December 25, 2014

[Book Review] Baby Santa and the Gift of Giving by M. Maitland DeLand


This eARC was downloaded for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Baby Santa and the Gift of Giving
 is the most recent installment of medical doctor M. Maitland DeLand's Baby Santa series, which I'll admit I didn't realize when I downloaded it. So I'll admit up front that there may be a teensy bit of context I'm missing here, given that it's the fifth book in the series; on the other hand, they're picture books, so I don't imagine there's too terribly much to miss.

In any case, The Gift of Giving is a cute Christmas story about Santa and Mrs. Claus's young son, Baby Santa. It follows the titular character on his journey to New York City to "spread good will and cheer" with a family that sent his Father Christmas a rather atypical letter, offering to help him help others during the holiday season. So Baby Santa and the family in question, the Bonds, spend the course of this short, rhyming picture book volunteering at a community center kitchen, giving gifts to children in the hospital, donating to an animal shelter, singing carols at a senior center, and helping build a house--while, of course, also enjoying their vacation by taking in a show at Radio City Music Hall, seeing The Nutcracker, and getting some gifts of their own.

All in all, it's a pretty cute story with a pro-charity moral, and I'd recommend it as holiday picture book reading for that reason alone. Other things it has going for it include the positive representation of a minority family, as the Bonds are likely intended to be African American (though I will note that it seems a bit tokenish, as all the unnamed background characters are fair-skinned) and a refreshing balance between the oft-anvilicious charity aspect of the holiday and the less selfless relaxation/enjoyment aspect. And for those readers who experience Christmas as a religious holiday, there's a small rhyme and picture involving a Nativity scene, though parents who only celebrate Christmas in a secular fashion and haven't introduced their children to the religious aspects and/or do not wish to do so may find it's not for them.

I think Baby Santa and the Gift of Giving would be a nice, quick holiday read for a young child or beginning reader. It's nothing fascinating, of course, and the poetry isn't exactly Poe, but I imagine it'd be a good way to help get a young, Christmas-celebrating family in to the holiday spirit, at the very least, and there are four more Baby Santa books to check out if you find the need.

Want to buy this book (or perhaps one of my own childhood Christmas favorites)? Refused by the Call is an Amazon Affiliate; support the blog by buying from one of the links below!

December 1, 2014

Blogging Is So Much Easier in the Winter (Or Is That Just Me?)

My desire to blog is a strange and stuttering thing.

When it comes to NaNoWriMo--and I swear this isn't off-topic--I've heard few complaints from participants. But the complaint I hear often is that it occurs during November, which is, for many people, apparently, an extremely busy time of the year. I, personally, and very pleased that November is the NaNoWriMo month, as that works perfectly with when I actually feel capable of spewing out 50,000 words within several weeks. While many people seem to wish the event was a summer ordeal, I cannot be more relieved that it isn't.

Because after two years of blogging here at Amara's Eden, I've learned something now that I didn't know about myself before: when the weather starts getting cold, my creativity and urgency gets kicked into high gear. I want to do things. I want to play all those games, read all those books, and see all those shows and movies that I've been ignoring for the past six months. I want to get back to that writing project I put aside during the summer, and I want to blog about everything that pops into my head. I want to tackle old projects, and I want to start new ones. And for a few glorious weeks in November and December, I actually get some shit done before S.A.D.-like symptoms start setting in around February and March.

On the other hand, I had always assumed that when the summer rolls around, I'll want to do things. I'll feel better. There's warmth and there's sun, and everyone just kind of seems happier when the summer rolls around. Except I live in Maryland, and that is not what happens in the summer. Maryland summers aren't hot, per se. It's rare to hit the triple digits, and while we do make it to the nineties far more than I'd like to be the case, it's bearable. But Maryland summers are really fucking humid. Maryland turns an eighty degree day into a ninety degree day with humidity alone; it's horrible, especially if you, like myself, don't have access to air conditioning in your own home. (I've survived by literally sitting in front of a fan for nearly twenty-four hours a day.) It just feels disgusting to live in Maryland during the summer without air conditioning, and it honestly me truly horrified to think of what it must be like to live in a rainforest climate that would make Maryland's humidity seem like the Gobi desert.

So in spite of the hopes that bloom in my head when the winter months have lost their novelty and left me completely sick of being cold, I always feel too shitty in the summer to have any drive to do anything.

That's where I'm going with this. My blogging schedule completely revolves around the climate, and that's kind of hilarious. I am inspired by the chill in the air during November and December, and I actually get things done. But when I really should be doing things over the summer, my drive all but completely fizzles out. Just look at the archives for the blog, and you'll see exactly what I mean. I get inspired around the end of October (which lead me to create the blog in the first place in 2012), but by the time June rolls around, my posting drops to nearly nothing. It's a trend I probably never would have picked up on if blogging hadn't offered me such an obvious way to track my day-to-day enthusiasm towards one of my hobbies.

Then, of course, there's New Year's. New Year's kind of plays off of my December inspiration. December brings up a slew of typical posts: best and worst this-and-that of the year, reflections on how you measured up this year versus your goals, and promises for how you're going to be better the next year. And while everyone jokes about how it's easy to keep a New Year's resolution for those first few days, weeks, or months, it's easy for me to keep them for at least the rest of January. But once January ends, it become a game of perseverance. This year, I did pretty amazing by my standards, honestly. I posted every day for the first few months of the year... but when the weather got warm, I got lazy, and there went my New Year's resolution.

I guess that's what sums my schedule up: I'm a reasonable blogger in the winter... and in the summer, I am lazy, grumpy, and completely over this entire blogging thing.

