacy to save my life. I don't live in a country where my Facebook friends are reviewed at roadblocks, determining my future travels or incarceration (read the article). I am happy these security things exist. I am also not happy that they exist, for all the baddies to get a hold of them as well. That includes any baddies hiding behind official masks, not just the ones operating in garages.

And hence the quandry. There is no perfect world. Decide for yourself. (And for the love of all that is holy, BE NICE TO PEOPLE.)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Have some things!

I am making up for my lack of intelligent things to say by sharing cool pictures and videos. And perhaps I will throw in a recipe!

For instance, this absolutely brilliant video of Peter Dinklage summing up Game of Thrones in 45 seconds. I was in tears I was laughing so hard. I would just like to take this moment to say that last scene in Sunday's episode (the one with Prince Oberyn and Tyrion, I don't know how to describe it without giving anything away) was one of the most badass, gutwrenching scenes in television that I have seen in a long time. It was better than the Red Wedding and Dracarys, better than the last season-half of Doctor Who (though that isn't too hard), and I would be more than happy to have Prince Oberyn pledge himself to me for anything. Just saying. He's got your back.

More Facebook creeping. Look, I don't like Facebook much either. I don't really care to know what everyone and their mother is doing, I don't want to weed through all the uninformed political rants, and I don't care which bar you're at or who is the mayor of whatever-the-fuck or who beat level whatever of Candy Crush. But there's no denying that it is a great tool for getting in touch with the people you are interested in connecting with. But this is how I feel about it: Facebook has every right to use their app to bring in revenue. They are, after all, a business. If you don't want them knowing which music you listen to or what tv shows you watch, don't install their app. If you really don't like the way they handle their privacy rules, don't put personal information up on FB, or don't have a FB at all. By putting your information into their servers, you have given that information up to them. If they decide to use it, and you accept their privacy/sharing agreement by continuing to use their product, there is nothing you can do about it. Suck it up or remove yourself and your information from their system.

The way I see it, there are certain things you give up by living in society. And that's just how it is, if you don't like it, feel free to live in a secluded cabin in the woods. For instance: yes, airport security sucks. Yes, they invade your privacy and make you late for flights. But if getting patted down is what it costs to keep other people safe, they can pat me down ALL FUCKING DAY. If tearing apart my suitcase allows them to find something nefarious in someone else's suitcase, they can tear it apart for every goddamn flight I take. If that is the cost of getting me and everyone else several thousand miles in a few hours (a luxury modern society allows us), that is a trade I am willing to make every single time.

I could talk about this all day. Moving on. \end{rant}

Fordite, though I was skeptical, is actually pretty awesome.

And here is the promised recipe! I make a mean chili (not vegetarian, not gluten free). Phil's brother is the original creator of this banging dish. I usually also add a tablespoon or so of taco seasoning, for a little extra som'in'-som'in', and always extra red pepper, because food should be SPICY at all times always.

Epic Chili “It’s really more of a gumbo”
  • 6 small chicken breasts, 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 cans black beans, 1 can light kidney beans, 1 can dark kidney beans
  • 5 jalapenos, 3 bell peppers (green, red, yellow), 2 zucchini
  • Onion and garlic, to taste, fresh or granulated (I'm allergic to onion, so I never really include this in recipes. I guess normal people would use a full onion and 2-4 garlic cloves??)
  • 2 cans sweet white corn
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes, 1 bottle Corona (or equal amount chicken broth for GF)
  • 1/4 cup chili powder and 2 tablespoons cumin, salt and pepper
  • Shredded cheese for topping
1. Bake chicken breasts at 350 in covered dish for 35 min. Shred.
2. Sauté ground beef with onion and garlic, if using.
3. Dice veggies. Add everything to large soup pot and simmer until veggies are tender. Add extra seasonings to taste. Serve with rice.

The chickens are fighting back.

Beautiful rhododendron in full bloom in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why yes, I will eat those Gushers for breakfast.

I'm thinking of buying a new wardrobe consisting entirely of my library. Litographs are awesome. Posters and t-shirts! Posters are cool, but why buy that when you can have a T-SHIRT??? (In other news, I have the fashion sense of a teenage boy.) But I can inflict my love of books on entire countries! MWUAHAHAHA!!! Check out all their t-shirts. And posters, if you must. And even better, Litographs pairs up with the International Book Bank to promote literacy! Double win!

There are some benefits to being an adult. For instance: buying a mondo box of Gushers without any accompanying lecture. And then proceeding to eat said Gushers for dinner, also without any accompanying lecture. And topping off the Gushers with Babybel cheeses and roasted asparagus. (It's healthy!) DINNER.

