18 August 2017

how to get America's Test Kitchen, Cook's Illustrated, and Cook's Country recipes for free.

When I first discovered America's Test Kitchen (hereafter ATK), my reaction was something like this:

"A place that will teach me how to make foolproof recipes, what food products to buy at the supermarket, and which kitchen equipment is the best?  This is the best day of my life!!"

Then I saw the price tag to access all of that golden information.  And while I personally believe the price is 100% justified and fair (more about that in a bit), at the time of my discovery I didn't feel like our budget warranted a purchase.  I mean, I already had (and still have) a massive laundry list of recipes to try that I will never get through in my lifetime.  Paying for more recipes seemed silly at the time.  Since that time I've wondered if other people have had similar discovery>excitement>realization>disappointment sequences that I had.

For those people, I have four ways to get these amazing recipes for free!

(To clarify: ATK is a cooking show, Cook's Illustrated (CI) is a magazine, and Cook's Country (CC) is a cooking show and a magazine.  All three are run by the same organization, so when you visit any one of the three at their websites, you'll see the top navigation bar has portals to the other two.)


First, the obvious: get a free 14-day trial membership to the websites.

When you create a free account on americastestkitchen.com and sign up for the free trial, you'll get access to all of their recipes, equipment reviews, taste test reviews, and instructional videos.  Almost immediately after you sign up for the trial on ATK's site, you'll be asked if you want to expand that two-week free access to the Cook's Illustrated (CI) and Cook's Country (CC) areas of the website, too.  DO IT.  There's no reason not to!

(I shamelessly grabbed a second free 14-day trial by using Jon's email and signing him up for an account.  I personally would not advocate opening up dummy accounts with burner emails because that would make me feel icky, but by all means utilize the emails of every adult in your household!)

Second: check out the websites for content from current seasons and magazine issues.

You can still have a free account on the website without a paid membership, and you there are still parts of the websites you can access.  Any online content from the current seasons of ATK and CC is unlocked, as well as from the current issues of CI and CC.  If you visit the Recipes, Equipment Reviews, or Taste Tests pages for each of the three portals, towards the top of the page you'll find "From the Latest Season/Issue" which will take you to the content you can access.  (screengrabs below, with the links to look for in purple!)

America's Test Kitchen free access

Cook's Illustrated free access


Third: Instagram.

ATK, CC, and CI all have Instagram accounts.  Every day all three will post a picture of a dish whose recipe they are giving free access to for the day.  (Sometimes there will even be more than one!).  Because Instagram captions can't include links (whhhhhhyyyyy??), the way to find the free recipes is through the links in their profiles, which are always in the same place.

America's Test Kitchen, free access


Although Instagram's content is typically consumed on a phone, I recommend viewing these accounts for the recipes on a computer.  Here are the handles and the links where you can find their Instagram accounts:

America's Test Kitchen:
@testkitchen
instagram.com/testkitchen

Cook's Illustrated:
@cooksillustrated
instagram.com/cooksillustrated

Cook's Country:
@cookscountry
instagram.com/cookscountry

Fourth: go to your local library.

All of the recipes you can find on the website have been published at least once in one of their many books.  These books may be The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, which is updated with a new edition every year to include every recipe ever featured on their television show (currently in its 17th season, so... it's A TON of content!), or a collection that's concentrated by topic. Topical collections include everything from grilling to vegetarian, to bread, to preserving... there are a lot.  I would recommend 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Way to Make The True Essentials as a starting place for your foray into their cookbook collection.

If you live in an area with a good public library system and collection, do not forget about this incredible resource!  The Phoenix Public Library (PPL) system is so insanely amazing with an amazing cookbook collection, and I have learned so much, saved so much money, and maxed out so many renewals by checking out dozens of cookbooks.  (Sidenote: The largest branch of the PPL system, Burton Barr, suffered flood and water damage last month during a monsoon storm.  I was devastated because of how important PPL has been to me since I've lived here.  If you feel the same and would like to make a donation to the PPL Foundation, you can do so here.)


Okay those are my four tips, but before you go out and get your "free" on, a couple more things.


