Monday, July 29, 2013

No Knead Casserole Bread- The Clueless Baker

So I was finally able to bake a yeast bread. However, since I've only ever used yeast once (and according to my mom I didn't work that time) I was hesitant to make a bread that had to be kneaded. Thankfully this was the first bread recipe in the "Yeast Breads" section.

It turned out nice if I do say so myself:



Unfortunately it fell (how do I fix that?):



After using yeast in this recipe I can safely say that the last time I use yeast it did not work! The bowl I used almost wasn't big enough to hold all of the dough once it rose! I also didn't realize that yeast had a smell to it. It didn't stink or anything, I could just tell that the scent that came from the bread as it was rising and baking was from the yeast. According my sister loved the smell and said it reminded her of her early childhood (my mom used to bake a lot!).

As for the taste...well... there really isn't much to say. It tasted like bread. There wasn't anything special about it, but it wasn't awful either. It just tasted like bread. The only way I can think of expanding on that is to say that it didn't taste like Wonderbread or like bakery bread, or those French baguettes you can get from the grocery store...it kind of tasted like those Hawaiian Bread Rolls that my family buys for Thanksgiving. Anyone know what I'm talking about?

If you cut into it right one might be able to use it for sandwiches, but this is not the case for me. I cut into it like one would a pie and just spread jam on the triangle. We already had some bread in the house and I didn't find the bread that great, so the rest of the bread (about half of it) will either go in the garbage or may the squirrels outside will eat it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Assassin's Creed 3 *Review*

Okay, I realize that this game was released in OCTOBER, but I stopped playing it for a while. When I found out the AC4 was coming out this October I really wanted to know exactly what happened so I could follow the story.  Why did I stop playing it for a while you ask? ...Well it's like this: AC3 released the week before midterms at my school. I tried to play it some, but was preoccupied with studying. Two weeks went by and I had only played to sequence 6. However, with midterms over I decided that night (the last day of school for the week) that I would pull an all nighter and finish the game. Unfortunately that morning someone in my school was talking to his friends in the hall. As they were walking past me I heard him say "So Desmond basically *End of AC3*". How did I know he was talking about AC3? It was obvious, how many other main characters are there named Desmond? Once I heard the ending I lost all motivation to finish the game. Now that E3 has passed though, I felt like trying again. Here are my thoughts:

Main Character:
Conner is a Native American who watches his village burn, his mother die, and the land around him taken by invaders. His motivation in this game is vengeance against those that have wronged him and his people.

Connor is the opposite of Ezio in almost every way. While both witnessed their loved ones die Ezio was reasoned with and was able to step back and plot his revenge. Connor, on the other-hand is consumed by vengeance, refuses to understand the ways of the world and charges against his enemy in a barbaric and unrefined manner. I was really disappointed with the way the game developers went with Connor. I'm part Native American and found the portrayal of Connor down right offensive for the first 1/3 of the game. He was a whiny, unreasonable, barbaric, ignorant, hot-tempered, jackass that thought he knew it all from just a little training. The second third of the game I was confused, he was barbaric when in Boston or New York, but civil everywhere else. He was slightly more refined, however his mood swings came across as somewhat bi-polar rather than character growth (which is what I think Ubisoft was going for). The last third of the game Connor comes into his own more, he is less volatile than before and his killings seem less fueled by explosive anger.

I think Ubisoft tried to make Connor almost a coming of age tale, but instead it came across as a savage that was integrated into a civilized society. Connor never achieves the subtlety, grace, control, mystique, intrigue, or intelligence of Altair or Ezio. Instead Conner is just a cheap imitation, he never fully embraces the Brotherhood and instead, only uses it to further his own agenda. By the end of the game I was still slightly offended by Connor, but was comforted by the thought that the way Conner came across was not what Ubisoft originally intended.

Plot:
As always the historical accuracy and the integration of a fictional story with actual events is done marvelously. The events that involve Conner and historical figures are believable and the story is intriguing. Once again I get to traipse through history and make friends (and enemies) with historical figures. Connor's side of the plot is well done (except for Connor himself) and pulls you in.