Along the train line, some mystery artists are "paint bombing." There is the above section of trees and grass, every surface painted pepto-pink (sorry for the blurriness, it's hard to take a quick picture through a window on a moving train). There is also a pink shack, an orange building, and lime green train tracks. I think it's totally awesome. Would love to find good pictures of everything (or even hunt them down myself for some pictures!).

Gorgeous flowers in our yard.

The bell at the best Thai place evar (which also happens to be local).

Baby robin!

In other news... IT BEGINS. The Harry Potter Reread. Via the badass Jim Dale audiobooks. Cue work tears.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Things 'round town, for all my sexy readers.

Tuesday night I pulled about 350 goldenrod plants out of a 12 x 4 foot bed near the back gate. I am not exaggerating about that number either, the number of plants in that tiny space was astounding. It's progress. (The good thing about goldenrod is that it attracts birds and bees and butterflies. I'll have to find something else to bring all the lovely woodland creatures to our yard. Like milkshakes.) That being said, I really don't understand how people garden for stress relief. It's nice being outside, but the whole "keeping plants alive" thing is a foreign concept to me. I overwater, I underwater, I plant the wrong things next to each other and they get angry... I really don't get it. Please send help. I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, beans, and peas. So far, I have one tomato seedling, zero cucumbers or peppers, one bean seedling, and a fuckton of peas (they're gonna be awesome!) I really hope I get some tomatoes!

This is goldenrod. This is not my yard. It grows approximately 1000 plants per square foot. From

I read the first Veronica Mars book, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. It was quite good, but I imagine it's the type of book where only the already-fans will be able to get into it, because there isn't much along the lines of character development or explanation. The whole Veronica Mars franchise is awesome and badass, but I'd recommend to start with the show, then see the movie, then read the books. Now I'm reading The Universe vs. Alex Woods. It was a bit slow to start up (waaay too much set up), but now that I've finally met Mr. Peterson, it's great. I recommend this one, with the warning to stick through until page 100.

I'm working through The Artist's Way, slowly. My writing got pretty derailed, and I'm trying to get back into it gently. I tend to do too much, get overwhelmed, and then steer clear of it for months. I'm working up my stamina and focusing on keeping it for me. I don't need something else to stress me out in life, especially something that's self-inflicted. In place of writing, I'm knitting my first sweater! I should really add pictures to the project, but you can see what it'll look like if you click the pattern. It is very swell. I shall wear it with Harry Potter glasses and a Gandalf pipe.

Dragged P to Ikea last night (to buy popsicle molds, obviously). Was able to buy another jar for the counter, to fill with a gluten-free flour mix. I am going to label it UNFLOUR. Pretty excited about that.

This is a really cool map:
Thanks to Kristin Cashore for sharing! From Image credit: Ben Blatt/Slate.
Peace out, bean sprouts!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Indexing by Seanan McGuire, plus a bonus!

I love the episodic format of television shows. I love how each episode is a full story arc, but the characters have larger arcs that cross the whole season (or the whole show) and keep you watching. Good for a quick story or for a full day of marathoning. TV can also have some epic, badass, mindblowing arcs. How much more information can you pack into a 13 or 24 episode season, as opposed to a two or three hour movie? Well, a lot. This is the reason I fall harder for the characters in TV shows than movies (assuming there was no book for me to fall in love with first).

This is the basis for the Kindle Serials program. Ten episode "seasons," each a short story-like chapter, delivered every two weeks to your device. For just a few dollars. The one downside to this is that I don't own a Kindle, and read this on my phone. Convenient, but a bit annoying. Indexing is only available through Amazon, because it's part of this program. But don't fret if you missed out on the serial part of it! Now that it's finished, you can buy the whole thing. (And it looks like they've put it out in a paperback edition, too! That's great!)

“Never underestimate the power of a good story.”
Good advice…especially when a story can kill you.
     For most people, the story of their lives is just that: the accumulation of time, encounters, and actions into a cohesive whole. But for an unfortunate few, that day-to-day existence is affected—perhaps infected is a better word—by memetic incursion: where fairy tale narratives become reality, often with disastrous results.
     That's where the ATI Management Bureau steps in, an organization tasked with protecting the world from fairy tales, even while most of their agents are struggling to keep their own fantastic archetypes from taking over their lives. When you're dealing with storybook narratives in the real world, it doesn't matter if you're Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or the Wicked Queen: no one gets a happily ever after.

