Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Review: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

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Image from Goodreads.com 

Book review of : First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Publication date: January 20, 2015

Summary: 

In this sequel to Addison's magical Garden Spells, readers are transported back to the small Southern town of Bascom, North Carolina ten years after Sydney and her daughter Bay have returned to put down roots and reconnect with Sydney's sister, Claire. All Waverley women have unique gifts and fifteen-year-old Bay is no different. Bay's is knowing where everything belongs, sometimes even people. But it's complicated having this gift, especially when she knows that the soccer star at school is supposed to be in her life somehow, even when barely knows she exists.

Claire's catering business has been put on hold as she delves into the candy-making business, which is lucrative if a bit time-consuming. And Sydney longs to have another baby, but it doesn't look like it's in the cards for her. Everything will come to a head when a mysterious stranger comes to town asking questions about their family.  Luckily, the first frost is creeping closer, a special time for the Waverley women.

Thoughts and Impressions:

Sarah Addison Allen has yet to disappoint. I was both excited and a bit anxious to read this because Garden Spells is my favorite of Allen's novels, and I was worried that it might not measure up. While not holding quite the same magic for me as its predecessor, I really enjoyed jumping back into the world of the Waverleys. Allen paints a beautiful picture of a small Southern town with all of its quirks and characters, and her writing is exquisitely descriptive without being overwrought.

Allen  does a good job of giving readers enough information about the first book without bashing you over the head with it,  making this novel work as a standalone as well. It was very refreshing not to have to reread Garden Spells to pick back up where I'd left off.

I do think that this book is wrapped up a little too neatly, taking away from the realistic quality of the story. I felt at times that her characters were just a little too good, and their conflicts could have been a little conflicted - I didn't feel that they had enough of a struggle, or if there was, it wasn't quite deep enough for me.  This book is great for a short, light feel-good read, leaving readers warm, fuzzy, and satisfied.

This is an easy book to recommend to any age - Claire and Sydney will connect with adult women and mothers, Bay's story line will connect with younger readers, and Claire and Sydney's vibrant cousin Evanelle will connect with older readers. It's also a great gentle read - no sex or swearing to be found.

What to Read Next? 

Sarah Addison Allen's books combine magical realism with Southern charm, and I'd recommend this to fans of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate (if you like magical realism involving food), Lisa Van Allen's The Wishing Thread (if you like the small-town feel, magical realism, sister-connection), Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients (if you liked the food narrative and multiple story lines), and Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap (for the small-town feel and strong female characters).

Thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin's Press for a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Road Trip Tips

