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Friday Fun! (February: DC Trip and Winter Activities)

February 28, 2014 Leave a comment
Walking in just one of the many lovely snow-covered parks in Boston.

Walking in just one of the many lovely snow-covered parks in Boston.

Hello my lovely readers!

It was quite the busy month for me.  Early in the month, I went on a business trip to Washington, D.C.  I was sent with a friend and co-worker to go to a training at the National Library of Medicine.  We just barely managed to take off in the middle of one of the many storms that hit Boston this month.  We flew right out of the storm and into a chilly, but snow-free DC.  In the limited free time we had, we saw the Smithsonian’s American Indian Museum and the Botanical Garden.  I had never been to DC before.  My impressions were that everyone is quite friendly and talkative.  The city is surprisingly empty with things spread further out than I was anticipating.  The architecture was interesting, and I enjoyed the museums (and the fact that they’re free!).  I’d like to go back to visit in warmer weather when the plants are in bloom.  Perhaps more as a stop-over on my way someplace else, though.  I can’t imagine spending an entire vacation there!

In the middle of the month, I of course opened my new Etsy shop.  I’m so excited to have another creative venue!  I’m still doing some stitching and art just for fun and for friends and family too, though.

Baking a loaf of bread every weekend is now a thing.  I also made an apple pie to try to beat back the winter doldrums.  I started doing more yoga as a home practice, since it gets me moving but I don’t have to brave the cold to do it.  I also did my taxes, and I’m pleased to say I’m getting a refund!  I finally completed the first step toward getting my driver’s license in Massachusetts as well.  I went to the Social Security office and filed for a replacement card.  Bafflingly, in MA, you have to have your social security card in addition to a photo id to get your learner’s permit.  You aren’t allowed to even just give them your social security number.  So, although I know my number, I still had to file for a replacement card.  But that step is done!

I’m pleased to say my reading pace has been going well.  I’m actually ahead of the one book a week goal I set for myself.  I’ve also so far read 2 books for the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge, as well as 2 of the 12 review copies I accepted for review here this year.  There is a giveaway still running for the second one, the horror book The House of Azareal, if you are interested in entering.

I must admit, February can be a bit of a depressing month for me.  I’ve noticed that pattern over the last couple of years.  But my partner has been very supportive, for which I am truly grateful, and that along with yoga, books, and snuggling our cat has helped make the month pass.

Happy reading!

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Book Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris (Series, #11) (Audiobook narrated by Johanna Parker)

February 26, 2014 3 comments

Cartoon drawing of a blonde woman in a green dress upside down with burning paper near her.Summary:
When Merlotte’s is firebombed, no one is sure if it’s because the shifters just came out and folks are angry that Sam is one or if it’s a more personal vendetta.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, Eric’s vampire boss, Victor, has just opened a new human bar that’s stealing business from Merlotte’s.  Sookie knows it’s a direct jab against her, as Eric’s wife.  And Victor isn’t just stealing business. He’s punishing Eric via Pam, preventing Pam from turning her dying lover.  Eric, Pam, and Sookie all know that Victor has got to go, and with the plotting going on, Sookie can’t be bothered to think too much about the firebombing.

Review:
This time it took me less than a year to return to Sookie, instead of the three year break I took last time.  I’ve read so much of the 13 book series; I just have to know how it ends.  The Sookie Stackhouse series is utterly ridiculous.  But it’s a comfortable kind of ridiculous that’s just right to ease into while you’re cooking dinner.  That’s why, when I listened to a sample and realized how perfect the audiobook narrator is for the books, I decided to listen to the end of the series.  The warmth and ease of Sookie Stackhouse is perfect for combating cabin fever.  This entry in the series has a bit more happen than in book 10, although the resolution to the big mystery feels repetitive.

Most of the ideas and plots in this book will ring familiar to any reader of the series.  There might be hate against a newly out group (the shifters this time), some vampire higher ups are causing problems and need to be dealt with, and Sookie is just shocked that someone wants her dead.  How she continues to be shocked by everyone hating her or wanting her out of the picture is beyond me, but Sookie isn’t exactly smart.  Because many of the plots feel like previously visited territory, in spite of the fact that they’re well-written and active, they’re a bit boring.  Something truly new really needs to happen to Sookie.  The one plot point that is new, of course, is her interactions with the fae that were left behind when Niall closed off fairy.  That plot was very interesting, and I’m glad it’s in the book, as it kept my interest up.

There really isn’t very much sex at this point.  I honestly felt like that was a mercy since listening to someone read the awkward sex scene out loud was almost too cringe-inducing to bear.  We all know Harris’s sex scenes are a bit….awkward.  There’s not much new to say about that except that there’s really only one, and that feels like a good thing.  Although Sookie does mention rather frequently Eric’s prowess in bed.

