Friday Things 12/19/14

Two weeks in a row! I’m on a roll! Here are some Things from around the internet, in bullet form:

And since it’s almost Christmas, I’ll share one of my favorite Christmassy photos. Here’s Palmer photographing his parents’ tree three years ago:

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Merry Christmas!

2014 Book #61: The Crossing

2014 Book #61: The Crossing

crossingI picked up The Crossing because I’d read a string of crappy books, and I wanted to read one that I knew would be good. All I knew about it was that it’s by Cormac McCarthy and that it’s the second book in the Border Trilogy. Actually, I guess I should have known exactly what to expect. I like reading books that I know almost nothing about – the plot happens as it happens, and I can go for the ride. That’s what happened here, and oh, what a difficult ride it was.

Shortly after I began reading this book, I wondered whether I was emotionally equipped to finish it. Turns out I was, but barely. The Crossing made me cry. I don’t remember the last time that happened. Stoner, maybe? It’s been a while.

Instead of offering any sort of plot summary, I’m going to post some quotes because you should really read this book, and I don’t want to spoil your experience.

He camped that night on the broad Animas Plain and the wind blew in the grass and he slept on the ground wrapped in the serape and in the wool blanket the old man had given him. He built a small fire but he had little wood and the fire died in the night and he woke and watched the winter stars slip their hold and race to their deaths in the darkness. He could hear the horse step in its hobbles and hear the grass rip softly in the horse’s mouth and hear it breathing or the toss of its tail and he saw far to the south beyond she Hatchet Mountains the flare of lightning over Mexico and he knew that he would not be buried in this valley but in some distant place among strangers and he looked out to where the grass was running in the wind under the cold starlight as if it were the earth itself hurtling headlong and he said softly before he slept again that the one thing he knew of all things claimed to be known was that there was no certainty to any of it. Not just the coming of war. Anything at all.

Also:

If a dream can tell the future it can also thwart that future. For God will not permit that we shall know what is to come. He is bound to no one that the world unfold just so upon its course and those who by some sorcery or by some dream might come to pierce the veil that lies so darkly over all that is before them may serve by just that vision to cause that God should wrench the world from its heading and set it upon another course altogether and then where stands the sorcerer? Where the dreamer and his dream?

One more:

For the world was made new each day and it was only men’s clinging to its vanished husks that could make of that world one husk more.

Cormac McCarthy is the best living American novelist.

The Crossing is now one of my favorite McCarthy novels. Blood Meridian still takes top honors.

This novel is the second in a trilogy, though you don’t have to read the first one to know what’s going on. I’d imagine there might be at least a few references to the first one, but it’s been a while since I’ve read All the Pretty Horses, and I didn’t catch any. I guess The Crossing isn’t McCarthy’s most accessible novel, so you might want to start with The Road if you like popular lit. It’s not like the rest of his novels, though. Blood Meridian is more representative. I think I started with Outer Dark, which might be even more grim than this one. McCarthy is not a cheery writer.

Photo credit: Pam Morris

Friday Things: 12/12/2014

Here’s something new. In my efforts at blog-subject expansion, I’m going to attempt a weekly feature called Friday Things. I could be alliterative and call it the Friday Five, but I have more than five things to show you, and I’m sure I’ll have more or fewer in the future.

All of these Things didn’t appear this week. I just found them this week, and I figure that some people I know might enjoy them, too. Here’s what I found on my adventures around The Internet, in bullet form:

You’re welcome.

2014 TBR Pile Challenge FAIL – and Let’s Try This Again

2014 TBR Pile Challenge FAIL – and Let’s Try This Again

We’ve hit the middle of December, and I’m ready to concede defeat. Around this time last year, I made the leap and joined a reading challenge beyond my usual 50 (which was once again a success!): I joined Roof Beam Reader’s 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. The goal was to read 10 books that had been on my TBR pile for at least a year (with two just-in-case alternates).

I totally failed.

