Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Review: Ballad - A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater

I feel like I let my guard down with this one. I blame the fact that is started off much stronger than its predecessor and so I got overly confident in it's ability. (If you have the desire to read my review on the first book in this series you can jump back to that masterpiece HERE.) And it is because of this that my ignition in finishing this book petered out fairly quickly. It's taken me far longer to finish this thing than originally anticipated, but now that I have I can finally do this...

...and share with you this horrendous experience. Buckle up.

Summer has come and gone. We are now with James, and if you remember he is supposedly Dee's best friend. We are entering this sequel through his POV now, which honestly I was down with. It was this very thing that had me intrigued from the get go. For all his flaws, which I will happily point out in this post, he was a much more enthralling character. 

Pretty much what I initially thought of James
Both James and Dee are now attending Thornking-Ash a prestigious music academy for the musically gifted. It's revealed later that the school's sole purpose is to protect students with remarkable gifts, such as James and Dee, but they don't really seem to have their shit together when remarkable students actually attend their school, like James and Dee.

Anyway, you know how I was ecstatic that we were able to skip all the love triangle awkwardness from the first book, well it gets made up ten-fold in this sequel. From the very beginning we are told that James hasn't spoken with Dee much over the summer and it is heavily hinted that the reason is more that Dee never responded to James's "I love you" text versus her being in love and sucking face with a another dude. A Faerie dude, Luke, I mean Luke.

GOOD POINT: Luke is nonexistent in this entire novel. Even when Dee thinks she is with Luke, it turns out it's another faerie fucking with her, which honestly she kind of deserved. I mean it is presumed through these weird unsent text messages to James that she is making horrible decisions and she just assumes this Faerie is Luke and immediately begins to suck face with him. It's bizarre. This was like an even more uncomfortable version of Bella dealing with Edward running away.

Okay, maybe not this bizarre, but pretty damn close!
As I mentioned the only communication James and Dee have are these random unsent text messages from Dee to James that the reader is shown every so often at the end of a chapter. There are a few in person run-ins that show how they aren't really communicating. I will say this, Dee is hurting and needs her friend and in order to get James to realize this she goes too far and kisses him while envisioning that it's Luke. Now as other reviewers have pointed out, this is a shit thing to do to James, but lets look at what caused it shall we?

All James can think about is the fact that Dee might not feel the same about him as he does her and instead of him talking to her he blames her for not talking to him. He literally is using the old adage of, "Balls in your court," while not adding anything to the conversation to make this easier on her. In doing this he is also distancing himself from Dee at even just being her friend so she feels like she can't confide in him. Then in a desperate attempt to get him to be her friend again she tries to give him what he wants at great emotional pain to herself. And when she tries to come clean right away, because she feels like shit about it, he immediately turns his back on her. James is the worst representation of a nice guy who got friend-zoned. I'm out of fucks to give for him, but the story isn't over yet.

The James and Dee story line is really a side path, the main trail is that of James and Nuala. Yes lets talk about Nuala. She is a member of the Solitary Fey and is described as "part muse, part psychic vampire" - who came up with that crap?. The muse part is right, but vampire? really? I mean she drinks years, not blood. Basically she gives the gift of art; whatever art you're into, but she prefers musicians. In return she takes away years of your life and this is what sustains her for sixteen years. On Halloween of her sixteenth year she is burned and then starts all over. 

How the book wants you to see Nuala
As Halloween of her sixteenth year is drawing near (convenient) she has her sights on James, who we are made to believe is this pantie tossingly good bag piper. Look, I think playing an obscure instrument is interesting, but I wouldn't know the first thing about what makes a piper the best and I have a feeling 99% of these characters don't either. So their mesmerizing adoration of his abilities rang a little false for me. It all read to me like Nuala had a crazy boner for a bag piper and happened to stumble upon James and her lady bits went "JACKPOT."

