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For some reason my parents thought that the proper time to introduce me to long road trips was when I was about 3. That is also the same time they decided to introduce me to The South. I don’t actually know if that’s age appropriate or not (on either activity) because I just Googled it and didn’t see any immediate answers and I’m too lazy to look harder.

Like most children, I had a stuffed animal that I took everywhere and loved dearly. Unlike most kids, who have a teddy bear or kitty or some cute snuggly animal, I had a frog. I don’t know why I had a frog or why I chose that over any of the other far more normal stuffed animals I had (probably because I was always a weird kid) but I did.

So there we went on a couple day drive to The South with my parents, me, and my frog stuffed into a small Volvo. The first place we went was to Catfish George’s – an awkward little establishment that was some sort of roadside attraction with a restaurant inside that was located roughly in the middle of nowhere. I was fascinated by the stuffed armadillos and rattlesnakes and other weird southern mysteries I had only begun to discover. My parents were starving though and dragged me away to the food.

This is where it all went horribly, horribly wrong. My parents had an affinity for weird foods. I hadn’t quite realized this yet, largely by virtue of being three and not having realized much of anything yet, nor had I realized that many of the things on the menu were actual things that people ate. I am actually still not convinced of this and I firmly believe that “a delicacy” is just another way of saying “stuff we can’t believe we can convince foreigners to eat”.

So of course one of my parents ordered frog legs. There I was CLUTCHING MY STUFFED FROG and being forced to witness the gruesome devouring of his kindred. Then they decided that I needed to try frog. Uh-uh. Nope. Not having it. I wasn’t a particularly bad eater as a Tiny Cassandra, by the way. In fact, I had probably already tried a wider variety of foods than most children twice my age. But I did not want to try frog. DID. NOT. WANT. But they made me taste some anyway and it was horrible and now I’m pretty much scarred for life. The End.

 

Land of the painted caves coverTitle: The Land of the Painted Caves – Book 6 in the Earth’s Children series (official website) 

Author: Jean M. Auel 

Genre: Historical fiction, romance  

The gist: A fairly utopian look at prehistoric ice-age cave-dwelling societies wrapped up in a romance and sprinkled with unusually accurate anthropology and archaeology facts. 

Initial attraction: I’m pretty geekily interested in archaeology and anthropology, and I’ve been reading this series since I was a tweeny Cassandra. The series is impressive for its in-depth look at pre-historic life and is based on extensive research from Chauvet Cave which is home to some of the oldest known cave paintings (an interesting documentary on it, titled Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is currently available on Netflix Instant for your streaming pleasure). Although I’m guessing most people read the series for the romance.

Cover art: I like it, although I don’t know if it would make me pick up the book if I didn’t already know the premise. I do prefer the silhouette view of characters to the current trend of displaying a torso with the head and/or limbs cut-off. I was mostly looking at a different cover while reading though, because I was listening to the audiobook version which features this cover (below). I like both covers and don’t really have any complaints about the art.   land of the painted caves audio

Summary:  

In this, the extraordinary conclusion of the ice-age epic series, Earth’s Children®, Ayla, Jondalar, and their infant daughter, Jonayla, are living with the Zelandonii in the Ninth Cave. Ayla has been chosen as an acolyte to a spiritual leader and begins arduous training tasks. Whatever obstacles she faces, Ayla finds inventive ways to lessen the difficulties of daily life, searching for wild edibles to make meals and experimenting with techniques to ease the long journeys the Zelandonii must take while honing her skills as a healer and a leader. And there are the Sacred Caves that Ayla’s mentor takes her to see. They are filled with remarkable paintings of mammoths, lions, and bears, and their mystical aura at times overwhelms Ayla.
But all the time Ayla has spent in training rituals has caused Jondalar to drift away from her. The rituals themselves bring her close to death, but through them Ayla gains A Gift of Knowledge so important that it will change her world.

The best part: The research based archaeology and anthropology, hands down. While much of it is obviously speculative, Auel did extensive research on the daily life and living conditions of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal people which includes detailed descriptions of everything from hunting weapons to plant life.  

The worst part: Everything is re-capped again and again, sometimes even within the same chapter. It is extremely repetitive. As it had been several years since I’d read the previous five books I definitely needed some re-capping but sweet mother of Elvis it was overdone. The events from the previous books were explained again and again and again and again with no new insights, almost as if the Auel just forgot that she had already been there and done that, which maybe she had because of the 10 years it took to write. The whole book really could stand for some extensive editing because it wasn’t just the previous books being recapped but sometimes events from the previous chapters of this book were recapped or just repeated over and over. For instance, the introductions between people meeting were long and unnecessarily drawn out and many of the plot points had been done in previous chapters or books. The other thing that bothered me was how extremely formal the characters are to each other, even after they’ve been living together for five years. They often act as if they’ve barely met which strikes me as completely unbelievable.  