Here’s the partially completed list:

And the alternates:

That’s 7 out of 10. Not too bad, really. I started off well: I read most of them at the beginning of the year when they were still kind of interesting to me, but then I hit a point where I didn’t want to read any of them, and that didn’t change. So here we are. At some point, I still want to read WarlockWickedRagtimeDemons, and The Children of Men, but those will happen when they happen. I’m just going to read books when I want to read them.

So why am I attempting another challenge? Because it might be interesting. I’ve chosen POPSUGAR’s 2015 Ultimate Reading Challenge. This one is more open-ended, and it might expand my reading horizons, which is always a good thing.

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It’s fifty-two books if I read one for every checkbox, but I’m going to try to complete a loose version of it and check off whatever boxes fit the book I happen to be reading. That’ll have me reading a play and a romance, neither of which is usually on my radar. We’ll see what happens. After last year’s performance, I’m not sure what to expect.

2014 Book #60: The Bell Jar

2014 Book #60: The Bell Jar

belljarI finished The Bell Jar a few days ago, but I’ve been putting off writing about it because I’m still not sure of my opinion. I started with 4 stars on Goodreads, then went back and changed it to five because it’s an amazing book. My only real issue with it is that it’s so autobiographical that it seems like it fits better into the memoir category. But I’ll get to that.

I’ve spent way too long thinking about this book. Let’s get on with the review.

You’ve probably know what happens in The Bell Jar: Sylvia (ahem, Esther) goes off to New York for a super-duper internship, discovers that she’s directionless, finds herself depressed and suicidal, and ends up getting shock treatments in a mental hospital. But that’s just the surface. My favorite part of this novel is the beginning, before she stops functioning. She’s an intern for a major fashion magazine, and she deals reasonably well with the social and work-related pressures involved. That part of the novel was really fun, but it only made up a third of it, or so. When Esther gets home, she becomes lethargic and visits a psychiatrist after she hasn’t washed her hair or changed her clothes for three weeks. Things go downhill from there.

I vaguely remember reading The Bell Jar when I was in high school, along with Prozac Nation and Girl, Interrupted and the like, in my Stupid Angsty Teenage Phase (it’s almost funny that I can condense it to that now). I’m surprised that I didn’t really remember anything about it because I can see how it might have been my favorite novel at that point. On the other hand, I can also see that I might have been too young and inexperienced to appreciate it, like I hit it at the wrong time. It’s always interesting to reread books from my childhood and experience them from an entirely different perspective. A good example of that is Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I first read when I was fourteen or so. I think I appreciate The Bell Jar more now that it’s been so long since I was a teenager.

Which all means that my perspective on this novel might be a bit skewed by my past experiences.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I think that Sylvia Plath made her past experiences into a fantastic novel, but I’m not sure that there’s enough straight fiction not to make it a memoir. After The Bell Jar she planned to write another “novel” about her later life, but, as far as I know, she never published it. I’ve read lots of her poetry, which is intensely personal, and I wonder if she was capable of separating herself from her work enough not to write about herself. I also wonder what that means about Sylvia Plath. We can gather that she never got out from under the “bell jar” of depression, and such an intense psychological state can easily get one stuck on introspection…but my purpose here isn’t to further psychoanalyze Plath. It’s to explain that The Bell Jar is an amazing, very approachable classic novel, and, despite what you might think about both Plath and this work, you should give it a chance. It’s really good, and it’s beautifully written. It’s definitely worth your time.

Photo credit: Shin Yoo

Christmas tree FAIL. Plus super-tasty gingerbread muffins!

So, as you saw in the last post, we got a beautiful Christmas tree, and everything was going swimmingly. Even Zelda was (mostly) leaving it alone. I took the plunge and strung up the lights and garland, and Palmer put the angel on top.

