Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe - Book Review

When the Star Wars movies were re-released in 1997 for the 20th anniversary of Episode IV: A New Hope, my mom took me to the movie theater to see it, and the rest is history. I was OBSESSED with the Star Wars movies. I gave my friends Star Wars character nicknames. (I got to be Princess Leia, and my friend who thought my obsession was weird got to be Darth Vader.)

So Chris Taylor's new book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe was just the book for me! If you're a Star Wars fan and think you know everything there is to know about the movies and George Lucas, think again. This book is THE ULTIMATE guide to the movies, their creator, their inspiration, what they inspired, and their future.

You get to read about the first drafts of the movies that George Lucas wrote, and, thankfully, had help rewriting. The book has information about the movie's marketing and merchandising programs, fan clubs, and so much more.

It's interesting to read about how the movies came together and the many times that they almost didn't happen. Even if you've never seen the movies (and yes, that includes Episodes I, II, and III), you can't say that Star Wars hasn't in some way impacted your life. You know the characters' names, you've heard the movie quotes ("May the force be with you"), and you know all the spoilers (Darth Vader is Luke's father). Star Wars truly has conquered the universe.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is published by Basic Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Scrapbook Pages from Start to Finish

Today I thought it would be fun to show you my usual scrapbooking technique. Scrapbooking from start to finish!

First, I check out what pictures I'm working with. Do they have a theme? For example, the pictures I was working on for these layouts were from a Cleveland Indians game, so I knew that I wanted to use some baseball stuff.

I had gotten some baseball rub-ons at a scrapbook crop, so I used those as a starting point. I looked through my stash for papers that had similar colors as the rub-ons, not necessarily baseball-themed papers but just papers that would coordinate.

I also knew that I was going to use a Project Life photo sleeve, so I wouldn't need too many embellishments or a lot of paper.

If I'm not using a Project Life photo sleeve, I'll usually browse my scrapbook board on Pinterest or sketches in my scrapbook notebooks for some inspiration. 

On this one, though, I just used black cardstock as a base and then layered the patterned paper on top. I also used parts of the baseball program on the layout, and I still wanted to use the ticket, so I just cut the ticket in half and divided it into two of the photo sleeves.

These divided photo sleeves are definitely an easy way to get a bunch of pictures scrapped in little to no time. How do you guys use them?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - September 29

September ends this week, you guys! And then it's October!! Who has their Halloween decorations up? I managed to get mine up this past weekend (after cleaning up the house a bit first, which is always a pain).

I've already had some pumpkin spice lattes this fall season, but I'm excited to undertake other traditional fall events, such as doing the Hudson Valley Pumpkin Blaze, finding my way through a corn maze, carving pumpkins, and making pumpkin bars.

What fall activities do you like to do?

Until all of that, we're still going to work and making some easy weeknight meals. So here's what's on the menu for this week:

Sunday: mini chicken pot pies

Monday: penne with ricotta cheese and greens

Tuesday: on our own

Wednesday: sloppy joe's

Thursday: soup and grilled cheese

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: smoked sausage alfredo

Friday, September 26, 2014

Afterworlds - Book Review

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I got to see Scott Westerfeld, author of the new YA novel Afterworlds, speak at Book Expo America this year about the world he created for the novel, and luckily I was able to pick up a review copy of the book, too. It's a long book, but it's very interesting, and yes, Westerfeld did create a pretty intriguing world.

There are essentially two stories being told. First, there's 18-year-old Darcy Patel who has moved to New York instead of going to college in order to work on rewrites of her soon-to-be-published debut novel, Afterworlds. She's on her own for the first time in her life, renting her own apartment, making new friends, and trying not to let her inner critic keep her from finishing her first book and writing her second.

Every other chapter, though, is the plot of Darcy's novel. Lizzie survives a terrorist attack by playing dead. The problem is, she does such a good job of pretending that she really ends up in the Afterworld. Because she's not really dead, she is able to return to the land of the living, but she's intrigued by her visit and her newfound power to see dead people, and she's constantly traveling between the two worlds.

As you're reading the Darcy chapters, you're also getting to see how she comes up with what she's writing in her novel (aka the Lizzie chapters). I've never read a book like this before, and while it's an interesting plot concept, there were times when I just wanted to find out what happened next with Lizzie and found Darcy to be kind of annoying. I mean, you've basically got two stories to remember over the course of 500+ pages. It can be a little much.

I also kept thinking that at some point, the two stories would converge, like the world that Darcy creates in her novel would actually turn out to be real. Whoa! But that doesn't happen, even though it would have been kind of cool.

I don't mean for this review to sound negative because I did like the book. All 599 pages of it! I liked how Darcy wrote her novel during the month of November. Might that be a nod to National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November? I also think the book would make for a good discussion, such as juxtaposing Darcy (the real girl) and Lizzie (the character Darcy creates). And of course, you can't have a novel about writing novels without the Book Expo America mention! Loved it!