Characters: The book centers around Ayla and Jondalar, although it may have been more interesting had it focused on their daughter, Jonayla (who reminded me that Renesmee is not the first terrible mash-up name to grace my reading pages). Ayla continues her education to become a spiritual leader but doesn’t seem to have a character arc or to have learned anything in the years she’s been living with Jondalar’s people. They basically have the exact same relationship that they did throughout The Mammoth Hunters.   

Plot: This is what I call the Mid-Life Crisis Plot. You know the one – He loves her and only wants to be with her for the rest of their lives but she’s working nights and going to school during the day so he hooks up with the skanky chick down the street that everybody hates instead of just waiting for his completely devoted and faithful wife. There’s nothing wrong with those sort of plots, but they aren’t my thing. In this case though the plot doesn’t ring particularly true for the characters though, because Ayla is supposedly adept at reading people but never manages to read the guy she’s been practically attached at the hip to for years and years. On the other hand, I didn’t pick the book up for a fast paced and action-heavy plot, I got it for the adventure of daily life in a pre-historic world.

Setting: This is what I love about the series, Auel’s ability to bring prehistoric life among mammoths and saber-tooth lions to life with extremely accurate details. Even so the 6th book fell a little flat for me. This could be because descriptions of paintings in caves are not as interesting as pictures of cave paintings or because there wasn’t as much interaction and detail of the ice-age mega-fauna, but I think a large part of it was because of the social setting rather than the physical one. The Zelandonii are portrayed as a near utopian society where everyone is (almost painfully) rational and problems are dealt with in such a sophisticated manner that it makes it unbelievable – not because prehistoric man couldn’t be rational or socially sophisticated but because we still can’t run a society that smoothly after millions of years of trying and learning from mistakes. One of the things that made me love the series when I began reading it way back when was the sense of “Holy crap! These people could have been just like us.” They were emotional and intelligent and had their own society with customs and traditions that were followed, but that was taken too far in the final installment making a too-perfect society that was just not believable for me.       

Writing style: As I’ve mentioned, I kept reading this series for the archaeology not the story telling. If it weren’t for Auel’s excellence at research I’d probably have tossed this book over my shoulder about a third of the way through it and never looked back. I did enjoy the book overall, but I wish the author spent more time studying the mechanics of story-telling. 

Other reviews:

“Neither does Auel engage much in the sort of speculation that fueled her earlier books. There, she wrote about successful interbreeding between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, a notion still considered controversial when those books were published, but which has since been supported by advances in DNA research… despite her previous speculative forays, Auel doesn’t do much riffing on contemporary theories regarding ancient art” – Elizabeth Hand for Washington Post 

“Let us distinguish between intentional, helpful recaps, and repetition which begs for an editor’s red pencil. Had the dialogue been cut in half, the plot may have picked up a bit. This reviewer grew weary of the redundancy of characters introducing themselves to each other over and over. Excerpts of the “Mother’s Song” thrown in to comment on a cave painting seemed superfluous and annoying. Even more boring were the constant tea-making scenes. Yet, we come away from the book with a vivid picture of everyday prehistoric life.” – Holly Weiss at BlogCritics.org

You might also like: If you haven’t read the entire Earth’s Children series you should start with the first book, Clan of the Cave Bear. 

Additional books by author:

  • Book 1: Clan of the Cave Bear
  • Book 2: The Valley of the Horses
  • Book 3: The Mammoth Hunters
  • Book 4: The Plains of Passage
  • Book 5: The Shelters of Stone  

Publisher: Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House 

Release date: March 2011 

Purchase the book here.

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Title: The Curse Workers Trilogy: White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart

Author: Holly Black

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, Mystery, Noir

The gist: If that British Show Hustle had magic but also illegal jazz hands.

Initial attraction: Holly Black, urban fantasy, crime families that sell illegal magic, con-artists, and mysteries – there is a lot to love here.

Cover art: There are two different cover styles for this series, but none of them quite match which is unfortunate because I like both sets. The original cover art features an iconic photograph style with a person and the object from the title. These are great but only available for the first two books, White Cat and Red Glove. The paperback versions offered illustrated iconic covers that are also quite nice and are available as a matching set, but I have a weakness for hardcovers. Point is, the covers are all nice but I wish the publisher had stuck with one style.

Summary:

The first in a trilogy, this gritty, fast-paced fantasy is rife with the unexpected. Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty—he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.

But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas— and a plan to con the conmen.

The best part: I love how Black writes a realistic, gritty underworld. That was one of my favorite things about her book Valiant and I was hesitant to read the Curse Workers Trilogy because I was afraid it couldn’t measure up. I am happy to report that this fear was completely unfounded. In fact, I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. The bright side to this is that I got to read all three books in one shot which is awesome. In the Curse Workers stories the crime world is a classy mafia mobster type of underworld activity with lots of money and assassinations and fancy private schools and long cons pulled over on innocent and sometimes not-so-innocent people.

