Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Special: Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe I should wait to review this book, as I've just finished and I'm not yet sure what to make of it. But I'll try to write something comprehensible.

First of all, I was told this was the quintessential haunted house book, and I hadn't read any horror fiction for a while, so I thought I'd check it out. Plus, it's a bit of a genre-classic. I read the introduction to this book, which may have been a mistake. It gave away the ending, and also gave a lot of spoilers and analysis that I probably shouldn't have thought about until after the book. I really wish they'd made it an afterward instead of a foreward.

So, let me try to review the book as I would have if I hadn't read the intro.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The protagonist, Eleanor, was very simple and fanciful, almost like a child. She never really grew up, and we assume this is due to her long imprisonment as the caretakeer of her mother. She never grew up or even lived, but spent most of her adult life caring for her mother. When her mother dies, she is left with a sister she doesn't like (who is not developed, but what we see of her through Eleanor's eyes is not a flattering picture). Eleanor is invited to Hill House and goes there, although we're not really sure why. She repeatedly says "journeys end in lovers meeting" so we have to assume she's looking for a bit of human contact or even love.

What she finds is, well...a haunted house. At first she, like the others, feels the evil of the house and fears it. We're never really sure if the house is haunted, or who it's haunted by, but we assume it's a family who previously lived in the house.

Somewhere along the way I came to realize that Eleanor was not a reliable narrator. It's hard to separate from the first-person narrative--we're inside Eleanor's mind, so we want to believe what she believes. At one point I got paranoid that the others were playing tricks on her because she thinks they are. Shirley Jackson does a great job drawing the reader into Eleanor's mind and not letting go. I began to think she was going crazy, and eventually she really seems to lose it. But it doesn't seem like it while reading, because we are inside the crazy person's head.

Eleanor at first fits in, but eventually she begins to separate herself (or the house does?) by her constant need for attention. She claims that the others (or Theo, in particular) only want attention all the time, to be center stage. While in fact it is Eleanor who always wants to be the center of attention, although we only know this through her actions, as she herself never consciously craves or seeks attention.

Her relationships are painted in a vague, shadowy way, which leaves the reader to guess what happens. Is she in love with Theo? Is Theo a lesbian, or just friendly? And I still am not sure if Eleanor had sex with Luke, although I believe she did. Whether Jackson didn't want to be explicit in saying this, or if she wanted us to have to guess, I'm not sure. I also thought that Theo and Luke had a short affair, although that was also left unsaid. Eleanor really seemed to fall apart after her hour spent with Luke doing whatever, so I am assuming they had a brief encounter and then, since he's described as a 'cad' and a 'scoundrel' afterwards, that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Theo seems jealous about this, but she never admits it to Eleanor. Instead, she goes after Luke herself (we think, but maybe it's only Eleanor's jealousy?). Eleanor falls apart then, losing her friend and whatever Luke was to her. She never comes out and says it, but we guess from the risk Luke takes to save her that it's his guilt driving him.

The house seems to possess Eleanor, rather than a ghost or spirit. It absorbs her, and I'd have thought it preyed on her because she was the weak one, living half the time in her fantasy world. She was most impressionable, so the entity that possessed the house went for her. Then she sacrifices herself to it, so to speak, so she can remain forever a part of the house. Or that's how I would have read it if I'd never read the introduction. After reading it, I guess I'm supposed to think that it was actually Eleanor and not a ghost haunting the house. That she conjured all the events from her subconscious or psychic abilities, drawing attention to herself with the messages from 'ghosts,' ruining the possessions of someone who angered her. But still I wondered if the house wasn't trying to gain her trust so that she would surrender to it. Although I know I'm supposed to believe Eleanor created all the phenomena in the house, I'm still not sure I believe it. I still suspect that the house engulfed and infiltrated her to drive her mad so that she'd join whatever spirit walked there alone.

