Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Touring Local: March 2015

I didn't really do much in February, so I skipped a Touring Local feature for that month. However, I had a couple things that I did in March that I thought I would share with you all!

One of my local libraries had a lady come in to teach us all about making soy candles. I went with my mom and we both made a candle. Mine is the blue and the scent is cotton. The white is my mom's and her scent is vanilla. We still need to cut the wicks and light these, but just smelling them as they were hardening was so heavenly. It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot of great things about how soy candles are better than store-bought ones in terms of the smell and the soot.

The Breakfast Club is celebrating its 30th anniversary and in honor of that, theaters across the United States are showing the movie. I love this film and I really wanted to see it on a big screen, so I was excited when a friend of mine asked me to go. There was a short "look back" type of video before the film where actors from the movie and some other famous fans reminisced on this movie and John Hughes. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed seeing this classic 80's movie in the movie theaters, since I was not born when it was originally released.

What fun things did you do this March?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Splintered by A.G. Howard + Song Pick

Splintered by A.G. Howard

Review by Lauren

Source: copy from library; all opinions are my own

Official Summary: Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

Review:  For my YA Literature Course, we had to choose a fairy-tale retelling that was published in the last couple of years, so I decided to check out Splintered since I had been curious about it for awhile. I've read mixed reviews these last couple years, but I had a feeling that I would enjoy this darker side of Wonderland, and I was right. I have not read the original Alice in Wonderland book but I do have some idea about what occurs, so it was exciting to see how Howard mixed things up, making Wonderland a dark, sometimes sinister place.

While I did enjoy this book, it wasn't without its faults - for me at least. Some of the tests that Alyssa deals with seem all too easy to pass, though I suppose you could say there is a reason for that. Regardless, other tasks and adventures Alyssa deals with are more difficult and dark, so I suppose it makes up for it in the end. Second, there is the whole "love triangle" idea. I'm always wary about book summaries that talk about two boys, but this one was done fairly well. Jeb is someone Alyssa has known her whole life, a good friend who she has a secret crush on. As for Morpheus, there is more to him than it first appears and you don't really learn all of his secrets until the end of the book. However, I think the two guys were needed to showcase the opposite sides of Alyssa's personality, as well as help her though these tests. Basically, I wouldn't let the idea of a love triangle deter you from reading this book.

In general, I thought Splintered was a fun read. It's something you can't help but try and imagine on a big screen with all of the fun details. I also really love the cover and the fact that the print is purple - though the more you read, the more it seems black, so it's not distracting.

Song Pick:

My song choice for Splintered is "Alice" by Avril Lavigne. This song was actually on the soundtrack for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but I think it suits Alyssa very well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

Review by Lauren

Source: copy from library; all opinions are my own

Official Summary: A boy’s search for his father becomes a desperate journey to unlock a secret past. But the past must not be remembered if the boy is to survive. As he searches for the truth that hovers at the edge of his mind, the boy—and readers—arrive at a shattering conclusion.

Review: I Am the Cheese is a difficult book to review, as I don't want to give anything away. Let's just say that I read this when I was younger and really loved it, so I decided to re-read it for my YA Literature course. We had to pick a Dystopia novel from a list and this was on there. I couldn't remember a lot of the details, so it was almost like reading the novel again. I really loved it the second time too, and I never would have thought "this is dystopia" if it weren't for my class. It's not as obvious as a lot of dystopia novels these days, but I think that makes it more interesting for the reader, and even perhaps a bit more frightening.

The basics of this book is that Adam Farmer is riding his bike from Massachusetts to Vermont to visit his father in the hospital. The book goes back and forth between his journey and a recorded conversation between A and T. A is trying to remember details of his past and fill in the blanks, but it's almost as if his subconscious doesn't want him to know certain details. I know this sounds fairly vague, but it's best to go in with as little knowledge or expectations as possible. I love the official summary of this book because it's short enough to not give away pertinent details, but it also has enough information to make you curious and want to know about this boy and the search for his father.

I Am the Cheese is a quick, fascinating read. I definitely recommend!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Littlest Bunny in Cincinnati: An Easter Adventure

The Littlest Bunny in Cincinnati: An Easter Adventure

Review by Lauren

Source: copy from publisher; all opinions are my own

Official Summary: It's Easter morning, and the littlest bunny has a big secret: he's actually the Easter Bunny! He has a lot of work to do! Join him as he hides eggs high and low, with a final stop at your house!