The worst part: I WANT MORE. This is one of those series I will re-read again and again, and the conclusion left room for a continued story. There was enough resolution to be satisfying, but still enough left unexplained that Black could probably weave another excellent story or 2 which would be totally just awesomely fine with me.

Characters: Cassel Sharpe is basically the perfect bad boy who’s really actually good. If you like con-artists with a heart of gold then Cassel is the main character for you. The story is told from his limited point of view and he is charming and kind with a good heart but he’s also a liar and a con-artist and a bookie, and well, he’s a lot of questionable things. He’s the bad boy you want to fall for because he’ll treat you right even when he’s doing wrong. Cassel’s family is interesting but not as endearing as Cassel, which is good because he can’t trust them. His mother is in jail and his brothers work for one of the mob families. The grandfather is cool, but he’s also a retired assassin SO THERE IS THAT.

Plot: The story is told as a mystery set up like a long con in which Cassel tries to figure out what is going on with his family and friends because he is in very real danger. Basically, it’s about a con-artist who has to out-con the other con-artists. I don’t want to discuss the plot too heavily because it’s a tightly woven mystery and I don’t want to spoiler it, but it’s a very good and satisfying plot.

Setting: The setting is sort of a parallel current-day New Jersey, except that some people can work magic through direct contact with another person’ through their hands. The curse worker’s have basically set up a mafia-style power scheme because it is illegal to be a curse worker, even though one is born that way. It’s basically the perfect setting for a cops and robbers mystery plot and the fantasy aspect just seals the deal of totally awesome. Black handles the details of a slightly different reality well with social customs that revolve around always wearing gloves in polite company and bare hands being thought of as weapons.

Writing style: I have nothing but love for Black’s style. That is a general rule for everything, basically if Holly Black works on a project it immediately goes on my list of things that need my attention. As a side note, I first received White Cat as a free audio book but I put off listening to it because I AM THE DUMB. I mean, I do like reading a series all at once without the wait in between, but this series is so good it hurts. I now have all 3 audio books which I have listened to about half a dozen times. The narrator, Jesse Eisenberg, does an amazing job (I also loved him in Zombieland) and I really can’t love on this series enough.

In which I babble: Throughout the narrative there are these bits of psychology and information about how criminals pull off cons that are peppered in with the story which really enhance the reading experience and add this level of realism that is very cool.

Quotes:

“Clever as the Devil and twice as pretty.” – White Cat

“No trouble ever got fixed late at night,” he said. “Midnight is for regrets.” – Red Glove

“Girls like her, my grandfather once warned me, girls like her turn into women with eyes like bullet holes and mouths made of knives. They are always restless. They are always hungry. They are bad news. They will drink you down like a shot of whisky. Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs. What no one told me, with all those warnings, is that even after you’ve fallen, even after you know how painful it is, you’d still get in line to do it again.” – Black Heart

“She wears trouble like a crown. If she ever falls in love, she’ll fall like a comet, burning the sky as she goes.” – Black Heart

“First love’s the sweetest, but it doesn’t last.”
“Not ever?” I ask.
Grandad looks at me with a seriousness he reserves for moments when he wants me to really pay attention. “When we fall that first time, we’re not really in love with the girl. We’re in love with being in love. We’ve got no idea what she’s really about—or what she’s capable of. We’re in love with our idea of her and of who we become around her. We’re idiots.”  – Black Heart

Other Reviews: Check out this review of White Cat from Forever Young Adult 

You might also like: The British TV show Hustle, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Welcome to Bordertown edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner

Facts about the author:

Additional books by author: The Modern Faerie Tales series: Tithe, Valiant (which is one of my favorite books ever and is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast), and Ironside, and The Spiderwick Chronicles

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release date: White Cat May 2010, Red Glove April 2011, Black Heart April 2012

Purchase the books: White Cat, Red Glove,Black Heart

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BEA 2012 books

So, Book Expo America. It is one of my favorite times of year but it also gets weirder to write about it every year. I mostly just want to SQUEEE over all of the awesome friends I saw, the fantastic authors I met, and the amazing books I got.

I got into New York on Monday and gallivanted around town with friends, eating cupcakes and being merry. Like you do. It so happens Monday was also the Book Blogger Convention, which I wasn’t going to bother attending. I’ve gone previous years and enjoyed it, but I also had SUSPICIONS which were generally confirmed by everybody everywhere (The Book Smugglers have a great summary here). Basically, all I really wanted was to see The Bloggess and I had just done that in Maryland a couple weeks before so… yeah. CUPCAKES.