Desmond's side of the plot however, could have been a bit better.  There are only 3 parts where the player actually plays as Desmond (apart from the very beginning). And they are all very short. Given the ending of this game I felt that more time spent playing Desmond would have made sense. Also, there was a new character added to the modern day portion of the game, Daniel Cross. He was merely a means to an end and didn't hold any real value. If we had seen him more throughout the series perhaps he wouldn't have bothered me so much, but he really felt out of place and I didn't like his addition to the cast of antagonists.

Gameplay:
Game Mechanics:
Free Running:
Free running in this game is far more refined than in previous games. Any leaps that need to be made from one foothold to another are done automatically and Connor can climb MUCH faster than Ezio. The problem is that because of the new simplicity of free running, climbing to viewpoints isn't as fun. In fact, in this game it's pointless. The game makes a map for you as you explore, meaning you can have a full map without using one viewpoint. And while Connor climbs faster, it isn't a believable climb. Most of the buildings I climbed I couldn't see most of what Connor was supposedly hanging on to. It may seem nitpicky, but it really bothered me. Free running before seemed like a fun puzzle and it was very satisfying when I would finally figure out how to get to the top of a really high structure. Now it's just a way to get around.

While we on the subject of free running I want to talk about the environment of AC3. In the towns, most of the buildings were too far apart to really jump from one to another. Historically this makes sense as building were spaced out more than in Europe, but gameplay wise it certainly wasn't as fun. As for the bulk of the environment, the forest, I couldn't really climb from tree to tree the way I wanted to. Most of the tree branches have one path, that's it. If one say, wanted to try to get from point A to point B without touching the ground this would be a next to impossible feat. EXCEPT during story missions. The developers realized people may want to assassinate people during memories in the forest, so they gave a path for those specific destinations. However, if you try taking the trees to get to a side mission good luck, because there are a lot of dead ends and false starts. Most of the paths I took in the tree ended up in the veering off course, even when I tried to force my way through in the desired direction.

Fighting:
The way fighting is set up in AC3 is very different than in previous games. No longer does the player operate with different buttons to control different hands. Instead, stealing and passing people are done intuitively or with prompts. The fighting is done with different attacking and countering moves. I actually didn't mind the new fighting system until sequence 8, when for some reason I lost my tomahawk. I still don't understand why I suddenly lost it, but I was without it for the rest of the game. My best guess it that it broke and I was supposed to craft a new one. However, I have no idea how to craft anything in this game. If it's possible I don't think a tutorial was included. Anyway, without that Tomahawk the rest of the fighting in the game was done with my hidden blade and lead to a lot of swearing and rage quits. Ubisoft needs to ensure that while I can UPGRADE stuff and it may break, the original item that I am AUTOMATICALLY GIVEN stays in my hand. Or if it does break, how about a prompt that reminds me how to fix it or get a new one hmm?
Missions:
Story Missions:
The story mission break away from the tried and true methods in previous AC games. Instead of learning the target, learning about the target, learning about the target's location, and finally killing the target; we start the mission and everything has already been set in motion for us. There weren't a whole lot of actual assassinations in this game either. Instead there were several missions involved in warfare, such as defending the area, are retreating to an area within a set time limit. Many group battles too, there were some specific stealth missions, but few had to do with killing. In fact, for two of the biggest deaths in the game, you don't really battle them and kill them, what you really do is attempt to fight or chase them and then a cutscene kills them for you...it was really disappointing. Finally there were several chase missions that the player is forced to do, and they WERE NOT FUN! They were some of the most irritating things I've had to do in a video game in the past five years.
Side Missions:
I can't really comment on this much because I didn't do many of them. There were some homestead missions that were fun, and some delivery missions that were boring, but the main thing I tried to do were the liberation missions. In the liberation missions one must kill a bunch of guards while protecting those whom the guards were bullying. I failed every attempt to liberate the citizens and after defeating a bunch of guards 5 times only to realize that the potential assassins were all dead I gave up. I don't think it was the game's fault thought that I couldn't save the citizens, I think I just suck at this game. 
Music
The music in AC3 was rather charming. Some colonial music while spending time in towns and while in the forest the player is treated to some traditional Native American chanting. I'm not really one for dissecting music or commenting on what is good and bad about a particular track. So, instead I'll leave you with my concise opinion: It was nice music and I liked it.