Review: This is such a cute book and perfect for all boys and girls across the United States...because Cincinnati isn't the only city who has a book. There are even books about entire states. I decided to do Cincinnati because I live right next to the city and it's fun to see all of the little things throughout that pertain to my city like a Bengals flag on the children's bunk bed and illustrations of Great American Ball Park and even the Cincinnati Public Library. This is something that my mom really enjoyed too, when she read the book with my three year-old niece. It's a book that the whole family can truly enjoy.

The actual story is really sweet and I enjoyed that each page rhymed, making it a fun read-aloud book. The littlest bunny is secretly the Easter bunny and he sneaks out to deliver all the eggs across Cincinnati. What makes the book even more unique to each place is that various places within Cincinnati are mentioned (like Oakley, Mt. Adams, etc.) - so this would be another unique feature for whichever book you buy. 

As for the little ones, my niece really loved the bright pictures and the page full of buildings seemed to excite her a great deal. She apparently went through the book a few times, just looking at the pictures and enjoying. At the end of the book there is even instructions about a hunt to find all the Easter eggs in the book. My mom went back through the book and my niece counted all the eggs, all the way up to 20! Each egg has a number so it's easy to keep track...and there are pictures with the answers in the back of the book if your little one needs help!

You can check Sourcebooks website to see where else the Littlest Bunny visits. The collection includes places like Florida, Iowa, Tampa Bay, and more!

Definitely grab yourself a copy and enjoy this adorable book Easter day!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bittersweet by Kimberly Loth + Excerpt

Bittersweet by Kimberly Loth

Review by Lauren

Source: copy from publisher/netgalley; all opinions are my own

Official Summary: Every Sunday Savannah Ray gets an email from her dead dad. She doesn’t know how the emails work but she’s finally ready to start looking for answers. To find those answers she has to go to the one place she swore she’d never set foot in after he died—Haunted Valley, the amusement park. Once there and on the hunt for answers she is distracted by the charming Dallas and falls hard for him. When the answers she finds aren’t what she expected and Dallas betrays her, Savannah must make a choice—succumb to the insanity that destroyed her father or find the strength to rise above it.

Review: One of the things that I found interesting about Bittersweet is that there are all these little, and even bigger, mysteries throughout. That's not to say you are left wanting answers or that you never know what's going on. It was nice to not know everything that was happening and to be able to take the ride with Savannah. There are secrets she's keeping, secrets her family is keeping, and even secrets that Dallas, her new crush, is keeping. Like I said, some are small...but others are big and could overpower Savannah and her loose grip on reality.

Savannah is a girl who has been betrayed by the people closest to her. She's still haunted by her dad's death and can't seem to pull herself out of her grief. It's difficult to imagine her situation, but the book was never too heavy. There are fun, lighthearted moments to break up the pain and anger. The basics of the story is that Savannah is sent to live with her Uncle Grant over the summer before senior year and to work at an amusement park called Haunted Valley, where he is a manager. Amusement parks hold a lot of good memories for Savannah, but that was when she was younger, so it's difficult to get adjusted to working in one when she really just wants to run in the opposite direction. Dealing with some rough co-works and rude customers just adds to the start of Savannah's summer.

Things get better though. She makes some friends, especially with Dallas, who has known her uncle for years. He's 22, and she's 18, but the age difference isn't that big of a deal when they have both dealt with some heavy things. But Dallas is hiding a secret, and his is one of the bigger reveals in the book. It's a make it or break it kind of moment for the two of them. I won't say anything else, but it's not what I expected. I think it was dealt with in a realistic fashion, even if the characters themselves didn't always behave that well.

On a random note, I really liked the added fact that Savannah has hearing aids and does not hear well without them. It comes up a lot throughout the book because she works in an amusement park with water rides, and she lives close to a lake that Dallas loves to be on. It made Savannah seem more real, plus it added a physical barrier between her and some of the mean co-workers who don't understand the situation.

Bittersweet is just what the titles says - bitter, yet sweet. Savannah loves fine, European chocolate, and she's always discussing the need to savor the flavors, which is a great metaphor for life itself. When life gives you sweetness, take the time to truly enjoy it.

