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Monday, October 28, 2013

Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Mrs. Ingalls Wilder recalls her childhood days out in the big woods, living with her Ma, Pa, older sister Mary, and baby sister Carrie. Ma maintains a strict routine in their house to ensure they have the things they need. Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Rest on Sunday. Even daily chores become interesting in the delightful eyes of the child, Laura. She shares the secrets of how butter, cheese, candy, sausage, and many other foods used to be made before the convenience of modern machinery and convenience stores. As a kid these processes fascinated me, and as an adult reading about them reminds me of how blessed I feel to live in a time where I can just run to the store to pick something up off the shelf.

Outside of the chores, though, there are exciting events that make me shake my head and laugh out loud even as an adult. The two encounters with bears are both frightening and heartening. Laura's loss for words over such precious gifts at Christmas remind me of gifts I received that made me speechless. The innovative ways she and Mary used sticks, leaves, and other objects they had around the house for their play reminds me to be thankful for all I had and have.

The best part of the audiobook is the inclusion of a Paul Woodiel performing the pieces played by Pa on his fiddle. As a child I wondered what some of the songs might sound like, so the inclusion of the fiddle parts brings these to life.

I loved this book as a child, and I'm glad I took the time to read it again as an adult. I hope children continue to enjoy this book for years to come.

Books in the Series:
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Whoopie Pie Book - Clair Ptak

The Whoopie Pie Book: 60 Irresistible Recipes for Cake Sandwiches Classic and New by Clair Ptak is an easy cookbook filled with delicious ideas.

When asked what a "whoopie pie" is I normally respond saying it's a cake version of an Oreo or chocolate sandwich cookie. The texture of the cake is something between a cookie and a cupcake and the cream can vary depending on who makes them.

The traditional whoopie recipe with chocolate and marshmallow is the very first recipe in the book. I'm not a fan of the marshmallow filling, so I went straight for the traditional butter cream when I tried this recipe. The cookies were just the right consistency and the butter cream was delicious.

The second recipe I tried was the strawberry with strawberry. The cookies turned out great, but I had to make some modifications to the filling recipe. It calls for 4-6 cups of powdered sugar, which is way too much. I ended up using only about 2 cups for this one, and even that was a bit much for me personally; although, the company I had that weekend loved them.

All of the recipes I tried turned out fairly well, though with the filling one may need to adjust the sugar content to personal taste.

Monday, October 21, 2013

One Year of Blogging

Thank you all for continuing to visit my blog for the past year, as I've recorded my adventures with books of all different genres. Updating this blog 3-4 times a week has been fun for me, and it's also helped keep me on track of reading 15 books a month.

I've decided I'd like to focus on some of my other hobbies as the new year comes up, so my reading will be going on the back burner. I'll still be updating this blog, though, on Mondays and Fridays.

Expect the next update on October 25th. Happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Alvin Schwartz

This is another collection of scary stories retold by author Alvin Schwartz with brilliant grayscale illustrations by Stephen Gammell.

Many of the stories I grew up with hearing around the campfire and at sleepovers are found in this anthology. I recall being spooked by tales such as The Wreck, One Sunday Morning, Wonderful Sausage, and The Bed by the Window and entertained by more humorous ones like The Bad News.

Reading this anthology reminds me of happy times spent with friends and family during social nights.

Books in the Series:
Scary Stories Box Set: Scary Stories, More Scary Stories, and Scary Stories 3
More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Recommended Reads:
The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and Macabre - W.W. Jacobs
Ten Great Mysteries - Edgar Allen Poe

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Darkest Part of the Woods - Ramsey Campbell

Dr. Lennox Price originally moved to the small town to study the mystery of Goodmanswood. Successfully discovering the secret of the hallucinogenic moss of the dark woods doesn't make him immune to its effects, though. Now with Lennox in a mental hospital, his family must learn to get along without him.

