Monday, September 15, 2014

Audiobook Review: A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

There are some books that I know, without an audiobook version, I would never read on my own. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin is one such book. In fact, his entire series, A Song of Ice and Fire falls under this criteria for me. However, it is exactly that which keeps me away from the print versions that makes these audiobooks so amazing: they are dense.

I am a huge fan of fantasy, but when I feel like I need a separate notebook just to keep track of who's who and the characteristics of all different parts of the fantastical world, then I am out. In an audiobook version, this never feels necessary when you have a good narrator because a good narrator revives the art of oral story telling by setting tone and differentiating characters all with the slightest alterations of his/her voice and delivery of the text. And the narrator of the Song of Ice and Fire, Roy Dotrice, isn't just a good narrator, he's a great one. 

I have actually listened to the entire series already, but as the most recent season of the HBO series A Game of Thrones was based on the remainder of the third book, A Storm of Swords, I wanted to remind myself which storylines were addressed and where the book left off. 

Holy moley! This book is still my favorite of the entire series. It is knocks your socks off kind of crazy and not one character is safe! And although that is something that can be said throughout the series, nothing brings home the magnitude of mortality in book three like the image that I like to call the post-its of death, where the Waterstones Dorking bookstore placed a post-it on every page in the series (so far) where at least one character died:

So... yeah... every book has its share of death and brutality, but just check out those orange post-its! This third installment of A Song of Ice and Fire is not for the faint of heart!

My Review

I am so happy I read this book before seeing the corresponding season(s) in the HBO adaptation. If you are a fan of this show, you owe it yourself to get the full story (I have been told that one pretty huge aspect of the conclusion to this book will be omitted from the show - What?! Blaspheme!). I would go so far as to say that you owe it yourself to read the entire series, but if you can only make it through one book, then this is it!

I highly recommend the audiobook version as it is a highly enjoyable listen since Roy Dotrice does such an amazing job of bringing the entire cast of characters to life as well as setting such a wonderful tone for all of the corners of Westeros. It makes for a wonderful escape from your every day. Westeros is such an exciting and dramatic place with villainy, deceit, and characters you just love to hate.

To Get Your Copy

I'm an Amazon Affiliate (as well as an Amazon junkie, myself), so if you use any of the links on this page to purchase this book, or to make any purchases on Amazon, then I will receive a referral fee. Here is the link to the audiobook version of the book (A Storm of Swords: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3 ), but feel free to use it to access any version of the book on Amazon! 

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? 
When did you start following the excitement of Westeros?
Is there any type of book that you'd prefer to listen to rather than read? 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hello Fresh Review and Coupon Code

Hello Fresh has changed my life. What started out as a "this looks like it might be fun" Groupon, has turn into a life saver for this new mommy!

What is Hello Fresh?

In short, Hello Fresh is a weekly food delivery service. However, upon closer examination it is much, much more. It is a path to healthier eating, it is meal planning, it is an at home cooking course and it is delicious! In each weekly box you will receive:
  • Three wonderfully written recipes (of your choosing) that include clear pictures and instructions that help you time your process perfectly.
  • All of the ingredients required for the recipe (minus some household staples such as oil, salt and pepper, and butter).
  • An extra recipe card that features an extra tip for cooking, or, perhaps another recipe (one week I got a recipe for 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter cookies that I have been unable to stop making).
These are delicious AND easy to make!

It's like Christmas for my tummy every week!
How does Hello Fresh work?

When you sign up for Hello Fresh at you have the choice of a "Classic Box" or, the vegetarian option, a "Veggie Box." Then you are directed to a page that has "Next Week's Recipes." Each week there are five recipes for you to make your three-meal choice from (here are the five recipes to choose from for Next Week). Once you have selected your meals, then all you have to do is wait for your delivery day - this part has made Thursdays very exciting for me now. 
On your delivery day you will receive what looks like an ordinary box until you open it. Within the cardboard exterior is a cooler filled with your clearly labeled, wonderfully fresh ingredients separated by recipe. From that point forward it is up to you to decide which days you want to prepare these restaurant-quality meals for you and your loved ones!

I sill can't believe I made that!
My Review of Hello Fresh

If it wasn't immediately obvious to you, I am loving my Hello Fresh subscription. It takes away that annoying question of "What am I cooking tonight?"and replaces it with a flexible outline for some meal planning. Every single week I know what three of our meals will be. In between I either make one of my old standbys, or we find ourselves out on the town. In addition to decreasing my nightly decision stress, I have recently noticed that it has also cut back on my grocery shopping in a huge way. While I still need certain items for the rest of our meals, I find that they are either things I can buy in bulk, or that I can easily get from the deli up the block.