And now...an excerpt:

We met at Cracker Barrel, which was just mom indulging me. My favorite meal in the whole world was biscuits and gravy from Cracker Barrel. If I could I’d subsist on chocolate alone, but I tried that right after Dad died and nearly ended up in the hospital. 
“Grant just texted me that he already has a table. We’ll eat and then you two need to get on the road,” Mom said.
I recognized him immediately even though I’d only met him twice before, once at a family reunion and then again at the funeral. He had the same dark hair and eyes my dad had. Except skinnier. Grant gave my mom an awkward hug and shook Dave’s hand. They all smiled at each other. I sat down before he could touch me at all. 
He tugged at his collar and smiled at me. It wasn’t a real smile, it was the kind of smile you gave when you felt like you were supposed to smile but didn’t really want to.
“So, Savannah, how was your school year?”
“Oh, fine. I got suspended, barely passed my classes since I wasn’t allowed to take the finals, and got dumped by my boyfriend.”
This was a test. If he were like my dad, he’d say something funny to lighten the mood. Dad hated anything serious. 
Grant frowned and fidgeted with the menu. “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope this summer will be better for you.”
Fat chance of that. I rolled my eyes. He seemed so unsure of himself. Which was odd, because Dad was always the life of the party and completely in control of social situations. This aspect of him I didn’t inherit. Well, I did. I used to have it, but then he died and I threw it away.
They made small talk until the food arrived. Grant didn’t try addressing me again. Probably didn’t want me to tell him how horrible my life was. Just as the food arrived I hiccupped. Damn. My mother glared at me and Teddy giggled.
Hiccups are part of the family curse. Through my dad’s side, of course. We didn’t just hiccup. We made a loud and obnoxious noise that was more like a crow cawing. There was no way to get rid of them, I just had to wait them out. My mother always had new suggestions on how to stop them and they never worked. My hiccups were unbelievably embarrassing in class, but mostly they just reminded me that I’d inherited a curse that killed my great-grandfather during the Depression, my grandfather after Vietnam, and most recently my dad. There were other signs of the curse, but the first was always the hiccups. When I was little I thought the whole thing was about the hiccups, that my grandfathers died of hiccups. It wasn’t until a few years before my dad finally died from the wretched curse that he tried to convince me that hiccups had nothing to do with it. Sometimes, I still thought the hiccups were going to kill me.
“Damn curse,” I muttered.
Grant put his fork down. “Not you too.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Your Dad was always going on about the curse. It doesn’t exist. He made it up as a party story to deflect attention off of his hiccups.”
“That doesn’t make it any less real. He’s dead, isn’t he?” I met his eyes. Those tiny almost-black eyes that were just like Dad’s. 
“From a disease, not a curse.” 
“Disease, curse, same thing.” 
He put his fork down and crossed his arms. “It is not the same thing, if your Dad had recognized it as a disease then he would not be dead.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but my mother cleared her throat. Grant and I looked at her and then turned our attention back to food.
The rest of dinner was tense and silent. Except for Teddy jabbering on about Thomas the Train. To try to distract myself I listened to him intently. Half way through dinner, Grant looked at me but spoke to my mother.
“Savannah will have orientation on Tuesday. She’ll have to spend tomorrow getting up to dress code.”
My head jerked up and I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. 
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.
“Your nails can’t be black. You can paint them a light pink, but no black or bright colors. You’ll have to remove the ring in your eyebrow.” I dropped my fork. This would not do at all.
“What about brown, can I paint them brown?” I wanted to continue, to explain that my nails were not black at all, but a dark brown of the richest chocolate. The kind that comes from Argentina. They couldn’t be black, because I threw the black nail polish away after Candie betrayed me and I shaved all the hair off my head. Before I could finish, he shook his head and took a bite of his omelet. I glared at my mom. 
“You didn’t tell me they were going to make me change the way I look.”
She shrugged. “I didn’t know. But you’ll do it.”
“I can’t remove my eyebrow ring, it will close up.” My palms began to sweat. This was not the way I’d envisioned my summer. Pretending to be someone else. I was eighteen and they weren’t going to boss me around.
Grant scowled. 
“If you want a job you will,” he held my gaze, which was hard because it was like staring straight into my father’s eyes. 
“I don’t want a job anyway.” I shoved a biscuit in my mouth, emptying my plate, and waited for him to retort. He just looked at my mother and sighed. Perhaps he thought he was getting a docile little girl that would do whatever he wanted. The eyebrow ring would stay. I’d see to that.
In the end they decided I could put a clear stud in it. 
Win-win. Not.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Theming Thursday: Easter Madness

Hope everyone had a great St. Patrick's Day. Did you try anything out from last week? With Easter coming up in a few weeks, I figured it was time to share some fun ideas!

