Sunday, March 27, 2011

catching up

Speech officially ended on Friday with the state meet. I had three students compete, and one, a freshman extemper, got fourth place! (I think extemp is the most challenging of all our speech events because you draw a topic one hour before you speak and write a speech about it, using articles you've previously clipped from magazines or printed off the internet. Most topics are political in nature. Almost all the extemp speeches I listened to yesterday--and I heard twelve--were on the US economy or the recovery efforts in Japan. Since he made it to finals, Scott had to write three 5-7 minute speeches yesterday!)

Here's a look at the people I've been spending countless hours with for the last three months!
I have been doing a few things other than speech ...
  • I read my first non book review book since, well, I can't even remember when. I bought Dining with Joy a few months ago, but I always had just one more book review book to get through. On Tuesday, I read the last one I had, so then I picked up Dining with Joy. To be honest, I bought the book for its cover. I had read books one and two in the series, and while they were decent, I didn't love them, and I had no intention of reading any more of author Rachel Hauk's novels ... until Amazon started recommending Dining with Joy. It was the cover. Seriously, I've never been one to be influenced by a book's cover (though I've been embarrassed by one before--click on over here to see it!), but now it's happened twice--first with The Mountains Bow Down and now with this! Fortunately, the book was as enjoyable as the cover. I finished it yesterday ... the same day I got another book review book in the mail.
  • Last week, I got an invitation to join the Amazon Vine program! This is Amazon's product review program, and you must be invited in order to join. I guess posting all those book reviews paid off :-) I've received and reviewed my first two products--a Jamba Juice energy drink and Lost and Found, a graphic novel by Shaun Tan. Here's a link to my review of Lost and Found. I may eventually start reviewing Vine products on my blog, but it's not a requirement of the program, so I'll wait for now.
  • I now have five (yes, five) living plants! This is something of a victory for me, as you may recall. Granted, the aloe plant isn't looking too great, but it's still kicking. My newest plant I bought today--"Royal Hustler" Ivy. I've never had an ivy plant before ... let's hope it's pretty hearty!
  • Thanks to Netflix, I've caught up on Parks & Recreation. If you ever enjoyed The Office, you'll probably like Parks & Rec. Many people (read: critics) say the first season is pretty rough, but I thought it was hilarious from the beginning. If you don't have Netflix, you can watch the most recent episodes on Hulu ... and I'll be happy to fill you in on any background you need!
  • I've been asked to transition into a slightly different role at my job. I'll have more to say about it later, but I'm really anticipating the change!
I think that's about it! I'll have another book review coming in just over a week (the sequel to Hand of Fate, which I reviewed last year). I guess I've procrastinated long enough ... time to hit the taxes!

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    "the mountains bow down" by sibella giorello

    FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon is on vacation, or so she thinks. She, her mom, her aunt Charlotte, and Charlotte's wacky friend Claire are on an Alaskan cruise, courtesy of Charlotte's Hollywood connections, when the wife of the star of the movie filming on board turns up dead. Raleigh has only a few days--until the ship docks in Seattle--to discover who killed the woman. Raleigh requests FBI backup, and she receives it in the form of Special Agent Jack Stephanson, a man Raleigh doesn't much care for. Additionally, Raleigh must deal with her mother's deteriorating mental health, her contentious relationship with Claire, and her confusing feelings about both the Jack and the fiance she left at home.

    The Mountains Bow Down is the fourth book in Sibella Giorello's Raleigh Harmon series. (Don't let the fact that it's book four stop you from reading it. I hadn't read any of the previous books, and I had no trouble jumping in.) Told in first person, from Raleigh's perspective, The Mountains Bow Down is an engaging read. Giorello's description of Alaska made me anxious to visit, but more importantly, the story she crafted kept me guessing until the end. Because the reader only knows what Raleigh knows, discerning the killer was difficult, but I enjoyed guessing along with Raleigh. Also, Raleigh and Jack have a great "will they or won't they" relationship (my guess is that by series' end, they will) that reminded me of two of my favorite TV shows, Bones and Castle. Jack definitely has a bit of Agent Booth (Bones) in him! I look forward to reading more of this series.