Normally, I don't think this would be my thing. I'm not much a fan of short stories. At all. I kind of hate them, actually. But Seanan McGuire makes me re-evaluate my priorities, because she is awesome. In Indexing, fairy tales and princesses meets CSI, with a little bit of The Office thrown in, and it is all awesome. It is awesome the way Kingdom Hearts was awesome, when it mixed Disney and Final Fantasy characters. You have your classic gang of people, all with different personalities and backstories, all trying to be a productive team without killing each other.

Henry and Sloane are badass. The men, while great, are not as badass as the women (they are also not front and center), and that was also awesome. Each chapter had it's own story, and as you progressed through the episodes and got to know the players better, they became more and more character-centric, until the season-long arc concluded at the end (with a bang!). Like every good TV show should. This is really a great format, and I would love for it to become more widespread and to get more attention and more big-name authors.

I really want season two. Pleeeeease write a season two. But so far, nothing has been announced. Sad Gina. Read it! It's only two dollars!

Since I haven't been the most timely blogger lately, have some riddles! I love riddles. The first one is a traditional riddle, and one of my favorites. If anyone knows of a great source for more of those, I'd love to hear about it. For the strings of letters following the riddle, the challenge is to figure out the next letter in the sequence. The first is pretty easy, but not all the strings follow the same pattern! You need to think differently. (The fourth is a tricky one... we found two answers!) Thanks go to whatever Stanford professor gave the riddle to P's cousin, and to Reese for the letter strings. AND NO GOOGLE. SERIOUSLY. ELF ON THE SHELF IS WATCHING YOU.

A scream in a storm, 
weightless yet anchored, 
a habitat for the living, 
a coffin for the dead, 
and perfection of the land and sea, 
a ruin for evolution.

S  M  T  W  T  F  _____
D  D  P  V C  C  D  _____
O  T  T  F  _____
A  D  G  J  _____
Z  X  C  V  _____

Friday, March 7, 2014

For the love of art

Amanda Palmer: Ukelele Anthem

Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa. To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He's stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition. (BN|GR)

I couldn't wait for my libary to get this. It just sounded too weird and quirky and I wanted it in my grubby little paws. I went out and bought it.

I'm so fucking glad I did.

The entire time I was reading this book, it just made me so fucking happy. It's so good. It's different than anything else you've ever read (I promise, even if you're a Miéville fan), has a unique voice that stands out and yet serves the novel, and is really just all around Fucking Awesome. That's right. Capital F. (Unrelated: this is still fucking confusing.)

This is not a review. If you want one of those, go read this one over at The Book Smugglers. I agree with everything in it (even the criticisms), and it is very well written and encapsulates the book completely. I can't top that review. (I also have no interest to.) What I want to do is reiterate that you need to fucking read this book. Sorry. Capital F. Trust me. Read it. It is hysterical, and heartwarming, and I promise you will fall in love with it, and want to keep it forever. It will be one of the books you grab as you run out the door to escape the apocalypse.

This is the first Andrew Smith novel I've read. Winger is already on my TBR list, so I may have to check that one out next. Here is his website and twitter.

Update: Soooo... this also happened!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Irrepressible Library

It's been a while since I've had one of these, huh? Well, rest assured my TBR list has kept growing the entire time. I still toss books aside if they don't immediately catch my attention, but either I've been picking up really good books or I've found more tolerance for books outside my usual area, because I've been finishing more titles than usual. I've tried to include links to where I first discovered the book, but I had to search and it was a bit difficult to find everything. Here's what I'm currently dying to read!

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Letham

Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn’s very own self-appointed Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart our language in startling and original ways. Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna’s limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank Minna, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable, so who cares if the tasks he sets them are, well, not exactly legal. But when Frank is fatally stabbed, one of Lionel’s colleagues lands in jail, the other two vie for his position, and the victim’s widow skips town. Lionel’s world is suddenly topsy-turvy, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case while trying to keep the words straight in his head. Motherless Brooklyn is a brilliantly original homage to the classic detective novel by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation. (BN|GR)

This book was just mentioned in today's Publisher's Lunch, because Ed Norton is directing the movie. I have to say, the book sounds phenomenal, but I can't help but hope it isn't another stuffy Literature book that Says Something, when in all actually it's just super boring. I am ruthless, and I am not sorry. I'm also interested in this because one of my many started-but-not-finished manuscripts was about a schizophrenic girl getting mixed up with the mob. (There was magic too, but I bet this one doesn't have magic.) I reserved it at the library, hopefully it arrives quickly before my interest wavers.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the storyof how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa. To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He's stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition. (BN|GR)