Sookie continues to be a self-righteous hypocrite, but someone close to her finally (finally!) calls her out on it.  It happens toward the end of the book, after a lot of build-up of Sookie continuing to think she’s better than everyone else and has more morals than the rest of the supe world.  The call-out is written with a perfect amount of ambiguity in the narration, leaving it up to the reader to decide if they agree with Sookie that she’s just holding onto her human morals or with the one who calls her out that she’s committing the acts and refusing to admit this is who she is.  I’m not sure what camp Harris falls into, but I appreciated the finesse with which she leaves it open-ended for the reader to form their own opinion of Sookie.

The audiobook narrator, Johanna Parker, does a wonderful job.  She truly makes Sookie and Bon Temps her own.  There is a clear delineation in my head when listening to her that this is the book Bon Temps, not the True Blood one.  She and Anna Paquin (who plays Sookie on tv) each bring their own interpretation, and they are both good and well-suited to the book and tv series, respectively.

Overall, this entry in the series is a bit repetitive.  Two of the three main plots are similar versions of things we have seen before.  However, Sookie finally gets called out for her hypocrisy and self-righteousness, and the third plot is new enough to keep interest up.  Fans of the series will be a bit disappointed but will still find it a moderately interesting, quick read.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review

Giveaway: The House of Azareal by Erik Dreistadt (INTERNATIONAL)

February 22, 2014 1 comment

Purple pentagram against a black background.This giveaway is now over! Since no one entered, there are no winners.

It’s time for the second giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.

There is ONE ebook versions of The House of Azareal(review) available courtesy of the author, Erik Dreistadt!

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of The House of Azareal by Erik Dreistadt

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating your favorite horror trope.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: March 8th. Two weeks from today!

Disclaimer: The winner will have their ebook sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.

Book Review: The House of Azareal by Erik Dreistadt

February 22, 2014 2 comments

Purple pentagram against a black background.Summary:
Christopher is so grateful for his twins that seem a true miracle after he and his wife, Annamarie, had trouble conceiving.  He can hardly believe it’s their 8th birthday already, and he won’t let anything spoil the celebration, not even an odd nightmare about being eaten by hellhounds he had the night before.  But his children wander off into the woods after the party.  When Christopher and Annamarie find them, they’ve stumbled upon an abandoned house.  The children convince them to explore it.  But the house quickly turns into a living nightmare.  A nightmare designed and run by Azareal.

Review:
This is my second read of the twelve review copies I accepted for review here this year (see the complete list).  I was looking for a shorter read after my previous two chunksters, and this short, fast-paced horror seemed like the perfect fit for my mood.  The book puts a fresh twist on both haunted houses and trouble conceiving horror plots, although the writing style and dialogue struggle to support the excellent plot.

The story at first appears to be a straight-forward haunted/evil house plot.  Right away, I liked that Azareal’s house isn’t the one the family lives in or one the family has just moved to.  Instead, it is a house found in the woods, akin to Hansel and Gretel.  That’s a trope I enjoy, and I liked seeing it used in the plot.  Having the parents go into the house with the children was the first of several twists on tropes in the plot that made the book so engaging.  From the point the family enters the house onward, the plot continues to twist and turn unexpectedly, yet believably.  Gradually it becomes apparent that this is more than a haunted house book, it includes the occult, as well as a trouble conceiving plot.  The fact that the results of using the occult to aid in conceiving doesn’t have consequences for eight years is a nice twist.  Most books show consequences either during the pregnancy or immediately after the baby is born.  The inclusion of new twists on both of these horror plots in one book makes the book fast-paced and engaging.  It is a quick read that will propel you forward to see how it ends.

Unfortunately, the writing style doesn’t quite live up the high quality of the plot.  Some of the dialogue feels forced and awkward.  Similarly, while some scenes are set well, others are written in an awkward manner with focus on minute details that are irrelevant to the plot or the setting and not enough focus on other details that are.  The writing style is good enough that it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the book, but it does knock it down a couple stars.  The book is mostly well edited with the exception of one grammar mistake made quite a few times.  Either using its for it’s or vice versa.  Since it’s the same mistake made repeatedly, it’s easy enough to gloss over when reading it.  However, I would advise for future books that the author keep an eye out for this particular issue during the editing process, especially since the rest of the grammar and spelling is so well-edited.

Overall, this is a fast-paced read that combines two horror plots into one book and puts unique twists on both.  The writing style isn’t quite as good as the plot, but it’s still an enjoyable read.  I’m looking forward to future works by the author.  Recommended to horror fans looking for a quick, unique read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: The Hornet’s Sting: The Amazing Untold Story Of Second World War Spy Thomas Sneum by Mark Ryan (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

February 20, 2014 2 comments

Image of a biplane, a swastika, and a man with a gun. The book's title and author's name are on this image.Summary:
Thomas Sneum was a Danish Allied spy during World War II who was periodically suspected of being a double agent.  Partially due to this suspicion and partially due to infighting between the two British spy agencies (SIS and SOE), he never got the attention or respect he deserved.  Mark Ryan, the author, found out about him and set out to get to know him.  Both personally and through research.  Here he tells the true story of Tommy Sneum and sets the record straight once and for all.

