Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir



From Amazon.com:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 
Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. 
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Plot summary in a nutshell? Castaway on Mars.

I finally managed to track down Andy Weir's The Martian at my local library. I picked this book up a few times at the bookstore, but I just wasn't sure if I was willing to pay for a book that may or may not be too jargon filled. While I was at the library on Thursday evening, I decided to see if their copy was available. The regular copy wasn't, but there was a large print edition, so I scooped it up.

Though I enjoyed the book, I kept seeing cinematic intent behind every plot move. And, yes, it is being made into a movie. It was a fun read and good escapism, though, so if you are looking for an exciting summer read, this one might be for you. Personally, I love survival stories, so, even though I see the dollar signs for the movie version, I still had a good experience with it.

This book is a relatively fast read. Yes, there is a lot of "science speak" in it (obviously...it is SciFi), but I didn't find it hard to understand or disruptive to my reading experience. On Goodreads, I gave it a 3/5 stars, only for predictability. But that being said, it didn't ruin my fun, and I am still glad I decided to read it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider


From Amazon:


Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything is a witty and heart-wrenching teen novel that will appeal to fans of books by John Green and Ned Vizzini, novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and classics like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.
Varsity tennis captain, Ezra Faulkner, was supposed to be homecoming king, but that was before—before his girlfriend cheated on him, before a car accident shattered his leg, and before he fell in love with unpredictable new girl Cassidy Thorpe.
As Kirkus Reviews said in a starred review, "Schneider takes familiar stereotypes and infuses them with plenty of depth. Here are teens who could easily trade barbs and double entendres with the characters that fill John Green's novels."
Funny, smart, and including everything from flash mobs to blanket forts to a poodle who just might be the reincarnation of Jay Gatsby, The Beginning of Everything is a refreshing contemporary twist on the classic coming-of-age novel—a heart-wrenching story about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

I finished reading The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, and I really enjoyed it. The story follows Ezra Faulkner and his relationship with himself. Notice I did not say with a girl. Yes, yes. There is a romantic relationship in the story between Ezra and and a girl named Cassidy, and at first glance, you would say that the story follows Ezra's and Cassidy's relationship. But in the end, it is really about Ezra coming to know who he is and what he wants out of life. Really, it is a story about authenticity and living an authentic life.

Also, and this is no small thing: This is the first novel I've ever read that contains a geocaching scene. :)

I found this to be an easy, smooth reading experience. I loved the humor and how Schneider captures the various crowds of students at Ezra's high school. I enjoyed the humor, too. In some ways, though the story moved quickly and there was enough tension to keep you interested, this was a quiet read. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading Schneider's next novel.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday...


Hosted by:  Breaking the Spine

I absolutely cannot wait for this book to come out!! I have had it on my wishlist forever!! 


From Amazon...


From a ferociously talented writer, praised as “the fire, in my opinion. And the light," by Junot Diaz, comes a blazing portrait of one woman’s rise from courtesan to world-renowned diva. 
Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.  As she mines her memories for clues, she recalls her life as an orphan who left the American frontier for Europe and was swept up into the glitzy, gritty world of Second Empire Paris. In order to survive, she transformed herself from hippodrome rider to courtesan, from empress’s maid to debut singer, all the while weaving a complicated web of romance, obligation, and political intrigue.   Featuring a cast of characters drawn from history, The Queen of the Night follows Lilliet as she moves ever closer to the truth behind the mysterious opera and the role that could secure her reputation -- or destroy her with the secrets it reveals. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Curious about a "Graze" snack box?

I was, too. I love snacks, and I kept seeing all of these ads on Facebook and Twitter about "Graze" snacks that are mailed to you every month or so. A friend of mine tried them last year, and she liked them. So, I thought I would give the service a try and post for anyone who is curious. :)

So, I went to the "Graze" site (https://www.graze.com/us/home) and signed up. The first box (and, come to find out, the fifth) is free. Once you get the first box, you can choose what kind of box you want. They have several to choose from, and you can rate the snacks you try (telling them that you definitely do or do not want something). Box prices vary (as do the times they ship). It seems like the more expensive/larger the box, the longer in between shipments. And, I am super excited that they have flapjack boxes!!

