Sunday, June 10, 2012

You are probably going to want to read this book...

A Discovery of Witches was one of my favorite reads of 2011 and I was anxious to continue the adventures of Matthew and Diana, the star-crossed vampire and witch, in Shadow of Night.  Luckily, Deborah Harkness does not disappoint.  The second book in the All Souls trilogy is not a "stand-alone" read.  If you haven't read A Discovery of Witches, you should probably go out and find a copy right now.  Read it, love it, and then come back and read this review.

The story picks up right where it left off, with Matthew and Diana traveling back to Elizabethan England to try and unravel the mysteries of Ashmole 782, an ancient alchemical manuscript that holds the secrets to Diana's unusual magical powers and possibly the entire supernatural world.  (Seriously.  You read the first book, right?)  Since Matthew was already living in this time, the couple kind of slide right into his 1590's life. Matthew went by the last name of Roydon and was a member of the infamous and mysterious School of Night along with actual historical figures like Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, and Lord Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland.  As Matthew and Diana seek out Ashmole, as well as a witch to help her learn to harness her magic, they find themselves entwined in the supernatural and alchemical underworlds of the English Renaissance.  As the book progresses, we also delve deeper into Matthew's past and learn more about the suave, mysterious vampire and his illustrious family.

Here's the cool thing: a lot of the book's details are based on actual history.  Many of the characters we meet were real people including: the aforementioned School of Night members, John Dee, Edward Kelley, and even a cameo appearance by William Shakespeare.  It should be noted that Harkness is a historian and professor of history at USC, so the historical characters and details are spot on, especially in the area of alchemy which is one of her areas of expertise.  Obviously she takes liberties with the details and storytelling -- it is a fiction book after all.  Unless Kit Marlowe has been confirmed as a daemon and no one told me...  Now, admittedly, I am a bit of a history buff and have a fair amount of prior knowledge about this time period, so Harkness didn't have to work to hard to win me over.  Even readers without the history bug will be fine because the author seamlessly weaves these details into the story -- a cornerstone of good historical fiction.

Looking for a supplement to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series?  Wanting a slightly more intelligent, well-written vampire romance?  Just a fan of historical fiction in general?  Shadow of Night is probably the book you are looking for.  After I finished Shadow of Night, I wanted to go back and reread A Discovery of Witches just to keep the characters and the story fresh and tie all of pieces from both stories together.  I was very excited to be chosen to receive an ARC of Shadow of Night from NetGalley.  The book's general U.S. release date is July 10, 2012.  I would highly recommend picking it up from your local library or bookseller as soon as you can.  Just be prepared for the long wait for book three.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Good, Good Dog

One week ago tomorrow I had to say goodbye to one of my very best friends.

Cassie became my dog in 2003.  My then-fiance (now ex-husband) and I were living in Missouri at the time and took a camping/canoeing trip to Arkansas with another couple.  Upon arriving at the campgrounds where we were staying, I immediately spotted this pretty dog just hanging out.  I suspect she was a St. Bernard/Collie cross, but I don't know this for sure.

She wandered over to our campsite and being the sucker dog person that I am, I started talking to her and petting her.  Well she decided the lot of us were pretty cool and started hanging around with us the whole time we were there.  At night, she slept outside of our tents.  During the day, she followed us everywhere; including the 5 mile hike we took one day.  We talked to the park ranger and he confirmed our suspicions that she had been abandoned out there.  He said he had been bringing her food, but hadn't had time to take her in to the shelter.  By the time we packed up to go home the decision had been made.  I opened the door to the van and asked her if she was coming and she jumped right in.

Cassie was my dog from the beginning.  Why I do not know, but I truly believe dogs choose their favorite humans all on their own.  She was a gentle, loving girl who laid beside you on the bed/couch when you were sick, gave you kisses just when you needed them, and hid her head on your body like an ostrich when she wanted your attention.  When my furry baby gained a human baby brother 2 years later in 2005, I wasn't sure how she would react.  Turns out, I had no reason to worry.

Cass was with me through my wedding, my husband's deployment to Iraq, my pregnancy and new mommy days, my separation and divorce, and my journey into single parenthood.  No matter what life brought me, I knew I could always count on a snuggle or a whine for attention at just the right time.