Nuala tries to seal the deal by giving James a taste of what she can give him, but having only just survived a freak accident caused by Faeries over the summer James, rightfully so, turns her down hard and multiple times too. However, we are given a glimpse of Nuala's tactics when she is trying to secure a protege. These include, stalking, manipulation, invasion of privacy, and ignoring someones polite request to leave them the fuck alone. I'm not a fan of hers.

James, cool bagpiper
Nuala doesn't give up and through her weird clinging personality she begins to develop feelings for James. I really felt that the only reason for this out of nowhere infatuation is because he is the first to turn her down. Ah yes, the old chase em' till they are exhausted routine always makes the romance more sexy. Who wants someone who has their wits about them and a clear head to tell you they love you, not Nuala!

Actual Nuala
James eventually does get worn down, but not by Nuala. He is pretty clear about his feelings for her. No, he is worn down by his situation with Dee and the fact that in his selfish brain it's not going the way he wants it to, so he defaults to Nuala. Jerk move James. Now he is with Nuala and they make-out and she reads his mind so he can never have an unfiltered thought again, it's a whole bit that is not remotely healthy. 

As I said Halloween is approaching and there are stirrings in the Faerie community. There is an actual Thorn King who rules the dead and sings every night a list of people who are going to die. James along with Dee and his roommate Paul have heard this song each night since they started attending Thornking-Ash.  You're given the impression that something bad is coming, especially since all three of those characters are on the list of the dead, but to be honest it was a bit of a let down. The only person who was even a little bit threatened was Dee and we knew that was probably going to happen.

GOOD POINT: I wasn't sure if this was going to be a good point, but I've decided to add it so deal with it. The weird unsent text messages. While yes they did irk me in the beginning I found them quite useful later on. It gave just enough insight into what Dee was going through to know that James was an awful human. Now, I think it was silly that she never sent them, but the moment that the teacher pulls out Dee's phone and shows it to James because she is missing *kisses fingertips* that was great. 

Additionally, new Queen Eleanor has been hiring humans to kill Solitary Fey for some reason. It all comes back to dealing with the Thorn King, but it's not made clear or digestible from the beginning. The main crux of the story is slowly dished out and instead we have to shovel through 300+ pages of really bad teen angst to get to it.

Eventually (and I mean not until the last 10 pages or so) we are told that Eleanor wants to use Dee to create a new Thorn King. One that would rule the Dead and the Solitary Fey. As Dee is the Cloverhand she is the only logical choice. So she is kidnapped and James has to save her. 

Now I know I harped on Dee in Lament, but at least when James and Luke were kidnapped she gets her shit together and figures out what she needs to do. While she forgets about James momentarily in the heat of all the crazy she does make him a priority without question. Key thing here, she sacrifices the guy she loves to save him, as in she never sees Luke again so that James can live. That is what a best friend does.

On the other hand it takes James FOREVER to decide to help his Best Friend instead of staying with Nuala whom he is only dating because he believes he was friend-zoned when in reality his Best Friend was going through a really tough time and he chose to ignore her. Like here's the thing, Nuala had no chance of dying, none. The only fear was she would forget James after she was burned. Dee on the other hand was very much going to die. Heart cut out of her chest, never coming back from that, dying. And Fuck Boi James hesitates, really?

That is not how you treat a Best Friend and that is not how you treat someone who you said you loved up until 3/4 of the way into this book. This was the moment when I cracked and gave up entirely on this book. It didn't matter that James did go back for Dee eventually. It didn't matter that he saved her and his teacher was made the new Thorn King. I was done with him.

And to make it that much worse, Nuala is returned to him, full memory and all. Because he definitely deserved the happy ending while Dee gets to be all alone and watch him be happy after all she has done for him. Ugh! James and Nuala are the absolute worst!

GOOD POINT: Apparently there is no third installment for this series. There is a hint of a novel called Requiem that was never published and honestly I don''t know if it ever will be published. I just know I'm happy because I finished this "series" and don't have to continue reading about these characters.