 

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Pretty nice, right? (I’ll give you one guess why I didn’t take the garland down to the bottom.) Well, that lasted for a couple days, then THIS happened:

 

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And that was not the worst of it. I was minding my own business, watching TV, when I heard a creaking sound. Zelda wasn’t involved because she was lying on the sofa right next to me. I look at the tree, and it’s leaning so far forward I thought it would topple over any minute. I went over there and leaned it against the wall, but not before the angel fell forward, losing her head as she hit the floor. I thought the adjustable leveler had come undone, which I could fix myself, but one of the screws around the base had come loose.

 

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Awesome. Even more awesome is the fact that Palmer won’t be home to fix it for almost two weeks. MEH.

In more pleasant news, I made some fantastic gingerbread muffins, and I’m totally going to share the recipe. You really should try these. There are lots of weirdo recipes floating around Pinterest right now (one of which I was stupid enough to try), but this one is taste-tested and approved, guaranteed bs-free.

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And they’re SO easy to make – as are most muffins. They’re also pretty sweet. For me, anyway.

 

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Mix brown sugar, molasses, milk, canola oil, unsweetened applesauce, and an egg with a mixer, which brings us to the Ugly part of this recipe:

 

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In another bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, wheat flour, baking powder, ginger, salt, baking soda (are both really necessary?), cinnamon, and allspice.

 

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You might want to add a tiny sprinkle of black pepper because said pepper is always good in gingerbread. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and you end up with a batter that looks suspiciously like peanut butter…or that uber-tasty Biscoff butter. Yum.

 

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Aww, yeah. I could have eaten ALL of that with a spoon.

And that’s about it! Dump it into a lined muffin tin, and pop it in the oven for about twenty minutes. You’ll be impressed with your Christmas baking skillz.

 

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I’ll take twelve, please.

Gingerbread Muffins!
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
Instructions
  1. Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin by lining the cups with paper cup liners or by spraying with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix brown sugar, molasses, milk, oil, applesauce, and egg until well blended.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients.
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring just until combined. Batter will still be slightly lumpy, which is fine – do not overmix.
  6. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups (use an ice cream scoop!).
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.
Nutrition Information
Carbohydrates: 29

Recipe heavily adapted from The Seasoned Mom.

Yay Christmas! (And we survived Thanksgiving.)

The various end-of-the-year holidays are always exciting, but for me, it’s all just a build-up to Christmas. It’s been so long since I’ve lived in New Orleans now that it’s eclipsed Mardi Gras in my Hierarchy of Awesome Holidays, and I start looking forward to it once the first Fall cold snap hits.

Speaking of Fall, Shreveport is beautiful right now.

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We don’t get the amazing colors of the Northeast, but it’s good enough for me.

Did I mention that we somehow agreed to host Thanksgiving for the first time this year? I’m still not quite sure how it happened. We had six guests: Nunpoo, my uncle David, my mom, her husband, and Palmer’s parents – and somehow everything went well! Palmer was well-prepared with a 21-lb. turkey, which he put in a brining bag in our ginormous refrigerator for a full 24 hours.

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It turned out beautifully.

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There was SO MUCH food. I made brussels sprouts with apples and bacon, zucchini boats, and autumn squash soup; my mom made the famous Sweet Potato Business and a green bean casserole; and Palmer’s mom brought a(n amazing) pumpkin pie, a pecan pie, macaroni and cheese, cornbread dressing, deviled eggs, yeast rolls, and…I’m probably missing something. One table wasn’t big enough to hold it…

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So Palmer had to carve the turkey on the coffee table.

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The food was excellent, and we all had a good time.

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I even volunteered to do it again next year.

But wait, you say, where’s Zelda in all of this? She’s young and energetic and super-jumpy, and I’m always terrified that she’s going to knock Nunpoo down, so she was locked in my library until we’d finished eating and everyone had settled down and stopped moving. She napped during most of that time and behaved admirably once she was released. I made her Puppy Pumpkin Pies, which might have made her feel a little better about things. She was exhausted after everyone left.

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After a huge dinner and a nice, long puppy nap, it was Christmas!

On Friday, Palmer and I headed to Santa’s Woods in Frierson, where we always buy our Christmas tree. It proved a little difficult because the latest Arctic Vortex killed most of the pines, which looked bad this year, anyway. So we ended up with a cypress.