- As I mentioned before, I 100% believe the cost of the membership is worth it.  $70 for the full three-site access for a year is a steal, and I constantly toy with renewing my membership.  (The year I had access was the best!).  You get an immense trove of information and the opportunity to learn so much about food and cooking.  One of my favorite features of the sites are the equipment reviews, which solve the problem of my crippling inability to decide or determine which whisk, frying pan, or food processor is the best.  Who doesn't love high confidence buys?

- You may have seen some news last year about Christopher Kimball, the founder of these three entities.  He has since parted ways with the ATK organization and started a new publication, cooking school, and soon-to-be television show called Milk Street Kitchen.  I know that there are CK loyalists who have and will follow him wherever he goes.  I completely understand this instinct and have no issue with it.  However, it's not like CK and everything he contributed has been wiped from the ATK/CI/CC websites.  Everything from the last two decades is still there, and I would even say that the organization itself has remained true to what it always has been thus far.

- I personally have no experience with ATK's Online Cooking School (OCS), although I have been deeply intrigued by it.  It promises step-by-step color photos, instructional videos, equipment reviews, and more.  Courses are topical, with ones on eggs, fresh herbs, chicken soups, and more!  You can get a free 14-day trial to the OCS, which is separate from the free trial membership to the websites.  Though I have not used up my trial to the OCS yet, I would NOT recommend signing up for both free 14-day trials at the same time, it is just too much information to browse and consume all at once.

- Consider whether or not these recipes are actually for you.  The thing about the majority of these recipes is that there is extra work or extra steps required.  All of these extra requirements promise perfect results and the best taste, but if your schedule demands "30-minute meals," these recipes might not be for you.  I'm not saying you should completely abandon any foray into "ATK Life," but definitely read through recipes in advance and write out your cooking plans before you start.

Those are my two cents, I hope they're helpful!  Go forth and make delicious food!!

13 August 2017

reading reading reading.

I'm back and with more YA reading that I've done this year!  (Note: memories of the books I didn't much care for are pretty foggy at this point, sorry if that's annoying!)(but really, the authors should be the ones apologizing...)

Updates to Book Series I Already Started:

1. King's Cage, by Victoria Aveyard (from the Red Queen Series)
So I was already feeling lukewarm about this series after book #2. (I did not bother reading any of the supplemental novellas.)  I actually think that the universe Aveyard has set up allows for some cool conflicts and stories, and after Red Queen I was into it.  Book #2 (the name escapes me) went in a direction I ended up not caring for, but I held on hope that maybe book #3 would get back on a track I liked.

It didn't.  I was fully into the beginning, ready for the main character (I honestly cannot even think of her name right now) to outsmart and out-manipulate her captors.  I guess that happened a little bit, but things soon after got less interesting for me.

Honestly, I think what bugs me about this series so far is that the love triangle is still a thing for the main character.  It should clearly just be a just a love LINE at this point.  In my mind there is an obvious person she should want to be with, and it's annoying to me that she's still even considering this other person.  And beyond that, I think the love triangle aspect really weighs down the story and limits what the main character can or should do leadership-wise.

Anyway, one of the biggest disappointments about this book is the realization that it is not the conclusion to a trilogy, and there is at least another book to follow.  At this point I'm leaving the series behind and don't plan on picking up the next one unless sheer boredom becomes a big enough motivator.

2. A Court of Wings and Ruin, by Sarah J Maas
Oh, was I ready for this book.  I quite love these characters and the world Maas created, and I while I was sad to see this trilogy end, I was pleased to see that Prythian isn't going away.

I thought this book ended this story arc just right.  The conflict previously established was high stakes and ACOWAR showed that.  The final battle was intense, and even though I knew everything would end up okay (because it always does, right?) there was the huge unknown of how exactly things would end up okay that helped build suspense.

As far as criticisms go, they're fairly minor.  (sorry if this is spoiler-y!)  Generally speaking, I'm a little tired of characters in any kind of story who don't exactly stay dead after they die.  It just lowers the stakes and the emotional impact for me.  That being said, I love all of the core characters in the ACO series and don't actually want to see any of them die, so I definitely have to let that annoyance go for the sake of my characters.  Secondly, I didn't love a certain character coming off as redeemable, when I'd rather just straight up hate him.  And lastly, there were a few "surprises" I saw coming from miles away (even in the previous book!), but that didn't really make me like the story less.