Tuesday was the official start of BEA and I began the day by somehow immediately breaking my Sigg. I’m actually quite distraught over the loss of my Sigg because A) it was solid metal and determined by Backpacker magazine to be the “world’s toughest water bottle” so how could I even manage to break it? and B) That Sigg had gone across the country with me and on many other adventures as well. So there I am in Javits Center surrounded by books and I’m all “WHY IS MY BUM WET?” and then I discovered the Sigg was leaking through the bottom of my backpack directly ON TO MY BUTT. On the bright side, I didn’t have any books in the bag yet so not all was lost. After that I spent the day wandering around, occasionally with Kelly, Laura, Devyn, and all the other people that I forgot because it was like 3 weeks ago. After the show closed I hung out with the delightful gentlemen from Unshelved and was handed glass after glass of booze. WINNING. So what does one do in the city while mildly intoxicated? Allow Bill Barnes to accompany me to the Teen Author Carnival, that’s what!

Wednesday was superawesomehappyshinyfunpants because it was basically Young Adult Author day in which so many excellent YA authors were around that it would be easy for one’s head to ‘splode. I met loads of awesome people while I was standing in lines and also got to meet up with Nicole and Donna, both of whom I adore (as well as their blogs. I also adore their blogs. They are awesome and blogtastic). And of course I met up with them at the booth with the extremely muscular men (Ellora’s Cave).

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After the floor closed for the day I went off for Kid Lit Drink Night with Donna and met up with Michael Northrop and some other awesome people.

Thursday was kind of a chill out day for me because the show was a lot less busy and I wandered around meeting people and waiting in line for the last few books I wanted to snag. While I was waiting in line for a YA fantasy book with some totally awesome librarians this guy came up trying desperately to get us interested in his book and it was basically a prime example of what NOT to do, like ever. He was walking down the line pimping his book, which is not actually the worst way to get my attention – assuming you have something in my genre. When he got to me I asked if was YA or fantasy/sci-fi and he looked me straight in the eye and said “Yes.” so I took his book promo card thingy and looked at. Yeah, it was a religious book. I looked up hoping the guy was cracking a joke. He wasn’t. I suggested he would have better luck talking to people interested in that genre rather than people standing in line for a Young Adult fantasy book but he seemed to think his book was for everybody. *facepalm* Here’s the thing – it’s a publishing trade show. Every single person there likes books so there is no reason at all to shove books at people, it is far more effective just to shove it on people who have shown any interest at all in the genre, and for the love of books, don’t lie about the genre. Because if you promise me a book about cheesecake and dragons and explosions and kitsunes but what you give me is – to pick a book at random – 50 Shades of Grey, I will want to punch you in the head. Just saying. Also, can someone please write a book about cheesecake and dragons and explosions and kitsunes, please?

Here are some random pictures from New York.

angel, angel, Monster Cassandra

Here is a very blurry picture of me sitting under my name. Well, technically it was Cassandra Clare’s name advertising her new book, BUT MY NAME.

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This is Elliot Schrefer who wrote a book about Bonobos called Endangered. I use the term “about” kind of loosely.

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And this is why Bill is my favorite.

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And here Kelly and Briana get stuck inside a dystopian novel. Oops.

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While you wait for a real post let me just leave this recipe for GAZPACHO!!! here for you. It’s a great and easy summer recipe that I’ve been positively stuffing my face with since returning from the book expo because I have just wanted to eat ALL OF THE VEGETABLES. Also, it doesn’t involve any actual cooking, largely just chopping things or pureeing them if you’re that kind of person.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Tomato juice (you could also use V8 except I will never use V8 because they put carrots in all of their products. Even the fruit juice. Jerks.)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • vinegar (red wine, sherry, and apple cider all work, so use whatever you like)
  • lemon or lime juice (again, both work so use your preference)
  • hot sauce (just a dash or two for flavor if you don’t like it spicy)
  • cilantro (I like fresh)
  • garlic (again, I like fresh)
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • cucumbers, chopped (I also grate some for texture)
  • green or red pepper
  • green or red onions
  • celery
  • shredded cheese, if you are so inclined

 

I start with tomato juice and then add Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, lemon or lime, hot sauce, garlic and cilantro to taste. I don’t really measure any of these things because I am a terrible chef and also because it really doesn’t matter how you combine them because it’s basically always delicious. Then just chop up the rest of ingredients and add them to the tomato juice base. Some people puree a lot of the ingredients and then only add a few chopped up vegetables as more of a garnish – either way works. I also add shredded cheese on top because I like cheese a great deal.

This recipe is great for making large batches to share with friends and it’s easy to garnish so it looks fancy but requires very little actual skill in the kitchen, basically you just need to be able to not slice your fingers off while chopping things.

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Have you heard of the Tough Mudder yet? It’s referred to as “probably the toughest event on the planet” which is fair enough considering the obstacle courses scattered through out this 12+ mile race. “What kind of obstacles could be that bad?” you may find yourself asking. The answer would be running through fire, getting electrocuted (twice), crawling through mud in restrictive tunnels, and climbing lots of things like monkey bars , ropes, and walls (some of which were greased because I guess impossible walls are more fun that way?).