Another delicious dish... made by ME!
However, convenience is only one part of the awesomeness that is Hello Fresh. These meals are delicious! The recipes are easy to follow and take you through all of the steps quite clearly, timing everything out so you are not wasting one minute of your time just waiting for something to boil or an oven to heat up. Then, in the final step, they describe how to plate each meal so that your dinners do not just taste like they are restaurant quality, but they also look like it.

My husband and I have been loving our food adventure so far. In fact, it has been so much fun that our family members are convinced that we work for Hello Fresh considering how much we talk about it!

Your Coupon Code

If you are interested in giving Hello Fresh a shot (they are also really good about cancellations, skipping weeks, and customizing your delivery frequency), then I have a treat for you! As a Hello Fresh subscriber I am given a referral code that can be used by any new user to obtain $20 off of their first box! As a reward to me, I also get $20 off my next box (You will get one too, if you become a subscriber!). It's a great way to keep customers coming back, but it also makes sharing this awesome find that much more exciting! The referral code is:
Please feel free to share this with anyone you know who may be interested (as you can imagine, I'm a big believer in "the more, the merrier" in this situation!).

What do you think?
(Tell me in the comments section!)
Is this a service that would fit into your lifestyle?
Would your family be willing to take the adventure (so far the greatest resistance people have described to me has been a culinarily-speaking unadventurous spouse)?
Do you enjoy finding new and cool recipes to cook every week, or would you rather have a set of delicious "old faithfuls" to return to again and again?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Audiobook Review: The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book #4) by Rick Riordan

I'm a huge Percy Jackson fan, so when I finally put together that the Heroes of Olympus series was continuing his story while expanding that world even further, I jumped right in. The great thing about this series is that it enhances Percy's world by addressing the Roman versions of the Gods and Myths. If you haven't been reading along, Riordan has created a Roman counterpart to Camp Half Blood, which introduces us to a whole new group of halfbloods with a different idea of their place in the world.

In the fourth installment of the series, The House of Hades, Percy and Annabeth are trapped in the Underworld, while a group of five other halfbloods (representatives from both camps are present) are on a quest to prevent the rise of Gaea. If both sides can close the Doors of Death in time, they will succeed, but in the interim they are bogged down by the conflict between the Roman and Greek demigods.

My Review

Rick Riordan has an amazing ability to make his world come to life. As he sets these stories in our own world, he tends to add deeper meaning to landmarks with every single book. In book four, our heroes travel to Europe, which I have only been to once, but now I wish to return to. The adventure in this book is just as vivid as the rest of the series and the characters, with all of their super-powers, continue to be as down-to-earth as ever ensuring all readers have someone to relate to. For fans of the series, this is a no brainer - grab it up and jump back on the wild ride. For those who have not read any of the previous books, I believe there is enough exposition woven into the text to help you fill in any necessary back stories in order to understand tensions, love interests and how the world of Percy Jackson differs from our own.

As for the audiobook, I am happy to say that Nick Chamian is still narrating the Percy books. I have been listening to all of the books in this series and have thoroughly enjoyed Chamian's treatment of all of the characters.

Spoiler-y Review Comment

There is one lingering thought that I have about Riordan's work here that I wish to comment on, but I don't want to spoil the surprise for anyone who has not read the book yet. If that is you - do not read any further! In this fourth book, Riordan reveals that one of the characters we have been following for quite some time, is actually homosexual. I loved this. Not only does it extend the "relatability" of the characters within Riordan's work, but it was also done in such a way that felt genuine and in line with the story at hand. I love that this was not one of the character's defining characteristics upon our first reading about them, but instead something we learned as we got to know them much better. That feels more authentic to me - I do not introduce myself by saying, "Hi, I'm Nicole and I am a heterosexual," I also have no expectation of any character in a book being introduced that way. I feel, however, that this sometimes becomes the case for characters who are of different sexual orientation. I feel as though that becomes their defining feature, rather than just one piece of the everything that makes them human. Awesome stuff, Mr. Riordan!

To Get Your Copy

I'm an Amazon Affiliate (as well as an Amazon junkie, myself), so if you use any of the links on this page to purchase this book, or to make any purchases on Amazon, then I will receive a referral fee. Here is the link to the audiobook version of the book (The House of Hades: The Heroes of Olympus, Book 4), but feel free to use it to access any version of the book on Amazon!  

Your Thoughts (Respond in the Comments Section!)

Are you a Percy Jackson fan?