Anyway, they send a little card (see pic below) that tells you how to "get the most out of Graze." Good tips about what to do if you want to try something new or go healthy with your snacks (there are some good options). There are also rewards for sharing. Nutritional info for each snack is on the back of this card.

When my "Graze" box arrived, this is what it looked like:



And this is what it looks like on the inside:


So, your first box has four snacks to try. I  think they are pretty much chosen at random. In any case, here is what I got:

Sweet Mustard Ranch (a mixture of pretzels, sour cream and onion cashews, and mustard breadsticks)

Original Three-seed Protein Flapjack (three tiny rustic rolled oat flapjack with flaxseed, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds)

Punchy Protein Nuts (chili lime cashews, pistachios, and almonds)

Strawberries and Cream Granola Topper (oat and barley granola, freeze dried strawberries and yogurt covered strawberries)

JUST A QUICK NOTE: The plastic top on each snack tells you to look at the back of the card (sent with the box) to see the "best by" date. PAY ATTENTION TO THIS. I just noticed that most of these dates expire soon. I imagine that is because these are made to be eaten quickly. Also, if you are someone with food allergies, it is likely best to skip subscribing to "Graze." I noticed on the FAQ on their site that they say, "Graze is not suitable for people with food allergies." (SEE HERE: https://www.graze.com/us/faqs)

I am not trying all of these today, but I decided to try one (I will update later): Punchy Protein Nuts.

Here is what it looks like without the plastic top:



Verdict: Tasty! I like this snack a lot! The nuts are fresh and have great tangy and slightly spicy flavor. Yay for my first "Graze" experience! The portion sizes are on the small size, so be aware of that. Still, I think if you were buying all of this in a store, the pricing would be more or about the same, depending on where you were.

I will continue to update as I try each one.

And, just for disclosure: No, no one paid me to endorse this product. I know no one at Graze, and I paid for my own box. I was just curious and thought I would post about my experience! So far, so good!

UPDATE: 6/11... 

Sweet Mustard Ranch (a mixture of pretzels, sour cream and onion cashews, and mustard breadsticks)


I really enjoyed this one, too! Sorry for not taking a picture...but sometimes hunger overrides blog love. Anyway, again, very fresh and tasty.

Verdict: Great! 10 out of 10! Yay!

Friday, May 29, 2015

AND...WOW!! I have been blogging for 10 years!!

10 YEARS!!! Who knew?? I looked back, and my first post was March 6, 2005. Wow! Crazy!

(okay..yes...I haven't blogged every day, but to still actively post on a ten-year-old blog is kind of amazing considering most are abandoned!)

New Look to the Blog

After ten years, I finally got sick of it. LOL! So, I am going minimalist. :)

A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki


Description from Amazon:
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

I just finished Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. I tried so hard to drag this one out...and I did. For weeks. I just didn't want to give it up. And when I was finally finished, I went into book depression! This is an amazing novel told in dual narration. I think there are some problems with the ending (just for me), but I would still give it five stars (and did on Goodreads), because it was a life-changing read for me.

Be aware that there is some rough language and sexual situations in the book, but I felt it was always tastefully handled. These things don't bother me, but I know that they do bother some people. Lately, when it comes to reviews, I have seen lots of people issue "trigger warnings." I haven't decided if I am in favor of them or not, but, for the sake of argument, I would say there should be trigger warnings for: self harming; bullying; sexual assault of a minor/exploitation; suicide; abuse.

You see? The thing  about these trigger warnings is that someone might read them and then decide that I have listed way too many things that are negative and then not read the book. And if I had seen all of those, I might have done the same thing. But this book was so amazing--and, in case you are still on the fence, it all does turn out okay. The story is uplifting and fulfilling spiritually in a way I can't describe yet--I'm still too close to it.

I actually picked up this book on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble! It is a Man Booker Prize Finalist, too! At first, I wasn't sure what to make of that...because sometimes I really love the Booker Prize novels, and sometimes I ask myself, "What were they smoking?" But in terms of style and interest, this was not a hard read at all. I couldn't wait to pick it up again each night, even though I limited myself to one chapter a day!