Visuals
This is a BEAUTIFUL game! The open forest looks real, and the towns are done so realistically that I feel like I'm getting an actual glimpse into colonial America. The only negatives I found in the visuals were in New York and in Modern Day. In New York, well...it's really a small thing, but some of the trees around town just looked BAD. Like early PS2 graphics bad. However, this was in an odd location (I can't even really say exactly where) and was likely just the graphics engine being push to it's limits. As for the modern day critique, it's really more of a question. Was Desmond supposed to look emaciated? He looked like he hadn't had a decent meal in about 6 months. Well, perhaps it was because he was in the Animus for so long...I don't know.

Ending (Spoilers Of Couse):
Conner's Ending
Warning, Conner's ending is depressing, but incredibly accurate. Despite everything he does his family is driven from their homes and forced west. Near the end of the game his family believes he has betrayed them and in all honestly it seemed unbelievable to me. Really? You believe a white man over your own flesh and blood without even asking them first? Whatever. Anyway there is a discussion at the end of the epilogue that seems to hint that Desmond's memories are in a network now that others can reach. Definitely excited to see how this turns out. 
Desmond's Ending
I was disappointed when found out the ending from that guy at school. I had really been hoping that Desmond wouldn't have the messiah ending, but alas regardless of which ending Desmond chose this was the fate the developers chose for him. I wasn't prepared for the ending itself though. It felt rushed. The options laid before Desmond seconds before the decision had to be made caused a rather chaotic scene. I didn't really follow Desmond's reasoning. In Minerva's ending the world would be reset and history would essentially repeat itself, meaning that far in the future the same decision may have to be made again. In Juno's ending the world goes on as always, but Juno is released upon humanity. Apart from the loss of billions of lives or the release of Juno I don't really see the difference between the two option. Yet Desmond claimed that Minerva's ending had "No hope" in it. I fail to see how there was more hope in Juno's future than Minerva's . I hope his reasoning is revealed in time.

Downloadable Content:
I can't really comment on this much because I haven't, nor do I plan to play the DLC. From what I understand the DLC is set in an alternate reality for Conner. I thought that the Animus was meant to show us how things ACTUALLY happened, not a fantasied scenario. By having this DLC it shows that the Animus and the data it pulls can be manipulated, meaning that every game I've played up until now could have been a farce.

Whew! I think this is the longest post I've ever written! I hope you enjoyed it. Overall I enjoyed AC3, it just wasn't the best the series has had to offer.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Simple Living - 30 days to less stuff and more life by Lorilee Lippincott *Review*

I found this book for free on Amazon. I've been thinking about embracing minimalism lately and thought this would be a great place to start.

This book taught me that while some of the principles of minimalism are good to think about, minimalism as a whole is impractical for the majority of people. Keeping a space completely clear and getting rid of things simply so you can have clear space isn't always a good thing. Granted she does state that a lot of thing are a matter of personal needs. Her solution if you suddenly need something you purged is to simply buy another one. To me that just seems like a waste of money and could quite possibly become a cycle of money spending. Also, I realized that minimalism seems to be for people and families who prefer time spent outside of the house. Be it church activities, school activities, hikes, trips to the park, etc. you kind of have to be the type of person who is home only long enough to eat and sleep (and maybe work if you have a home office), but spend all of your free time out of the house. This is the opposite of myself and my family. My idea of a good time is reading a book, playing a game (be it video game or board game), and cooking. All of these require space at home to do and I like to replay and reread my stuff, it may be five years down the road, but I do replay and reread them. Minimalism just doesn't work for me. However I could see how it might help someone else, there were a few things brought up that even a non-minimalist should think about.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Clueless Baker: Banana Bread

Okay, I know I said I was going to start on a yeast bread for the next recipe out of The Clueless Baker cookbook, but I had 5 bananas that were about to go into the garbage. So, to prevent waste, I made the banana bread recipe. I actually made two different versions of the bread. One following the cookbook EXACTLY and my own that had just a few tiny adjustments.

I made my own version first (I know, bad idea) with a few tweaks it came out fine:




Then, while that was cooling I made the exact recipe:





Both turned out well, but had subtle differences in flavor. With my version I added an extra banana to the mix and then followed the recipe exactly. Unfortunately this caused the outside of the bread to finish while the inside was still raw. Thanks to my mom though, I learned that you can put foil a top of the bread to slow the cooking process on the outside of the bread. For both breads,  I found the cooking time to be off. If I let either loaf to cook for the recommended hour the whole thing would have been burnt to a crisp! I found that if you bake the loaves for 40 minutes, put foil on them and then bake them for another 10 minutes the bread comes out perfectly.