Book #2 is still my favorite.  It blew me away too much and probably couldn't be outdone by anything.  But the entire ACO series is solid and fantastic and each book is important and necessary to the overall story arc.


New Books:

1. Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake
Okay, I was actually kind of excited for the premise of this book.  First of all, it's introduced via a short, clever poem that is both history and prophecy for this society.  Frankly I haven't come across such a compelling and intriguing poem, possibly in my life:

Three dark queens / are born in a glen, / sweet little triplets / will never be friends.
Three dark sisters / all fair to be seen, / two to devour / and one to be Queen.

It was this poem that made me decide to read the book because I was fully present and accounted for any story that proceeded that creepy little rhyme.

Any story, that is, EXCEPT for the one the author gave me.  I was expecting stealthy murder plots and conflicted feelings over killing sisters and brains versus brawns showdowns, and instead it somehow ended up being relationship-y and sooooo mega boring.  Total and complete letdown.  The little poem betrayed me and stabbed me in the heart, which alone is a higher number of violent acts than that which occurred in the entire book.

However.  That ending was pretty damn good.  It was a twist I didn't see coming but it fully clicked in place and made complete sense.  It's because of the ending that I want to stick around for book #2 in the hopes that it will deliver what I wanted from book #1.  But I actually don't have a lot of faith that that will happen, so there's no sequel-pining here from me.  Just tears over an intriguing-but-wasted setup poem.

2. Unwind, by Neal Shusterman
So this series isn't actually a recent one, but it was new to me.  And if I'm understanding correctly, the author didn't intend for a full series from the outset and just wrote the first book as a standalone piece.  This is why my first recommendation is the first book, Unwind.  If you don't want to commit to a 4-book series, the first is good enough.

Unwind is horrifying and thought-provoking.  This allows for almost immediate attachment to the three teenagers of the book and their journeys as runaways in a frightening society.  The paths they take and roles they play are varied, but each of the three characters are interesting and compelling with their own likable qualities and flaws.  I highly recommend.

(PS: if you read a book description for Unwind and get nervous when you see "Pro-Life" and "Pro-Choice," don't worry about the book or series being overly political.  The story leaves politics behind and has the characters as its focal point.)

3. Rebel of the Sands, Alwyn Hamilton
THIS BOOK IS AMAZING, I love it so much.  The setting is new, the folklore in the story is rich and fresh, and the writing is solid.  Multiple times throughout the book I stopped and marveled at a sentence that was just too perfect to read over and not worship properly.

I love the main character, Amani.  Not only does she have some badass shooting skills, she isn't bogged down by indecisiveness or love triangles or arrogance or an unequally-skilled partner who constantly needs rescuing or coddling.

The second book in the series, Traitor to the Throne, is no sophomore slump.  It is a perfect continuation of Amani's journey, and its ending shocked, thrilled, and wrecked me.  I cannot wait for next year's installment.

My only fear for this series is that it will be adapted into a movie series for which I will be 100% ready for, only to be totally disappointed and annoyed.  You know, as it is with every book-to-movie situation.


And that's all for now, happy reading!

27 March 2017

3 things.

1. For the majority of the year, I am always looking forward to winter.  Or at least, whatever Arizona's version of winter is, however few months it always ends up being.  And somehow I always forget how amazing Arizona's version of spring is (not the mean 90 degree weeks, but the regular 70s-80s range).  It's hard to lament the end of the 60 degree weather season when it's replaced with spring and all its warmth, orange blossom smells, and thriving herb garden attempts.

Last year it seemed to us that spring lasted longer than usual.  All throughout last May we found ourselves saying on multiple weekends, "this is probably going to be the last nice weekend before summer."  I'm hoping we have a repeat of that in 2017 and spring hangs around here as long as possible.