So what about you? Do you find that you approach blogging differently during different parts of the year? Or does your blogging perseverance rely on something else entirely? Let me know in the comments below!

November 30, 2014

#BookBlogWriMo Wrap-Up

Well, it's now November 30, and BookBlogWriMo is over! Today's prompt is essentially a reflection post, so in spite of how truly exhausted I am right now (I'm still scrambling to catch up on NaNoWriMo before the clock strikes twelve!), it's time for some retrospection!

I stumbled onto BookBlogWriMo late, so there was never any chance of me hitting the "publish every post on the proper day" aspect of the challenge--which, of course, one could argue was the entire point of the challenge. I fell ludicrously behind schedule this month, and since around the seventeenth, I've been almost hopelessly racing to get words on the screen for book BookBlogWriMo and NaNoWriMo (after spending the first half of the month on other projects, from frivilously wasting my time with my new obsession, Crusader Kings II, to reorganizing my overflowing--and overwhelming--collection of books), and so I've been doing a lot of post-dating while playing catch-up.

On the one hand, I kind of feel like a horrible cheater, because "Just post the posts on the day they should be posted!" was pretty much the only requirement of the challenge, and I couldn't even handle that. On the other hand... this is much more than I've managed to post in a while, so I don't really mind the guilty feeling if it comes with a productive satisfaction!

As for whether I'd like to participate in a challenge like this again... well, that's hard to say. I enjoyed the prompts, but attempting to do both NaNo and BookBlogWriMo may have been a bad idea in the sense of biting off more than I could chew. (Not that I'm giving up on NaNo; I'm super close to the finish line, and I'm not sleeping until I get there!) So if BookBlogWriMo happens again in 2015, I fear I may not be able to participate. I really don't want to stress myself out too much, and I think two WriMo projects in one month might be too overwhelming.

But if the challenge is resurrected in some other month of the year, I'm almost certainly down to give it another go (assuming it has different prompts than the ones used this month)!

So what about you? Did you participate in BookBlogWriMo, or would you be interested in participating in the future? And as for my posts, let me know what you thought of them--interesting, lame, repetitive, or something else? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

And if you missed any BookBlogWriMo posts, you can check them all out here.

November 29, 2014

The Future of Amara's Eden

The future of Amara's Eden is, of course, a mercurial and uncertain thing. It's always possible that there could come a day when I'll never post here again. Maybe I'll lose interest, or maybe something will happen to prevent me from continuing my blogging endeavors. Who knows?

On the other hand, there are a few things that I'd like to do with Amara's Eden in the future. This extends beyond simple things like continuing to participate in memes like Showcase Sunday and Top Ten Tuesday (hopefully on a more routine basis!) and posting reviews on as regular a schedule as I can manage; I also want to become a more active and responsible reviewer and blogger in the future.

In 2015 and beyond, I'd like to tackle my (still enormous) backlog of eARCs. I'd like to participate in challenges. I'd like to stick to a concrete reviewing and posting schedule. I want to participate in more discussion memes than I do now, and I'd like to seriously step up the amount of non-review posts I publish here. I'd like to branch out with genres, and I'd like to have focused time periods here at the blog beyond just Halloween and Christmas. I'd love to have themed weeks or months celebrating everything from Banned Books Week to Black History Month to Gay Pride Month and beyond. I'd like to focus on building up an audience and a community, and I'd like to focus on finding my voice as a reviewer. Maybe I'll branch out to reviewing more television shows, films, or even games, and perhaps Amara's Eden might someday become a reading and writing blog. Who knows, really?

What would you like to see happen here at Amara's Eden in the future? Let me know in the comments below!

November 28, 2014

My Bookish Pet Peeves, or Ten More Book Turn-Offs

I actually wrote a very similar post to this one in October of last year called "Top Ten Book Turn-offs". You can check that out here, but here's the gist:

  1. I hate the Babies Ever After trope. Why does every character need kids to be happy?
  2. I hate when the male protagonist or love interest is saddled with misogynistic friends. It's a misandrist stereotype, and it casts the ostensibly egalitarian male character in a really bad light.
  3. I have a very low tolerance for fictional animal abuse. If it doesn't need to be in your story, it shouldn't be in your story. And if it is anyway, I'm out.
  4. I hate when relationship abuse is touted as true romantic love. It's fucking not! I totally don't mind reading about relationship abuse, but it had better be acknowledged as part of the story's conflict(s) and not presented as something I'm supposed to want.
  5. I'm always disappointed and fairly baffled by instalove. Why are these characters in love? Because they fell in love at first sight! But what the fuck does that mean? We don't know! They're just so hot!
  6. If your book is poorly edited, I'm checking out. If you don't feel like you need to work to earn my time and money, you don't deserve either.
  7. If you can't get your science or your history straight--especially if you're writing science fiction or historical fiction--I'm not sticking around!
  8. I hate when a book seems to be written under the assumption that all of its readers will be Christian. Atheists, Pagans, Jews, Muslims, and other religious groups exist, too, remember?
  9. I have no time for a film novelization that doesn't add any extra information or insight. What's the point?
  10. Special snowflake protagonists should stay in fanfiction, and when they show up in published lit, I start getting twitchy-eyed.
So that's my old list. Here are a few more!

Turn Off #1: When Your Series Jumps the Shark

What This Is: The term "Jump the Shark" comes from a Happy Days episode that featured the character Fonzie literally jumping a shark while water skiing. Now, I'll admit that twenty-one-year-old me has never seen Happy Days... but what from I gather, this wasn't exactly something that made sense on the show. And from there, the phrase "Jump the Shark" has come to mean the point at which at series loses its original focus and becomes something else entirely--almost always something bad.