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We were both worried about how Zelda would react once we got it home, but things didn’t go badly at all.

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Palmer got a video of her first reaction, which we both thought would be different.

You can’t tell from the thumbnail (which I should probably change since it looks a bit violent), but all was well…until we noticed she was picking little pieces one by one. I think she’s stopped.

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Later today, we’ll be putting on the lights and garland. After that, we might add a few ornaments if the puppy allows. We’ll see.

We’re gearing up for a fantastic (or at least very interesting) Christmas!

 

2014 Book #59: Revival

revivalI’m not quite sure what possessed me to read a Stephen King book the day it came out. I was just coming off of The Wind through the Keyhole, which was fantastic, and I guess I was more hopeful than I should have been. Revival, unlike The Dark Tower series, is King’s usual fare, and it’s not very good.

It’s about Jamie, who begins the book as a six-year-old kid and grows into an adult, always somehow shadowed by Charles Jacobs, a local pastor who was fired from his parish after three years. Jacobs studies electricity, performing experiments and wowing the local children with a table with electric lights and a model of Jesus that walks across water. Shortly after Jacobs arrives in town, Jamie’s brother Con has a skiing accident that leaves him unable to speak. Jacobs cures him with electricity applied to his neck. Jamie really likes Jacobs, and everything goes smoothly until a couple years later, when Jacobs’s wife and child are killed in a horrific car accident. Jacobs loses what little faith he had in God and delivers what Jamie calls the Terrible Sermon. He is fired and disappears. Jamie grows into a young adult, plays guitar in various bands, and ends up addicted to heroin. He wanders into a carnival, only to see Jacobs, now going by a different name, using electricity to take creepy photographs. Jacobs recognizes Jamie and uses electricity to cure him of his addiction, but Jamie quickly learns that such power has its consequences, and not just for him. Things Continue to Happen in a Mr. Stephenking sort of way.

All of that said, Revival moves surprisingly slowly. I should probably note here that most of my experience with King involves The Dark Tower, which appears to be a huge exception to everything else he’s written, but I was expecting more horror and more action. Which might mean that Revival is a better book than a lot of his others – not that I’ve read most of them. My last non-Dark Tower-related King novel was Salem’s Lot, which I hated mainly because (*spoiler alert*) I hate vampire novels. But I’ve talked about that before.

(And here’s where I put in the real spoiler alert.) I was excited about Revival because of the religious theme, and I was pretty well on board until about the halfway point, when I realized that this is a Frankenstein novel. Too many variations of this novel have been written since Mary Shelley had a good idea so many years ago. It’s overdone. A small credit to King is that it doesn’t turn out exactly as you’d expect, and it’s better for that. And there’s an interesting glimpse of a horrific afterlife at the end that, if it wasn’t, well, stupid, would make the entire book worth reading. Okay, end of spoiler.

So I’ve done a good bit of complaining, but I kind of enjoyed Revival. It’s really not very good, but I enjoyed myself through most of it. It’s certainly not one of King’s better novels, but it’s nowhere near his worst, either. (That honor just might be left to The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Ugh.). Which all means that if you like the kind of novels Stephen King writes, you might enjoy this one. He’s kept the horror to a minimum and veers toward (an attempt at) gothic near the end. It’s probably about what you’d expect because that’s good enough to fill Mr. Stephenking’s wallet, and with books like this, he seems only to be after the paycheck.

And here’s my own (very minor) spoiler alert: my annual template change is coming up, and if Elegant Themes doesn’t release their new blog theme in the next couple of days, Oh wait…I forgot will soon look like this. I think it’s perfect. Next year, my goal needs to be to learn coding well enough to make my own WordPress templates. These things are expensive!

Zelda went to Houston!…a few weeks ago.