I got invited to watch a friend of mine who signed up for it because she is clearly both insane and made of a hardier, sturdier stock than I. She totally pwnd the race too, not only completing the course but completing it in about the same time as the NJ police force that had the same start time. But I am getting ahead of myself because the police don’t enter the story until later. The point is that when the zombies come I shall keep her near because she will totally kick some undead butt.

Warning: lots of pictures forthcoming.

The race starts with a wall to climb over into the participant waiting area.

The first wall

After that there was about a 15 minute wait while the Dude with the Megaphone said some pep-talky things that seemed to turn up the volume on the runners’ enthusiasm. After the start I went straight for the 2nd obstacle known as the Arctic Enema. True fact: I have used this as an excuse to say “enema” a lot. This obstacle basically consists of a huge vat of ice water that runners have to swim through. To keep the water at crazy stupid cold temperatures they had a huge construction crane constantly dumping ice into these vats. Here, have a video of it.

 

After the Ice Bath of Doom I realized that there was absolutely no trail markings for spectators at all. This was rather annoying for a couple of reasons. First, the Tough Mudder website made a point of mentioning that spectators had a shortcuts to the obstacles so that you could watch the race in entirety. Now this may have been true, but the map didn’t have spectator paths on it and there were no signs anywhere or obvious paths for anyone to follow. Secondly, the staff for the event didn’t even know how to navigate between obstacles which meant that it was a huge gong show for everyone who wasn’t actually running the course. Finally, I was there as press which usually means I get an overabundance of information about how to cover the largest possible amount of the event, or at the very least the same information packet as spectators. That so didn’t happen.

But I’m a fairly competent person and a pretty good guesser so I decided to walk to the first “starred” event (the map put stars on the obstacles that are the most popular and/or sadistic) which was number 12. I somehow managed to find it by blindly wandering around and asking everybody if anyone knew how to get there. Sheer luck was probably also involved. I got there way ahead of the group I was following and so I wandered around some more until I found the Firewalker obstacle which was 7th. I had about a half hour wait or so ahead of me based on the estimates of the many firemen watching and feeding the fire so I started asking them for directions to the other obstacles. They had no clue. And this was when I met the cops.

I had noticed a gentleman who also had a press badge and so I immediately went over and made many demands such as asking for directions, information on how he had fared with the Tough Mudder’s PR reps (side note: not well.), who he was there with, who he was watching, and a number of other random questions. He mentioned that there was press parking passes and I was all “YOU MEAN I COULD HAVE DRIVEN TO THE OBSTACLES INSTEAD OF LUGGING AROUND ALL THIS HEAVY ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT AROUND ON MY BACK?” and yes, yes I could have. See, this is the kind of thing that one generally expects the PR firm to mention, or the parking people, or whomever is handing out the press badges. But no.

Luckily the New Jersey police force is totally more together than the event organizers and so I hitched a ride with 3 cops. Although at that point I was so tired I would have gleefully bounded into a truck with a stranger holding a bloody butcher’s knife and a shovel. And I wasn’t even running the crazy race.

Here, have a gratuitous picture of muscular eye candy running through fire.

fire and muscles

You’re welcome.

From there the cops and I hurried over to some net tunnel thing that had to be crawled under. The police, by the way, are now going to be referred to as Eddie, Chitch, or TJ – largely because that is how they introduced themselves to me and because they were nice enough to chauffer me all around I figure I probably shouldn’t give them weird nicknames based on lemurs. YOU’RE WELCOME STATE OF NEW JERSEY.

Pins and needles

I know it doesn’t look so tough, but the ground is also covered in open safety pins. Which? Seems to make them a lot less safe and a lot more pin-like.

Also, here is a gratuitous picture of Hulk Hogan. Not the actual Hulk Hogan (I am, like, 98.3% sure it’s not the real Hulk Hogan, but if anyone could be wrong about that it would probably be me).

Hulk Hogan

From there we raced to the Spider’s Web obstacle, and by “raced” I mean that even driving and taking shortcuts we had to totally haul it to get there ahead of the runners and sometimes we didn’t make it. I honestly have no idea how people without cars made it to see their friends and family at any of the obstacles.

The Spider’s Web was about the half-way mark for the race.

Spider's Web

Also, now I’ve said “Spider’s Web” so many times that I am just sitting here singing that song by No Doubt.

Also, here is a picture of the policemen running Tough Mudder. Sadly, they were not wearing their uniforms.

NJ Police

My memory starts getting a little blurry around here because I ran out of Caffeinated Beverage but somehow we ended up at this barbed wire thing that was extremely low to the ground and the Mudders had to go under it.

Barbed Wire roll

I can’t remember if the barbed wire came before or after the Half Pipe, but here is another video for you. Keep in mind that the wall is made of slippery fiberglass and also greased.