2. I more or less finished Breath of the Wild this week, and... sigh.  It's like when you get to the end of a book or television series, and the ending is good but you're also like "but!  i want to know what's going to happen now!"  It was such a fun game, even if the beginning's difficulty for me was unprecedented as far as Zelda games go.  Like, I've never had so many GAME OVERs happen to me in my life before Breath of the Wild.  I'm already looking forward to a second play-through (whenever that happens), and also all of the things I forgot about from the game when I started weeks ago.

3. The other day I remembered these nightmares I had when I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with Theo.  I would open a closet in the house and discover my baby just sleeping there at the bottom, and then with horror I realized that I hadn't fed my baby in days because I'd completely forgotten (I also had this dream but with a puppy I'd forgotten to feed instead of a baby).  When I woke up from these dreams, I genuinely had this fear and paranoia that somehow that would happen in real life.  Which, I realize now is laughable.  Because babies let you know when they are hungry, but so does your body (if you breast feed) and there will be plenty of screaming and pain to let you know to feed your kid.

Occasionally I find that I forget to feed myself, which seems like it would be impossible given my love of food.  But when I throw myself into books or hobbies (or video games), I find myself putting off food in favor of one more chapter.  One more photo to edit.  One more undiscovered shrine.  And then it's another chapter, another series of pictures to look over for improvements, another area of the map to be explored, and another hour of my angry stomach who probably wishes I'd listen to it the same way I do to a hungry, yelling toddler.

Anyway, I wish I could turn hunger on and off.  And I wish I could stop thinking about how convenient and potentially awesome such an ability would be.

19 March 2017

listening listening listening.

Here's what I've been listening to lately!

1. John Mayer
His newest album is slowly but surely making its way out into the world and it's so good.  (and also about dang time.)  Eventually I'm going to see this guy live, but I don't think this year's tour is going to be it.  Fingers crossed it will produce a live album and that it will be as good as Where the Light Is.

I've actually had my John Mayer playlist in modest rotation for the last year or so.  We listened to Born and Raised all throughout our California visit last July, and it will forever remind me of that state as long as I listen to it.  The song Wildfire from Paradise Valley is the one we chose to play over our video documenting that trip, and Theo is especially fond of it.

John Mayer is also good music for cooking to, as it turns out.  Must be that relaxed tempo.

2. Ludovico Einaudi
I discovered this artist in my quest to find some solid contemporary classical music that heavily features piano.  Admittedly I haven't conducted that deep of a search because I found Einaudi pretty quickly and liked him enough to stop looking for some time.  Lots of piano the way I like, and even Jon (the heavy metal fan) likes a few of the songs.

This music is also good for cooking, but lately I've been preferring it for writing.

3. Moana soundtrack
I'm sorry, have I mentioned our Moana obsession before?  Not a morning goes by where I don't wake up with a song from this movie already in my head.  The score is also pretty good, and I find it difficult not to hum along all throughout the movie.

Sort of related: Jon and I were talking about LMM becoming a household name and we wondered how often that happens to Broadway folk.  We could only think of Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it's difficult to compare the two.  Like, one of those guys is definitely a recognized name in my parents' house, but the other one isn't really.  Maybe it's a generational thing?

3 things.

1. If this month continues on as it has happened, then March 2017 will forever be known as Breath of the Wild Month for me.  This game, people.  It has consumed me.  Let me start from the beginning.

It all began with that teaser video from E3 in June of 2014...

...Okay, I won't start from the beginning and do the whole thing.

But basically, three weeks ago I was agonizing over how in the world I was going to get my hands on a Nintendo Switch so I could play this game -- my anticipation for which has only been building for years.  Midnight lineups were a non option for me since Jon was out of town that week, and I wasn't going to chance going to jail for leaving my child alone at home because of a video game.  Because not even Zelda would be worth that, right?

This is the part where I tell you that I have the best mother in the world, because she woke up at 4:30 in the morning to go to her town's Walmart on launch day on the chance she might get one of the consoles there for me.  Tragically she was unsuccessful, and when I got her text saying so I knew it was all up to me.

I put all of my eggs into the Toys R Us basket, because hardly anyone was reporting that they'd have stock on launch day (and I clicked on every single "Where to find a Switch on March 3rd" article I saw in the week leading up).  So I pulled up to our Toys R Us two hours before the 10:00 am opening with Theo, fully prepared for a huge line and disappointment.

