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Friday Fun! (Biking, Lost, Holiday)

May 28, 2010 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  This week was the first step in hopefully, eventually biking all the way to work every day.  However, an attempt on the weekend showed me that I’m not capable yet of making it the 6 miles (one way, so 12 miles round-trip).  So, to work my way up to it, I’m biking to my bus connection, which is just about half-way there.  It was a bit nerve-wracking being on the road with cars, let me tell you, but today I found myself having a bit more confidence on the road.  Plus, I was able to move up a gear on the bike already!

Sunday was the Lost finale (and if you have yet to see it, you are not a true fan and deserve the spoilers), and of course I watched it, including the two hour re-cap.  I appreciated the action on The Island, but I was disappointed with the spiritual direction the writers went.  I’d been hoping the whole way through the series that we would discover that the mythology being yakked about by the older generation of protectors/evils was just a way to deal with science they had yet to understand.  Instead we get handed a glowy light with no scientific explanation and a happy-go-lucky, feel-good after-life.  Also, I never got to see Kate die, what the fuck is up with that?!   However, I didn’t hate the episode, and I actually found myself almost crying when Vincent came and licked Jack.  So the verdict on my end was meh.  I didn’t hate it, but it also didn’t ruin the rest of the series for me.  I’ll definitely be re-watching the seasons.

This weekend is a 3 day weekend here in the US for Memorial Day, which means I have Monday off.  I’m so excited!  I hope at least one day is beautiful out so I can go for a bike ride or a row on the Charles and have a picnic.  Happy weekends everyone!

Book Review: The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers by Angie Fox (Series, #2)

May 27, 2010 2 comments

Lizzie and Pirate sitting on a motorcycle.Summary:
It’s only been a couple weeks since Lizzie found out she’s a demon slayer, and she’s already been to hell and back–literally.  You’d think she could get a vacation to Greece with her hunk of a griffin boyfriend, Dmitri, but her fairy godfather, Uncle Phil, has got himself tangled up with a succubus.  Lizzie, accompanied by the geriatric biker gang, the Red Skulls, and Dmitri run off to Las Vegas to save him.  They discover an unusual amount of demonic activity in Vegas, however, which points to a possible demon invasion from hell.

Review:
This was definitely a step up from the first book in the series.  The action is tighter, characters more well-rounded, and the impetuses for decisions are more believable.  The demon invasion winds up being a secondary plot point to Lizzie’s attempt to figure out what exactly the slayer truth “sacrifice yourself” means.  I also enjoyed the fact that Fox gave the talking terrier, Pirate, more to do besides be excited when Lizzie shows up.  The fact that she’s paying attention to animal characterization makes me happy.

One of my main complaints with the previous book was the romance story-line, in particular the sex scene, and I can’t say that that’s improved here.  Although by the end of the book I found Lizzie’s affection for Dmitri believable, for most of the book I was baffled by it.  He just doesn’t do it for me as a romantic hero, and I’m not sure exactly why.  Similarly, the sex scenes were again cringe-inducing, not sexy.  I mean, he rips her leather skirt up the middle, and she finds this endearing?  The fact that the man seems to lack the knowledge that you can push a skirt up makes me seriously doubt his abilities in the sack.  It’s odd, because Fox’s other scenes are generally well-done.  The two sex scenes are so decidedly cringe-worthy that I sort of forgot this is supposed to be a paranormal romance.  It read as a paranormal fiction featuring an odd choice for a boyfriend and thank goodness he’s not talked about too much.

In general though most of the book isn’t about Dmitri or his relationship with Lizzie.  It’s about Lizzie’s experience figuring out what exactly it means to be a demon slayer.  Thank goodness for that, because that combined with Lizzie’s crazy family and witty dog make for a good story.  I recommend it to those with a taste for the paranormal and romance lovers who aren’t fans of sex scenes in romance to start with.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Previous Books in Series:
The Accidental Demon Slayer, review

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Meatfree Recipe: Sweet Potato Salad with Apple and Avocado

May 26, 2010 4 comments

The Result:
A slightly tangy, genuinely refreshing, cold, cooked veg salad that is full of nutrients and very filling!  It tastes better when it’s allowed to sit a while in the fridge.  You do need to cut up the avocado and add it just before serving to prevent the avocado from browning, however.  Perfect food to make ahead of time to eat later.

The Recipe:
Approximately 4 servings

1 ear of corn (approximately 1/4 of a cup)
1lb sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup unsalted, hulled pumpkin seeds or pepitas (You can toast them or not, whatever floats your boat) or chopped walnuts
1 medium apple (any variety)
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (It’ll be fine without it if you don’t have some handy)
1/4 cup lime juice (approximately 2 limes)
2 Tbs olive oil
avocado, finely diced

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Place the ear of corn in and cook until a fork can easily stick into the kernels, approximately 7 to 10 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool.