Why I Hate It: If I've stuck around for at least a few books of your series, and then the series suddenly undergoes a fundamental change to the premise or mythos that completely changes what the series was about in a way that doesn't really make any damn sense, that's it for me. I'm out!

An Example: Apparently, Narcissus in Chains is considered the Jump the Shark moment for Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. I haven't read it, but from what I hear, Anita jumped eagerly and never came back down.

Turn Off #2: Abusive Parents

What This Is: There are lots of types of abuse that parents can inflict upon children, varying from less severe actions like occasional verbal abuse to more horrific things like sexual and physical assault.

Why I Hate It: I'm upset enough about real-world abuse. I really don't have any interest in upsetting myself further with fictional abuse. Hell, I even get upset about unintentional emotional neglect and tyrannical parenting in fiction, usually checking out of books with parents who espouse such parenting styles. I really don't want to read about parents abusing their children in any capacity.

An Example: The Dursleys in Harry Potter were abusive and neglectful to the titular character (and, much more subtly, to their own son Dudley). If the books had placed more focus on this or shown Harry suffering more serious consequences, I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the series as much.

Turn Off #3: Franchise Zombie

What This Is: A franchise zombie is a series that continues going long after it should have ended. The creator, the creator's boss, or the rights holders are running the thing into the ground, and someone needs to put this poor series out of its misery.

Why I Hate It: It's a really quick way to ruin a good story. Oh, you wrote an amazing ending that you've been building up to for five years? Well, what if we kept going instead? What do you mean, you're finished with this story? Then we'll find someone else to write it; that'll show you! ...hey, wait, where are the fans going? Get back here!

An Example: The Hannibal books, given that Thomas Harris was apparently pressured into writing Hannibal Rising under the threat of the movie franchise being handed over to another writer.

Turn Off #4: "No Bisexuals!"

What This Is:
More scientifically called "bisexual erasure," this is when a character who expresses and acts upon attraction to both sexes is identified by the author as gay or straight for little apparent reason.

Why I Hate It: Honestly, I'm just annoyed when a book, show, film or whatever attempts to reinforce the idea that human sexuality is strictly either/or with "attraction to women" and "attraction to men" as the two options of which you must choose only one.

An Example: I'm going to use a television example here, but I'm sure this happens far too often in books, too. (Though I don't really read enough fiction with GSM relationships--or canon relationships at all--to say for sure.) The example that annoys me the most, then, is Willow Rosenberg from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She dates Oz, a man, for the first three seasons, then dates Tara, a woman, from seasons four through six, and finally dates Kennedy, another woman in season seven. And while she identifies as "gay now!" once she begins dating Tara, she continues to express attraction to men, including Giles and Dracula. Meanwhile, Xander has some subtext-laden interactions with Dracula and Spike, while Spike himself admitted in the spin-off show Angel that he was once "intimate" with Angel. And yet the show doesn't even mention bisexuality at any point. Hell, Buffy herself sleeps with a woman at least twice in the comics and is still referred to as straight.

Turn Off #5: Aesop Amnesia

What This Is: Aesop Amnesia is when a book revolves around or involves a character learning a lesson of some kind... only for the sequel to revert that character to their previous, pre-Aesop self.

Why I Hate It: I really don't need to see a jerkass character learn to be nicer to their siblings and peers over and over again. Do it once, then be done with it!

An Example: This is probably fairly obscure, but in Fear Street's Silent Night trilogy, Reva Dalby spends each book learning to be a nicer person, only to revert back to being a huge bitch sometime in between books--twice!

Turn Off #6: Arbitrary Skepticism

What This Is:
 Arbitrary skepticism is when a character who should really know better doubts that the plot is really happening. If you fight vampires for a living and refuse to believe that there might be a werewolf hanging around, that's arbitrary skepticism. If you regularly hang out with Santa Claus but can't fathom that the Easter Bunny might be real, you're suffering arbitrary skepticism.

Why I Hate It: It's a lazy-ass trope that creates artificial drama at the expense of characters' intelligence.

An Example: Hermione's disbelief in the Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows doesn't make a ton of sense considering her background; she was a Muggle who discovered a hidden world of magic, after all! Deathly Hallows aren't a big jump after that, their legendary origins aside.

Turn Off #7: "Because I Said So!"

What This Is:
This is literally a character who operates under a "because I said so!" mentality. They act like a dictator despite being nothing of the sort, and they attempt to reign like tyrants over the lives of their children, friends, siblings, etcetera.

Why I Hate It: I hate this trope in real life, and I hate it just as much in fiction. And since it tends to be portrayed sympathetically or even espoused by main characters, I end up hating the character with the attitude and it can dampen or ruin my enjoyment of the story.

An Example: The example that annoys me the most is actually a television example, and that's Dean Winchester of Supernatural. He grew up being essentially a foster parent to his younger brother, Sam, and he never grew out of the mindset that his word was law (and his dad, John, was an even worse example toward both Sam and Dean, so it's no wonder where he gets it!), despite the fact that both characters are in their thirties now. It drives me fucking nuts.

Turn Off #8: Twist Deja Vu

What This Is: Sometimes, an author will have a long-running series that utilizes twist endings from time to time. And as you read more and more of the series, you start to realize... the author is using the same twist over and over again! What the heck?

Why I Hate It: A twist used once is clever. A twist used twice is disappointing. A twist used more than that is infuriating. What am I reading these books for, if they all end the same way!?

An Example: Too many Fear Street novels end with the reveal that a character has been a zombie the whole time or was suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Turn Off #9: Heel-Face Revolving Door

What This Is: A character starts out as a villain, then resolves to be a good guy and joins the hero's team. But within a few chapters or episodes, he's back to being a villain. But then he tries to repent again... and before long, he's right back to villainy. And so on and so forth.