Enough of the technical stuff, I want to talk about the difference in taste! My version had stronger banana flavor than the cookbooks version, but it turned out more dense as well. I didn't mind that so much though, I eat the banana bread for breakfast mostly and a denser bread is more filling. The cookbook's banana bread, while lighter had less of a banana flavor and more of a general sweet taste. The texture differed more than in just the weight of the bread too. The cookbook's bread had a slightly grainy texture, while my variation was a bit smoother and was significantly more moist. Amazing the difference one small banana makes isn't it?

Okay hopefully I won't get distracted again and next time I will have a yeast bread to share with you.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines *Review*

I won this in a GR giveaway for my mother. She loves anything Victorian. I'm a lot like her, I love Victorian items, themes, and programing as well. I haven't actually watched a single episode of Downton Abbey, but hoped that this cookbook would inspired me to start because I'm not really one for watching TV shows once I'm behind everyone else. I expected to see mostly dishes from the series with an occasional extra traditional Victorian recipes thrown in. Unfortunately this wasn't the case at all.

Baines doesn't appear to have many recipes from the actual tv show. Rather, she says a lot of "*Downton Abbey character* might like this". On a few occasions she even goes out of the era entirely and travels as far as the 1950s. If I were a fan of the series this would irritate me to no end. Almost every recipe has a tidbit of information about traditions and etiquette accustom to the Victorian era. She always finds a way to seek in a little bit of information from the show as well. It was enough to whet my appetite for more of the series. I'm currently in the process of finding a site that I can watch episodes for free.

All in all I feel like this failed a little as a cookbook and would have been better as a "World of Downton Abbey" book with a FEW recipes thrown in. Instead of recipes being the main focus, manners, customs, etiquette, and dress would take center stage. In my opinion that would have made for a far better book.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Clueless Baker: Cheese Bread

It was finally cool enough outside for me to bake! It's been hard lately for me to justify baking lately because it's so damn hot outside! Anything over 75 degrees is just too hot for me. Anyway, I was able to bake today without turning my house into a furnace.

I made cheese bread and this time I made sure to look CLOSELY at the directions and preheat the oven to it's proper temperature. I did everything the way I was supposed to and look at my reward:






It came out PERFECTLY!! I am so happy it didn't fall apart this time!

As for the taste.....well it leaves a something to be desired. For being a cheesy bread recipe I didn't taste the cheese, it had taste, but I could put my finger on what it was. I shared some with my mom and she was able to provide the answer that eluded me...CORNBREAD! That's what it tastes like! I don't mind cornbread, but that wasn't really what I wanted today. If I wanted cornbread I would have made cornbread. I didn't eat another bite, but my mom had a few pieces with her soup and she said it complements tomato soup nicely. So, at least the bread won't go to waste. I won't eat it (I hate tomato soup), but perhaps others in my family will polish it off for me. The recipe calls for 1 1/4 cup cheese, this is by FAR not enough. Anyone who is thinking of trying this recipe make it of 2 cups of cheese (I used sharp cheddar) and let me know if it's any better.

Next up...I'm not sure...some kind of yeast bread.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Blindsight (Through the Eyes of Aniela Dawson) by Eliabeth Hawthorne

Before reading this review, please read my review on  "Blindsight (Through the Eyes of Leocardo Reyes).

The plot in this book is basically the same as it was in Leo's book, but told through the eyes of a different key character, Ana. While the plot is the same in the way of the ending and the driving force of the plot being Odette, the book reads like a completely different story (which I guess it kind of is).

Rather than being taken from her homeland and stranded on the strange island of Edaion, Ana has lived there all her life and is in fact, a princess. She befriends Odette and we get to see many of the minor mysteries from Leo's story revealed.

This is kind of like the secret behind the scenes footage from the movie that is Leo's Blindsight. The reader gets to see the mundane aspects and everyday activities of the islands inhabitants. Ana's version of the plot breathes life into Edaion. Characters come to life, and royal family drama smacks you over the head with a crown. And if you're like me, who loves watching shows like Real Housewives of New Jersey, and Dance Moms you'll eat this up. I truly loved the strong personalities in this book, many of the characters stood out and grabbed my attention. The author's portrayal of Ana and her trials made this more of a lovely coming of age story with an on-going mystery playing somewhat in the background. Hawthorne's way with relationships between the characters was well done and Ana's internal monologue was very realistic. And I love the portrayal of what royalty is in this book. No princesses sitting around doing nothing, but princesses with an unending list of responsibilities and obligations.