Theming Thursday: Easter Madness

Crafts Unleashed shared some cute Sprinkle Easter Egg Ornaments. These would make a great decoration, or as the blog says, pair it with some sugar cookies and icing and it's a nice gift!

Gluesticks shared a really cute Easter Egg Lunch Hunt idea- you fill plastic eggs with all sorts of treats for a lunch from crackers to fruit to candy to little sandwiches. Then you hide the eggs and your children find them before enjoying their fun lunch! This would be great for the weekend or even homeschooled kids.

Today's Creative Blog shares a fun recipe for Bird's Nest NO BAKE Easter Cookies. Don't they just look yummy?

View from the Fridge shares how to make these really cute Washcloth Bunnies. Great craft for your slightly older children.

Made to be a Momma shared how to make some Easter Bunny Playdough Carrots. She's going to use hers as party favors!

What would you like to see next time? Any theme ideas?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson + Make it a Gift

Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson

Review by Lauren

source: publisher/netgalley; all opinions are my own

Official Summary: With his college graduation gown expertly pitched into the trash, Justin Akron is ready for the road trip he planned with his best friend Landry— and ready for one last summer of escape from his mother’s controlling grip. Climbing into the Winnebago his father left him, they set out across America in search of the sites his father had captured through the lens of his Nikon.

As an aspiring photographer, Justin can think of no better way to honor his father’s memory than to scatter his ashes at the sites he held sacred. And there’s no one Justin would rather share the experience with more than Landry.

But Justin knows he can’t escape forever. Eventually he’ll have to return home and join his mother’s Senate campaign. Nor can he escape the truth of who he is, and the fact that he’s in love with his out-and-proud travel companion.

Admitting what he wants could hurt his mother’s conservative political career. But with every click of his shutter and every sprinkle of ash, Justin can’t resist Landry’s pull. And when the truth comes into focus, neither is prepared for the secrets the other is hiding.

Review:  Trust the Focus was a really enjoyable book about friends, Justin and Landry. Justin's dad has passed away and in honor of him, he plans a road trip where he can take pictures at all the places his dad had visited for a calendar he shot. Traveling with him is his best friend Landry, who he feels a bit disconnected from. The two of them are growing up and apart, even though Justin has been hiding the huge secret that not only is he gay too, he's also in love with Landry. He's been so used to hiding his secret that he's not sure how to be honest with himself, let alone anyone else.

Justin's mother is planning to run for the Senate and when Justin is finished with his road trip, he is expected to stand by his mom's side and help her win. The only problem is that his mom is a very conservative candidate and Justin is sure if he comes out, he'll ruin his mom's career. It's obvious from the beginning that Justin has a lot he's dealing with, but it's nice to get to know Landry through the book and realize that he's hiding his own secrets too.

Landry is talkative and fun, but he's also sensitive. Justin is a good friend, with a wonderful eye for detail, but he keeps things hidden so much that he often explodes in anger. These two guys don't seem to work, but you know when everything is out and in the open, that it can be okay. And you definitely want things to work out for these two. Who doesn't like a friends to lovers story? Starting out as friends offers so much back story and emotion to the overall novel that insta-love tries to achieve and almost always fails at.

I'm definitely curious to read more by this author in the future!

Make it a Gift

I haven't had one of these in my reviews in awhile, so in case you don't know, Make it a Gift is where I think of an item that suits the novel. This way, you can buy a copy of this book and the item and voila, you've made it a gift!

Throughout Trust the Focus, Justin is taking photos of the same locations his dad did, except this time, he places his dad's urn in the photo. This idea made me think of the book Dear Photograph where people hold an old photo over the location it was taken, so it ends up showing the old and the new together. You can get Dear Photograph on Amazon now.