Why I Hate It: At first, if it's well-written, it can be a really interesting moral struggle for a character. But if it goes on too long, eventually I just want to scream "Pick a fucking side!" and "Stop trusting this guy, damn it!"

An Example: I'm going to do another television example and shame Cole Turner from Charmed here. At first, his moral conflict is interesting, but then the revolving door starts spinning out of control, and it drags main character (and Cole's love interest) Phoebe Halliwell down into the spiral with him. Cole started out pretty awesome... but by the end of all that nonsense, I was glad to finally move on!

Turn Off #10: Poor Communication Kills

What This Is: This is the trope that comes into play when characters neglect to simply talk to one another, even when it makes no sense for them to withhold information, and it results in convenient drama for the plot to milk.

Why I Hate It: Like with arbitrary skepticism, it's lazy writing that makes the characters not doing the talking look like complete morons. I demand more plots where characters act like intelligent humans!

An Example: No one in Dracula thinks to warn Mina about the goddamn vampire, and so she's easy pickings for him. Harry Potter withholds information from adults in Harry Potter, and the adults do the same to him, and it helps Voldemort get away with a lot of shit. And heading back to television, half of Supernatural's emotional drama revolves around either Sam or Dean insisting that they're "fine" instead of simply saying what the hell's bothering them. After ten seasons of the same, it gets pretty damn aggravating!

So, that's ten more of my bookish pet peeves. What are some of yours? Let me know in the comments below!

November 27, 2014

Authors I'm Thankful For

Today's Thanksgiving, and so of course today's BookBlogWriMo prompt is all about being thankful! Specifically, we're talking authors here, and I'm thankful for quite a few! Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

The first author I'm thankful for is Ron Roy. His A to Z Mysteries series is the series that I still credit to this day for cultivating my early childhood love of reading. I truly fell in love with the A to Z Mysteries books, and they're the first books I can remember deeming "favorites". They helped me learn to love reading, mysteries, and ghost stories (which in turn led me to one of my favorite genres, horror), and I so grateful to have read Roy's series when I was an elementary school kid.

Next up would be Tamora Pierce. Her Song of the Lioness Quartet remains one of my favorite series to this day. I fell in love with it in elementary school and have been periodically rereading it ever since. Alanna was such an amazing character, and I have to credit her story with my love of action girl protagonists (a love which later encompassed other characters like the Sailor Scouts of Sailor Moon, the Mew Mews of Tokyo Mew Mew, Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more). I definitely wouldn't be the same person I am today if it wasn't for reading Tamora Pierce's feminist fantasy series so early in my life. (Again, as an elementary school kid.)

Then, of course, there's J.K. Rowling. Her Harry Potter series cast its spell over me as it did over so many other kids and teens (and adults!), and the progression of the series from short middle grade stories to young adult behemoths really helped smooth my transition from kidlit to adult fiction. It also helped cultivate my love for complex villains, antiheroes, and the Chekhov's Gun tropes, and it almost single-handedly lead to my introduction to Internet fandom (though I also credit the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime's English dub to a lesser extent).

Next up is Emily Rodda. She wrote the three Deltora Quest series, which are Deltora Quest, Deltora Shadowlands, and Dragons of Deltora. I got into these during elementary school, as well, upon the suggestion of a few friends, and I was totally in love with the books from the start! They didn't have as big an impact on me as either A to Z Mysteries, Song of the Lioness, or Harry Potter, but they're stories that I've added to my personal library and make sure to reread every few years. I love these books, and I highly recommend them to young fantasy fans!

Another author I'm thankful for would be Joanna Cole, the creator of the Magic School Bus series, but I'm not going to lie here: I didn't read the Magic School Bus books as a kid... but I did devour the television show! Magic School Bus remains one of my favorite children's programs to this day, and it essentially created my interest in science and animals. I truly adore this show, to the point of buying the DVD boxset a few years ago, despite having no children in my life to share it with. I'm quite content to rewatch it myself!

In a similar vein is Marc Brown, the create of the Arthur series, which is another childhood favorite of mine, though I'm a little horrified to see what changes have been made to the show in recent years. The books are still terrible endearing, though!

R.L. Stine, while not being an author whose books I particularly enjoy in retrospect, was a prolific YA horror author (and chapter book horror author, though I never read any of the Goosebumps books as a kid) whose Fear Street universe and multiple series helped nurture my love of horror. Reading these books as an adult, the stories themselves are far from "good" horror in most cases--in my opinion, of course, as I'm sure there are plenty of other readers who love them--but they definitely fueled my interest in the genre!

Other authors who cultivated my love of horror were Kathryn Reiss (author of Time Windows), Betty Wren Wright (author of Ghosts Beneath Our Feet), and Mary Downing Hahn (author of Wait Till Helen Comes), and so of course I'm grateful for them, too!

And lastly, I'm thankful for Mary Pope Osborne, as her Magic Tree House series was another favorite of mine, and its companion series, Magic Tree House Research Guides (later renamed to Magic Tree House Fact Trackers) helped encourage my love of nonfiction, education, and children's lit.

So, what about you? What authors are you thankful for? Let me know in the comments below!

November 26, 2014

Cheating on Books: TV, Movies, and Games

First of all, it's not so much that I cheat on books with television, movies, and games. It's more like I'm in some kind of weird polyamorous relationship in which I love books, television, movies, and games equally. ...well, maybe not equally.

Anyway, here are some of the media I love beyond games.



The Sims 2 and The Sims 3

The first PC game I really got into was The Sims 2. I purchased all of the expansion packs as they came out and installed any interesting mod I could get my hands on. I damn near destroyed my first computer with intensive TS2 gaming sessions. (Because I owned a shitty computer--a fact that remains to this day, even though I've had several computers since.)

