Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reading Challenges!

As you can see, I have made a lot of layout changes and done some updates. I hope it is still easy enough for everyone to follow.

Something I am really excited about is my 2011 Reading Challenge goals. I had already been working on one or two goals for the year, but after coming across Book Chick City's 100 Books in a Year Reading Challenge, I became inspired to see how far I can make it. My original Goodreads goal was only 40, but I think I can do it. I also signed on for BCC's Vampire Chronicles Reading Challenge. I have always loved reading about vampires, and tried to make it through the Vampire Chronicles series in the past, but I moved about half way through The Vampire Armand and never got back to reading them. This will give me a good excuse to re-visit them and try to finish the series this time. Wish me luck! My progress can be tracked through the counters on the right side - and, of course, by the reviews!

In other update news: I added my review policy, which can be found at the top of the page and in the "Contact Information" box. I also added links to my Goodreads and PaperbackSwap accounts. If you are a swapper, or want to become one, check out my lists!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

BookMooch for swapping books

One of the random things that I have discovered in the past year is the awesomeness of swapping sites. There are sites out there to swap everything, from books, movies, and cds to crafts, clothing, and even houses! Every once in a while I join a new site, just to see how it works. I am now a member of at least 8 swapping sites - but I don't think I am addicted. :D

This week I joined a site called BookMooch. I saw on my LibraryThing profile that the site had a book that I was seeking that no other site had listed, so I was optimistic that there would be several good offerings.

At first view, their site is not as graphically advanced as many others, but it is functionality over beauty, right? It is straightforward and easy to navigate. The biggest starting challenge I had was finding the spot to bulk upload my wish list. There is one, it just takes a little digging.

I like the points system. Aside from giving you a point for each book you mail, like most sites do, they also give you .1 point for each book you list in the system. You can't just list them and then remove them though - the point leaves if the book does. They also understand the cost and effort involved for sending a book to another country, so if you choose to send international, you get 3 points for the book instead of just 1.

They have a unique ratio policy in place, which I find interesting, but in a good way. A user must keep at least a 2:1 ratio to request books. That is, for every 2 you request, you must send one. That sounds pretty fair to me. It keeps people from listing tons of really bad stuff that they know no one will request and then ordering a lot using the points from listing.

It is nice that you can see exactly where the book you request is coming from, and can choose from multiple offers. Though, it is sad when you see that the only "available" copy is from someone in another country that will not ship international.

The most disappointing thing I found about the site is that, once I got my wish list loaded, I could see exactly how little selection they actually have available. I loaded a 206 book wish list, including books from all sorts of varied genres and types, and of the 206, only 6 were available. There is no sort of queue either, so if someone does add one of your wish list books, they email a notification to everyone with it on their wish list and you have to hope to be the first one to snag it.

They mention on the site at some point that, of the books you list, about 80% of them will be requested almost immediately. This is very true. Because there is so little readily available to chose from, new titles being listed will be grabbed up quickly. This is good for the people who manage to get those books, and good for those who want to be rid of their collections fast, but can be tough for those who find themselves having to pay postage on 10-15 books at a time.

On the plus side, the requests do not expire. They stay around until you send the book to someone - making it unavailable - or until the requester cancels the request. So you can tell some of the people that there will be delayed shipping and ship a few at a time.

Overall, the site is not too bad. With some growth it could be better. I will probably not list anymore books until I spend at least a few of the credits I have amassed - including for the 7 books I mailed today. But I will definitely keep checking back, and will likely list more as time goes on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Auralia's Colors

Auralia's Colors
by Jeffrey Overstreet
ISBN: 978-1-4000-7252-1
334 Pages

A pair of outcast thieves find an abandoned child on the side of the river, lying in a giant footprint. She is brought to the criminals' community, outside the walls of House Abscar, where she is raised with the other orphans under their care. But there is something different about Auralia. She has an amazing ability to craft colors. Colors that are forbidden in Abscar. Colors that enchant all who see them. Colors that will change the lives of all of the houses in the Expanse.

My Thoughts:
Auralia's Colors is an inventive story, unlike anything I had ever read before. It creates a vivid picture of a great land, called the Expanse, and of the different types of people who inhabit this land. The descriptions are very detailed, to the point where a creative mind could envision themselves walking along the banks of the River Throanscall or wandering amongst the Gatherers' huts.

The characters are very well developed, and display a diverse array of personalities. The ones who should be likable are likable, and there are a couple that you don't feel as guilty about disliking. For me, this was Stricia. For some reason, I just wanted someone to go Wicked Witch of the East and drop a house on her. Oh, irony. My absolute favorite character was the ale boy. Before they even got into his back story, I was intrigued by him. I am super excited to read The Ale Boy's Feast, which is also on my list for this month.