And would you believe it, we were first in line.



So there I was in line with my toddler, either being the greatest mom or the worst mom in the world.  We had lots of blankets and water and Froot Loops and charged iPhones with The Lego Movie queued and portable chargers.  We were probably ready for way longer than a two hour wait, but you know what Scar says!

(Anyway, if you're still trying to get a Nintendo Switch, go to Toys R Us, because when the doors opened at ours, there were still 5 unclaimed.)

So then I started playing and it turns out the game truly is amazing and beautiful and lived up to my hopes and dreams.  And I haven't stopped playing, and I've ignored my child, and it turns out that's why I was arrested for child neglect.  Whomp whomp!

2. It is time for me to make my annual declaration, which I swear comes earlier and earlier every year, and that is this: it is too damn soon to be looking for the shadiest spot in the parking lot.

It's been all 90s for the last week, which isn't quite uncomfortable yet, but 50s-80s is where my preferred temperature range is, and I'm not ready to say goodbye to the nice season here.  Last Monday was our first 90 degree day, and towards the end of the day I was feeling pretty good about I was coping.   Then I discovered that Jon had turned on the A/C and so I wasn't as tough as I thought I was being.

I don't think I've ever kept track before, but maybe it's time to start: March 13th marks our first A/C day of 2017.

Summer is coming.
(Am I allowed to say that even though I'm not a Game of Thrones watcher?)
(Whatever, I just did.)

3. Continuing my "Hilarious Kindle Ads" series, I offer this:



The Code Thief: Hacker Dylan Charles finds himself entrapped by CIA Cyber Chief, John McGovern.  Hacking in was hard.  Hacking out was even harder.

27 February 2017

3 things.

1. We don't habitually buy movies blind, but when it comes to the latest Disney movie we feel pretty confident that what we are about to buy won't be a regret.  I think my only partial regret purchase was Inside Out, which is indeed, a fantastic movie.  But I also find it to be deeply and intensely sad, especially as a parent.  Like, it hit me not too long ago that all of Theo's memories with us right now will end up in The Dump soon enough, and it was such a depressing realization.

Anyway!  We bought Moana last week, which I was dying to see for so long.  Now I have each of its songs on rotation going through my brain every single day (I AM MOANAAAAAAAAA!!!), and I can't stop thinking about how beautiful the movie is.  The water!  The hair!  It is a stunning movie, both visually and aurally.  Not since we got Mad Max: Fury Road have I wished we had a newer television with which to fully appreciate movies like this (related: the coconut army scene was a little Fury Road-esque, no??).  Moana also made me want to go back to Hawaii immediately and to learn how to sail.

The story was a little lacking, which made me confident in my prediction that Zootopia, which had the better story (social message), would win the Oscar.  But I was secretly pulling for Moana because it was just too beautiful to not root for it.  (PS: Kubo was also a visual feast, but again: made me super sad!)

2. Speaking of the Oscars, ummmmmmmm...

I think this was my first time watching The Oscars all the way through, and I was only looking for a handful of things:

- That Moana somehow miraculously beat out Zootopia for Best Animated Film.  BUST.
- That Suicide Squad could never be able to be known as "Oscar-winning film Suicide Squad."  BUST.
- That How Far I'll Go won Best Original Song.  BUST.
- That Viola Davis won her category.  SUCCESS!

I simultaneously got less and more than I asked for.  But I think my biggest takeaway was that Jimmy Kimmel should never host again (repeatedly making fun of people's names??  what the hell, man?) and that Justin Timberlake should have kept the microphone after his performance and hosted the rest of the show.

3. A funny and weird thing happened the other day over the course of a couple of hours in the afternoon.  I began weeding our lawn, and when I started one of our neighbors drove by with the windows down and a Kid Rock song playing loudly.  And I thought, huh I guess they're still playing that song on the radio.

30 minutes later, I'm still weeding, and the neighbor leaves their house and drives by again.  The song is still playing.  Then I think, huh it wasn't on the radio, they own the song.

One hour later, I'm relaxing in our backyard, and the neighbor comes back home.  And the song is STILL playing.  And then I was like, not only does this person own this terrible song, but they have it playing on repeat!  and they feel totally confident and good about it!!