Now for the reason why I call this book a "behind the scenes" version of the events. The book does well after reading Leo's version, but certainly would not work if someone reads this version first or on it's own. Ana's Blindsight seems to assume that the reader knows what is going on. Explanations  on how the Edaion operates, and why things are the way they are, are often muddled. The framework of the world is brushed over or hinted at, which is understandable given that the character doesn't need the explanation...but the reader still does.

The two different versions of the plot work wonderfully together. Each has what the other is missing. Leo's story focuses on events and the plot, but is dry and doesn't seem to have much room for the characters. While Ana's story focuses on the characters, their thoughts, feelings, actions, and relationships, it's entertaining to read, but lacks a focused plot and groundwork to give the reader and understanding of the world. After I read both I felt like I read more than just a book, I received a peek into a fascinating world where all of the characters can shine. There isn't one main character with supporting characters around him/her instead there is a community of people each with their own agenda. I can't wait to continue this journey.

WAIT! Before you go I'd like to leave you with an excerpt from Ana's story...It's quite possibly the cutest prologue I've ever read.
This post is part of the Blind Sight Blog Tour. Blind Sight is an urban fantasy novel written in two volumes, each telling the story through a different character's perspective. preview on Barnes and Noble preview on Amazon


Blind Sight tells the story of Odette Reyes, a blind girl who develops the ability to draw. In one volume, the story is told through the eyes of her brother Leocardo who thinks she's having premonitions. The other volume tells the same story through the eyes of her best friend Aniela who thinks she's a medium channeling voiceless spirits. Who is right? Whose eyes will you read through?


This is the prologue to Aniela's volume.