Place sweet potatoes in a sauce pan, cover with water, bring to a boil and boil until tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain in colander and rinse immediately under cold water to cool.  Drain well.

Cut corn kernels from the cob.

Combine apple, onion, cilantro, corn, and lime juice in a large bowl. Stir in sweet potatoes and oil.  Stir in avocado and seeds/nuts just before serving.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Tweaked recipe from Vegetarian Times

Movie Review: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Flint and Sally standing under umbrella surrounded by meatballs.Summary:
Flint Lockwood has always been different.  He’s a nerd, and that doesn’t go over so well in his sardine-fishing, blue collar coastal island town in the Atlantic.  His mom was always supportive that he’d do great things one day, however, so the town has grown used to his experiments going awry.  When everyone suddenly decides that sardines are gross, the town is facing an economic downturn.  It appears that Flint’s latest experiment could bring them the tourism they need.

Review:
There is so much to love about this little film.  The storyline about just being who you are and ignoring labels is heart-warming.  On the other hand, the film is careful not to make the nerds out to be perfect or the non-nerds to be pointless.  Everyone has their strengths, and it is important to use a critical eye when playing up to them.

The animation is quite good, and I imagine it must be spectacular in 3D.  Everything is colorful, and the storm scenes in particular are rich and vibrant.

The characters are what really makes the film though.  From Flint to his dad to his love interest, Sally Sparks a meteorologist, everyone is richly drawn.  Then of course there are my two favorite characters, Flint’s monkey who is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris (“gummy bears!” “Steve!” “excited!”) and the town police officer, who is voiced by none other than Mr. T.  Did you catch that? Neil Patrick Harris and Mr. T in the same movie.  That is the definition of awesomeness.

The storyline was complex.  Although I was nearly certain everything would work out ok in the end (it is a kid’s movie after all), I still found myself on the edge of my seat rooting for the characters.

If you enjoy science, slapstick, or coming of age stories, you will definitely enjoy this film.  I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: The World Inside by Robert Silverberg

May 24, 2010 10 comments

Person laying in a pond looking up at the sky.Summary:
Hundreds of years in the future, Earth society has dealt with the population crisis by discovering the ability to build Urban Monads (urbmons).  Each building is 1,000 stories and houses around 880,000 people.  This vertical hive living has allowed for most of the land to be farmland, managed by communes still living in the traditional horizontal style.  It’s a beautiful day in Urbmon 116, and we’ll get to meet people from each level of the city from artistic San Francisco to academic Shanghai to ruling Louisville.  Their lives of enforced zero privacy, no locked doors, mandatory acceptance of sexual requests from anyone of age, and a reverence for fertility resulting in uncontrolled population growth present a unique social situation.  An academic wonders if humanity has forcibly evolved itself to naturally enjoy the Urbmon lifestyle or if it is a cultural influence forced upon them.  Maybe these next few days will help him tell.

Review:
This book is such a creative imagining of a possible future, one I certainly never had thought of.  Silverberg approaches his storytelling by at first making it seem as if we will be exposed to a series of vignettes about the inhabitants of Urbmon 116, but then their interconnection suddenly becomes apparent as the dual climaxes approach.  I was certainly not bored with the vignette portion as the society of the Urbmon is so interesting, but the interconnection moved it from being an interesting book to a powerful book.

The World Inside is a look at what would happen if the most fundamentalist pro-lifers were to win the majority and gain great power.  There is no birth control, every fetus conceived is brought to childhood (although the gender may be manipulated to maintain a balance).  Interestingly, in order for this pro-life construct to gain power, they also had to make concessions to the free love folks.  Everyone gets married at a very young age, but there is no such thing as sexual loyalty.  People are encouraged to nightwalk–leave their own abode at some point after midnight and enter another apartment and have sex with one of the adults there.  Often the husband or wife will stay in the room in spite of the sex going on in the same bed as them with their spouse.  This is explained as a necessary way to maintain harmony in the building.  It is intriguing to see such a lack of regard for parental loyalty to each other in a society that encourages so much procreation, yet it all makes sense.

That is really what makes this such a strong book.  It’s such a plausible future, given the proper circumstances, that it gives chills, and yet Silverberg still shows the basic humanity in these people, stuck in a culture, a society that they have little to no control over.  If they fail to fit into the social constructs at all, they are simply put down the chute–killed and used as fuel for the building.  There is no room for real discourse or exploration of where they may have gone wrong.  It’s a social construct that happened out of necessity due to humanity’s refusal to stop procreating so much.  They gave up all their other freedoms for that one.  Even the freedom to chose to be monogamous if you want.  It is such an emotional, thought-provoking warning gong.  It’s definitely a book I will hold onto and re-read.