A road trip can be an amazing thing. Open road, exploring small bits of the country, and taking each adventure as it comes. There are not set rules, and you don't need an agenda to make a road trip great. Here's a few tips that you might want to keep in mind before you take your next road trip. 
  1. The car matters. Take a roomy, comfortable car with AC, heat, and great for listening to music. Don't forget to take into account reliability and gas mileage when deciding what car to take, either. 
  2. Pack snacks in an easily accessible area. If you are like me and think hotel coffee sucks, take a stash of ground coffee and some filters to make your own in the hotel room. Bring other food you might be able to make use of in hotels -- most have mini-fridges, coffee pots, and microwaves.  This can cut costs if need be. Espresso/cold coffee, lots of water, granola bars, and snack-y items are a must for me -- we had locally made kettle corn that was AMAZING.
  3. Great listening choices.
    1. Make good Pandora stations of all your favorite genres -- shuffle all your stations together to get a good mix.
    2. Make good playlists on CD or your phone/mp3 player (for when Pandora isn't getting great service)
    3. Comedy -- We personally love Comedy channel on Pandora, which plays snippets of great comedians. This never seemed to get old for us, and definitely is a nice change from constant music. 
    4. Audiobooks -- C isn't huge into audiobooks, but I LOVE them. They are a great way to pass the time while READING. 
    5. Podcasts -- Another way to switch it up when you're tired of music. I personally love the Moth Podcast that my mom turned me onto - it's a podcast of stories told in storytelling jams. They are (mostly) adults telling adult stories - and the themes are all over the map in terms of subjects, and are usually funny -- with a few heart-wrenching ones thrown in for good measure.
    6. Learning languages - so maybe this is better to do by yourself, as it might be hard to do with more than one person in the car, but pick up language-learning CDs or podcasts for the car, and get that much closer to knowing another tongue!
  4. Download apps!  The apps I downloaded were SO useful on our sporadic car trip. (Please don't be one of those people that operate these while driving. Let the passenger do it, or pull over first.) Some of the most awesome:
    • Hotel Tonight by Hotel Tonight, Inc. - Good quality, great deals on hotels - that night only. We found great hotel deals in Jacksonville and Daytona Beach -- but they only have large cities. If they don't have great deals left - they tell you that city is all booked up for the night. Overall, good, but check TripAdvisor if you aren't having any luck.
    • TripAdvisor - picks up on some good locations to visit, and also good hotels. This let me see the various prices that I could get for the same hotel room through different sites -- the hotel's site is not necessarily the cheapest! I booked one hotel room through a third site while practically in the parking lot because it saved me $20 from what the hotel itself charged.
    • GasBuddy - finds the cheapest gas in your area while you're on the road. Using it, I saved about 25 cents per gallon on several occasions, because it alerted me that the cheaper gas was only about a mile off of the highway. 
    • Yelp! - This was great for finding great food places that we wouldn't have found otherwise. Plus, you can write reviews, and remember things that you liked when you come back.
  5. Games along the way. Although I'm sure there are a lot more out there - I will point out the two that I downloaded that were a lot of fun for us. And no, I'm not talking Candy Crush, but rather games where multiple people in the car can be involved at one time. 
    1. The License Plates Game. See how many of the 50 state license plates you can get while you're on your trip. Have the passenger write them down, or download an app to keep track of them for you. I used The License Plate Game by Joseph Levine, which is easy and worked well. 
    2. Road Trip Bingo - This is a lot like Road Trip I Spy. There's so much to look at out there that this is a great way to start noticing it all...and turn it into a competitive game. There are apps for this as well - the one I liked best for us (...and was free, duh), was called RoadTrip Bingo, but it doesn't look like it's on the app store anymore. The best replacement I'm seeing for it is Roadtrip-Bingo by Toughturtle LLC, which lets you choose from different boards that deal with different subjects - car logos, food logos, around town, etc.
    3. Would You Rather? - You can pull the questions from the web, from an app, or from your own brain. Regardless of where the questions come from, this can jump-start hilarious discussions and give you a lot more insight into the inner workings of your companion's mind. Look out, sometimes it gets a little dangerous in there. Some websites to get you started:
      1. Either's Would You Rather? Questions
      2. RRRather's Would You Rather? Questions
  6. AAA - AAA is a great safety net. I knew if we broke down or got locked out of the car, etc, I would be covered. They also give out free maps at their offices if you're going somewhere, and their app is GREAT
  7. Stimulating conversation. This is your chance to really get to know the person next to you. Ask them questions about themselves (not too intrusive!), and see what they are like, where they went to college, what their childhood was like, top 5 favorite movies, what Disney character they would want to be. There are so many ridiculous questions you could pose that could spark stimulating conversation, and that will be memorable in and of itself.
  8. Be okay with silence.  Although you want some stimulating conversation, be mindful that if the other person isn't feeling talkative, you'll have to let it go. Silence is only as awkward as you make it. 
  9. Lastly -- think about a road trip as being a grand adventure! Get in the mindset to be flexible if things don't go quite as planned, and remember that the fun is in the journey. Relax, have fun, and BON VOYAGE!
Think of more things that you want to add to the list? Comment below and let me know what tips you have to make a road trip awesome. 


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making History More Accessible, One Transcriber at a Time

Hey history lovers -- if you don't think this is the coolest thing since the invention of history, then maybe you aren't a bonafide history nerd. A new project by the Library of Virginia just launched -- it's called Making History: Transcribe, and it's the simplest idea ever - one that I'm sure Kat Potente of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore would be proud of/have already implemented.

Transcribing historical documents is HUGELY TIME CONSUMING. So what makes it go faster? Lots of people working on it together, and sharing the workload. That's what Making History: Transcribe does. The Library of Virginia has digitized documents with high quality scanners and posted them on their website, which allows users (anybody!) to transcribe them, without even needing to make an account. After you submit your work, it gets reviewed by staff members.

To make it easy on transcribers, it gives a few simple directions. The documents can be zoomed in, out, and turned around to make it easy to read. There are instructions about how to transcribe illegible or guessed-at words, and if you've got a lot of questions about reading old documents, then you can get information on writing styles, abbreviations, and transcription tips!

If you find yourself liking this, you can make an account (and of course, I did). This way, if you find yourself doing this a lot, you can come back to the same documents over and over again easily.

After you've clicked on the document that you want to work on, here's what it looks like:


Sure, I can definitely see some potential issues - you'll get people who are terrible transcribers, you might get people who want to be funny by writing up false reports, etc. But transcriptions are checked by staff members who will review the work and make sure it's accurate, and if things start becoming an issue, then I'm sure making an account will become mandatory.

Explore the site here: http://www.virginiamemory.com/transcribe/

Here's Library of Virginia's blog post about it!   http://www.virginiamemory.com/blogs/out_of_the_box/2014/08/19/come-on-make-some-history/