It was bizarre and hilarious, and I laughed to Jon for a good long while about it (he was present for the 2nd and 3rd drive by).  Thank heavens for strange neighbors with interesting music tastes and an insane amount of self-confidence.  They make the world a truly entertaining place.

19 February 2017

3 things.

1. I recently saw the light and got a Kindle, and I LOVE it.  I'm kicking myself a little for resisting the idea of an e-reader for so long.  I still love actual books, but the Kindle... what a revelation!  I can get a book I want to own, but not necessarily give precious shelf space to.  My life is forever changed.

(My life would be forever changed twice over if Amazon would marry an e-reader and a typewriter so I could do basic word-processing without giving myself screen headaches.  Help me out, Bezos!)

An unexpected joy from owning a Kindle has been their ads.  When you buy a new Kindle you can pay a little extra to remove the ads for e-books or Kindle accessories.  I say to you: leave the ads!  I see the most outrageous books through these ads, and some of them have made me laugh so hard at their ridiculous 3-line tags.  They are so dramatic and corny and hilarious, and I actually look forward to seeing them.

This is a snapshot of one I recently sent to Jon:

Ten Thousand Hours: How do you get from a one-night stand to happily ever after?  Practice, practice, practice.

We couldn't decide if this was a nonfiction guidebook written by a dating expert or an amazing work of fiction where the main character is dead set on proving that a healthy, loving relationship is possible even if it starts out as a one-night stand, even if it means dozens of failed attempts??  I think I'd rather live with this delightful mystery forever than find out what this book is truly about.

2. I've been watching Legion on FX as it has aired (two episodes so far), and it's still too soon for me to tell if it is a show I'll stick with.  But so far I have enough questions I mean to have answered so I'll keep going for now.  Again it seems I have gotten into a show where the main character is highly unreliable (previously: Mr. Robot).  My extreme dislike for unreliable characters is something that was instilled in me in my writing courses (very very VERY rarely executed well, so it's just a mess to read and wrap your head around)(but fun to critique), but I've somehow managed to put it aside for television shows lately.

Besides, this one has ties to the X-Men universe, so I'm in.  Those ties are pretty loose so far, but the potential for some tightening in the future is very exciting.  My understanding is that all mutants aside from David are completely original, which I find exciting.  (I'm not at a point in my X-Men fan-ness where this prospect is blasphemous).  Fingers crossed that the characters I like are actually real and not figments of David's imagination.  Dang unreliable MCs.

(Wanted: a podcast that delves into the X-Men universe geared towards people like me who like it enough to want to be well-versed in it, but don't want to go through the trouble to reading a million comics.)

3. I was shocked to learn recently that the man who plays David in Legion is also Beast in Beauty and the Beast.  (He also had a role on Downton Abbey, according to my mother.   Though I confess I'm not one for period dramas and have never seen it.  But my favorite reference to the show EVER is when Donna of Parks and Recreation says that Downton Abbey is her favorite book.)

Three loud WOOTs for how excited I am to see the new Beauty and the Beast.
WOOT WOOT WOOT!

If Theo was old enough, I think I would take him to see it with me.  He has been LOVING the original movie and we watch it fairly frequently.  Mimicry is something we are seeing more and more with Theo as he watches various shows, but never does he react more than when he's watching Beauty and the Beast.  Especially Gaston, which is hilarious to watch... but it's not lost on me that my toddler takes most to the awful, womanizing pig of everyone on the show.  (Albeit, with the best speaking and singing voice - it's hard for me to say no to a baritone with impeccable enunciation!)

13 February 2017

3 things.

1.  Last week I finally arrived to the Stranger Things party.  Jon already watched it back in the summer, but he rewatched it with me because I don't do scary stuff unless I'm not alone and the lights are on and my arms and hands are free to cover eyes or ears.  It actually wasn't too bad, horror-wise.  But it was excellent program!  I get it now.  Not just the crazy obsession with the show, but also the torment that grew after that commercial for season two showed that it isn't coming until Halloween.