Again: Wonderful read. Beautiful. I don't think you would regret it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reading Toni Morrison



In preparation for Toni Morrison's new novel God Help the Child (coming out NEXT WEEK!! YAY!!!), I am reading through her entire works. I have read some Morrison in the past, but I always wanted to start at the beginning and work my way through. Even this plan didn't go well, because my local bookstore was out of The Bluest Eye. They did have Sula, so I read that one first. (These are two I haven't read before now.) So, I have now finished those two and will move on to Song of Solomon tonight. I am super excited. I find myself falling into Morrison's books so easily--but this is not to say that the reading experience is easy. Never come to Morrison if you are looking for a quick read or something "easy." Though the first two books, as many acknowledge, are good "gateway" books to Morrison's collection, they still require effort, of course.

Anyway, I will keep you posted. There is no way I can finish everything before next Tuesday (LOL), but I hope to be well into Tar Baby (if not Beloved ) by then! Happy reading!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Since my last post (aka making progress on the TBR pile):

Well, since my last post, I have been reading...a lot! I am actually still on schedule with my Goodreads challenge...which is amazing in itself! Most of my reading has been historical romance, but I have completed two literary fiction novels, also. Here are my thoughts...



I don't really know how to describe my feelings about Olive Kitteridge. Don't get me wrong: I liked the book. It is a collection of shorter stories that are all connected to the character of Olive. The book is intense, however. I read it in almost one sitting, and I think that was a mistake. When I finished, I was left feeling emotionally exhausted and sad. I'm glad I read it, but I can't say that I would want to go through the experience again!



I actually had this on my audiobook archives list. I LOVED listening to this book. I think this was the best narration I have ever heard. Mitchell is a great author, and once this book was over, I was left wanting more!

Thursday, January 08, 2015

My New Year's Resolutions and Back to Book Reviews (Sort of)

So, I made two resolutions this year:

1. To only read books out of my TBR pile (including books bought before 1/1/15 on my Kindle), and to not buy another physical book this year (though, if it is something I am dying to read, I can buy it on Kindle). Yeah...I fully expect that I will fail miserably at this one!

2. To take more time off from work. I didn't do a good job of allowing myself days to recharge last year, and it almost put me under.


Anyway, I joined the Goodreads challenge, as usual,committing to 100 books this year. Also, I joined a TBR challenge on Goodreads, committing to the same 100 books. Double accountability! So, I am keeping my reading logged there, but I will probably post most of the books I am reading here, too.

I have read these two books so far:

 From Amazon:
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: He is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women, and power must use papacy and family—in particular, his eldest son, Cesare, and his daughter Lucrezia—in order to succeed. Cesare, with a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest—though increasingly unstable—weapon. Later immortalized in Machiavelli’sThe Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages, and from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player. Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.
I LOVED Blood and Beauty. If you watched the Showtime series The Borgias, you will like this book. I thought it was so well done, and this book is the first of two. I can't wait until the next one comes out. I can't recommend it highly enough.



From Amazon:
When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. Eleven years later, Wendy discovers her mother might have been right.  She’s not the person she’s always believed herself to be, and her whole life begins to unravel—all because of Finn Holmes.Finn is a mysterious guy who always seems to be watching her.  Every encounter leaves her deeply shaken…though it has more to do with her fierce attraction to him than she’d ever admit.  But it isn’t long before he reveals the truth:  Wendy is a changeling who was switched at birth—and he’s come to take her home.   Now Wendy’s about to journey to a magical world she never knew existed, one that’s both beautiful and frightening.  And where she must leave her old life behind to discover who she’s meant to become…As a special gift to readers, this book contains a new, never-before-published bonus story, “The Vittra Attacks,” set in the magical world of the Trylle.
I also read Switched. I've had this one on my Kindle for a while, and I was in the mood for a teen read. It was fairly good for a teen paranormal, and I see a lot of potential for the series. There were a few moments that felt forced, but I think that will go away with time. There are several books in the series.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Creativity Desert and Getting My Groove Back