BAD POINT: If you weren't going to finish the series with a third book you could have ended the second one a little better.

0.5 stars out of 5 

You should read this instead:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Taste Pairing Two: Tiesta Tea Maui Mango

I am back with my next tea taste and pairing and I am so excited for it!

This tasting also happened to be on a week night so my next choice was pretty obvious, the only other caffeine free tea in my March box, Tiesta Tea's very own Maui Mango. I will say that this is the most potent tea in my box. I didn't even need to open the bag, just opening the box fills the space with the yummy scents of a tropical island.

Of course I used Platymus Maximus 
I seriously want to go on a tropical vacation after this tasting for sure. However, I'll just have to settle with picking a good book to read along with this tea and let me imagination take me to that tropical place in my mind.

I think the video came out better than my first pairing so expect it to be along the lines shown here. Of course it may be slightly different once I move. (Only three weeks and counting)

When I took the first sip I was overpowered with the flavor of mango. This is one of my favorite fruits so you can imagine that I sipped that tea right up, but of course I made my pairing first.

I couldn't get over how tropical it not only tasted but made me feel. I had to pair it with Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

This book is a re-imagining of Peter Pan told from the POV of Tiger Lily with Tinker Bell as the narrator. I read this book last year using my Audible account.  

Even when I'm in my car I'm probably listening to a book.

I can't really think of a better pairing to go with this tea. 

Read up, Sip up, and Enjoy Life!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Real Kombucha Tea!

As crazy as it seems I have yet another little side passion I am working on or rather that I purchased and will have to continually keep track of. 

A few months ago I backed a campaign on Kickstarter called The Easiest Way to Make Real Kombucha at Home. I was intrigued mainly because I missed my best friend's homemade Kombucha when he lived closer. It was the most deliciously healthy thing I have ever had and I am beyond excited that I'll get to start enjoying it again soon.

I actually received my package a few days ago, but am planning on waiting until I move into my new place to start the process. Scobies can be quite fragile and I wouldn't want to destroy it after having it less than a month. 

My pledge level got me a cute jug to raise my scoby in, as well as the starter seed. With these things I have all the pieces to make wonderful Kombucha tea. The steps are simple, brew either black or green (whichever you preference) with sugar in a jug. Once it cools to room temperature, add the starter seed. This will eventually turn into a live symbiotic culture or Scoby that is pumped full of probiotics that are super good for you. The process then becomes endless as you can feed your scoby sugar tea over and over to have it continually produce Kombucha.

Thea Kombuca Kickstarter Campaign
From what I remember you need to keep it in a dry place that stays between 65-75 degrees. You also need to be careful not to suffocate it by closing off the jug with a lid, though the one I received does come with a nice bamboo one. It also comes with a cloth cover, this is what you will be using for the duration of creating your Kombucha.

I'm not going to lie, once this thing starts growing and converting your tea into Kombucha, it will start to look like some sort of alien slug. Don't be alarmed, that is how it is meant to look. It took some time for me to even get over it when my friend had his, but you won't be drinking any part of the Scoby, so it's best not to think about how it looks.

PSA: Not An Alien
Seven days later, you'll have your first batch of freshly brewed Kombucha tea.

And then comes the part that I love; making the Kombucha your own. There are so many ways to do this, but I will just tell you my favorite. I like to make mine slightly carbonated with mandarin oranges. It is truly the most amazing thing!

Here's what I do, I pour the Kombucha into a separate container, usually those Simply brand juice jugs you get at the grocery store. Then I place about five pieces of mandarin oranges in with it. I let it sit out for a day or two until it starts to carbonate. It's important to watch your jug as you are doing this because it will start to expand. Be sure to unscrew the lid every once in a while to keep it from popping.

From there, you can place it in your fridge for a refreshing mandarin flavored carbonated Kombucha tea. Not only does it taste AMAZING! it is good for you too.

Now you don't have to use mandarin oranges you can use many kinds of fruits or not use any at all. The choice is yours. 