 

At this point I was ready to drop and so were the cops. I know I was all “Oh, I’m going to start calling them by their names now” but, uh, oops. So we had some beers (and I don’t even like beer. That’s how tired I was, I was all “Nnnrrghh. Feet. Ouchies. Hot. Doom. Nnnngghrrrr. Want. Booze. Lemur.” And either they were being nice and ignoring my nonsensicalness or they just totally failed to hear me say “lemur” a lot. It’s hard to say.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the Walk the Plank obstacle which was 12 (the half pipe was 13 but you are just going to have to deal with the chronological fail). So, we got to Walk the Plank and it consisted of a 15 or so foot climb to a plank which you walked and then plummeted into a deep but small pond. Minutes after we got there it got shut down and a huge search was started for someone who went missing. We were there about 10 minutes and then moved on because they shut that down for what was likely to be a while. I don’t know if anyone was ever found or what happened, but Tough Mudder claims it was just a miscount. I really, really, really want to believe them, but the PR firm the race uses was so astoundingly bad that I can’t quite bring myself to trust them.  So yeah, that happened.

So we had booze and sat around the finish waiting for everyone to show up. Which was probably the longest I had to wait all day, and let me tell you – waiting around watching Tough Mudder is seriously awesomer with hilarious cops and nice cold booze.

And then THE GRAND FINALE. The end of the race had these dangly wires and if you hit them they electrocuted you. You know what that means, right? MORE VIDEO.

All in all, watching a Tough Mudder race is a pretty excellent way to spend the day but I will certainly not be signing up to run it myself.

Audiobooks are these awesome things that save me when I need my hands and eyes to be doing something that isn’t holding a book or reading the pages. I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, or rather quite a few of the same ones over and over. It’s not that I don’t want new books, it’s just that for me to want an audiobook specifically, rather than a book in some other medium, there are certain criteria: 1) I have read the book and loved it and want to re-read it. 2) It has to be well narrated by someone with a nice voice (if I’m committing 8+ hours to listening to something it better sound, you know, pleasant). 3) The book must be easy to listen to on my computer, my phone, and any other electronic device I use for entertainment.

That being said, here are the books I listen to over and over, in no particular order.

 

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins:

These are narrated brilliantly by Carolyn McCormick and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere (and I also blather on about the movie), I have read these books way more times than, like, sane people. I will chose these over the movie versions any day.

 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:

This book is so awesome that I have been working on a review of it for months but can’t finish because I HAVE ALL OF THE THOUGHTS AND FEELS ABOUT THIS BOOK. I actually loaned it to a friend who called me twenty minutes later asking me what I had done, “It’s from you,” he said, “so I was expecting science-fiction or fantasy, not to be falling in love with a 16 year old cancer patient! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?” which is a fairly accurate way to sum up the book, but doesn’t really do justice to the existentialist questions raised in the actual reading of the book. As a side note, there are two audio versions of this book, a special limited edition read by John Green and the official release which is read by what I can only assume is some sort of robot. In the future, John Green should just be hired to read all of his own audiobooks. Seriously. (And no, it’s not really that weird that a book about a 16 year old girl is being read by a 30 something year old man, or at least not any weirder than when 16 year old boys are read by a 40 something year old woman or whatever. That is a thing that is going to happen in audiobooks and just ignore it because the sound of Green’s voice is soothing and will happily coat your brain in beautiful words.)

 

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi:

This is a fun and snarky science-fiction narrated by Wil Wheaton, who is the perfect narrator for Scalzi’s tone and characters. I talk about the book in length over here.

 

Valiant by Holly Black:

This is my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast and it’s narrated by Renee Raudman. The narration is solid but I mostly listen to this because it’s amazing and ground breaking urban fantasy that is dark and twisted and beautiful and a fantastic new interpretation of a story I’ve always loved. The story has magic faerie drugs and homeless teens and secret subway stations and midnight gatherings of Fae in Central Park.

 

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson:

This is a paranormal urban ghost story with Jack the Ripper and is read by Nicola Barber. The narration in this story is particularly impressive because it has characters with several different variations on an English accent which I can’t even wrap my head around how Barber managed to do this so well. I mean, as an American I am not super great with recognizing Cockney versus British socialite or whatever but I do enjoy a lot of British entertainment so I’m not completely without reference here. If you want to know more about the story I have a review over here.

 

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams:

I listen to the Hitchhiker’s Guide rather often as well, but the Dirk Gently series never gets enough love. I think my version is actually Douglas Adams reading his own work.

 

Harry Potter:

Of course I have these audiobooks because when you have a Harry Potter itch it MUST BE SATISFIED. And yes, I have both the British version narrated by Stephen Fry and the American version read by Jim Dale. They are both awesome. Obviously.