His wife decides to immerse herself in her strange art. His daughter, Heather, tries to keep her own family together as best as she can, but her husband is distant and her son can't seem to escape the town. Meanwhile her sister becomes pregnant and refuses to reveal the father.

Hints from their father's work may lead them to the solution. With a little bit of research they may be able to break free from the woods and its curse. Or is its hold on their family just too firm to escape?

The overall feel of this novel was reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft's work, which is a big reason by I enjoyed this so much. I'm anticipating reading more from this author.

Recommended Reads:
The Call of Cthulhu - H.P. Lovecraft
The Shadow Over Innsmouth - H.P. Lovecraft

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dune Messiah - Frank Herbert

Paul Muad'dib Atreides took the throne by cunning after the emperor conspired to kill his entire family. Paul secured his place on the throne by marrying the Princess Irulan, but he refuses to have any meaningful relationship with her, preferring to attempt a royal birth with his Freman love, Chani. His coldness toward Irulan causes her to join a conspiracy, which makes him vulnerable both from within and without.

He and his sister Alia attempt to control the people by both the throne and religion, but the Jihad may be too far gone for them to handle. As Alia reaches sexual maturity, her other memory fights with her budding feelings. And Paul finds himself increasingly hedged in by his prescience.

I've read this novel multiple times and I still have mixed feelings toward it. While I'm reading it, I sometimes find myself wondering if it's ever going to get anywhere, but when it finally comes together at the end I'm always left thinking for hours later. If I had prescience, could I use it to improve my life in the way I want? How does my culture and religion effect my daily life? And what would I decide if given the chance to revive my dearest loved one to life?

Books in the series:
Children of Dune

Recommended Viewing:
Dune Mini-Series
Children of Dune Mini-Series

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Alvin Schwartz

Back in grade school I loved to scare myself silly. Along with Poe and Jacobs, I enjoyed collections of horror stories like this one. The versions Schwartz tells aren't unique; in fact, you can find them in tons of collections. What set these books apart were the accompanying grayscale illustrations by Stephen Gammell. The illustrations are ten times more frightening than the stories themselves.

The versions in this book are purposefully a short 1 to 2 pages long to provide a good translation for oral storytelling. I remember many of these tales most clearly from around the campfire and during sleepovers than I do from the books. While the tellings of High Beams and Bloody Fingers were the same as the versions told here, I remember tales like The Hook growing increasingly more morbid with each gathering as we tried to frighten each other worse.

Anybody who enjoys a good scare will be satisfied with this collection.

Books in the Series:
Scary Stories Box Set: Scary Stories, More Scary Stories, and Scary Stories 3
More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Recommended Reads:
The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and Macabre - W.W. Jacobs
Ten Great Mysteries - Edgar Allen Poe

Friday, October 11, 2013

Priestess, Mother, Sacred Sister - Susan Starr Sered

I often hear people lamenting the disappearance of women's religions. Many have a lot of theories about what they were like. Some of the more popular ideas I've heard are: A girl's menarche would be a time of celebration, women would have more control over their bodies, and an almighty goddess would be worshiped instead of an almighty god.

There are a lot of women's religions alive all around the world that most people just haven't heard of. So do any of these women's religions match these ideas that many people today have of what women's religions should look like? The answer is mixed and a bit complicated. While some of the women's religions Sered studied fit some of these expectations on the surface, when looking a bit deeper they may not be what people expect; however, most of these religions don't fit any of these expectations at all.

Some of the religions Sered explores include: Shakers, Burmese Nat, Sande, and Zar. All of these religions are unique, though some of them do have similarities. Sered is careful to make comparisons, but not generalizations. There are a few sections where her own personal point of view get in the way of the narrative, but in these cases she does note they are her personal opinion and not those of the practitioners.

If you want to learn about live women's religions, this is an excellent read.