How do you feel about books that use our real world as their setting, but then redefine it based on some underground fantastical force that we can't see because we are not a part of it? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Intracranial Hypertension Awareness Month and the Blindfolded Brain Freeze Challenge #BBF

September is Intracranial Hypertension Awareness Month. For those of you who don't know, IH is the reason I am no longer teaching. It is the reason I no longer drive. It is why I am on disability. It changed my life. I am lucky enough to say that I am currently in remission, but, realistically, that can change at any moment.

My greatest fear about relapsing is starting treatments all over again. Nothing is easy about having IH and part of that is because there is so little research done on the disease. I am confident that there could be better treatment options for those suffering and, I think we might even be able to find a cure IF research was done. Of course, like every other group, we need money to do that. That's where the blindfolded brain freeze challenge comes in. We in the PTC/IIH community are hoping to raise awareness and some money for one fantastic foundation: The Intracranial Hypertension Research Foundation. They are the only organization in the United States devoted solely to work on our condition.

So, here I am asking you to take note, to donate and to spread the word:

Thank you so much!

Other posts about my IIH:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Audiobook Mama: Breastfeeding and Books

Since giving birth to Alexander I have kept my book love alive in only two ways: lots and lots (and lots more) picture book read alouds and AUDIOBOOKS! I have officially named myself the Audiobook Mama! There have been so many ways that audiobooks have helped me keep my sanity over the past four months, but the first thing it did for me, which I will be forever grateful for, is that it served as a distraction during the mental battle of seemingly endless breastfeeding

In the first couple of weeks home, Alexander was eating every two hours (if not sooner). Since he barely kept his eyes open he had no concept of day or night, or how debilitatingly exhausted his mother was. He was just hungry and, at the time, I was the only food source. The pressure I felt was unlike any I have experienced before and when we had feedings where it seemed like he was still unsatisfied after sucking me dry (literally and figuratively!), I cried. Then, come time for the next feeding, I'd be sure that anything would be better for my child than dealing with his insufficient mother. Lactation experts said, "Twenty minutes on each breast! You're doing great!" with a smile. So I tried desperately to do the math to figure out how much time that gave me to recover. I couldn't figure it out (my brain was mush), but now I can:
  • with proper positioning, latching, etc. the actual act breastfeeding took about 50 minutes, 
  • after which you must burp the baby, about 5 minutes (if not more),
  • then the baby would always need to be changed, let's say that's another 5 minutes,
  • add to that the time it would take him to fall asleep, 15-20 minutes 
Are you playing along? Are you doing the math? We are almost up to an hour and a half - I haven't eaten, bathed, brushed my teeth, slept, done any laundry or cleaned the house - I have done nothing. So after each feeding I'd pick one, and by the time I was done (hopefully), my tiny little boss-man would need to be fed again!

It was a bit maddening. And as much as I loved the time spent bonding with my son, due to the extreme exhaustion, I was starting to dread it. The difficult part of breastfeeding was never the act itself - that was beautiful and, to be honest with you, I do miss it (more on why I stopped coming in a later post) - the difficult part was the loss of everything ME. To some this may sound selfish, and that is fine, however, I know it anything but. I knew I had to do something to shift my mindset.

That's where my book love came to the rescue!
My every single moment had become about Alexander, and while that is perfectly fine for my heart to endure, some sort of compromise was necessary for my mind. Writing was completely out of the question and, when I first thought about it, so was reading. Watching TV required at least thirty minutes of viewing time to get any real satisfaction, and that didn't seem possible at the time. For a little while I thought I had nothing (remember, my sleep-deprived brain was working quite slowly), then I remembered OVERDRIVE - my iPhone app that's linked up to the New York Public Library - I remembered my audiobooks!

I quickly downloaded the latest Percy Jackson book and told myself that I was only allowed to listen to it while breastfeeding. It was a simple little trick, but it changed everything. While my baby ate I listened. I no longer spent the time thinking about whether or not my baby was getting fed enough. As a result, the dread started to dissipate and was replaced by an eagerness to know "what happens next" in my story.I started to look forward to even the middle of the night feedings because I wanted to know what came next. I also felt like I was sharing a fun adventure with my son as we traveled, together, in the darkness of his nursery throughout the world with all of the heroes of Olympus!

It was a great fun, and it has continued ever since, even beyond my breastfeeding. Listening to audiobooks has made me a better mother because it allows me to remember who I am beyond my mommy-hood.

I look forward to sharing my reviews of all the books I have listened to in the last four months, as well as sharing some thoughts about our awesome picture book library. I have so much to blog about, and I am just starting to see where I may find the time to do so. Who knows? Maybe I'll even find the time now for some honest-to-goodness book reading, too!

Your thoughts:

For the fellow mams and papas out there, what helped you keep your sanity and sense of self in the early days of new parenthood?

For the fellow audiobook fans, what's your favorite time/place to listen?