After the era of The Sims 2 ended, the era of The Sims 3 began. I couldn't get on the bandwagon right away, because, like I said, shitty computers. I now own all of the expansion packs, but I still can't play The Sims 3 as often as I'd like (I probably haven't played it at all in) because--once again!--shitty computer.

Crusader Kings II

I only got into this one over this past month and I haven't had as much time to play it as I would've liked, but I'm kind of loving it so far. Someone mentioned the game in an Ask Reddit thread, and their comment was enough to get me curious about what exactly this Crusader Kings thing was. So I got the demo and about two days after I'd decided that this was a game that deserved a place on my Steam wishlist, I found a ludicrously awesome deal for the game and a bunch of its DLC. So now I've got it, and I kind of want to spend all my time playing it, and it really bums me that I can't.

Life's rough.

Dragon Age: Origins

Earlier this year, EA had Dragon Age: Origins up on Origin for free, and I decided to check it out. I fucking love it!

I played through once as a female Dalish elf, and I was halfway through a playthrough as a female human mage when I got distracted by Crusader Kings. I definitely intend to get back to that mage playthrough, because I grabbed a few mods that I'm really loving and have completely changed the way I played the game... but I'm more interested in Crusader Kings at the moment. When I get sick of that, I'll get back to Dragon Age, and when I get sick of Dragon Age, I'll get back to The Sims 4. A few patches have come out since I last played that (quite a while ago, since the game really didn't measure up against 2 or 3, in my opinion), and so there should be a few things to explore. (Like pools!)

Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra

The Avatar cartoons are Nickelodeon programs (insert joke about Nick trying to kill Korra here) created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (referred to in fandom as "Bryke") and set in a fantasy universe inspired by several Asian cultures and Tibetan culture.

Avatar: The Last Airbender was a three-season cartoon with a single overarching plotline, while Korra has been a quartet of thirteen-episode miniseries-style seasons, but both shows have been pure awesome. Korra is actually on its final season right now and should be finishing up mid-December, and I am going to be so sad to see the 2010s incarnation of the Avatarverse end!

In spite of the horrendous treatment Nick has delivered to Bryke and Korra, I'm hoping that DiMartino and Konietzko will eventually return to the 'verse (hopefully not at Nickelodeon!) and deliver another kick-ass Avatar to us eager fans.

American Horror Story

I love horror, but there's really not much on television beyond monster fighting shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Supernatural. And while I love all three of those, I'm also a fan of genuine horror, and so when I found out about American Horror Story, I was pretty damn intrigued.

The first season of American Horror Story was retroactively subtitled Murder House, and it definitely hooked me on the horror anthology show.

Season two, Asylum, was even better than Murder House, and by that point, I was truly in love with the program.

Season three, unfortunately, was a bit of a let-down, as I explain in my Coven review here. Season four, Freak Show, is currently airing (and should be wrapping up sometime in January or February), and I'm not sure yet whether it's going to be awesome like Murder House and Asylum or kind of lame like Coven, but I'm still quite hopeful.


The Marvel Cinematic Universe

As far as films go, I'm not the biggest fan. It's not that I don't like movies, it's that I prefer to see movies in the theater, but can't afford to do so very often. So while I keep up with franchises that I know I enjoy (Paranormal Activity, The Hunger Games, The Hobbit), I rarely take a chance on a new movie and just have to wait until I can get the DVD from the library or Redbox.

But when it comes to the MCU, I'm hooked. I don't feel the need to see every MCU movie in the theaters, but there are definitely some that I won't miss.

Above is a timeline of Phase 3 of the MCU. I know I'll be seeing Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, and Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 in the theater (along with Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is part of Phase 2). But I can't say for sure yet whether I'm going to want to see Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, or Inhumans in the theaters. It depends on how convincing I find the trailers and fan/critic response. If I'm not head-over-heels in love with what I see, I'll just wait for the DVDs.

So what about you? What films, shows, and games do you enjoy when you're not reading? Or are you a strict reader with little interest in other media? Let me know in the comments below!

November 25, 2014

How I Deal with Book Hangovers

This is honestly kind of a tough prompt for me, because I think the last time I had anything resembling a "book hangover" was in the aftermath of the seven hours I spent devouring the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and that was all the way back in 2007. And I'm not going to lie, 2007 wasn't exactly a big reading year for me; there was no next book on my plate at that point, only books that I might get around to reading eventually if I ever felt like it. Because while I was a reading addict in elementary and middle school, the transition between middle school and high school came with a severely reduced desire to read. It wasn't peer pressure or anything, and I certainly wasn't too busy for my former favorite hobby; mostly, I think I was just discovering new hobbies. Particularly, I had an Internet-connected computer for the first time ever around 2007, and between sites like Quizilla and games like The Sims, I had what I considered more important things to do than read. (Blasphemy, right?)

But nowadays... I still think I don't really read enough to experience book hangovers. Or perhaps more accurately, I don't read frequently enough to notice any difficulty getting into a new book after reading a particularly enjoyable one, and I just plain don't enjoy most of the books that I read enough to enter into any state that could remotely be described as a "book hangover"... unless you want to extend the definition to include the feeling you get after you've forced yourself to finish a book you absolutely hated. (I still have an issue with not DNFing books when I probably should.)

So I can't really say how I deal with book hangovers. I don't think I get them, really, if that's possible?

And given my reading schedule--I tend to binge after everyone's gone to sleep, and then I go to sleep myself after I finish reading--I think my real coping mechanism for moving on after a particular book ends is to literally go to sleep.