    Also, doesn't the cover just make you want to read the book? I don't think about book covers very often--after all, we all know not to judge a book by its cover :-)--but this cover grabbed me the instant I saw it. I knew nothing of Giorello or this series, but I knew I had to read the book. So, great job, JWH Graphic Arts--you got me with this one!

    If you're interested in the book, you can buy it here and see what others said about it here. Also, you can get a digital copy of the first book in the series, The Stones Cry Out, on Amazon for only $2.99. (Yes, I got my copy already ...)

    Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Mountains Bow Down with a blog tour, a Cruise prize pack worth over $500 and a Facebook Party! Don't miss a minute of the fun.

    One Grand Prize winner will receive:
    • A $500 gift certificate toward the cruise of their choice from Vacations To Go.
    • The entire set of the Raleigh Harmon series.
    To enter click one of the icons below. Then tell your friends. And enter soon - the giveaway ends on 4/1! The winner will be announced at Sibella’s Raleigh Harmon Book Club Party on FB April 5th, 2011! Don’t miss the fun – prizes, books and gab!

    Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

    About the Facebook Party: Join Sibella and fans of the Raleigh Harmon series on April 5th at 5:00 pm PST (6 MST, 7 CST & 8 EST) for a Facebook Book Club Party. Sibella will be giving away some fun prizes, testing your trivia skills and hosting a book chat about the Raleigh Harmon books. Have questions you'd like to chat about - leave them on the Event page.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    "a cowboy's touch" by denise hunter

    When 28-year-old Abigail begins having stress-related health problems, she goes to Montana to spend the summer with her great-aunt Lucy. Soon, she meets cowboy Wade Ryan and his daughter Maddy. When Wade needs a new nanny for Maddy, Abigail steps in, and sparks between Wade and Abigail begin to fly. However, both Wade's secret and Abigail's job as an investigative journalist threaten to keep them apart.

    I haven't yet met a Denise Hunter book I didn't like, and A Cowboy's Touch is no different. In fact, I devoured it in an evening! Guilt and the power of forgiveness are focuses of this novel, as both Wade and Abigail must learn to forgive themselves and each other. I found myself especially identifying with Abigail, and reading about her journey caused me to examine some aspects of my own life.

    Also, Denise Hunter knows how to write romance! No cheesy or sickeningly sweet prose here--just a great story written in a way that makes the reader long for the two to get over their issues and fall in love. I highly recommend this book! (And I'm anxious for book two. Do we really have to wait until 2012?)

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

    "deadly ties" by vicki hinze

    Thanks to her abusive step-father, Dutch, Dr. Lisa Harper hasn't seen her mother in twelve years. Lisa's only contact with her mother is through phone calls facilitated by former Special Ops officer Mark Taylor, who sees Lisa's situation as an opportunity to redeem himself for past mistakes. With Mark's help, Lisa and her mom finally take steps to get away from Dutch for good, but Dutch's evil connections go far deeper than anyone imagined. Soon, Mark is fighting not only Dutch but also the widespread terrorist organization NINA, and he must face the fact that he may, once again, lose the women who mean the most to him.

    Deadly Ties is book two of Hinze's Crossroads Crisis Center series. As I read book one, Forget Me Not, I found myself wishing I knew more about Mark and Lisa, so I was very happy to learn they were the main characters in book two! That said, you don't need to have read book one in order to enjoy this book. (Trust me on this--I read and reviewed Forget Me Not almost a year ago, and when I started this book, I hardly remembered anything about it!)

    Full of plot twists involving human trafficking, corruption, and murder, Deadly Ties kept me guessing before coming to a satisfying conclusion--while still leaving enough loose ends to make me anticipate book three! I highly recommend it!

    Intrigued? Read an excerpt here!

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    flat stanley's nebraska adventures

    I'd never heard of Flat Stanley until some of my elementary education friends at Grace started talking about a Flat Stanley project. I didn't give it too much thought until a few weeks ago, when I received a Facebook message from a friend who teaches in Pennsylvania. Her class is doing a Flat Stanley project, and some of her students didn't know anyone outside of Pennsylvania to send Flat Stanley to. I thought it would be fun, so I volunteered.