I know I usually give less summary in reviews, but that's my review of this. It was a great book, although confusing, and I will be thinking about it for a while and trying to figure it out. The book is very well-written, the dialogue is snappy, witty, and surprising. I did think that they should have been nicer to Eleanor and explained things better when they sent her away. But overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes to have a deep thought about literature and not just read it and forget it. If you like thought-provoking, ambiguous books, this one's for you.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cover Reveal Wednesday: The Renegades, Book 3 in The Superiors Series

In honor of my favorite holiday (Halloween, of course) here's a bit of shameless self-promotion for my new vamp/horror novel, coming soon. As everyone knows, self-promotion gets old really fast, so I've tried to stay away from that as much as possible. But I'm a writer, so of course I'm going to get excited and want to share my AWESOME NEW BOOK COVER! I just got it back from my cover designer, the brilliant Casey Siegel, and couldn't wait to share it. It still needs a few more tweaks, but here is the preliminary:

I'm super excited about it, and I love it already. The book, The Renegades, is tentatively scheduled for release on December 3.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Scrappy Sunday: Honeymoon page, Scrap Our Stash (project pinterest)

I finally began the daunting task of scrapping our honeymoon. I saw this layout on Pinterest and knew I HAD to use the sketch, even though I admit, I usually can't get past the pet pictures. I know, I'm weird, but for some reason I just don't get them, even though I love our dog.

ANYWAY, I love, love, love this layout. I was going to use it for the intro page of a honeymoon scrapbook, but once I started it, the papers didn't match and it all looked horrible together. So I pulled off a bunch of stuff, and instead used an old packet of Making Memories stuff that I've had forever. I decided to do the Scrap Our Stash Tic-Tac-Toe challenge with the sketch. I'm actually going to use the sketch again, as I had to rotate it a lot to make it work, and I want to do a page from it that's pretty much an exact copy.

Here's the result:
I used the row on the left of the tic-tac-toe board and used 5 brads, some washi tape I'm in love with, and some journaling spots from the Making Memories pack. The cardstock, brads, and washi tape by Paper Studio, ink by Around the Block, everything else is Making Memories 5th Avenue 8x8 pack. I usually think my journaling is too personal, so I'll add that later.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Disaster Chef: Snickerdoodle Pancakes #foodiefriday #projectpinterest

Another disastrous Disaster Chef project here for you today. This week it’s snickerdoodle pancakes. Remember my post about making snickerdoodles, and how I didn’t have any cream of tartar? Well, I got some. And I made snickerdoodles again, and they were everything a snickerdoodle should be. I was so inspired, in fact, that the next morning I decided I’d make snickerdoodle pancakes, which I’d seen on pinterest while searching for the cookie recipe.

First let me say, pancakes can be tricky. I did my fair share of burning them when I started making them a few years ago, and had a number turn out with raw centers. But my son LOVES pancakes, so I got better at them. In fact, now it’s one of the few things I consistently rock. I make all varieties—apple, pumpkin, banana, blueberry, plain…And my son loves them all. Because, let’s face it, I’ve become a pancake expert.

I was just cooking for my son and me this time, so I halved the recipe. It can be found here.

Think this looks moist and soggy? It's worse!
Snickerdoodle Pancakes
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
Snickerdoodle Pancakes!
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ – ½ a cup of milk
  1. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Add wet ingredients and whisk just until combined.
  3. Use ¼ cup of milk for thicker, fluffy pancakes. Add more milk for thinner, tender pancakes.
  4. Pour ¼ cup of pancake batter onto hot non-stick griddle.
  5. When edges of pancakes start to set, flip and cook until light golden brown.
  6. Serve with butter and warm cinnamon vanilla glaze.
  7. Makes about 16 pancakes.

I don’t know if it was the cream of tartar (it seemed like it called for an awful lot), but the batter was this really weird gelatinous consistency. I did use plain yogurt in place of sour cream, since I didn’t have a container of sour cream on hand. But I’ve used this substitution lots of times, and it’s always worked fine. In fact, I always use yogurt in pancakes, because it gives them a wonderful tender quality. This time, not so much.
Waiting, and waiting, for this to solidify...
I put the first pancake in with high hopes. Then I proceeded to wait, and wait, and wait for it to get solid around the edges. Finally, it looked sort of solid so I tried to slide a spatula under it, but it sort of folded up. I did manage to get it turned, then waited a few minutes and took it off. It had taken a long time to solidify around the edges, so that side was a little overcooked. Fine, it was a bit burned. But still edible. I decided to eat that one myself and make a better one for my son. As I browned his pancake to perfection (see picture), I ate the one I’d made. IT WAS TERRIBLE! It was super sour for some reason, and even though it was scorched on one side, the middle was all gooey. Not raw, mind you. More like…foamy pudding. Or that whipped yogurt Yoplait put out a few years ago.
The one that looked good.