If I want to get rid of a cold, I sleep it off. If I want to get rid of a headache or a backache, I sleep it off. And if I want to get rid of a book hangover... well, I guess I sleep that off, too.

So what do you think? Am I completely misunderstanding what a book hangover is? Or am I not the only one who doesn't deal with this issue very often? And how do you deal? Let me know in the comments below!

November 24, 2014

My Reading Cave Fantasies

Ah, to have the kind of beautiful reading space that would make BuzzFeed or Pinterest all a flutter. That's the book nerd dream, right there.

Of course, I'm not a neat enough person for that. And I don't mean "neat" in the sense of boring versus interesting; I mean, I'm too much of a damn slob to have a pristine, picturesque "reading cave". I stack things and drop things and throw things all over the place, and that's the way I like my space. I don't want it to be too messy, of course, but my space inevitably ends up looking very, very lived in. And what's "lived in" to me is most likely "too messy" for a lot of other people.

So what is my "reading cave fantasy" if it's not a pretty little reading nook? Well, if you happened to read my #ShowMeYourShelves post from the other day, you should probably have a clue as to what I'm going to say next: I want shelves, shelves, and more shelves.

I don't want a place to read so much as I want a place to cram full of books. I was my own little library. My reading cave fantasy would be to literally jam whatever crappy armchair I can afford into a great big room filled up with shelves upon shelves upon shelves of books, and whenever I picture this hypothetical room, it's modeled in my head after a real room: the YA/MG section of the children's wing of the (original) library in the town where I grew up.

This room no longer exists as I remember it, or else I would try to get a picture (though, I suppose, posting a picture of one's local library might not be the wisest idea when trying to keep one's IRL location vague...). Sometime in my teenage years, between 2005 and 2010 (I can no longer recall the exact date...), the original library building was closed down (it currently serves as government administrative offices, I think?) and a new, much larger building was built in the brand new shopping center a mile or two away.

I don't dislike this new library, but it's never going to appeal to me the way the original did. The original was my library. Outside of school, it was the only public building that had any real effect on my developing psyche; I honestly still dream about being in that room (well, an exaggeration of it, most likely) once or twice a year.

As such, it remains the room I think of when I think of what my ideal "reading cave" would be like. A large, hardwood floored room with a fireplace (that I don't think was ever used, for obvious reasons), some desks and a few armchairs, bookshelves lining the walls, and rows upon rows of books in the center of the room. And while the real room was filled with YA and MG, mine would obviously be a mix of everything from picture books and children's chapter books to classics and nonfiction.)

So, does my idea of the perfect reading space sound anything like yours? Do you even think about having the perfect reading space, or are you content with what you've got? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

November 23, 2014

My Book Boyfriend Criteria

I'm not going to lie, the whole "book boyfriend" thing... well, it kind of creeps me out, to be honest.

Now, before anyone grabs their pitchforks, don't think that I'm trying to say that people who like to talk about their "book boyfriends" are weird or something, it's just that I guess it's a phenomenon that's not really for me.

That said, my real complaint with the concept of a "book boyfriend" isn't about the idea of being infatuated with a fictional character. Fictional crushes have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember! (Nerd alert: I had an enormous crush on Digimon Adventure 02's Ken Ichijouji when I was seven, to the point that I was destroyed when canon paired him with Yolei. Rough times, guys. Rough times.) But to me, the phrase "book boyfriend" is a bit creepy.

I don't know. To me, the words "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" imply a relationship, and the idea of having a relationship with a fictional character really takes the concept of a fictional crush too far for me. At that point, I kind of feel like I've fallen off the edge of fandom and down into crazy town. So while I'm sure pretty much no one means it this way, when I hear someone say "book boyfriend" or "book girlfriend", what I really hear is less "I have a crush on this fictional character" and more "this fictional character and I have a bond".

Creepy, no?

So from here on out, I'm not going to be talking about "book boyfriends"; I'm going to be using "fictional crush". It's semantics, I know, but honestly, I don't feel comfortable with the first term, so... deal?

Anyway! My criteria for a fictional crush? Well, I can fairly safely say that I don't think this is a topic that's going to reflect positively on me! If you happened to read what that nerd alert up their, you'll have caught that one of my childhood fictional crushes (the earliest and strongest I can remember) was a villain. Granted, he reformed before the end of the show... but I wasn't exactly pleased about that. The Digimon Emperor should have been my first clue that I had a bit of a thing for villains.

After Digimon Adventure 02, the whole villain attraction thing never went away. Diving right into insanity here, the next one that I can recall the onset of was--and I swear I'm not joking here--Yami Marik from Yu-Gi-Oh! For anyone familiar with his character, this should be either an incredibly amusing or disturbing fact--and bear in mind that this crush developed when I was around ten years old and may or may not have kicked off thanks to the Marik versus Mai duel. What I'm saying is that I was a strange little kid.

From there, there's really no getting around the fact that I like villains and antiheroes better. I will always prefer Yami Bakura or Seto Kaiba over Yugi Muto or Joey Wheeler; Sesshomaru or Naraku over Inuyasha or Miroku; Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, or Lucius Malfoy over Remus Lupin, Harry Potter, or Sirius Black; and Kish or Deep Blue over Masaya (Tokyo Mew Mew).

Now, don't get me wrong. I like villains and antiheroes, but I don't enjoy the "Draco in Leather Pants" phenomenon. It irks me when a fandom or part of it attempts to paint a villainous character as "just misunderstood" or an antiheroic character as purely heroic. And it infuriates me when a character who by all definitions should be the work's villain is held up as the work's hero. Characters like Edward Cullen, Christian Grey, and Patch of Hush, Hush do nothing for me. Masking villainous behavior under the guise of romantic gestures is one of the quickest ways to Squick me, and after that, I check the fuck out.