Essentially, this is a novel within a novel about writing a novel. Budding YA authors will enjoy this book's look into how the sausage is made. It's not all just write a book, get it published, and done.

Afterworlds is published by Simon Pulse and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

TBT - Winter Guard

"Is the guard ready?"

Those are the words you hear as you stand on a big white tarp, decorative backdrops all around you, and flags, rifles, and sabers strategically placed. One person or the whole group will make a move to signal readiness, and then the music starts. This is winter guard.

"Zip" show featuring music by Prodigy - freshman year

Most people will have no idea what I'm talking about. I also did color guard in the fall with the marching band, and I was wearing our team jacket to my orthodontist appointment when the orthodontist asked me about it.

"I'm in the color guard," I said.

"Oh, we really appreciate everything you do," he said.

I just smiled (as best I could with his hands in my mouth) and nodded, not really understanding what he was saying. After all, NO ONE seemed to appreciate what we did, judging by how many people went to the concession stands during our Friday Night Football halftime performances. But then it hit me. My orthodontist thought I was military color guard, like high school ROTC or something.

"Funk Soul Brother" show featuring music by Fatboy Slim
- sophomore year

Among the cheerleaders, pommers, football, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, softball, baseball, cross country, and other high school sports, winter guard doesn't get a lot of coverage. Most people at my high school thought we were weird or called us the "gay-ard", which never really made much sense to us. At some schools winter guard doesn't even exist. So, if you don't know what winter guard is, instead of me trying to describe it, just watch this video:

When I was in high school, there was no YouTube and nobody had phones or digital cameras for taking digital video of our performances. So, unfortunately I have no video footage to share with you of my four high school winter guard years (FHC Spartan Elite Winter Guard) and one college winter guard year (Truman State University Indigo Question).

"Newsies" show - junior year (I broke my thumb tossing rifle.)

But I do have photos in my scrapbooks! Looking back at these pictures, I'm reminded at how much FUN we had. And not just performing, but riding the bus to competitions; doing each other's makeup on the bus or in a hallway; getting our costumes on on the bus or in a hallway; running like mad to break down all our backdrops, pick up all our flags, rifles, and sabers, and roll up our tarp at the end of our performance; and just hanging out.

"Fallin" by Alicia Keys - senior year

Winter guard is its own special group. If you didn't do winter guard, you just don't know. But when I meet other people who did winter guard, it's like, "Yes! You are my kind!"

Indigo Question Winter Guard - sophomore year of college

I had so much fun performing in winter guard, even when we didn't win big trophies at competitions. If winter guard could be a full-time career, that's what I'd be doing!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Beetle Boy - Book Review

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18-year-old Charlie Porter is a former semi-famous child author who published several books about a character named Beetle Boy based on the bedtime stories his mother used to tell Charlie and his little brother. But that was Charlie as a kid. Now Charlie is an injured house guest in his girlfriend's house nursing his wounds, both physical and mental.

Charlie's mother left the family when Charlie was a kid, Charlie's dad forced Charlie into publishing the Beetle Boy stories and touring Michigan to sell them, and Charlie's little brother resents Charlie (or so Charlie thinks) for being a bad big brother.

The reader, much like Charlie's girlfriend, doesn't get all this information at once. The story of Charlie's past is told through flashbacks. And as the story progresses, Charlie's past starts affecting his present and now he's got to deal with old friends and old family before he can move on to the future.

The author of Beetle Boy, Margaret Willey, also wrote the YA novel Four Secrets, which I reviewed earlier this year and really liked. Beetle Boy was also good with a message about forgiveness and family ties and independence. It's recommended for ages 13-18, and I think it's probably best for kids on the older end of that age range.

Beetle Boy is published by Carolrhoda Lab and is available now to purchase. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

You Might Remember Me - Non-Fiction Book Review

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I was just a kid in 1998, but I do remember hearing about the death of actor Phil Hartman. I didn't really know who he was. (I didn't know that he voiced The Simpsons characters until just recently!) But that's where Mike Thomas' new book You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman comes in.

This book chronicles Hartman's childhood in Canada (back when he was Hartmann with an extra "n" at the end) to his large family's move to California and his eventual rise to fame on the improv comedy scene, on Saturday Night Live, and NewsRadio.

The book also looks at Hartman's relationships - his first marriage, his second marriage, and his third marriage. It was that last marriage that caused his death. His wife shot him while he slept and then shot herself.

Through interviews with Hartman's siblings, mother, friends, and ex-wives, Thomas gives you an in-depth look at a man who you couldn't always get a deep look at while he was alive. Hartman was great at doing impressions and taking on the role of different characters, but he wasn't always so great at just being himself. However, the "himself" portrayed in this biography shows you that Hartman was more than just a talented guy.

If you were a fan of Hartman, you'll enjoy reading this book, and if you just want to know more about the guy you may have seen or heard on TV, then you'll also enjoy reading this book.

You Might Remember Me is published by St. Martin's Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.