Thea Kombucha Kickstarter Campaign
It's a shame that I can't start the process right away due to my living situation, but perhaps it's a good thing as I would want to grow my Scoby in the best possible environment and currently I wouldn't agree that I have that.

Of course I will be documenting my experience with this and showing you all the finish product. This is one of those things that I can get behind and say that more people need to try it. 

If you have a friend who makes their own Kombucha give it a whirl or better yet, check out the website of the company that created the campaign on Kickstarter that I backed. It's called Thea Kombucha and while they don't have a mass production of the product it looks like they are trying to attempt some sort of public production for those that happened to miss the campaign.

Did I mention that by making your own you are also saving roughly $5 a bottle in the grocery store. That's too much for simple store brand Kombucha, which lets be real, will never taste as good.

Next up: My second Sipsby Box Taste Pairing

Next Book Review: Ballad - A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater

Monday, April 2, 2018

Book Review: The World According to Garp by John Irving

In fear of being thought a cliche, I must admit that I don't believe I have ever read a book quite like this one. To describe it would be akin to telling someone to climb up a rather steep hill and once you reached the top to run as fast as you can down the opposite side. If you stumble and end up tumbling end over end the rest of the way, all the better.

We meet Jenny Fields as she has just been accosted by a man in a movie theater. She handles this by whipping out her dented scalpel, she is a nurse after all, and cuts him to the bone. He lives and this is how the story of T.S. Garp begins.

Jenny wants a kid, but not a man who sticks around to give her one, so she ostensibly rapes a soldier on the verge of death in a hospital where she works. She succeeds in her task, and quickly goes through pregnancy. She raises her son, who she has named T.S. Garp after his father, (the T.S. stands for Technical Sargent as she never knew the man's first name) at the Steering School for Boys where she is a nurse once again.

GOOD POINT: Jenny is a wonderful mother despite the whispers surrounding Garp's conception. I admire this character so much. Hands down she was my favorite. Though she hovers over Garp and worries, I never felt it was overbearing. I think it helped that the character was never annoying. Now, I'm not going to excuse how she got pregnant, bottom line what she did was wrong, but I feel the whole point was to give the MC this great Creation Story. Also, Jenny is asexual and I adore how that is portrayed in her character.

Garp has some misadventures as a child that leads to him having a foe in a dog that bites off his ear and with the Percy family who is in charge of the Steering school, which he eventually attends.

He meets Helen, the daughter of his wrestling coach, who says that she could never marry just a wrestler, he would have to be a writer too. Thus begins Garp's journey of becoming a great writer.

Throughout the novel Garp writes three stories that we see and a fourth unfinished one that we only get the title of. Each story is shown to us and by this I mean the story of Garp is stalled while we read the stories written by this character. It's a book within a book!

The first story is the The Pension Grillparzer which is published shortly after his mother's novel A Sexual Suspect. The entirety of this short story is put within the pages of this book and I'll admit here and now that I did not get the significance of doing this with each of his books. In fact I skipped most of the second one. I guess this was fine as no one really liked that one according to Garp's publisher.

Garp's first story doesn't earn him fame and fortune, but it does earn him Helen's hand in marriage. On the flip side, his mother does get infamous for her story, getting labeled a leader of the feminist movement.

GOOD POINT: The contrasting stories of the various women within the feminist movement in this book. The fact that while Jenny doesn't consider herself a feminist, she knows her words are important to the movement so she goes along with it. Sadly this ultimately leads to her death. Additionally, the characters we meet within these women, most notably Roberta Muldoon, are quite spectacular. 

GOOD POINT: Roberta Muldoon. She was the other shining light of this story next to Jenny. She is an M to F Trans and her story is beautiful. She and Garp become best friends and their relationship is one that could make anyone smile. I simply adored this character and though I am not a member of that community I felt that her story is pretty close to how it should always be portrayed.