The story is narrated from the "over the shoulder" view of the important character in the scene. For most books, this would mean one to three characters, but in Auralia's Colors, this covers over ten characters. This has the potential to get confusing - or annoying - fast. Yet, somehow, it works here.

One of the first things I noticed when I started reading Auralia's Colors was that there is quite a bit of dialogue. I understand that dialogue enhances a story, but I guess I like when a book opens up with vast imagery as opposed to conversation. I was very put off by the somewhat gruff conversation between Krawg and Warney in the first chapter. It took re-reading several times to make it past that and into the actual story. I feared that would set the tone for the whole book. Fortunately, once it picked up pace, I enjoyed reading it.

Honestly, there was a segment here or there that I found unnecessary to the greater story. A view point that did not seem that significant. A conversation that seemed trivial. A character that did not seem so important as to warrant the amount of coverage it received. The number of named characters was so massive that it is possible to become confused, or forget some altogether, so that when they are later mentioned, you have to stop and think to remember what you already learned about them. When you combine this with the extravagant descriptions, the story does have its moments where it seems long-winded and it causes you to lose interest. I feel that it took me much longer to read this book than it should have.

Auralia's Colors is classified as a Christian Fiction novel, though there seems to be a dispute amongst reviewers as to if this is a correct classification. Jeffery Overstreet is a Christian novelist, which is probably the inital reason for the classification. Unlike much of the Christian Fiction available today, there are not overbearing religious messages. However, I could actually see Christian influences in the story. I have seen other reviewers mention before that there is the Keeper as a god figure, looking over the children. One could also say that the Northchildren represent angels. But to me, the most noticable influence would have to do with the moment where Auralia tells the ale boy that she is going home, and the circumstances surrounding that event. I could note mention of each of the "seven deadly sins" represented and punished.

I find myself with mixed emotions for Auralia's Colors. It was a good story, but I sometimes wondered if it fell into the category of "too much of a good thing."

Parent's Guide:
Auralia's Colors is somewhat tame, as far as fantasy novels go. If your teen wishes this book to read, you really don't have anything to worry about. It does not use standard "bad" language and only briefly alludes to anything that could be seen as inappropriate, such as romantic encounters, without ever going so far as to cross a line. There is a large amount of violence, but nothing overly graphic or gory. Auralia's Colors is a nice, safe read for teens as far as fantasy novels go, though it is somewhat long and wordy, so if they are not an avid reader, they may get frustrated and give up before the end.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Goddess is in the Details

The Goddess is in the Details: Wisdom for the Everyday Witch
by Deborah Blake
ISBN: 978-0-7387-1486-8
228 Pages

Deborah Blake shares with you the life of one who embraces the craft - being a Witch in every aspect of daily life. She includes helpful advice, practical suggestions and yes, even a few spells, to help out those hoping to enrich their spiritual walk.

My Thoughts:
With me, new age and Pagan books are often hit or miss. There are many good books out there for people who wish to learn about Paganism, yet at the same time, there are many that are a big heaping literary mess. When I first spotted The Goddess is in the Details on the library shelf, I was optimistic. The cover art is appealing. It is warm and colorful - much like the subjects who may read it.

According to the introduction, this book was written "primarily with more experienced Witches in mind" and the target audience is "any Witch who has mastered the fundamentals." I have to strongly disagree with this sentiment. I think The Goddess is in the Details is a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about Pagan beliefs. Not just practicing Witches, but their loved ones as well. Sure, they may not understand right off what an athame is, or what calling quarters means, but they will get the important information - like the pagan views on attitudes, love, tolerance and relationships with nature. Things that may very well shatter any negative preconceived notions that they may harbor.

While it does suggest a few spells to help you out, The Goddess is in the Details is by no means a spell book. If you are looking for spells to get rich quick or win someone's love, you are looking in the wrong place. Or maybe, you aren't, since this book will explain to you why those spells will not work.

One of the things I absolutely loved about this book is the writing style. It is not stiff and impersonal like many other books I have read. Miss Blake writes in a very friendly and welcoming manner, often using humor, which makes it seem more like a conversation than a lecture. You feel as though she is talking directly to you.