Somehow 9 years had passed and my Cassie was starting to show her age.  She was at least 10 and possibly older because we don't even know for sure how old she was when we found her.  Her arthritis was worsening and her lethargy was increasing.  A couple of weeks ago, she really started to go downhill.  Vet visits and medications didn't really seem to help much.  By last Friday she could barely walk.  I knew the time had come to let my baby go to the Rainbow Bridge.  I hung out with her all day that day bringing her water and whatever food she wanted.  I laid down next to her on the floor and talked to her and petted her and cried.  A lot.  Letting her go was honestly one of the hardest things I have ever done.  I know she is no longer hurting and that is somewhat comforting, but I still miss my girl.  My son and I have both been pretty sad over the last week.  He has invented this thing where we pound our fists on our chests whenever we feel sad about her being gone.  I'm surprised we don't have bruises there.  She really was a really special dog and I don't know if I will ever not miss her.

Cassie was not the first pet I have lost, nor will she be the last.  W and I are already talking about getting another dog.  We decided that it would be a good idea to take our time, look around, and find just the right fit for our family.  No dog will ever be able to replace Cassie, but there really is nothing like the unconditional love of a pet and I think when we find the right one they will help us heal our currently broken hearts.  Until then, we will be sad.  We will pound our chests.  Farewell, my good, good dog -- until we meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

I Blame Hugh Jackman

I love Hugh Jackman. Love him, love him, love him.

Hugh is currently filming a movie version of Les Miserables. A musical one.  WITH Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter.  I started investigating this last night during a random "surf the internet on my phone until I drop it on my face because I am too tired to hold it up and need to go to sleep" session.  (Everyone else does that too, right?)  I was creeping on Hugh's Twitter account which led to detailed Les Mis searching which ended with You Tube clips of Hugh singing.  Yes, this is how I spend my nights.  Be jealous.  This is how I roll.  

Fast-forward to this morning.  I was creating new book displays at work and decided I needed some music to motivate me.  (FYI this was before we opened to the public.) Since Les Mis was still on my brain, I decided to check out Pandora's Broadway/Musicals channel.  It was pretty awesome.  There I was, coffee in hand, pulling books off the shelves, singing my brains out.  Camelot, West Side Story, Evita, Moulin Rouge (*sigh* Ewan).... It was all going so well until a song from Sweeney Todd came on.  I am not a big Sweeney Todd fan.  I like pie and well... So I skipped the song.  Two songs later: another Sweeney Todd song.  Skipped it.  Pretty soon, I kid you not, every other song was from Sweeney Todd, and Pandora only lets you skip so many songs before they cut you off.

I really started to get a complex.  Ok fine!  I'll stop eating pie!  I'll buy the Sweeney Todd soundtrack!  I'll have t-shirts made that say: I <3 Sondheim!  Why am I even listening to this in the first place?  How did I get here?  Someone will pay for this...  Where did this all begin?  Oh!  That's right -- Hugh.  I blame Hugh Jackman.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Snappy Name Change with a Side of Book Review

So I decided to change my blog address from expeditionofexpression to dontcallmemarian.  Obviously expedition of expression was me trying to be all intellectual and philosophical, which I CAN be from time to time, but frankly don't call me marian is a heck of a lot easier to remember.  Also it's already my snappy blog title (yes, I said snappy), so it might as well be my snappy web address too, right?

ANYWAY, I have been on another one of my infamous reading binges, and thought it might be a good time for a good ole' book review from yours truly.  Tuesday night I was up past 2:00 AM.  Part of this was due to a special bout of midnight insomnia, but the rest was due to being wrapped up in the book I picked up when the insomnia hit.

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton stood out from the very first page because it is written in second person narrative.  The narrator, Grace, is telling the story to her husband.  Second person is probably the most uncommon narrative mode, and was a bit distracting at first, but once I really got into the story I hardly noticed it.  In the book, Grace and her daughter Jenny have both been seriously injured in a fire that burned down the private school attended by Grace's son, Adam.  Grace and Jenny are both in the hospital unconscious, but they are both having out of body experiences.  They can communicate with one another, but not with anyone else.   Adam hasn't spoken since the fire and the police are fingering him (at age 8) as the arsonist.  While she and Jenny remain in a limbo-like state Grace follows the investigation into the fire trying to figure out who is really responsible.  Was it an accident, arson, or attempted murder?

While Afterwards started out a little slow, once it picked up the pace I couldn't put it down.  Lupton does an excellent job of navigating the twists and turns throughout the story.  Just when you as reader think you've figured it out, she throws you another curveball.  The author also brings up some interesting commentary on motherhood that develops with the various maternal characters in the book.  Regardless of whether this is intentional or not, it made me think.  Some might have an issue with the out of body experience aspect, but don't let that put you off.  The supernatural stuff was really pretty minimal and worked well with the story.  I did find it ironic that the only major issue I had with the book was the character of Grace.  I felt like she was a little whiny, insecure, and self-defeating.  Usually you want a main character you can root for, and I just didn't feel like I could do that with Grace.  I actually found her sister-in-law Sarah much more appealing.