These things would not cook! Even though the second one looked beautiful, it was all gooey in the middle too. I tried adding more liquid, then more flour, then turning the pan on the lowest setting, which couldn’t burn anything if you left it all day. I left a pancake in there on low for about 20 minutes, even putting a lid on it so the top would cook, even if it turned out cake-like. No. It NEVER cooked. It just solidified the gelatinous goo.

This was a huge disaster, unless you like really gooey, gummy, sour pancakes. I will never make it again.

The cinnamon glaze was good, though.
Warm Cinnamon Vanilla Glaze
Recipe type: Glaze
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
A warm cinnamon vanilla glaze to serve on top of Snickerdoodle Pancakes.
  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 3-4 tablespoons of milk

  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Warm in small pan over low heat.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Writers Write

That's a question that I'm sure lots of fellow writers get asked, and it's always an awkward moment. Why, indeed. So I've come up with a handy list, feel free to pick and choose some and use them next time someone asks you that most unanswerable question.

  • Because I want to
  • Because I need to
  • Because I have to
  • To get out all the crazy
  • To keep from going crazy
  • Habit
  • Duty/obligation
  • Inspiration
  • I had an idea
  • Someone gave me an idea
  • I was trying to come up with an idea
  • I want to share my ideas
  • I like to cleverly hide my ideas in fiction
  • I keep hoping for a good idea
  • I have no idea
  • I started and couldn't stop
  • I stopped and couldn't get started again, so now I will never stop because then I might never get started again.
  • It's my calling
  • It's my therapy
  • It's my escape
  • It's my revenge
  • It's my one true love
  • I'm in love with my hero
  • I'm in love with my villain
  • Someday I'll be discovered
  • I don't care if no one ever reads it, I have to get it out of my head
  • If I don't write it down, where will it go?
  • I have to see what happens next
For most of us, the answer is probably some combination thereof, or a hundred other reasons. For most of us, it's probably because it's who we are, because we can't NOT write. Notice how none of the above reasons said, "for the money?" If a writer is writing for that, good for him/her. Bravo. He made it in the writing world and hit the publishing jackpot. My guess is, his books are not excellent. But what do I know? I only write because I'm a writer.

Happy Writer Wednesday, everyone!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Music Monday: Blue October in October, on the Sway Tour

As a lot of you know, and my husband just learned, I am a huge fan of Blue October (the rock band from Texas, not the synth-pop band of the same name from the U.K.) I have been a die-hard fan since Foiled in 2005, but I've only been lucky enough to see them once. I may have written a blog about the horrible experience of D-Fest on Myspace (yes, it was back in the day). Their show was great, mind you. The crowd? Not so much. I went with my sister, and I'm fairly certain she was traumatized out of her tentative fandom.
Anyway, this post is not about that past trauma, but about current success! This past weekend, I got to go see the band again, on their new Sway tour. They were playing at Juanita's, a popular bar/cafe in Little Rock that hosts small or regional bands. I was kinda surprised they could pull in a band like Blue October, but then, I guess the band hasn't really had a big hit since "Hate Me."
Tickets were more than reasonable, so we made the drive down on Saturday afternoon to see them. The show was supposed to start at 8:30, so we showed up at 7:45 to get a decent spot. We hung around outside for a bit, then went in. We were able to get about 8 or 10 rows back, even though we probably didn't go in until 8. Then we watched Tory Vasquez open, who I had never heard of, but she was pretty rockin. I really enjoyed her show.
It was around 8:30 when she finished, so I thought Blue October would come on next. A bunch of dudes started setting up instruments, and I thought they were the roadies. Then they started doing sound check and I was like, wait a minute...oops. It was another band opening for them, The Unlikely Candidates. They had a few cool songs, too. Then, right as they ended, I turned to talk to my husband. The next thing I knew, something hit me in the mouth! I looked down and I was holding a drum stick. I have no idea how I caught that, as I was paying zero attention and don't know how on earth it didn't just ricochet off my face and fall on the floor. But somehow, my hand instinctually closed around it. So that was kind cool. I've never caught a drum stick or anything before.
After that, a few people did a little maneuvering to get in closer, but we managed to keep our spot. And most people were really cool, with nobody pushing or bumping against us, even though we were so close to the stage. Also, I had worn 4 inch heels, and just as I thought about regretting that, I realized it made all the difference in the world! I always wear tennis shoes to shows, because they're comfortable and I know I'll be standing and dancing a lot. But this time, I could actually see! I was as tall as pretty much everyone in front of me, which never happens. I'm always behind a bunch of 7 feet tall cavemen. So that was a plus, too. The crowd was super chill and really great about not cramming in too close, letting each other out and back in for trips to the bar. It's been a long time since I've seen a concert with a civilized crowd! I'm used to Memphis in May, where it's pretty much a free-for-all.
Anyway, finally Blue October came on and everyone cheered. They started out strong with "Sway," and didn't let up from there. They sounded great. All the songs were tight, and they did a wonderful job of blending old favorites ("Hate Me" and "Into the Ocean") with their new album, as well as a few from Approaching Normal and one from Any Man in America, which they said was a dark album and they'd try to play something that wasn't "about how poor Justin is so sad." You can tell by their new album that they are in a happier place now. Sway goes back to the lighter, melodic sounds of Foiled. And, as always, the lyrics have a way of getting you right in the gut. I danced like mad the whole show, and was pretty much in the land of squee for the entire hour and a half. My husband was a bit taken aback, I think. But he stuck it out, even though he hates crowds and says Blue October's music is too depressing.
After the show, Justin was signing merchandise, so we got in line to get a CD. We were the second from last people, and although they said we couldn't take pics, we did get a signed CD. I asked if I could shake Justin's hand, and he said yes, and stood up and gave me a hug, and then Jon, too. He was very gracious and polite. Afterwards, we went outside and were standing around, and saw Unlikely Candidates mingling. So we stopped and talked to one of the band members, and he signed my drum stick, and then grabbed two of the other guys from the band and they signed it too, and we stood around talking to them for a while before we went back to our hotel.