Recommended Reads:
Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History - Rosemary Ruether
Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines - Mona Behan, Jeannine Davis-Kimball
Roles of the Northern Goddess - Hilda Davidson

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

Mr. Arabel decides he's going to kill the runt, but Fern's earnest concern for the piglet leads her father to give it to her. Fern loves the pig so much that even when she is forced to sell it to her uncle, she visits him as often as she can. When Wilbur discovers he is bound to become a holiday meal, he throws such a fit that the animals of the farm band together to save him, including a spider named Charlotte, who inventively saves his life. For children, this is a tale of friendship and wonder.

For those a bit older, it contains an additional coming-of-age plot. Mrs. Arabel is concerned with her daughter's constant visits to the barn, and even more concerned of her daughter's stories of the animals actually talking. Her husband brushes it off and the doctor assures her that Fern will soon grow out of it. Their assessments prove to be true, as at the show when Wilbur is awarded a blue ribbon Fern is more
concerned about getting money from her parents to wander off with the neighbor, Henry, than with the pig she once cared for.

Many readers have expressed their dislike for the fact that Charlotte is never recognized for her efforts by the human characters. While this is true, Charlotte's sacrifice is recognized by Wilbur and his barnyard friends. One of my favorite parts of this book has always been that despite Charlotte's fate, hope blossoms in the gift she left Wilbur. It assures us that life may change, but it continues.

Recommended Reads:
Ramona Quimby Age 8 - Beverly Cleary
Little House in the Big Woods - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

Monday, October 7, 2013

Selected Writings: Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen is an amazing Catholic mystic of the 12th century. She wrote and illustrated her vision from God, recorded her herbal cures, traveled to give theological lectures, wrote music and a morality play for her abbey, and was even an influence to bishops and kings.

Atherton, the translator, chose many selections that I don't typically see in Hildegard collections, so I was happy to see that. One of the things I was happy to finally peek at was from her cures. Many editors and translators choose to focus on Hildegard's herbal remedies because many of them are applicable today. Atherton decided to include some of the metaphysical stone and crystal remedies, including sardonyx for overactive libido.

This volume includes selections from her three major works, Scivias, Book of Divine Works, and The Book of Divine Merits, as well as selections from her morality play Play of the Virtues. There is a section containing verses from the music she wrote for her abbey, but it does not have music notation, nor is there an accompanying music disc. Like many books on her work it does not contain actual illustrations of he work. While the translator does a decent job of describing the pieces, Hildegard's work is detailed, so it's hard to describe all of the nuances in her visionary pictures. There is a brief biography in the introduction and at the end it includes selections from letters to and from Hildegard.

I enjoyed this collection mostly because of the variety of selections the translator chose in comparison to others I have read.

Recommended Reads:
Hildegard de Bingen - Regine Pernoud
Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs edited by Matthew Fox
The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen: Volume I - edited by Joseph L. Baird and Radd K. Ehrman

Recommended Listening (traditional):
Canticles of Ecstasy performed by Cologne Sequentia Ensemble for Medieval Music
The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen performed by Anonymous 4

Recommended Listening (modern):
Hildegard von Bingen by Garmarna
Vision: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen

Recommended Viewing:
Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (2010)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Odin's Gateways - Katie Gerrard

Gerrard strikes a good balance between historical, established, and personal practice when it comes to Runes in this book.

By starting with the background of the Runes, Gerrard ensures that her readers will have a solid base before learning about Runes as a divinatory tool. She addresses controversial topics, such as the "blank" Rune, the use of Runes a divination tool, and the use of Runes by the Nazis.

Like many Rune practitioners, the author suggests readers attempt contact with Odin, the God who is originally associated with the Runes. She also suggests that like Odin giving his eye for the Runes that a person make a sacrifice for knowledge of the Runes. There is a brief section that covers journeying and guardian spirits in order to do these things. She also recommends either making ones own Runes or working with each Rune for a set amount of time individually (one day each, one week each, or a month each) in order to get a personal understanding of them.

The Runes in the Anglo-Saxon and the Old Norse poems are used for interpretation, so for those who want to use the Icelandic Rune poem this guide may have limited use. She covers what each Rune means in the poem, typical interpretation, her own interpretation, divination, and as a symbol. Like many authors, she suggests using the sound of the Rune by chanting to get a better understanding.