    I received Flat Stanley on Monday. Here's what we did:
    We all gathered at Mom's house to watch the finale of The Bachelor, and we made ice cream using the sweet maker Jamie gave Blendy for her birthday. Also, Val threatened to eat Flat Stanley.
    Blendy took Flat Stanley to work with her.
    On Wednesday, Flat Stanley went to school with me. Here, he's reading Where the Red Fern Grows with my class.
    Alice talks with Flat Stanley after class.
    Flat Stanley helps Stephany, our office aide, get a mailing ready to be sent.
    On Thursday, Mom and I saw Grand Island Northwest's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was absolutely fantastic! Then we went on a shopping spree at Hy-Vee ... I think Stanley enjoyed it :-)

    I had a blast with Flat Stanley! He's on his way back to Pennsylvania right now. I would certainly do another Flat Stanley project if the opportunity presented itself!

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    march madness?

    I would not call myself a basketball fan. Perhaps this is a result of my upbringing, as I come from a state that lives and breathes football. Born in Kansas but raised in Nebraska, I'm a diehard Husker fan ... until March Madness rolls around. Then it's KU all the way! (And I'll readily admit that I cheer for KU because the Husker men's basketball program is ... rather pathetic. I just looked it up--the last time the Huskers made it to the NCAA tournament was 1998. And they've only been six times in their entire history ... but they did win the NIT once!)

    There's just something special about March Madness. I don't watch basketball at all until the tournament begins, but then I can't get enough of it! I was bit by the MM bug in 1995, when I watched the UCLA Bruins win the National Championship. The fact that I still remember (a) the names Ed O'Bannon and Tyus Edney and (b) that the TV coverage of the event began with a montage of tournament moments set to "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" from the Lion King is perhaps pathetic, but it shows how much that game impacted me. (I couldn't tell you the name of any current collegiate basketball player.)

    I fill out a bracket each year, but there's no science behind it. I have two guides that I follow (I wouldn't call them rules because I have broken them, but they're pretty constant): 1. Kansas will win it all. 2. Schools with cool-sounding names will survive the first round. Now, I'm no idiot--I know that most years Kansas won't win it all. But I'd sure like Kansas to win ... and if I pick them every year, then I'll be right in the years--like 2008--that they do pull it off. I also know that Gonzaga and Xavier probably won't go very far--though they have pulled off upsets in the past, and Xavier often makes it to the 2nd round--but I just love the names! For the other picks, I usually go with the higher-rated one in the first round, and after that it's kind of a crapshoot. Yes, I'm a girl about my picks.

    This year, I've filled out four brackets, thanks to Facebook. I'll go with my family pool bracket as the official one, at least until the others start doing better :-) My final four pics are Duke, North Carolina, Kansas State, and Kansas, with Duke and Kansas in the final and (duh!) Kansas winning.

    Who wins your bracket this year?

    "a trail of ink" by mel starr

    Hugh de Singleton, surgeon and bailiff to Lord Gilbert, travels to Oxford to woo the beautiful Kate Caxton. While there, he learns his friend and mentor Master John Wyclif has been robbed. The thief took twenty-two of Wyclif's precious books, and Hugh promises to help Wyclif find the perpetrator. Along the way, Hugh must also deal with a hostile rival for Kate's attention, and as he gets closer to solving the mystery of the stolen books, he finds his very life may be at stake.

    Let me start right off by saying this book isn't for everyone. It takes place in the 14th century, it's not a romance (though Hugh does fall in love), and it doesn't move very quickly. Those three facts combined would usually keep me far away from a book. However, the longer I read A Trail of Ink, the more I enjoyed it. I especially liked author Mel Starr's writing style. Told in first person, the story reads like a journal--or as though the reader is sitting with Hugh, listening to him relay the story. I often found myself chuckling at Hugh's descriptions and asides.

    The historical aspects seem quite accurate (at least to someone who doesn't normally read historical fiction!), and I greatly appreciated the glossary provided at the beginning of the book which explained some of the terms I was unfamiliar with.

    I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or who would be interested in a look at pre-Reformation England. You can buy it here. If you want to see what other bloggers are saying about this book, go here.