 

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson:

Have you read The Bloggess? Basically, go read her blog and if you like that then you will like her book. I say this because the book isn’t really about anything so much as it is a loose memoir consisting of short stories from Lawson’s life, which are inherently hilarious and not really about anything. I don’t even like memoirs but I love funny and Lawson is the kind of funny that leaves you giggling like a lunatic with your earbuds in and the rest of the world taking a few steps to the side to avoid running in to you. Also, there are a lot of stories about blood, dead animals, and accidentally ending up inside of dead bloody animals. The book is also read by Lawson which is perfect because I’m pretty sure no one else could manage to capture her unique tone just right.

 

 

Do YOU have any audiobook suggestions for me? Leave them in the comments and tell me why it’s awesome in the audio version.

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Title: Darkfever (Fever Series, Book 1)

Author: Karen Marie Moning

Genre: Urban fantasy

The gist: Darkfever is like if Buffy the Vampire Slayer was actually Mac the Fairy Slayer and went on a quest to Ireland to avenge her sister’s murder.

Initial attraction: Potentially BAMFy character, fairies, and the opening lines are “My philosophy is pretty simple – any day nobody’s trying to kill me is a good day in my book. I haven’t had many good days lately.”

Cover art: Meh. There are a couple of different covers, but I wasn’t really into any of them. I did read this particular copy as an e-book, which also means the cover doesn’t get much attention from me because I only see it once when I start the book.

Summary:

MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman.

Or so she thinks… until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed–a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae…

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless V’lane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book–because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands…

The best part: The main character’s voice is modern and a little spunky. She’s a bit over-interested in her clothes and looking pretty, but she also isn’t flinging herself at the first dark and brooding stranger to wander along, or the second, or the third. She starts off very Buffy with an I’m-not-the-Chosen-One-I’m-just-a-cheerleader sort of attitude but you can sense the potential for her character arc to grow substantially and that really propelled me forward into the story.

The worst part: Certainly the most annoying part was the constant descriptions of what Mac was wearing. It left me staring at the words, baffled, wondering if anybody really thinks like that. I mean, if I was in a completely foreign country on my own and hunting down my sister’s murderer with a whole bunch of people trying to kill me too, the last thing I would be worried about is whether my underwear matched my nightshirt or whether my ice-pink-princess-whatever-girly-color nail polish was chipping. I don’t actually begrudge anyone for such concerns and while it was annoyingly over-descriptive about such things it was also interesting to see such a vastly different point of view than my own.

Characters: The only character the reader really gets to know is Mac. While there are other characters introduced, they are never really explored or explained which is a bit annoying. Characters of particular interest who really need to be explained already: Broody McBrooder Brooderstein Barrons (OK, OK, his name is really Jericho Barrons, but he fulfills the amount of brooding that is apparently required in all urban fantasy), Barrons’ assistant Fiona, and V’lane the death-by-sex fae dude.

Plot: ‘Naïve girl travels afar and finds out she has Special Powers’ is not a particularly original plot, but it’s executed well and with original world-building that made it perfectly enjoyable. Also, I completely failed at guessing several bits of the plot, which is nice because it gets a bit annoying when I see everything coming from a mile away.

Setting: Ireland isn’t seen as much as the fantasy aspect of the landscape, which is just fine by me. The fae terminology is all based around Gaelic terms so it’s completely unpronounceable to me but I’m awarding bonus points for referencing the Spear of Longinus. The fae are all portrayed as vastly different form each other but they cast a glamour so that muggles see them as either really hot and attractive people or just don’t see them at all. Underneath the glamour they’re all kinds of fugly though, except for the fae royalty because… uh… because… divine right makes everyone prettier?

Writing style: The best part of the writing is the voice Moning created for Mac, after that I start wincing at some unusual choices such as how Mac jumps out of the story to foreshadow what’s going to happen or to lament about what just happened. I like the idea of the narrator inserting opinionated bits about what’s going on, but it’s done a bit awkwardly and in a way that threw me out of the story rather than dragging me in further. I hope that this is something that continues with improvement because the potential for snark amuses me.

In which I babble: So I broke down and read this as an e-book on my iPhone because I was bored somewhere without a book. Surprisingly I didn’t mind the format too much but it did leave me with several problems like having to continue reading it on my phone even after I got home and wanted a better medium to read in, and also not being able to jot down notes as I read to shove into this review for your entertainment.

I’d heard a couple of things about this series before I read the first book, such as: it’s a paranormal romance, it’s a bit graphic, the main character gets more likeable further into the series, that Barrons is totally smexy, that Barrons isn’t even remotely smexy, that the first book is a long-winded introduction to the rest of the series… To which my response was “Did I get the abridged version or something?” There isn’t really so much actual romance as there is the set up for potential future romance and it’s not particularly graphic which does give a bit of credence to the theory that the first book is an elaborate intro, but I suppose I will have to read book 2 before I know for sure. As for Barrons, he may be hawt (but really any character is, if you describe them as such) and I guess he’s smart but he also has a personality that makes me want to nail a post-it to his face, so I can’t see myself joining the swoon-fest over him.