Afterwards was published in the UK in August 2011 and is due for release in the US on April 24th.  If you like murder mysteries/suspense in general, I think you will like this book.  I also think fans of The Lovely Bones or The Time Travelers Wife will enjoy it as well.  I just put Rosamund Lupton's other book Sister on hold on my library's eBook lending service.  After reading this book, I definitely want to check out her first book to see if I like it as well.  Thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing Group (a division of Random House) for letting me read a galley copy of the book.

(BTW, none of these people know me or gave me coffee to read the book.  I just read it and liked it and wanted to share.  :D )

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Road to Blogging is Paved With Good Intentions



It has been 11 months since I have blogged here.  I should have warned you this would happen.  The way I look at it, a blog is a lot like a diary or a journal and I have something that I must confess to you right here and now:

I am a horrible journal keeper.

There I said it.  Recoil in horror if you must, but I have lost count of the number of notebooks I have started journals in and then never written in again.  OR notebooks that I purchased to use as journals that still sit empty. OR blogs that I started, posted on for two or three months and then never looked at for another year. Okay so that last one is really only one, but you know what I mean...

I am really pretty good at finishing other things that I start... eventually.  (I am a chronic procrastinator, but that is another blog post for another time. (See even now I am procrastinating!))  So I guess the point of this whole post is to say that I want to be better.  I am going to try to be better.  A lot of stuff has happened in 11 months.  Highlights include:

1) I mastered knitting!  Mostly.  I mean I TOTALLY created a yarn stash. Any knitter worth their needles will tell you this is one of the essential components of knitting.

2) I discovered the wonders of Michael Fassbender.  (If you just said who, we need to speak privately.)

3) I quit smoking! Two weeks ago, but still, I quit.

4) My baby started Kindergarten.  I can say no more.

5)  George Clooney started dating Stacy Keibler after I told him I could never leave Nebraska for Lake Como.

See!  Stuff!  Important stuff!  Let's pick this up tomorrow, shall we?  Possibly the next day.  A week from now at the VERY latest.  Okay, let's just stick with tomorrow.  Right.


Not Marian

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Heartbreaking End of an Era

Yesterday, ABC announced that they are cancelling All My Children and One Life to Live.  I know this may seem silly to many of you, but I am completely heartbroken.  These shows have been an integral part of my life pretty much for as long as I can remember.   My mom has always watched the ABC soaps: Ryan's Hope, All My Children, Loving, The City, One Life to Live, and General Hospital have always filled our television screen. 
My tween/teen years were filled with my love of the soaps.  I used to devour my mom's Soap Opera Digest every month and knew all of the families, characters, and actors on almost every soap.  At one point in junior high or high school, thanks to the VCR, I was watching five soaps: All My Children, Another World, Days of our Lives, One Life to Live, and General Hospital.  Robert and Anna, Frisco and Felicia, Jack and Jennifer... the Quartermaine's, the Buchanan's, the Martin's... they kept me occupied for hours with the sometimes ridiculous sometimes sublime events of their worlds.

Any soap fan you talk to will tell you that their shows have meant so much more to them than mindless entertainment.  For me soaps have been a huge bonding experience with my mother.  My mother tapes her soaps every day while she is at work and watches them when she has time. We have laughed and cried, hypothesized on-going plot lines, and made up what we considered better ones.  Our soaps have been an escape from our everyday lives, a place where we can go and not think about anything but Llanview and Pine Valley. 

What saddens me the most about the cancellations is that they are replacing these shows with yet more reality shows, these two will be titled "The Chew" and "The Revolution".  Really?  Really?  We need more of these shows?  I personally do not care to watch yet another scripted reality show, another cooking show, another "improve yourself" program.  Also, I can already hear Barbara Walters throwing from The View, "Take a little time to enjoy The View, and now stay tuned for THE CHEW." Barf.  Part of me thinks there must be a way to save my beloved friends: grassroots campaigns, phone calls and letters, picket lines... Unfortunately, the other part of me knows that the production costs of "The Chew" will only be a fraction of what it takes to produce a daytime drama and that ABC won't care that they may have lower ratings for these shows than the soaps.