I can't remember where I first heard of this, but I think I read an article or a recap of a conference, and it mentioned that Penguin was handing out free copies of this book and they ran out because everyone wanted one. I couldn't find that original article, but I found this review that was quite good, even if it did get a little spoilery at the end. I have to say, it sounds pretty fucking awesome. Weird and wonderful. It's not at my library (the horror!) but I really want to read it and may end up buying it.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But... they are brother and sister.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

I am just... so intrigued. I first read about it here. The thing that stuck with me the most is that even though it's this horrible taboo subject, the story is presented without judgement. Miss Page Turner explained it best when she says "Tabitha Suzuma made me realize that nobody should be judged by their feelings, because feelings do not always equal society's expectations." There are two other stories that come to mind with an incest sub-plot, and I was impressed how deftly the writers handled the subplot and how it worked and was totally fine for the siblings to fall in love because I knew their stories and it made sense. I won't mention them here because I don't want to give those awesome stories away, but trust me they are so good. (I'll tell you if you contact me and really want to know, either for a trigger warning or because you're curious.) Currently on hold at the library and it needs to get here faster. If you're interested in another great book that flips a taboo on it's head, check out Unteachable by Leah Raeder.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mini YA Reviews

I've been on a YA kick lately, and I've been flying through books (at least, flying compared to my usual pace). And I have a huge stack at home because naturally all my library holds became available AT THE SAME TIME.

Big problems, y'all.

Actually, I've been going through books so quickly I'm kindof getting whiplash. That's never happened to me before. I usually have such a clear idea of what I'm going to read next, but lately I have this blank... And then I go through the usual routine of reading three or four first chapters before I finally fall into something.

I'm trying not to put myself under pressure to read more just for the sake of the numbers. I realize my 17 books in 2013 was pretty pathetic, but books need to remain as my escape, my way to center my life. Period.

The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe (Fallen World #2)

A deadly virus has destroyed Kaelyn’s small island community and spread beyond the quarantine. No one is safe. But when Kaelyn finds samples of a vaccine in her father's abandoned lab, she knows there must be someone, somewhere, who can replicate it. As Kaelyn and her friends head to the mainland, they encounter a world beyond recognition. It’s not only the “friendly flu” that’s a killer—there are people who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the vaccine. How much will Kaelyn risk for an unproven cure, when the search could either destroy those she loves or save the human race? (BN|GR)

Ok, so I loved Loved LOVED the first book (The Way We Fall) in addition to being scared shitless the whole time, but then the last two pages ruined it for me a bit. What read as a great science-based survival story (I am endlessly fascinated by viruses) suddenly turned into a teen love triangle (or, quadrangle?). I wasn't happy. I told myself I wasn't going to continue (out of spite, but still).

Then I saw the second book in the library. And I couldn't resist reading the cover copy. And I couldn't resist taking it home. And then I opened it as soon as I could, just to see how the first chapter went.

And then I finished it.

So, okay that plan didn't work. But trust me, this book is nothing like what I was worried it would be. It is still a great survival story, with logical progression and a few surprising twists (the flu spreading to the mainland, which even though is in the jacket copy I still missed that point), and I really, really enjoyed it. The story is tense and I flew through the pages, but not quite tense enough to give me nightmares (like the first book). My one gripe is that this is the middle book of a trilogy, and it reads like the middle section of a longer book. There's no real ending. That was frustrating. But, I am absolutely dying to read the third one now (The Worlds We Make, which HOLY SHIT just came out this month forget everything I just said!)

Ok, realizing the last book is out kindof derailed the rest of this review. TL;DR: I love this series, and will be reading the last book as soon as frigging possible. I love that this is a virus that could happen in our world, there are no fantasy elements or zombies or anything, and that makes it so real and awesome and scary!

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her? (BN|GR)

A bit late to the bandwagon on this one, but wow, the atmosphere in this book is unbelievable. Between the flu masks and the onions with every meal and all the strange folk remedies and news of the war, the bleakness oozed out of the pages. Honestly, it left me a bit anxious through the whole thing, the mystery was relentless and I knew it wasn't going to have a happy ending and yet I had to know what happened. It wasn't what I thought it would be, but that's just fine. This book is different and wonderful (and a standalone!) and definitely creeptastic. And all the onions were gross, so gross. Ew. This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart! But it is well worth a read.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz 

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. (BN|GR)

Of the three books in this post, this one is far and away my favorite (and it isn't about a virus, surprisingly, thought it is QUILTBAG, my other current reading trend). It follows Ari and Dante over two summers, and shit gets real, man, and they are there for each other. It's about misfits finding their people, and not having to change. It's about the two coolest sets of parents ever. It's about falling in love with the right person, and fighting for what you believe in. I loved it so much. I wish I could send a copy to everyone in Arizona. And Russia.