If you enjoy scifi, dystopias, or philosophical explorations of the human condition, you will definitely enjoy this book.  I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Friday Fun! (Biking, Gardening, Wii)

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Hello my lovely readers!   I hope your week treated you all well.  It’s finally feeling like summer around here.  You would think the summery weather would mean timely buses, but no.  The T has made me late just as much as it did in the winter.  I take this as a sign that I need to speed up project Amanda bikes to work.  Last weekend, I attempted the route with my gal pals Nina and E.  It turned out I was only able to make it 8 of the 12 miles.  I’m going to have to work up to it.  In spirit of that, I’ve been planning on biking to my bus connection to start building up the muscles. :-)  I had  yet to do it this week, partly because of rain and partly because I realized I need to figure out something to wear under my skirts while on the bike.  However!  I am determined to bike at least 3 days next week.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

I transplanted my seedlings, which are now plants, into their permanent containers last weekend.  The containers are a bunch of different vibrant colors, and they really brighten up the kitchen!  Now I just need to start my strawberry plants, transplant my flower into a hanging basket, and start either onion or spinach (I have yet to decide which).  It’s all lots of fun, and I can’t wait to see the produce I (hopefully) get in the end!

I played Kirby for the first time this week, and I now get the appeal of that odd little pink blob.  It’s a lot of fun!  I also downloaded one of the super marios (he’s in a castle and goes into paintings….) onto my Wii.  It’s one I didn’t really ever play as a kid, so it’s all-new to me.  It’s a lot like a predecessor of Mario Galaxy, so it’s a bunch of fun.  Of course, I can’t wait to try the new Galaxy when it comes out next week!

I hope you all have lovely weekends.  I know I’ll be seeing at least a few of you tomorrow at malibtweetup4!  Yay!

Meatfree Recipe: Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

May 20, 2010 2 comments

Introduction:
I am very supportive of the Meatless Mondays movement, which is indicative of the movement in general to get Americans to eat less meat.  Although I believe in vegetarianism, I whole-heartedly support any movement in that direction.  Even if a person goes from eating meat at two meals a day to eating meat at one meal a day, that’s fewer animals being killed for food a year.  It’s a step in the right direction.  I’ve been wondering what I can do to support this, so I’ve decided to periodically blog meatfree recipes that I’ve made at least once and have enjoyed.  Although I will offer sources, I generally tweak recipes a wee bit when I make them, so if you would like to see the original recipe, definitely check out the source.  First up, zucchini muffins!

The Result:
This recipe yields 12 regular-sized delicious, low-fat, low-calorie muffins chock full of nutty protein.  They make a great breakfast or snack on the go, and are yummy warm or cold.

The Recipe:
1 egg
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini (squeezed to remove excess liquid then stuffed into measuring cup)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup chopped almonds (you can use walnuts or pecans, pretty much any nut you have on-hand)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grate zucchini by hand or using a food processor, then gently squeeze grated zucchini to remove some of the water. Measure 1 1/2 cups (packed) zucchini for this recipe, and if you have extra, freeze it for another time.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat egg, then add vanilla and sugar and mix to combine. Stir in the grated zucchini, then the butter. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the top of this and mix in.

In a smaller bowl, combine white whole wheat flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture, then fold in chopped almonds .

Spray muffin pan or individual muffin cups with non-stick spray or vegetable oil, then divide batter evenly among cups to make 12 muffins. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

5 out of 5 stars

Book Review: Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories by Truman Capote

May 19, 2010 6 comments

Image of a broken plate and fork on a book cover.Summary:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
A nameless narrator recalls the eccentric 19 year old neighbor he once had in New York City–Holiday Golightly.  He reflects on their friendship of just over one year, and wonders where she is now.

“House of Flowers”
Ottilie works as a prostitute in Port Au Prince. She lives in a beautiful house with fine things, but one day at a cock fight, she falls in love and leaves the city for the country with her new husband. Will she regret her decision?

“A Diamond Guitar”
A man in prison for 99 years plus 1 day in a tropical location is well-respected by the other prisoners for his ability to read. One day, a new inmate arrives serving a 2 year sentence. He is young, beautiful, and can play the guitar wonderfully.

“A Christmas Memory”
A man recalls his early Christmases spent with an older relative who had never wandered far from home, but had a love of life the other adults in his family mistook for a bad influence.