At the end she also covers Bindrunes, which is a way of a type of spell created by combining runes. She also provides another way of making bindrunes by using a eight-spoked wheel, the aetts, and a simple mark on the wheel. The author explains that this keeps the meaning hidden from others, as well as avoiding creating inadvertent Runes in the Bindrune that could mar the effectiveness.

I've read several books on Runes, and I think this is one of my favorites so far. Her honest separation between historical, modern, and personal interpretation is something I appreciate, along with her emphasis on the readers personal experience. I would recommend this for anybody who wants to learn more about Runes.

Recommended Reads:
Runes - R.I. Page
Rune Song with accompanied audio - Edred Thorsson

Recommended Site:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Jovah's Angel - Sharon Shinn

150 years has past since the Archangel Gabriel and his Angelica, Rachel, sang the Gloria. The wrath of Jovah, God, was set upon them when Rachel refused to participate in the Gloria. Once Rachel recanted and joined, the people were placed back in His good graces.

After a terrible accident the current Archangel, Delilah, can no longer fly; therefore, Jovah ousts her from her position and appoints Alleluia. Like many Archangels before her Alleluia has one major problem: She must locate her Angelico before the singing of the Gloria. The consultation with the oracles has only given her a cryptic message to lead her to her one and only mate. To make matters worse, the last of the machines used to play recorded music for the Archangel are breaking down. On top of seeking an unknown entity, she needs to find an engineer who can fix the machines, which are in short supply since they haven't even made horseless carriages yet.

Alleluia's faith will be tested when she finds the man she loves is not the one Jovah has bound to her. She will be further challenged when she discovers that Jovah is not who she thought He was.

Although this is a sequel, it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel as there are very few references to the previous work, Archangel. The only mentions are about Gabriel and his relationships with Rachel, but the author is sure to inform the reader of necessary information. I enjoyed this much more than the first in the series. The internal war of love versus duty rings true within Alleluia. The internal turmoil of her beliefs being directly challenged with solid evidence is one with which many people can relate. Delilah's desperation to avoid hope in fear of disappointment echoes the situations of many. I think that many readers will find themselves challenged when reading this novel.

Books in the Series:
The Alleluia Files

Recommended Reads:
The Telling - Ursula K. Le Guin
Singer from the Sea - Sheri S. Tepper

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

InuYasha Volume 1 - Rumiko Takahashi

I had watched a few episodes and even a couple of InuYasha movies in the past with friends who are fans, but I could never get into it. A couple of them had suggested I should try the manga/graphic novel version. I figured I would give it a shot, considering there are a number of Japanese products where I prefer the manga version to the anime version. Unfortunately, I can't say I feel much different.

I have the same problem with the manga version that I have with the animated version. I like the basic premise of the series: High School student finds herself in a foreign world, where she becomes the heroine in a search to bring together a great power. It's a familiar story that also weaves in the concept of reincarnation in an interesting way. The use of magics of all types and the inclusion of demons in a fantasy world is great.

However, I find the two main characters to be insipid and annoying. While Kagome, the heroine, is kind-hearted and uses her intelligence and skill to win the day, her behavior with InuYasha is careless and sometimes cruel. A particular talisman places bodily harm on InuYasha when Kagome says a particular word. She sometimes uses it to keep him from doing something inappropriate, but she most often uses it when she feels the least bit of annoyance toward him, which I find inappropriate. InuYasha, a half-demon, as expected can be unthinking and often offensive with his words and actions toward Kagome. Having seen episodes from various points in the series, I can say with confidence that this poor relationship does not evolve much further.

Books in the Series:
InuYasha Volume 2
InuYasha Volume 3
InuYasha Volume 4

Suggested Reads:
Magic Knight Rayearth - CLAMP
Gandalara Cycle Volume I - Randall Garrett