My main blog-goal for next year is to expand a bit. Sure, the main focus will always be books, but I don’t want every non-book post to be appended to an actual book post. And, really, this blog doesn’t get enough traffic for me to worry about Google getting mixed up. So Zelda gets her own post. I have some things to say about Traveling with Puppies and Dog-Friendly Restaurants in Houston, too.

As I’m sure you know from various social media, Palmer and I took Zelda to Houston a few weeks ago. Okay, I drove Zelda to Houston to see Palmer.

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She’d chosen the day before to puke in my car while we ran some errands, so she took some $60 anti-nausea pills from the vet. We were off to quite a start. She was a little nervous, but she did well. We stopped twice at gas stations with nice grass patches, and she did her business without a problem. By the time we got to Houston, I was exhausted.

Before I left, I did my research. Every meal was planned according to a list of dog-friendly restaurants. It didn’t always work out.

Gratifi did, which was good because all I wanted was a meal and a sleep.

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They had a nice patio and even served dog food with a treat on top. She ate the treat and didn’t touch the kibble, which quickly turned into a trend. When I selected Gratifi, I didn’t realize that it had been on Restaurant Impossible, or I might have chosen elsewhere. They were really nice to Zelda, but the food wasn’t great. I was just happy to eat at that point.

We started Saturday with a trip to Starbucks, where Zelda had her first Puppuccino.

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Of course she enjoyed it. Next, we dropped her off at a PetSmart Doggie Day Camp so we could have some non-puppy time (meaning a trip to IKEA and Trader Joe’s). According to her Pawgress Report, she had a good time.

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They put her (at 30 lbs) with the little dogs because she was afraid. That’s one reason why I wish Shreveport would make the dog park happen sooner. There aren’t enough opportunities for socialization around here. (While Zelda was at Day Camp, Palmer and I went to Goode Company Seafood, which was AMAZING.)

After we picked her up, we headed to Brick House Tavern & Tap, which turned out to be a chain bar that was way too loud. We had to move our chairs to the far end of the patio, away from the rowdy customers. We were all exhausted and miserable.

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The next day, Sunday, we went to one of my Houston favorites, Barnaby’s Cafe. The patio was full of dogs, but it wasn’t too loud or overwhelming for Zelda, and we had an excellent time. Zelda behaved well, and Palmer rewarded her with a whole plate of bacon.

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After a tasty breakfast, we headed to Millie Bush Dog Park, which is supposed to be one of the biggest, nicest dog parks in Houston. My only real complaint is that I wish there were more trees. Once Zelda settled down, she had an excellent time.

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She’d never been off a leash outside, so I was interested to see if she did. I thought she might bolt (which wouldn’t have been a problem because the park is double-fenced), but she stuck really close. Palmer made an excellent Youtube video chronicling our trip.

Exhausted again, we made an emergency plan change because my lunch choice was another loud bar. I called another of my favorites, the Hobbit Cafe, and they did, indeed, allow dogs (though only hanging off the back corner of their porch). We had another excellent meal.

After that, we rested until dinner. We’d planned on dinner at Winston’s on Washington, which is supposed to be dog-friendly, but that didn’t exactly work out. It was bad enough to merit a nasty Yelp review.

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So we ended up heading over to the nearby reliably mediocre La Madeleine, where I had overcooked rotisserie chicken (and Palmer had an amazing dessert). At least it was food.

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The next morning, Zelda and I got up early, had a quick hotel breakfast (we share a banana every morning), and headed back to Shreveport. She slept most of the way home.

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That was the first of many trips, and it was quite an experience. We definitely learned some things, like that Zelda refuses to sleep in her kennel in hotel rooms but is an excellent bed-sleeper and that she thinks she owns the hotel after a single night. We’ll defintely be adventuring again, but I think we all need a rest after that one.

2014 Books #54-58: Ridiculous. I know.

bigollist

So it’s been a while. Almost a month since I’ve updated. But I’ve been busy! I’ll get to that later. First, a super-quick rundown on what I’ve been reading.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer, is the third book in the Southern Reach Trilogy. I was hooked near the beginning of the first book, Annihilation, and I had to read them to the end. They coast slowly downhill, but they’re still pretty good. Like AuthorityAcceptance deals mostly with the agency investigating Area X and continues to explore some of the mysteries introduced in the first novel. This trilogy is best read as one medium-size book – as reflected in the combined paperback recently released. They’re all worth a read (definitely in order).