You might also like: Darkfever reminds me a bit of Elizabeth Kerner’s Tales of Kolmar series which is the kind of thing that will probably make every one squint at me and tilt their head to the left while questioning my reading comprehension skills, so I should probably attempt to explain… the snippets of out-of-timeline comments are something that also happens in the Kolmar series and it’s also a romance-y type story with unpronounceable names with a strong female lead. Kerner’s Lanen is much less Alicia Silverstone though and much more Pocahontas meets Charlotte Doyle. The settings of the two stories are very different as well, with Kolmar being a completely medieval fantasy-esque setting (bonus dragon factor though).

Additional books by author: Can be found here.

Publisher: Bantam Dell, A Division of Random House, Inc.

Release date: 2006

Purchase the book here.

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Some brief and probably spoilery thoughts on Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1. Because I went to the midnight opening and because it’s Twilight you really can’t expect me to have particularly deep or coherent thoughts, but here they are anyway.

- Every movie should start with Taylor Lautner running around shirtless, this is a strong marketing move. Sadly the rest of the movie involved way too much shirt. “I’m sorry Jacob, we can’t hear you over the sound of your shirt. Take it off and try again later.” I realize that the Hollywood types probably got tired of everyone making the “I’m going to open a shirt store in Forks because obviously there’s a shortage in the market” jokes, but we’re going to make jokes no matter what so you might as well embrace the tried and true marketing technique of partial nudity on attractive physiques.

- Speaking of shirts and partial nudity, you know who could have used MORE SHIRT? Bella. I mean kudos on making her legitimately look creepy and terrifyingly close to death but perhaps it went a bit too far. I kept waiting for her to start making creepy clicking noises Grudge-style – which, for the record, would have made me hide under the chair and weep.

- And who was that dude Bella married?! Was that Edward Cullen? I could barely recognize him when he’s all smiley and happy. It took until like halfway through the movie for him to turn into the highly recognizable Broody McBrooding Broodstein.

- It was probably wrong of me to laugh hysterically during Jacob’s big dramatic monologue, but I couldn’t even hold it in.

- The movie version never really explained why Rosalie was BFFs with Bella all of a sudden, nor did it include all of her amusing dog jokes.

- Seth and Leah Clearwater are awesome. Just saying.

- Breaking Dawn is my favorite of the Twilight books and the movie didn’t disappoint, And by “didn’t disappoint” I mean it’s good if you go in expecting hilarity and brooding and broodening harder and hilarity and a little creepy-factor then you’ll be just fine.

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You might have noticed that Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came out on Friday. It is basically a miracle I have gotten anything at all done since then and even that is only through sheer indomitable force of will and unconscionably large amounts of caffeine. Because you know what? Totally most awesomest game of awesome and stabby delightful dragony awesomeness ever.

I’m playing a wood elf because, well, I’m pretty much always a wood elf and I accidentally picked the Imperial side because I didn’t realize I could join the rebels until it was too late. Oops. Clearly after I finish the game I’m going to have to try it from the other side and then I realized this game will never end and it will be glorious. The layout and menu navigation is significantly simpler than Elder Scrolls: Oblivion which is nice but also a little confusing because I am so used to Oblivion.

You know what is the coolest thing ever though? The finishing move slow-motion fight scenes. Except when it’s me dying, then it’s less cool. I kind of want them to Mortal Kombat it up though and say “FATALITY” whenever it happens. But, um, not when *I* die, just when I hack people into tiny pieces with my swords. Also, dual-handed sword fighting? Eff yeah Elder Scrolls, eff yeah.

So, here’s a conversation that happened while we were playing.

Cranky McIrishpants: Do the Argonian chicks have boobs?

Me: Yes.

CM: Why? Do they give birth to live young?

Me: Because the game was designed by men.

Mister Formerly Known as Mohawk: No, they lay eggs.

CM: BUT WHY? Do they NURSE the babies after they hatch?

Me: It’s because the game was designed by men.

MFKaM: No they *insert surprisingly long discussion on the reproduction habits of fictional creatures here that ends with some sort of loose validation for reptile boobs*

Me: No, it’s because the game was designed by dudes.

CM: That’s fair enough, I’m going to make a female character largely on the basis that I don’t want to stare at man @$$ all day while I play so I guess I can’t blame the game designers.

On the list of things I don’t like: Today I was playing and I killed all the draugr thingies in the room and then healed up to full health and then dropped dead for no apparent reason. That sucked. I’d be just fine with that never happening again.

I haven’t actually gotten to the part where I interact with dragons on any level other than running away from them because I am the slowest video game player in the history of ever, but I expect that I will babble on about this again as I get further in the game.