The last bit of the first half is where we struggle to finally reach the precipice of our hill. It slowed down at this point and for a while I felt like putting the book down, but thankfully I had gained a solid momentum, not to mention a deadline to finish this for my book club, that I pressed onward.

Garp and Helen have a dysfunctional marriage. I'm not going to sugar coat this. It is toxic and dysfunctional and ultimately leads to the death and injury of their children. They both take part in infidelity and both seem to think it is justified. Though they realize that they truly love the other after the fact, the very act of cheating on your spouse should not be a step taken to determine your love for them. It's counter productive and the only reason I feel this marriage didn't end in divorce is that it just wasn't something you did back then.

I find that a book that on the outside seems progressive would have these two characters stay together instead of going through a very real thing like divorce is a bit underwhelming. If my husband was a serial cheater who constantly slept with my kids babysitters, I would drop him so quick. Not to mention the fact that Helen and Jenny financially support his ass.

And on the flip side, if my husband found out I was sleeping with one of my students while I taught at a local university I would full on expect him to divorce me no questions asked. The fact that Helen thinks she is alright and tries to end her side relationship on her terms is just laughable. You don't get to dictate a bad situation that you caused. At that point you own up to it and do anything you can to make it right regardless of the outcome.

GOOD POINT: The car accident. I think the fact that people have complained about how gruesome this scene is shows a lack of understanding about the real world and just how cruel it can be. Was this scene disturbing? Of course, it wouldn't have had the same effect if it hadn't been. Walt, Garp and Helen's youngest son dies horribly after Garp accidentally crashes their car into Helen's lover's car while she is servicing him as a final goodbye. Duncan, their oldest, loses an eye. The lover loses his male parts while the remaining adults only suffer minor injuries in comparison. It is important that this is described just like it is. This is the consequence of the character's choices and sometimes those consequences aren't pretty.

At this point we are well on our way down the hill. Garp and Helen get back together and decide that the only way they can move on is by having another baby. I truly don't get this, but I also understand that different people grieve in different ways. From this a daughter Jenny, named after Garp's mother, is born.

Garp's third and more popular book is written and that lands him the fame and fortune the Irving had us waiting for. In a way it attracts the same type of infamous response as his mother's book did. This is taken all in stride.

GOOD POINT: The fact that Garp never lets the crazies from the Feminist movement get him down. He fights for what he believes and does help many women with the support of Roberta Muldoon. He takes over what his mother left behind and I found it fascinating. Here we have what many would see as the typical man's man standing up for women and leading the charge with an organization all his own. I feel that this is the type of character that could potentially help men see what needs to be seen.

It's at this point that we are coming to the end and we get the feeling that it won't end well. We are not left disappointed. Garp is shot, and the people he leaves behind are forever altered. The book does this weird recap of each character, letting you know what happened to them. It almost felt how the show Six Feet Under ended because there is a lot of death.

I don't feel much toward the ending except I couldn't imagine it ending any other way. 

GOOD POINT: Despite the fact that this is a book well over 500 pages it reads very quickly and easily. Like I mentioned the only part I somewhat skipped over was the second novel of Garp's just because I didn't see it having any bearing on the overall story. I'm pretty sure I was correct in that.

BAD POINT: The Ellen Jamesians. They are a group of fanatics that are mentioned throughout the entirety of the story. They are also the absolute fucking worst kind of feminist, nay, human beings. They are all that is wrong with any kind of movement. These days you would call them SJW's or social justice warriors. They are a poor excuse for anything decent and ultimately end up ruining any cause they get behind. While I am glad that the book depicts them as they should be depicted it didn't stop me from cringing every time they appeared. I was fully on Garp's side when it came to them, no doubt.

I enjoyed this book and I think I would like to read more from John Irving. Based on what I have seen an excellent second choice would be A Prayer for Owen Meany which supposedly is what the movie Simon Birch is loosely based on. Color me intrigued. 

5 out of 5 stars

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Beware the undertoad...