Review:
I read this book due to watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s (review) and really enjoying it.  Various friends told me they were curious to know my reaction to the different ending in the book, so I decided to read it.

Capote’s strength as a writer is in setting the scene.  I could vividly picture the scenes in every single story, despite their vastly different settings.  This is what made the stories readable in spite of their plotlines being not particularly my cup of tea.  I felt that Capote just approached the edge of something phenomenal, biting, and truthful, but then stopped.  Stories that could have been touching and powerful were therefore decidedly average.

What I loved about the movie version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is that it took a loving look at someone with mental issues and showed how she could get better.  There is none of that hope in the short novel.  Holly comes off entirely as someone out to use other people, and there is an unforgivable scene with her cat.  I came away hating Holly, whereas I felt I was made to understand a possibly unlikable person in the film.  This made the short novel quite disappointing and is exemplary of everything I disliked in this collection of Capote’s works.

That said, his writing style is highly readable, and I enjoyed the message in “A Christmas Memory” very much, even if the title is entirely uncreative.

My advice to any who love the film is to skip this if they wish their opinion of the characters to remain untarnished.  Those who enjoy mid 20th century American short fiction will enjoy this collection, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

May 18, 2010 6 comments

Three people weilding weapons surrounded by zombies.Summary:
Shaun is a 20-something loser with a dead-end job and a girlfriend who he only ever takes out to the local pub.  She dumps him on the eve of a zombie outbreak.  Shaun drags his job-less roommate through the streets, battling zombies in an attempt to save his mother and restore his relationship with Liz.

Review:
I couldn’t watch this movie and not compare it to Zombieland, which I watched last summer.  I honestly think that anyone wanting to compare US culture to UK culture should just watch these two films.  Shaun of the Dead takes an everyman who wants desperately to save people, but his only weapon is a cricket bat (btw, those things look like such a pussy weapon).  Shaun stumbles about the city with his line of relatives, friends, and frenemies, and they all make witty asides to each other while maintaining some sense of propriety when battling the zombies.  It’s wonderfully funny to watch, but not a point of view I, as an American, would imagine at all for a zombie apocalypse.  My pov lines up much more with Zombieland where the characters swipe trucks and double-tap the zombies with guns.  However, that’s what made Shaun of the Dead such a delightful watch, because it was a character study on top of the fun zombie scenes.  There were some jokes that fell flat for me, and I wasn’t too keen on the ending, but I know some people will enjoy the ending for precisely the reasons I disliked it.  However, Shaun of the Dead was still a delightful watch, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous apocalypse or zombie tales.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: In For a Penny by Rose Lerner

May 17, 2010 2 comments

Picture of a country scene on a book cover.Summary:
Nev Bedlow’s partying days are over.  His father got his brains blown out in a duel, and now Nev must deal with the family’s massive debt, as well as tend to their much too neglected country estate.  He must marry new money and pretty, witty Penelope seems just the ticket.

Penelope wasn’t after a title.  In fact, she was dutifully waiting, hoping her parents would eventually approve an engagement with her friend Edward, but when Lord Bedlow shows up asking for her hand in marriage, she finds herself saying yes.

The new couple not only must get to know each other and see if love can form, but also deal with the threat of a riot of the tenants, Nev’s impatient younger sister Louisa, and threatening neighbors.

Review:
Regency romance isn’t normally my thing, but I read a review on a book blog (I can’t remember which) that intrigued me.  It was well worth it.  In For a Penny doesn’t look at the past through rose-colored lenses.  It faces the facts of life back then for men as well as women of all stations.  However, unlike books of that time period that ignored the occurrence of things like sex, this book includes them.  Put those two together, and you get a really pleasant read.

The characters are highly relatable and are not stock characters.  Penelope is virginal and innocent due to her station, not because that’s just how women were.  An actress is provided as a nice contrast, showing that with the sexual freedom of lower classes came great risk.  Nev sports his own kind of innocence, a complete obliviousness to the pain and suffering in the world that then comes to meet him head-first.  Instead of a dashing lord, we see a young man whose father failed to properly prepare him for adulthood.  It puts exactly the type of human emotion into the story that is necessary for the romance to ring true.

That said, I didn’t completely love it.  There were a few scenes that read a bit clunky.  Beyond that, I’m not sure why I didn’t love it.  I suspect that it’s just that it’s not my favorite genre, and thus even though it is done well, it will never be an intensely loved book in my mind.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the real emotions and situations in this regency romance and hope to come across more like it.  If you enjoy romance or historical fiction, I encourage you to give this book a chance.  I bet you will enjoy it.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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