But a character like Sylar (Heroes), the Joker, and Roger (Song of the Lioness) gets me every time.

So what about you? Hate villains and love heroes, sidekicks, and love interests? Let me know some of your fictional crushes in the comments below!

November 22, 2014

#ShowMeYourShelves

Recently, I acquired two (free!) large bookshelves from a family that was moving and couldn't take the shelves with them. Each has five shelves, the lower two of which are protected by cabinet doors, and all but one shelf is large enough for two rows of books.

Up until this point, the majority of my books were being stored in either boxes (in my closet and under my bed) or in a big-ass pile in a corner of my room. But when I got the shelves, I was finally able to get most of these up off the floor and into some much neater stacks. I didn't think to organize them yet, though.

Around the beginning of this month, November 2014, I realized that my shelves were woefully unorganized. When I acquired a new book in a particular series, I found myself having to browse around the shelves (and some of the remaining stacks, as not everything is able to fit on the shelves even now) in hopes of finding where a certain series might be hiding. Essentially, it was a time-consuming pain in the ass.

So I start reorganizing immediately. This was easier said than done, of course, given how many books I own. (Hint: it's nearly two thousand, and that's not counting ebooks.) I began reorganizing sometime around November 1, 2014, and I'm still not completely finished. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

When I set out to reorganize the shelves, I decided that the most reasonable way to begin ordering the books was in alphabetical order by author's last name. This took quite a while and quite a bit of space, but this step is now finished (and has been since around the seventeenth of the month). So in the picture at the beginning of this post, the bookshelves are all currently organized alphabetically by author's last name, starting at the top left-hand side and going from front row to back row (except on some lower shelves when I got lazy; I'm going to eventually need to fix these, but at the moment, I'm not worried about it).

The bookshelf now contains authors from A (beginning with Tony Abbott's The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet) to M (ending with Machiavelli's The Prince). Everything after Machiavelli, all the way down to Zullo, is currently being put in large storage boxes... which is a project I've yet to finish. Most of M through Q is still in stacks waiting to be boxed up. I'll get around to it, I swear!

In 2015, I'm going to be starting a project with the goal of reducing my number of books until everything can fit on the shelves, but more on that in December!

November 21, 2014

My First Three Reviews

Ah, early reviews. I'd like to say I'm horribly ashamed of my old reviews, because at least that would imply that I felt I've grown enough as a reviewer to harbor some guilt about past mistakes... but honestly, I don't really feel that way. I'm changed as a reviewer, I'm sure, but it's nothing so significant as to be able to condemn my early reviews. But let's take a look at some of the oldest dated reviews here at Amara's Eden; I'm sure I can find something to complain about.

I'm really good at complaining.

The very first post here at Amara's Eden is my very first DNF review, Demon Vampire by Virgil Allen Moore. This was the first book I ever accepted for review, and it was something that I'm not open to doing anymore, honestly; I accepted this one because of an unsolicited PM on GR, which is completely against my current rules! But I was, quite frankly, pleasantly surprised at the time to receive the offer. Someone wanted to know what I thought? For fuck's sake, why?

Unfortunately, Demon Vampire was not a book I enjoyed. I stalled in reading within the first fifty pages or so, and I never could get back into it. As the review says, technical errors and disinterest in the plot teamed up to dispose of any interest I had in the story.

My only real regret with this review was that I didn't provide as many examples of the technical issues as I should have (I opted for one nitpick), but I think I got my point across well enough anyway. For a first review, it's certainly far from terrible.

Next up was my second review book ever, Fright Flight by Lisa Ard. I enjoyed this book much more, as I actually made it through the whole thing. I was pretty long-winded with this one, which doesn't bother me at all really, and I totally stand by my second paragraph. I quite enjoy exploring a book's universe, missed potential, and future possibilities, and that's what I did here.

The discussion of diction, though... I'm not sure I would've put all that in the review if I'd written it now. It kind of depends on how egregious the word choices were, and I certainly can't recall a specific example two years later, so I can't judge for sure.

Again, I'm fairly satisfied with this review, especially considering it was my second attempt!

The next earliest review is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee... and I think this one might have been post-dated? I'm really having a hard time believing that this was the third review I ever wrote; I had been under the impression that I'd read and reviewed this one much later into my blogger/reviewer "career". A mystery!

Either way, I'm also perfectly satisfied with this review. I probably spent a bit too much time talking about the backstory of my relationship with the book and not enough on the book itself, but that's alright--that's the part I had more to say about!

I do think I got a bit too preachy and "high school essay"-esque toward the end of the review, but still... early review. I'm okay with it.

So what do you think; do these reviews measure up to your firsts? And how do you feel about your first reviews--impressed, embarrassed, or otherwise? Let me know in the comments below!

November 20, 2014

Best Books of 2014

2014 has been my slowest reading year since 2011. Bearing in mind that these stats contain picture books, I read 415 books in 2011, 629 books in 2012, 195 books in 2013, and 152 books in 2014. While one hundred fifty two books might not seem like anything to sneer at, a lot of those books were rereads (which, annoyingly, means they aren't counted at Goodreads), which means that it's a bit difficult to judge the best books of 2014. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to only mention books that I hadn't read prior to January 1, 2014.

Here we go!

The Castle Crime (A to Z Mysteries Super Specials, #6) by Ron Roy

The Castle Crime was a book I'd been waiting for... and one that I completely missed for a while after it was released. I'd been hoping to hear something about a planned sixth book since the publication of the fifth, The New Year Dragon Dilemma, and yet somehow utterly failed to hear anything about any upcoming books in the A to Z Mysteries series until I checked the series' Goodreads page sometime after The Castle Crime was published.