    As is usual of a Litfuse tour, there's a contest!

    Kregel Publishers is graciously donating a $50 gift card for the Litfuse Blog Tour Contest! All you have to do to enter is either tweet (see TWEET THIS below) or share the book on Facebook using this link:

    TWEET THIS: A Trail of Ink by Mel Star. An excellent medieval whodunit. RT for a chance to win a $50 GC to @amazon! #litfuse (and be sure to use the hashtag #litfuse to be entered into gift certificate drawing and no need to email that you tweeted - we'll be able to track it via the hashtag.)

    FACEBOOK THIS: A Trail of Ink by Mel Star. An excellent medieval whodunit. Share on your wall for a chance to win a $50 GC to @amazon!
    (email to let us know you 'shared'.)

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    tea time

    I've always liked tea. Iced tea, that is. I thought people who drank hot tea when they weren't sick were a little bit crazy. Then I set foot inside a Teavana store. I tried their free samples and fell in love; however, that love was tempered by the price list. I discovered Teavana on the first day we were in D.C. for the school trip I helped sponsor last fall, and each day I was tempted to go back and buy some tea ... but the prices held me back. I kept thinking about Teavana, though, and after I (again) decided to get my caffeine consumption under control, I finally made my first purchase in January.

    Yes, Teavana tea is expensive. Some tea blends are insanely so. And I very nearly didn't purchase the one tea I really wanted, the one I tried in the store, because it runs $12 for 2 oz. But it's actually pretty affordable when you really look at it. First of all, I found a coupon for $10 off a $30 purchase. With the Youthberry tea alone, I was almost halfway there. I decided to try one of their other recommended teas, Weight to Go. (The name is ridiculously stupid, I admit. But the tea is ridiculously good!) That put me at $20, and with a $4.50 for 2 oz. mint tea and a canister to hold some of the tea added to my cart, I ended up at just over $30. Cue the coupon!

    The other reason Teavana is more affordable than it appears at first blush is that the leaves can steep three times before they lose their flavor. I admit, I was skeptical of this claim at first--after all, I've long mocked my dad for using the same tea bag three or four times. But it really is true; I always use the leaves three times before throwing them away. Each brew tastes different, and much of the sweetness in the fruit tea blends is gone after the first brew. The flavor is still enjoyable, though--and I sometimes add just a pinch of raw sugar to the latter brews.

    I got quite impatient while waiting for my friendly UPS man to deliver my precious tea package, and when it arrived, I practically tore into it. My first sniff of the Youthberry tea just about sent me to the moon. My first brew, though, was less than stellar, and I quickly learned two important brewing lessons:
    1. Don't use a tea ball. Loose leaf teas expand when wet, and a tea ball is too constricting. I "borrowed" a small sieve from my mom, and the results are infinitely better.
    2. Unless you like a weak flavor, don't go with the recommended amount of tea. It's hard to measure the tea blends, as some have pieces of dried fruit. When the directions say to use 1 tsp of tea and one dried pineapple piece fills the teaspoon, it's hard to know how much to use! I've started eyeballing it--I just shake tea into the sieve until the bottom is covered. I figure I'm using about twice the recommended amount.
    I've recently started making iced tea, as well. The mint isn't great iced, but I think Weight to Go is even more delicious cold, and Youthberry is excellent either way.

    I've really fallen in love with tea, and I'm drinking much less coffee and pop than I did before. Tea is supposed to have a lot of health benefits, too, and I haven't yet heard anything redeeming about pop--so it seems that drinking tea is a better vice! If you're in the neighborhood, stop in and let me make you a delicious cup of tea ... I'm sure you'll love it!

    another snow day

    Last night, the TV weathermen were all gloom and doom and "stay in unless you absolutely have to be out." We'd gotten between one and three inches of snow during the day, and we were under a winter storm warning and were supposed to get between six and eight inches of snow by midnight tonight. Schools started canceling, my school included.

    This morning, I woke up to ... fog. No snow. I don't think it's snowed at all today! Now they're calling for maybe one inch tonight. I'm not ever going to complain about a snow day, though, so I'm glad we had it, even if it wasn't necessary!