2.  Theo wore his first shorts of the year this week.



We live in a truly weird place.  Shorts weather in February?  Even Jon, who is not bothered by Phoenix's climate even when it is obscene said it was too soon for it to be this warm.  And it really is.

3.  SNL has been giving me quite a bit of happiness lately, and if you haven't seen Melissa McCarthy as her "Spicey" character, get thee to Youtube immediately.

I'm finding that my preferred method for consuming current events lately is via late night comedy shows.  During the day it's all news updates, but after the depression has set in I go to the shows that talk politics and admit how insane things are while also managing to make jokes and laugh.  My preferred outlets are Stephen Colbert's monologues, Seth Meyers's A Closer Look series, Saturday Night Live, and Last Week Tonight, which just came back last night and thank heavens because I've missed John Oliver greatly.

By no means am I recommending that you inform yourself of current events via these comedy shows, but they offer much needed supplemental laughs in a time of unrest.  So have at it, and enjoy a laugh or two.

06 February 2017

reading reading reading.

Earlier in January I stumbled upon a book when I was looking for something entertaining and fast to read.  Then I fell in love with the series and its author, and this last week found myself devouring a separate series by the same author.  I also read a third series, which was entertaining enough.  Here are the series I've read, in order of when I read them:

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses (book #1) and A Court of Mist and Fury (book #2), by Sarah J. Maas
For the life of me I cannot remember how I came across this series or what made me decide to try it, but whatever it nudged me in its direction.  I do remember that I read the first book fully expecting not to be interested enough to read the second book, and it almost ended up that way.  I finished the ACOTAR and was perfectly satisfied.  I didn't feel like my time was particularly wasted, but I also would have been content to just leave it there and not continue with the second.  But thank the high heavens I did, because ACOMAF was amazing.  #2 was better than #1, but #2 also made #1 a better story, if that makes any sense at all.

I started the series expecting to be entertained without having to commit a lot of time, and ended up becoming fully obsessed.  I forced Jon to read the books in my desperation to talk to someone about the story.  I've already pre-ordered a copy of the third installment which comes in May and I cannot wait.

From a critical standpoint: The character development is excellent.  The pacing is even and natural, though at a point in ACOTAR it feels quite slow.  But I prefer slow and thorough development to quickly progressing through to action.  There is some repetition as far as word choice or minor descriptions that seem super obvious once you notice them.  But the story, characters, and immersion is great.

The main character's evolution is exciting to follow, but more importantly: believable.  Believability is something I though was important to this story in ways I can't say without giving anything away, but Maas takes on a task in the transformation of her main character that I don't believe many authors would volunteer to do so quickly.

Our public library catalogued it in the teen section, which, generally speaking, is appropriate, but ACOMAF would more accurately be filed in the "New Adult" category.

2. Red Queen and Glass Sword, by Victoria Aveyard
The day after I finished ACOMAF I cracked Red Queen open.  A few paragraphs in, I stopped.  Then a couple of weeks later I willed myself to try it again.  The next day I read its sequel.  The third book (I cannot think of its title at the moment) is due out sometime this week, and I will probably read it, but I am fine being a ways down on the library waiting list for the first available copy.

From a critical standpoint: I stopped that first attempt because I could tell immediately after those first paragraphs that it wasn't as well written as the Maas series I'd read just before.  But after I'd let some time pass in between reading the two series, I decided to give it another try.  I still believe the Red Queen series is not as good as either of Maas's collections.  The story and world Aveyard has created is interesting enough, but I found the pacing to be too fast.  I think I would have liked the books better if the progression was slower and there was more time for character growth and evolution - again, my preference is a slow pace and not feeling rushed through development to the action.  (I later learned that the author's background is in Screenwriting, which I suspect may very well have to do with this issue I have.)

And while the bare bones setup of the story is unique, the second book quickly made things feel a little too X-Men like (and therefore cheapening the originality of the universe that I found appealing in the beginning).  As far as characters go, I found them to have moderately memorable abilities but pretty forgettable personalities.

