Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Pixel Gets a Job and a Winner

A couple of months ago I announced a giveaway for a remarkable debut novel. And then I took an unannounced break from blogging due to carpal tunnel. My bad. And then we adopted Pixel’s sister, Bellatrix, which brings the cat-count up to four. Cat food is expensive, so I decided it was time for Pixel to get a job. She decided she’d like to be a life-coach because she likes telling people what to do, so I said to myself “Self, why don’t you combine the giveaway with Pixel’s career aspirations and let HER pick the winner?” Good enough!

Now, Rafflecopter did its little job and picked three names for us. They are:

Very Bangled

Beth B.

Linda G.

Pixel’s assignment was to choose the grand prize winner. The name of each winner was written on the bottom of a different color Christmas bow – her favorite toy of all time. All she had to do was pick one up.

 

She looks ready, doesn't she?

She looks psychotic  ready, doesn’t she?

Sometimes I forget she has the work ethic if a cat.

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

 

10 minutes, a quart of catnip,  and endless attempts later, nothing doing. Pixel was summarily released from her contract. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care. But wait! Who is that in the wings, ready to pounce? It’s BLOSSOM! 15 years old and ready to do the job! (click to enlarge)

Very Bangled and Linda, you guys win e-copies of Mixed Feelings. Beth, you win the grand prize pack! Congratulations!

Kate from Candlemark & Gleam will be in touch via the email address you guys used to enter the drawing. Thanks for playing! And worry about Pixel. She still gets to tell me what to do.

 

Of Cookies and Books

Ever bake something amazing from scratch? Something so good, so rich, so satisfying that you can’t wait to try it again, but the next time you tweak the recipe to try to make it just a little bit better. Sometimes it works, and you produce the most deliciously gooey double chocolate chip cookies, but other times, you’re left with a pile of dried out, brittle briquettes are more suitable for acts of vandalism than human consumption. Books are like baking.

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When I come across a story I love, it’s natural to want more, but sequels are a risk. Sequels change the story, for better or for worse. At its best, a sequel strengthens our relationship with a character and gives the author an opportunity to explore and develop larger plotlines. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great example. But a poorly written sequel has the power to turn readers away from a burgeoning series, and even characters they love forever. Jan Karon’s Father Tim series falls into this category for me, and Jim Butcher is headed down that path with his Dresden Files. Sometimes it’s better to stop while you’re ahead.

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When I was offered an ARC of the sequel to Justin Robinson’s Mr. Blank to review, I didn’t hesitate. I loved the first book so much. It was fast-paced and hilarious, and Robinson’s writing style is so engaging I had to quit trying to find quotes from his work to fit the title because every time I try to find one, I get carried off in the story again. I was eager to read it, but I did have to wonder if he could do it again. Just in case you’re wondering, he can, and he did. And you wanna hear something really crazy? Get Blank is even better than the original.

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It will come as no surprise to some of you that I am not always the sharpest crayon in the box, and it’s not hard for me to get lost among the twists and turns of a gumshoe novel. I’ll be the first to admit that I got tangled up a few times in Mr. Blank, but Robinson deftly set me back on the path every, single time. I never stayed lost for very long. This time around, I had no trouble at all in keeping up, and I could see where I was being led without anyone spelling it out for me. That is not to say the ending is predictable. It is not. But I could connect the dots on the significance of each event this time all by my own self.

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Robinson knows how to develop his characters. Even when they aren’t human, even when they’re pretty much identical to every other one of their species, Robinson manages to make them stand out, to make me care about them. And maybe even cry over them.

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The book isn’t perfect. The resolution was a bit abrupt, and the pursuit of the identity of “Mr. Blank,” the thread that ties this book to its predecessor and is the premise of the series is weak. But the writing is so solid, the story at hand so well developed that I look forward to other opportunities to revisit this world. And while it is a sequel, Get Blank really does stand on its own two feet.

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I devoured this book in a weekend, in one fabulous, children-raise-yourselves-because-Mommy’s-not-putting-this-book-down kind of weekend. It’s urban fantasy, it’s noir, it’s bizarre, it’s a delight. I give it 4.5 stars. I haven’t given an ARC a rating that high in a long time. It was my pleasure to do so this time.

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Want to win it? You know you do!  There are two ways to enter. I recommend both! Go here to learn about and participate in tomorrow night’s drinkalong. Go here to the contest’s main page.

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And what goes better with books than cookies? Nothing. Here’s the recipe for the double choco-chip cookies I made to eat while I read Get Blank. I futzed with the recipe so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

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2 C bread flour
½ C cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks salted butter, softened (not melted)
1 ½ granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

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Preheat oven to 375F. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In large bowl beat butter and sugar on high for 1 minute. Add vanilla. Beat to blend. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat. Batter will be thick. Add the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

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Place batter on ungreased baking sheet in heaping teaspoonsful. Bake for 9 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1 minute, then remove cookies to a wire baking rack.