Review:
I picked this book up during a kindle sale because I’m a big WWII buff and who doesn’t love real life spy stories?  I thought it was a sure bet, but apparently even a true life spy story can be written in a dull manner.

It’s impossible to read the book without learning a lot.  For instance, I had no idea that Britain had two different spy agencies that were battling each other for control of spying missions.  This infighting between the SIS and the SOE led to lack of communication and lack of a solid spy front with one, unified plan.  Similarly, I didn’t know it was common practice to take people who had escaped from behind Nazi lines, train them as spies, then re-drop them back in their home countries.  I always thought the resistance movement just built up from the inside and then they contacted the Allies on the outside with information.  How much more complex it was is really interesting.  I also loved learning more about those from occupied countries who escaped and fought in other militaries against the Nazis.  In spite of learning all of these new to me facts about WWII spying, the book manages to be dull.  Ryan tends to wander off on side diatribes about the intricacies of red tape and paperwork instead of focusing in on the more action-oriented, interesting bits of the spying.  He also spends a lot of time giving the full name of every single person even vaguely connected with Tommy and the spying, even if they really have no impact on the story.  The book could really have used a bit more streamlining and focus to keep the energy up.  Just because it’s nonfiction doesn’t mean it can, or should, meander.

Tommy Sneum is hard to root for.  He’s not a likable guy.  He abandons his wife and infant daughter to go be a spy.  That could definitely be seen as valiant, however, he expresses consistent distate for his wife and a lack of concern or care for even knowing his daughter.  He certainly comes across in the book as a guy just after adventure, not so much a man looking to protect his country or his family.  Similarly, Tommy express arrogance when it comes to women, claiming that they essentially would go sleep with him at the drop of a hat or a snap of his fingers.  He does not come across as seeing women as people but rather as recreational objects.  One story that really demonstrates this is he tells the author that he had a threesome once, and he was upset that the women dared to pay attention to each other at all, rather than 100% to him.  Sex is supposed to be about people giving to each other, not about one person being worshiped.  His general attitude towards women gave me a squicky feeling throughout the book.  Of course, most people are not all bad or good.  Tommy is no exception.  He expresses a real openness toward a male colleague who was known to be bi.  He refuses to view all Germans as evil monsters and insists, to those high up in the British resistance no less, that most Germans are just caught up in Hitler’s war machine.  Of course, these even-handed views are almost universally held of men.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is Ryan’s investigation into the accusations that Sneum was a double-agent.  This part of the book isn’t really played up in the blurb, which I think is unfortunate.  Ryan did a lot of investigative work and lays out all the details that he believes clears Sneum’s name.  Seeing how Sneum and his methods were misunderstood by the British and also how having two different spy agencies working led to misunderstandings was truly fascinating, and I’m glad Ryan took the time to work at finding the truth.

Overall, this is a rather slow-paced work of historic nonfiction that focuses in on the red tape and organizational aspects of spying more than exciting adventures.  It does good work in determining that Sneum was not a double agent in WWII.  Sneum’s womanizing can be a bit tedious at times, although his even-handed perspective on the German people is good to see.  Recommended to those interested in the organizational aspects of spying in WWII, including very minute details.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Note: Apparently this book is no longer available on the kindle.

Cross-Stitch #7: Look of Disapproval Emoticon

February 16, 2014 Leave a comment

My final holiday cross-stitch was a present for my partner’s other sister.  (He has two.  The youngest one got pixel Thor).  This sister is a journalist and a fan of emoticons.  I thought it’d be fun to make her something small that she could hang in her office, maybe.  Something that would both display her personality and be semi-related to work.  I decided to stitch her the look of disapproval emoticon face and frame it in a classy hoop.  Framing items this small is easiest with semi-flexible plastic hoops.  I chose one that was made to resemble wood.

I enjoyed the final look so much that I was inspired to do an emoticon line in my shop.  If you like the look of disapproval, you can buy a completed one from me.  Although, the version I am selling is hooped in a red hoop.

ETA 3/5/15: I have now closed my Etsy shop, but I’ve made my patterns available on my Cross-Stitch page.

Cross-stitched version of the look of disapproval emoticon.

Cross-Stitch #6: Sriracha Rooster Bottle

February 13, 2014 Leave a comment

I still have two cross-stitches I made for the holidays left to show you guys!  I fully admit, I was waiting on showing you the last two since they’re related to my newly opened Etsy shop.

One of my good friends is a big fan of Sriracha rooster sauce.  It’s a hot sauce made from chili and garlic, frequently used in Asian cuisine.  Its bottle is rather iconic.  It is red with a green cap and has a white rooster on it.  I thought it’d be a cute piece for her to have in her kitchen.  However, I couldn’t find a pre-existing pattern for cross-stitch, or even one I could adapt, anywhere.  I wasn’t expecting that, since it has a big fan-base.  But, oh well, I figured, I guess I’ll just design one myself.  And design it I did!  My friend was quite happy with her present.

ETA 3/5/15: I have now closed my Etsy shop, but I’ve made my patterns available on my Cross-Stitch page.

srirachabottle