So I must say good-bye to two shows that have been on the air longer than I have been alive.  No more Tad Martin or Jesse Hubbard.  Farewell Dorian Lord and Bo Buchanan.  I know that soaps have come and gone in the past, most recently Guiding Light and As the World Turns, but this time it's different because they are MY shows!!  I keep reading that ALL the scripted daytime dramas will be gone within five years, but I have decided that I will continue to watch General Hospital (which if we are being honest, has always been my favorite anyway) until the sad day comes that they send that one off into the sunset too.  I also think I might start watching Young and the Restless and Bold and the Beautiful in an attempt to show my support for this genre that has been entertaining me for my entire life. 

By the way, even after getting this all off my chest I am still heartbroken. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Adventures in Motherhood: Epic Fail.

Motherhood is truly the greatest adventure of my life.  As with any adventure you have ups and downs; good and bad.  Today was a great big ball of all of these mixed together.  Since my separation (and subsequent divorce) three and a half years ago, my son and I have lived with my parents.  Obviously this is not a dream situation.  I mean no twenty-something independent woman wants to put everything she owns in boxes and move back into her childhood bedroom.  However, at the time, this was the best solution for everyone involved.  I hadn't planned on staying longer than a year, but divorce recovery, the economy, and really just life itself have combined to make the situation a bit more permanent.

WARNING!! **Bad mom confession ahead**

Due to space and furniture issues, my son has not had an actual dresser to put his clothes in since we have lived here.  His clothes have lived in a large laundry basket in our living room.  When he was still mostly in onesies and other smaller toddler clothes, this was fine, but now that he's five, his clothes have long ago outgrown this handy little practice.  I was also starting to feel pretty guilty about the whole basket thing.  So today I did some rearranging in our (fairly large) bedroom and re-purposed a smaller dresser with shelves on top (which I had been using as storage/a bookshelf), and made it into a dresser for W.  This turned into a great rainy day activity for he and I: unloading the books and miscellany, cleaning it up, moving it into our room, and filling it up with this clothes.  We ended up turning the top shelving unit part into a makeshift entertainment center for our 13" TV and DVD player and some of our DVD's.  He was SO excited to help and so proud to have his own little spot for his clothes.

Good mommy feeling.  Right?

Fast-forward to a couple hours of later when I had to leave for a work-related meeting.  He knew beforehand that I had to go and wasn't happy about it.  He wanted to go!  I knew this was a bad idea.  He is five.  He would have been bored out of his mind and I would have spent half the meeting trying to entertain him when I needed to be involved in what was happening.  I tried to make a clean break for it when the time came.  No such luck.  It turned into a full-fledged meltdown, and my mother ended up having to pry him off my leg and hold on to his screaming little body while I ran out the door.  Now this would have been bad enough, but when I got out to my car I had a low tire.  THEN I couldn't figure out how to get the air compressor to work and had to call inside for help.  This prompted my dearest son to come running out, reattach himself to my leg, and cry, "Mommy!  Don't leave me!  Don't leave me!"

In case you aren't following me here -- BAD mommy feeling.

So I was late for the meeting (great impression I made I'm sure), and spent the whole meeting thinking about my little man and feeling like the worst mom ever.  The meeting went way longer than I had anticipated and I got home to find him sprawled out on his bed fully clothed.  My mom said he ran down there the minute I left and refused to come back upstairs unless I was home.  I roused him up (well, sort of), got him into his pajamas, and tucked him in.  I sat on the side of his bed for awhile stroking his hair and just staring into his face for no apparent reason.  I thought he was sound asleep, but even so started to say our "special words":

"I love you buddy; always and forever..." and  in his little sleepy voice he finished it by saying "all the way around".  It was totally one of those cheesy commercial moments, but I swear it happened!  My heart just melted.

Even though I have the built in help of my parents, I am still a single mom.  It. Is. Hard.  I always feel like I am not giving W enough, not spending enough time with him, not giving him everything he needs.  I have to work because I get absolutely no help from my ex.  Because I feel bad about working and sending him to daycare all day, I try to spend as much non-work time as I can hanging out with the kiddo.  THEN I feel bad because I don't really have any time for myself.  THEN I feel guilty because that makes me feel selfish!  It truly is a vicious cycle.

Motherhood has been the craziest, most convoluted adventure of my life.  My son is by far the best thing I have ever done.  I hope and pray that I am being the best mom that I can be for him, and that I am preparing him to spread his wings and fly out into the big, bright world on his own someday.  There are days like today when I am not so sure that whole idea is really going so well.  I just need to try and remember that I am only human and that I really am doing the best I can.  As corny as it is, it might also help to keep those "special words" in mind no matter what:

... always and forever and all the way around.