Next up was Little Wolves, by Thomas Maltman. There’s a huge spoiler  (which is amusingly related to a similar one in the next novel I’ll talk about) that I won’t reveal here, so I can’t say much about it. A teenager in rural Michigan commits a terrible crime, and his super-religious community deals with it. This novel is so much better and more interesting than that sounds, but I’m not revealing that spoiler. If I’d have known what this novel was really about, I wouldn’t have read it. That said, I really enjoyed it.

Then, there’s The Wind through the Keyhole, an addition to Stephen King‘s Dark Tower series, which I adore. This one is set between the fourth and fifth books and isn’t necessary to the rest of the series, but it quickly became one of my favorites. It’s a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. Roland and his ka tet are headed toward the Calla when Oy starts acting up. They’re warned by a ferryman that a starkblast (a really bad ice storm) is headed their way, and they have to take shelter. They do, and during the storm, Roland tells them a story from his younger days, involving a skin-changer. During that story, he recounts a legend he told a boy while they were trying to figure out what was going on with the skin-changer. This middle story is the best one, but this whole book is excellent and well put-together. Mr. Stephenking claims that you don’t have to have read the series to enjoy The Wind through the Keyhole, and I think he might be right. But you should just read the whole series because it’s brilliant (and even though some parts are plain ol’ stupid).

Station Eleven started well, but the ending fell flat. It’s a postapocalyptic story about a traveling group of musicians and Shakespearean actors after a terrible illness swept through the world and killed most of humanity. Emily St. John Mandel does a really good job flashing back throughout the novel, explaining what happened and making her characters sympathetic both before and after society’s breakdown. Which would make for a fantastic novel, except it just kind of grinds to a halt at the end, and not in an interesting cliffhangery way. At the end, I thought, Really? That’s it? Lame. And that’s a pity. The best part of the novel is a fictitious comic book called Doctor Eleven that I’d love to read.

And, finally, there’s the much-hyped Maze Runner. I listened to the audiobook because it was available on OverDrive when I needed a book and because I’d heard it’s good. And it isn’t. It’s about a bunch of teenagers stuck in the middle of a maze that appears unsolvable. The first thing that annoyed me is the language. Realistically, a bunch of teenage boys, living on their own, are going to curse a lot. The problem here is that it’s a YA novel, so they can’t really curse. James Dashner solves his problem by replacing said words with “shuck” and “clunk” and the like. As in “You shucking idiot.” MEH. And that was only the beginning. I only finished the novel because I was mildly interested in the explanation and what would happen at the end, but that was stupid, too. So much stupid in this book. A total waste of time.

That’s it for books for now. After I finish the books I’m currently reading, it’s time for the Annual Dickens Novel. I think it’ll be Our Mutual Friend this time. And I should probably address my failure at the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. I have some things to say about that, too.

I’ve also considered the format of this blog. I want to update the design to the more image-heavy magazine style that’s so popular. I’m browsing themes, and I’ve found a few I like. We’ll see what happens.

And I just realized that I haven’t mentioned Zelda’s trip to Houston. It’s been quite a while, but I still want to give it its own post. So in other Puppy News, we went to the Highland Jazz Fest and had a good time. It’s my favorite local event that isn’t Mardi Gras, and I was glad that Zelda could come this year.

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She was a little scared because she’s not used to tons of people and loud noise, so we just walked the circuit around the park a few times and then went home. At least I got to hear some of the music.

My excuse for not posting, you ask? Besides the usual procrastination, I FINISHED MY THESIS! And my defense is over!

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I still have to write the abstract and finish the final formatting, which I plan to do today. Then, all I have to do is print out the fancy copies and show up at graduation! I can’t believe it’s almost over.