3. the Throne of Glass series, by Sarah J. Maas
A little backstory: there's a company called Litographs that prints the entire texts of books on t-shirts, tote bags, and posters in very very tiny fonts.  I discovered Litographs some years ago, and I've since purchased one of their posters (and intend to purchase more!), backed one of their Kickstarter campaigns for literary tattoos (so cool!), and followed them on Twitter.  They often retweet photos of customers who share pictures of themselves wearing their literary t-shirts or of their walls with their literary posters.  In the last year or so, I've noticed that a large number of these retweets have featured customers sharing their Throne of Glass purchases.  The book remained an unknown title for me, and I also found myself confused because originally, the books printed by Litographs were nearly all literary classics.  How popular was this new book that it'd be included amongst of selection of titles that included Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables, and The Odyssey?  Then I read ACOTAR and discovered its author to be the same as this Throne of Glass series.  Since I liked the writing of the ACO series, I decided to give Throne of Glass a shot and see what all the excited retweets are about.

It is with good reason that this series is so popular.  The world Maas creates in Throne of Glass is expansive, the characters are, again, well developed, and the story is both immense, immersive, and full of the right kinds of twists.  Including the prequel novellas, there are six books in the series so far, and I read one a day this week.  I finished the latest book the other day, and I have never (NEVER!) found myself so devastated at the end of book as I have with Empire of Storms.  I have a full-on broken heart on behalf of characters because of what transpired in the last 100 pages, and there is a heaviness in my chest that hasn't been there since Jon broke up with me probably.  And I am FURIOUS that I have to wait until next May (freaking 2018!) to find out how everything ends.

From a critical standpoint:  Honestly, it's overwhelming to think of all of the stories that have been told in six books and to think of where the story began and where it is now.  So much has happened, but the good news is it doesn't feel like the author changed her mind and wanted to keep her characters but put them in a separate story.  Everything flows well from book to book, and the journey of the main character is a thrill to read.

I did find Heir of Fire to be slightly difficult to read with the perspective changes.  These changes happened in the books before, but with the some of the characters physically separated from each other in Heir of Fire, the jumps felt a bit jarring.  But not off-putting enough to throw the series away.

This world is vast, and there are lots of characters, backgrounds, histories, and universe-related elements to get a grasp on.  It's overwhelming, and I found myself a little confused at times, especially when it came to the genealogies for certain characters (I needed a family tree really badly!).  Because of this I prefer Maas's ACO series, which I thought had a world that was just as rich and detailed, but its presentation was much tighter so I didn't find myself confused nearly as much as the Throne of Glass.
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So those are the three series I delved into this last month.  Consider me a Maas fangirl now, and go out and read them immediately so we can chat about them!  In the meantime I'll be hunting down the next series to read.  And cleaning up the house that I neglected this week in favor of reading.  Oops!

3 things.

1. An ebook that Jon contributed to for his work became available on Amazon last week.  He worked hard on it and I am super proud of him.  And also... I hate him juuuuuust a little bit.  It's jealousy, of course.  The irony of the Aerospace Engineer-trained person having something out there before the English-trained person is not lost on me.  I gotta get a move on!

2. January is already over!  I spent a good portion of the month devouring a few teen fantasy fiction series (more about them later).  Chalk it up to a desperate need to escape the realities of the new American presidency.  Anyway, this genre isn't one that I explored much growing up.  I read Harry Potter (loved it) and The Hobbit (overwhelmed me) and that was pretty much it.  After my new reads this last month, I'm starting to wonder if I missed out on the offerings of an entire genre, and it's possible I might attempt to make up for that.  In my search for a new series to read, I've found the number of options to be astronomical and overwhelming, so I'd gladly accept your highest recommendations.

3. I've been thinking about a point that was raised yesterday regarding the fact that there is a difference between offering fellowship and offering friendship.  While parsing through their similarities and differences I couldn't help but think of LOTR and the Fellowship.  The diverse group of individuals who share the goal of good defeating evil and support each other in that quest.  The fellowship and group effort are important, and many things can be accomplished for the greater good when people join the fellowship.  But friendship is Sam and Frodo.  It saves individuals and offers a deeper level of trust and support that fellowship cannot.  We'd call ourselves lucky to be part of a fellowship, but having a Sam is priceless and life-saving.


Oh lord, I think I might have answered my question about which fantasy series to read next.