I am in desperate need of a vacation. This has been a rough year for me, and there hasn't been nearly enough down time to allow myself to recuperate and get my mental vitality back in order! I have been working on it, but it has been a challenge this year. I felt like I lost any kind of creative drive I had, and I really struggled with that over the last year. It is a horrible feeling for a writer to feel that blocked and shut out of her own mind. But the good news is that I am slowly coming back to myself. I think that so many things have happened over the last decade...graduate school, my dad's health issues, graduating grad school, new job, relationships (good and bad), blah, blah, blah. Life, basically. But, the biggest change of all was suddenly not having a project to work on anymore.

Looking back, I realize that I had spent nearly 10 years working toward a single document. There was always a project and goal: finish the dissertation...defend it...graduate. I did those things, and I am glad that I did. In my last twelve months of grad school, I watched my town be destroyed by a tornado, experienced the death of one of my closest and dearest friends, dealt with the death of my grandmother and dog Casey, and started a full time job. I kept going. I finished the dissertation, defended and graduated.

And then I had this moment of euphoria that lasted a little over a year. I had all of this free time! I could read whatever I wanted, and I wasn't being held accountable for any of it! So, I did. I read and read and read. I had to retrain myself to read for pleasure, forcing myself not to underline, highlight, or make notes. I couldn't pick up a Victorian novel for over a year. I didn't write. I just read. I read whatever I wanted...genre fiction, classics, history, biographies...whatever I wanted. And it was great--at first.

But sometime over the last year, I realized that I was starting to panic. The reality of not having a project I am working on started to make me a little crazy, so I decided to dedicate myself to finding one. But this didn't work. So many things happening in work life and personal life took me to the point of exhaustion, and this killed any kind of creative urge I  had. Even more horrifying, I discovered that I had a serious block when it came to creating something fictional. I have always written fiction. But, after grad school, I stopped. It has been killing me. I will get a great idea, but then I feel so blocked and am overcome with exhaustion. I couldn't understand why this was happening. I even decided to do "The Artist's Way" program, which I am still going through. I have to say that I think it has helped in some ways. I am writing more--though not fiction at the moment. I am having more ideas and feel stronger mentally. So, any improvement is a good improvement, in my mind! But going through all of this and trying to reflect on all of the things I have done/been through/experienced in the last decade, I realized that graduate school is a dangerous thing for the creative mind in some ways. I'm not saying my creativity can't be brought back--it is--but I am having to open up my mind to some of its older ways of operating.

For so long, I had to analyze and take apart what I read. I was destroying instead of creating. I realized this during the process, but it is the game you play and what you do. I hadn't thought about it until I read the most recent chapter of "The Artist's Way" where the author mentions this exact issue. And, for me at least, it is true. In the process of getting my degrees and writing for academics, I buried and tamed part of my mind--the most vital and important part of it for me. I did love doing analysis (I think it was fun), and writing academic papers was never a chore. It all came naturally, and I liked it. But, I also lost something. But that loss is temporary. I am coming back to myself, and I am writing every day now. It might not be fiction yet, but it is moving in that direction. I have two writing projects I am pursuing, am actively involved in my writing circle, and am dedicated to feeding my curiosity again.

Feeding my curiosity and making time for all of my crazy interests is something I am dedicating myself to these days.  I am really addicted to documentaries and podcasts. For me, these two forms of media feed into that part of my mind that needs stimulation. After being in an office all day, these things allow me to experience the world in a doable way. You see all kinds of people; hear all kinds of ideas. And this is great for me, because I love thinking and learning new things.

So, anyway, that is where I am right now. Like I said, it has been a really hard year. But I feel like Susie is getting her groove back. :)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Book Reviews: Just in case you are interested

Just as an FYI: I am only posting book reviews to my Goodreads page these days. I don't review all the books I am reading, but I do review any I get from NetGalley or ones that seem really powerful to me. I just posted a review for Reconstructing Amelia -- BUT TAKE NOTE: THERE ARE SPOILERS



So, if you are interested, go to my Goodreads page:  Susan's Goodreads