While reading The Goddess is in the Details, I experienced several moments where the ideals and stories really hit home, and was inspired to reflect on how these things related to me personally.
     For instance, after reading the chapters titled "The Healthy Witch" and "Mindful Eating" I stopped to think about my eating habits, and how the stresses I have faced over the past year have led to me not care about my eating habits as much as I used to. In the last week, I have been more cautious in what I have been eating, and I really can tell the difference.
     In the chapter about cleaning, Miss Blake reminds you of the old saying that "cleanliness is next to godliness" and really hits the nail on the head with the statement "it is hard to be pure of spirit if you live in a pigsty." As she points out - "If your home is truly your temple, it only makes sense that you would want to treat it in a positive and respectful way." I will be the first to admit that when cleaning up after the kids, I often get overwhelmed and just don't want to bother with it all, but after reading this I look at it differently.
     Perhaps the chapter that got to me most of all was the one on the power of words. I have always been against the use of the word "hate" and have been cautious to only put out the energies that I would like in return, but I still often find myself saying things that aren't one hundred percent nice. After reading this book, I have found that I am being more aware of what I say to people, and even to myself. I am more focused on positive affirmations and not becoming angry when one of my kids does something they shouldn't.

It is possible that I would take these lessons away from any other book I read that covered the same topics, but I feel that it is the casual and friendly writing style that makes you really take it to heart. Miss Blake writes in a compassionate way that shows that she really cares about the readers and wants them to be happy. She knows how to turn phrases that make you feel secure. For example - and this is probably my favorite line in the book - when talking about prayer, she reminds you that "[The gods] may not answer your prayer in the way you want, but if you open yourself to it, their love is always there to wrap around yourself like a warm blanket."

Eating, cleaning, and words are only a few of the broad array of topics that The Goddess is in the Details covers, quite sufficiently, in it's 228 pages. However, just in case you want to go more into depth on any of the topics covered, Miss Blake included a wonderful list of recommended reading books that specialize on the topics covered.

At the end of each chapter, there is a portion labeled "Something to Think About" or "Something to Try" which gives you ways to further reflect on what you learned in that chapter. These are faintly reminiscent to the chapter reviews in old textbooks, but a lot more friendly. Rather than asking you to remember what you learned in the chapter, they are suggesting ways that you can take what you learned and utilize it.

I believe that this is a wonderful book that anyone who feels the need to learn more about Pagans can enjoy.  Displaying such warmth and wisdom, Deborah Blake is really in her element here. She is quite possibly my new favorite Pagan writer. I hope to own for myself a copy of this book soon, and I look forward to reading her other works.

Parent's Guide:
Miss Blake says in her introduction that this book is intended mostly for the more mature and experienced crowd. Does this mean you should ban your teen from reading it? Absolutely not. The Goddess is in the Details is a rich resource of moral and ethical lessons for a practicing Witch, and is written at a level that most teens can understand. In fact, if you discover that your child is interested in Paganism, this is a book that I would recommend for them to read. And you as well, so that you understand the feelings they are having and their beliefs do not seem so alien. You could even make it a moment of bonding, by reading it together and discussing the topics, or working together on end of chapter "projects."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May Reading Selections and Tea Party Madness!

Okay, so I didn't get near as far with my April list as I expected to. I don't think I was too ambitious - I normally read more than I did last month. However, I did forget to take into account the other projects I had to work on before this summer hits. Because of this, some of my April list got bumped to May.

So now, this is what my May reading list looks like:

Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet
Magyk by Angie Sage
The Ale Boy's Feast by Jeffery Overstreet
Rumpelstiltskin vs. Miller by Michael H. Brandt
The Light Inside the Dark by John Tarrant
In recognition of Beltane, I set aside Auralia and read The Goddess is in the Details by Deborah Blake, but have been so busy I haven't had a chance to finish the review, so that should be up tonight.

I know, what could be more interesting than reading and writing? The answer is: nothing! But - there are things that can be equally as interesting! One of the other hobbies I participate in is a phenomenon called cosplay. This is where people dress up in costumes of their favorite characters from Japanese cartoons and video games. I love sewing, so I enjoy costuming events. In fact, I help out with and run cosplay events at anime conventions, and I run a cosplay group.

This past weekend my cosplay group hosted a lolita fashion themed tea party and luncheon. Which was awesome, because not only did I get to dress up, but I also got to cook, which is another love of mine!
My delicious contribution - Chicken Salad Sandwiches, Scones, and Onigiri
After staying up all night preparing food and modifying my dress, it was off to the park. We met at Hermann Park in Houston, which is always beautiful, and the nice weather made it even better. Unfortunately, there was some kind of fund raising benefit going on, so it was more crowded than we expected. That didn't keep us from having a great time.
Me and 2 of my girls at the beginning of the day

The tea party was a success. We all made new friends and got some great photos. The group is already eager for the next one to be scheduled. This is how it often is for me. So, chances are if I go a few days without posting, it means I am sewing and preparing for an event, like a faire or a con.