Anyway, I can't lie here: The Castle Crime gets its gold star (five stars on GR) rating by standing on the shoulders of its predecessors, which were the first books I can ever recall considering "favorites". I adore the A to Z Mysteries series, so it's kind of a given that I'm going to love any new ones that come out, whether or not they truly earn all the stars I'm giving them.

But that's not to say that The Castle Crime wasn't a good book. It was a fun mystery and a milestone for the series, being the first book to take place in a real country outside the U.S. (The Yellow Yacht took place in a fictional country in Asia.)

You Have to Fucking Eat by Adam Mansbach

This is actually not a book I read, but one I listened to in 2014. Here is the recording I heard, in which the story is read by Stephen Fry, and Audible has a version read by Bryan Cranston.


The Christmas Pony by Sylvia Green

This wasn't by any means a spectacular book. It was a mildly endearing story about a group of astoundingly motivated children trying to raise enough money to adopt a pony before Christmas in spite of the main character's less than supportive parents.

I read this one as part of the Ho Ho Ho Read-a-Thon earlier in November, so it's still fresh in my mind; if I'd read it earlier in the year, I'm sure I would have forgotten it by now. It's not amazing... but its presence on this list certainly does go to show exactly how many new books I read this year! (Hint: it's too few to fill this list up with books I loved instead of books I enjoyed.)

The Butt Book and Bleches, Burps, and Farts--Oh My! by Artie Bennett

Both of these are nonfiction picture books that mix information with potty humor in hopes of teaching kids about some of the more taboo aspects of their bodies. Both books are endearingly cute, informational, and humorous with interesting art styles (I prefer the art in Belches, though!)

If you've read Everybody Poops or even are familiar with the concept of it, you should get what these are trying to do. And if you've got a potty humor loving child, they're probably a great way to get them interested in reading and learning!

The Book of Cthulhu II, edited by Ross E. Lockhart

This one took me a shamefully long time to read, but I love it. I love the cover, I'm always interested in the Mythos, and I really enjoyed a lot of the stories included in this anthology. Some were disappointing, of course, but others were truly delightful, and I'm looking forward to picking up The Book of Cthulhu at some point in the future--not to mention other Lovecraftian anthologies!

If you're interested in post-Lovecraft Mythos stories, The Book of Cthulhu II is as good a place as any to start.

Animal Teachers by Janet Halfman

Animal Teachers is a super simple and straightforward picture book that'll help any kid get through their animal obsession phase with some extra knowledge to boot. The art is cute, the concept is cute (animal babies, yay!), and it delivers some simple facts to its intended audience of young readers.

The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet (The Secrets of Droon, #1) by Tony Abbott

I read a lot of these little chapter books as a kid, but not The Secrets of Droon. I started rectifying this in 2014 with The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet, and I'm glad; it's an endearing universe and I'm interested to see where the story goes. I'm not in love with the characters or the plot yet, but I'm definitely intrigued.

Depending on where the series goes from here, The Secrets of Droon could be another new favorite. And at the very least, it's several leagues better than goddamn Beast Quest.

A Tale of Two Daddies and A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager

These are two LGB picture books focusing on gay and lesbian parents, respectively. They're told from the perspective of the daughter and son (also respectively) being raised by the same-sex parents, and these narrating kids teach their kids that having same-sex parents is just about the same as having opposite-sex parents.

If you're looking for gender and sex minority (GSM) positive books to read to your kids, A Tale of Two Daddies and A Tale of Two Mommies are a great place to start.

Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge and Read-a-Thon: I'm In!

After competing the Ho Ho Ho Read-a-Thon (hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer and Jennifer @ The Book Shelfery), I hadn't managed to read all of what I wanted. I did fairly well, considering just how bad I've been this year about making time to read, but, honestly, two books just isn't good enough for--after all, I know I can do so much more.

So I was interested in finding another Read-a-Thon to motivate myself... and lo and below, I found the Christmas Spirit Read Challenge and its corresponding Read-a-Thon.

Hosted by Michelle at The Christmas Spirit, the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge will be taking place from November 24, 2014 to January 6, 2015. The challenge has three levels: "Candy Cane", aka Level One with a goal of one book; "Mistletoe", aka Level Two with a goal of two to four books; and "Christmas Tree", aka Level Three with a goal of five or more books. (There's also a bonus level for Christmas movies and another for reading with your kids.)

I'd quite like to hit "Christmas Tree", but I'll be satisfied to get anything done, I suppose. Like I've said... I've had a lazy year as a reader.

If this sounds like something you're interested in, you can check out the official challenge sign-up page here.

But that's not all--over at Michelle's other blog, Seasons of Reading, she's hosting a Read-a-Thon to go along with the challenge. The Christmas Spirit Read-a-Thon (aka #CSreadathon) will be taking place from November 24, 2014 (which is also the first day of the reading challenge) to November 30, 2014.

If you want to join in, you can check it out here. I actually wish it was being held a little later in the year, as I'm going to spend the rest of November scrambling to catch up with my abysmal NaNoWriMo wordcount, but I hope I'll be able to squeeze at least one book in before the month ends.

If not, here's to a productive December!


What I'm Hoping to Read



What I Actually Accomplished


As I expected, I didn't get any reading done during the read-a-thon. (Boo!) But I got a few books read during the challenge period, those being the following:


I also read the Spirits of Christmas anthology (pictured above) during this period, but I didn't manage to finish it. The rest of these books are still going to be on my to-do list for a little while, though. At the very least, I'll definitely finish Spirits of Christmas and The Haunting of Stratton Falls in the next few weeks. The others, I might save until next year!