Overall, it was a fantastic show, like the last one I saw, with the added bonus of a crowd that was more concerned with seeing a great band that we all loved than stomping on anyone in their way. It was a great feeling of community among those of us who came out to see the show at such a small venue. Great job to the band, and the bar. Five star experience all around.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Foodie Friday: Disaster Chef: Baked Potato Soup #projectpinterest

So this week I have a semi-success story for Project Pinterest to inspire any other aspiring cooks out there. This is a really easy recipe! It's only 4 ingredients, although as the original blog post says, it's really all about the toppings. It's a good starting point, but very simple and plain if you don't add some toppings (ie, boring).

Here's the recipe:
Soup Ingredients:
1 garlic clove bulb, with the top cut off
6 – 8 large baking potatoes, uncooked
3 – 4 cups chicken broth

1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Tightly wrap the garlic bulb in foil. Rinse and pierce potatoes 9-12 times with a fork. Put the garlic and potatoes in the oven right on the rack.
Bake the garlic for 45 minutes then remove from oven. Allow the potatoes another 15 – 20 minutes in the oven. To tell if the potatoes are done they should be tender when you pierce them with a fork. Let the garlic and potatoes cool for at least 30 minutes. (I didn't do the whole letting them cool thing, but they turned out fine).
Peel garlic shell back to pull out cooked garlic pulp. Peel the potatoes with hands. Place the garlic pulp in a large saucepan, and using a potato masher mash the garlic. Next, add the potatoes to the saucepan and start mashing the potatoes and garlic together. Next, stir in the broth and fresh thyme until it is combined well. Cook the soup over medium heat until hot. Serve and add toppings of your choice.

I ended up only using 4 potatoes the first night, and a whole quart of broth because that's what I had in the fridge (and I may not have been paying as much attention to the recipe as I should have). So it was really soupy the first night. The next day I baked 4 more potatoes and added them, and it was nice and chunky and thick like the pictures showed, and much better all around. I threw some cheese and sour cream and olives on it, too. If you have some green onions, chives, bacon, or even salsa, that would probably be tasty, too.

The garlic was a bit tricky to get peeled, as it was pulpy mush and sticky, and the skins stuck to my fingers horribly. Also, peeling baked potatoes isn't as easy as it sounds. It is definitely time-consuming to scrape out the skins well, unless you want to leave a big portion of the potato stuck to the skins. So even though this recipe is simple and easy, it is not fast.

That said, it was very tasty both as a brothy soup and as a thick stew the next least it was after adding a bunch of toppings! I will definitely be adding this to my list of standbys. It's worth repeating.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review Wednesday: Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt

Tuck EverlastingTuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For years I have picked up this book and put it down again because I made the mistake of watching the movie when it came out. I loathed the movie (yes, loathed). Words cannot express how much. So I never wanted to read the book, and it's a shame, because the book was terrific!