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Makes: not nearly enough

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Now, make some cookies and read this book. It’s my top pick for summer reads. And don’t forget to click here to vote for my zoo to win $5K. Comment on yesterday’s post to let me know you voted.

The Post I Almost Didn’t Write

Cover photo from Goodreads.

I won this book from Goodreads, and I was so stoked. It’s the story of a woman who delivers her second child and discovers that she has Down Syndrome.  I have worked with kids with special needs since I was twelve years old, and Downs kids have always had a special place in my heart. I was intrigued by the story this mom had to tell. I fell to reading the book the moment I got it in my hot little hands. And I’ve regretted it ever since. I finished it months ago, and I have put off reviewing it because it was hard to get my thoughts together.

The whole book feels like a lie. Whether that lie is for the benefit of the reader or for herself, I am not sure. The first thing that struck me as weird about the book was that the blurb on the cover was from the Pioneer Woman.  It seemed a very strange and random choice, as though the publisher needed to push the validity of the story before I even opened the book.

I have struggled with putting my finger on what bugs me about this book. For starters, the author is incredibly superficial, describing her life in the most idyllic terms, including an overuse of the word “perfect.” I have not yet met a parent who could honestly say that they “loved every minute” of parenting, so from the get-go, I found Hampton to be completely unrelatable. She has no struggles in her “perfect” life. And then she has a baby with Down Syndrome, and for 24 hours, she’s a total wreck, and then she’s fine. Or says she is.

It bugged me that she spent 62 pages crying over the discovery that her perfect baby was not, in fact perfect. 62 pages. Let me put that into some perspective for you. She describes the one non-perfect event in her life, offers one solitary opportunity to draw me in, and she blows it. She shares that her parents divorced when she was younger because her pastor father came out of the closet. I barely had time to process this revelation before she resolves it two paragraphs later. And now they have a “perfect”, albeit somewhat estranged relationship. Really?

Three paragraphs devoted to what must have been a cataclysmic event for everyone involved, the kids who see their parents divorce, the man who has been living a lie and is suddenly ripped from his family. She has a chance to make me feel something for her besides annoyance, but she glosses over it all in a way that makes me wonder why she bothered to mention the divorce in the first place. So 62 pages of crying over an imperfect baby seemed extreme. And I’m still not totally sure why she was crying.

When I was pregnant the second time, testing indicated a higher than normal chance that our baby would be born with Down, so I do have a bit of empathy for Hampton’s situation. It was hard, and it took several days to wrap our heads around it. We had a heads up, which is always an advantage. My son was born normal, but we did not know that for the last 20 weeks of the pregnancy. Though I wanted to, I couldn’t relate to her. The concerns she mentioned were superficial and had nothing to do with the baby herself. Would having a sister with a disability ruin her “perfect” first daughter’s “perfect” life? If people saw them in a shopping mall with a child who looked different, what would they think of her? Is that why she is crying?  These are actually normal concerns, but without any concerns at all about her newborn baby’s health and quality of life to balance them out, she is left looking very shallow indeed.

No mention was made of the baby having to go for an echo cardiogram shortly after diagnosis because babies born with Down have heart conditions about half the time. Hampton does say that the baby’s heart is “perfect,” but she never mentions being afraid for her child before or during the procedure. Like it didn’t register on Hampton’s radar that her daughter was being taken from her to check for a life-threatening condition.  Like the baby’s an accessory and not a human being in her own right.

Hampton says that she fell deeply and madly in love with her new baby in the first 24 hours. I have to be honest with you (at least one of us needs to be, after all), I wasn’t feeling it. She tried really hard, but she resorted to shallow, vapid prose that left me nauseated. Using the word “snuggle” twice in one paragraph hurts an author’s credibility in my book. Using it five times on a page makes me want to hurl both the book and the contents of my stomach. And she refers to children as “littles,” ( I know, spell-check. I don’t recognize it as a word, either.) which is both annoying and at times very confusing.

Maybe what left me cold was that this book was supposed to be a memoir, a tell-all, the baring of her soul. That didn’t happen here. The book is a photographic journal, both literally and figuratively, carefully chosen portraits of the author’s life that reveal very little truth, or at least not the truth she thinks she is sharing. In this book Hampton neither honestly struggles with her child’s disability nor believably embraces the beauty she claims to have found. I could have embraced her either way, as long as she was genuine. As is, her tale is sugary sweet icing on a cardboard cake.

To be fair, the photography is good (most photos were taken by the author herself). The black and white images are the one redeeming feature of the book. If you simply must pick up this book, I recommend perusing the pics and skipping the text. The story Hampton tells is nothing more than a glamour shot. The kind you could get at the mall in the 1980’s.

***Update*** A friend just clarified for me that the Pioneer woman has a child with a disability, which now makes the Pioneer Woman’s endorsement palatable.