One of the most effective ways for an author to grab some readers (myself included) is to create a sense of atmosphere, and Babbitt does so with power and precision. From the first page, I was hooked and dragged into this novel. I was there. The characters were almost secondary to the setting. The atmosphere of the novel was gripping and suffocating, every scene infused with heat and thrumming with the rhythms of late summer.

Of course the topic of this novel is the age-old question of mortality and the fountain of youth. That question is explored from both sides deftly and succinctly in this tiny novel. Don't be deceived by the novel's length--it is complete and perfect as it is, and will stay with you as you contemplate its message far longer than the few hours it takes to read.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Disaster Chef: Cheesy Zucchini Cups: #foodiefriday #projectpinterest

So, I had this post all planned out, only to realize all my pics from this recipe were erased in my phone crash. I decided to do the post anyway. The pictures weren't that great, anyway!

Sometimes you have some ingredients, and you want to use them, but you don't know what to make... This was one of those times. I had some zucchini from my mom's garden, and I didn't want to waste it. And that's pretty much all I had, at least the only fresh vegetables I had for a side dish. So of course I headed straight to Pinterest and found this recipe.

It sounded simple and easy and good. So I started to make it. Here's the recipe and directions.

1 cup zucchini grated
1 egg
1/4 cups yellow onion diced
1/4 cups cheese (cheddar or Parmesan work the best)
1/4 cups bread crumbs (I used Italian Style)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a mini-muffin tin with non-stick spray, set aside.
2. Grate the zucchini and then place in a dish towel to squeeze out the excess water- like when using frozen spinach; if you skip this part, the middle of the zucchini tots will be really soggy while the outside gets crispy and no one wants that.
3. In a bowl combine, the egg, onion, cheese, bread crumbs, zucchini, parsley, salt and pepper.
4. Using a spoon or a cookie scoop, fill the muffin cups to the top. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the top is browned and set.

I grated a huge zucchini, which took forever. Then I squeezed all the liquid out by hand, since I didn't have any paper towels. With clean hands, just pick up handfuls of the stuff and squeeze until the liquid drips out. I did the same with an onion. Then I went to get out the rest of the ingredients...only to find that my husband had no eggs and no bread to make bread crumbs. So again I will advise...when cooking, get out all the ingredients before you begin!

I had already grated the vegetables, and I wasn't about to throw them out. Oh, yeah, did I also mention that my husband doesn't have muffin tins? I kind of made the 'batter' into blobs and formed thin cookies out of them, hoping they'd cook all the way through, even in the centers. Did they turn out well,  you ask? a word...No. They did not. They didn't hold together well without the egg, and the centers never got really nice and cooked. They were a little crunchy, and not in the good way.
In the undercooked-onions way.

I might actually try these again, because they were SUCH a disaster that I'd like to try them again. The recipe sounded good. I just need to go shopping before I try them again!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review Wednesday: Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan

Riding FreedomRiding Freedom by Pam Muñoz Ryan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Riding Freedom starts a bit slow, but by the end, I wished there was more. Maybe the author kept it short for a young audience, or maybe there's just not a lot known about our subject, Charlotte/Charlie, the heroine of this historical fiction/biographical novel. Whatever the case, I was left with questions about her life.
We know she lived as a man until she died and never married or revealed her secret. But I wondered if her childhood friend ever returned to help her run the ranch that was their dream together, and if so, how he would have dealt with the knowledge of her secret. How would he have treated her--as a man, or a woman? Was she transgendered? We will probably never know that, as I don't think that was recognized at the time. It's impossible to know if Charlotte became a man because she always identified as one, or simply to gain some measure of freedom in a time when women were little more than house slaves.
Though this book is short and simple, it left me with some disturbing reminders of how oppressed women were, as little as a hundred years ago or so. To have even a bit of freedom, just do do what one loved, Charlotte had to become a different person. Not just a different person, but a different sex. Just to be allowed to ride a horse, do a job that she was seemingly gifted at, she had to give up who she was and a large part of what she was.
It's a sobering comment on a woman's life then, that Charlotte's only choice was to give up all that she loved and wanted and dreamed of, or to become a MAN. That's a pretty drastic choice. There was no way for a woman to do what she loved with her life, unless what she loved was to stand around a hot kitchen baking for the men folk all day. What kind of life is that? It's no wonder men didn't want that job...and didn't want women voting their way out of it!

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