A bundle of joy wrapped in a white feather boa streaked down the hall. Her long blonde hair flowed out behind her. Dressed in a vintage dress several sizes too large, Edaion’s youngest princess had just come out from playing dress up in her mother’s closet. Aniela wore oversized tortoise-shell aviator sunglasses and a necklace of pearls that dragged on the floor, threatening to trip her as she ran barefoot toward her sister’s room. The energetic four-year-old girl pushed open the bedroom door without knocking, still learning appropriate boundaries.
Seven-year-old Tatiana sat on her bed, her dark hair and dark eyes a stark contrast to Aniela’s baby blues. One of their mother’s favorite lamps levitated up and down; it moved slowly through the air. Tatiana never let it exceed six inches from the ground while she practiced her magic. All three of the Dawson children had inherited telekinesis from their mother. Tatiana specialized in large, heavy objects. Her twin, Theodore, who sat at Tatiana’s desk playing solitaire in the air, specialized in multiple small objects. Aniela had yet to develop a specialty.
“Hi Ana,” Theodore said. The door swung shut without any help from his sister.
“Hi Teo,” Aniela replied, sometimes still struggling with her t-h sounds.
Aniela tried to jump on her sister’s bed, but it was too high, causing her to miss and slide down until her feet once again touched the soft rug. She backed up and took a running leap. Aniela’s forehead smacked into Tatiana’s palm and she toppled backward onto to floor. Theodore frowned. His brow furrowed as he shook his head, but he did not comment as Aniela crawled up onto his lap instead. Much like his role in life, his looks fell somewhere between the two girls’. He had Tatiana’s intelligent brown eyes and Aniela’s light blonde hair. While he lacked Aniela’s innocence, he also lacked Tatiana’s smugness. He was the middle; one they could both enjoy.
“What do you want?” Tatiana droned in her ever present annoyed tone.
“Where does magic come from?” Aniela watched the lamp travel fluidly through the air as Tatiana moved it to the floor before answering.
“<i>Everyone</i> knows that a boat shipwrecked on the island and that one of our ancestors was the captain.”
“They were cursed for hunting on the island.” Theodore took up the story.
Aniela looked back and forth between her siblings, watching them trade off the conversation like a ball in a tennis match and quickly lost interest.
“I want to go to the park,” she announced.
“I’ll see if Marcus can drive us,” Theodore offered. Rarely did the king or queen have time to chaperone their children.
Simultaneously, and with practiced ease, the cards moved into a neat pile on Tatiana’s desk as Theodore picked Aniela off his lap and set her on the floor. Tatiana’s eyes flickered with new-found mischievousness as her twin closed the door behind him and waved Aniela over. Excited to be included, Aniela scrambled over, but Tatiana stopped her before she could climb onto the bed. She leaned in close, Tatiana’s voice barely more than a whisper. Something in her voice made Aniela feel the way she did before she snuck into their mother’s closet without permission.
Tatiana’s eyes glistened. “You know what we should do?”
“What?” Aniela bounced as she failed to contain her enthusiasm.
“We should play hide and seek at the park, but you know how Theo always finds you so quick?” She paused, lowering her voice. “So when we get there, you go hide, and I’ll give you a head start before I tell Theo it’s time to look for you.” If Aniela had known about <i>Alice in Wonderland,</i> she would have compared Tatiana’s smile to that of the Cheshire Cat’s.
“Okay!” Aniela agreed enthusiastically. She put her fingers to her lips and turned an invisible key, offering it to Tatiana for safekeeping. Tatiana did not play along, letting the would-be key fall onto the bed untouched.
“And no telling Theo,” Tatiana emphasized. “I’ll tell him, but before we go you had better put Mum’s clothes back where you found them.”
“Okay.” Aniela sprinted out of the room and back down the hall. She placed the clothes back in the trunk at the back of her mother’s closet, pearls and all. She then returned to Tatiana’s room to find Theodore waiting and Tatiana ready to go. They piled into a waiting car; Theodore placed himself between the two girls. The driver would stay with them in place of a bodyguard, for while no one had expanded on the subject, Aniela knew there was some kind of protection in place that made them unnecessary.
Aniela pressed her face to glass as she watched the houses go by. “We here! We here!” she celebrated.
Theodore helped Aniela as she fumbled to get out of the car.
“You’ll want to chew some gum after you smoke or Mum will smell it on your breath,” Tatiana told Marcus as she climbed out. He coughed and Theodore’s eyes narrowed. “What? It’s true!”
Once Aniela was freed from her booster seat, she shot out of the car and went to find a suitable hiding place. She looked around and chose the jungle gym. Hiding in one of the many colorful tunnels, she listened for either of her siblings to start counting. When she did not hear any, she assumed she was safely hidden. Excited about the game, she was determined to stay put, at least until her short attention span got the better of her. Her gaze fell on two boys sitting in the gravel near the swing set; one was holding a vehemently protesting cat while the other pulled its whiskers.
“Stop it! Stop being mean!” her voice echoed through the tunnel. She crawled out and ran back to the twins.
She pulled on the hem of Theodore’s shirt with one hand and pointed with the other. “Mean boys are being mean to a kitty!” she screamed and turned to Tatiana. “Fix it!”
Aniela’s anger elevated once Tatiana’s eyes fell on the boys, able to read her sibling’s mood whether she wanted to or not. She moved behind Theodore, pushing on his lower back and keeping directly behind him as if he were an impenetrable wall. Tatiana walked over with an intimidating gait, so quiet in her movements that despite Aniela’s yelling, the boys did not look up until her shadow was upon them. One look at her and they both shot off in the opposite direction, leaving the cat to run off as well.
“Awe!” Aniela yelled, “Kitty! Kitty come back! I wanna take you home! Tia get it!”
“Ana, don’t be silly. The cat is not going to want to be caught after that.”
“But I wanna make it feel better. Tia use your ma-muh…” she was muffled by Theodore’s hand cupping her mouth. She huffed at him, but his hand remained firm as he began forcibly walking her back to the car.
“Not a word until we get home,” he hissed.
Confused, she looked up at him, unable to understand why he was angry now that the cat was free, but he remained silent.
“Marcus, gum please.” Tatiana shot out a demanding hand between the front seats once she joined them. He handed her two pieces and she passed one to Theodore.
“I want gum,” Aniela whined. The first and only time she had been given gum, she had swallowed it.
“You’re too young,” Tatiana gloated, blowing a large bubble and popping it with her teeth.
“Am not!” Aniela puffed out her bottom lip and made sad puppy dog eyes at her brother who she no longer felt was mad at her.
Tatiana reached across Theodore and pulled one of Aniela’s shoestrings, untying it in one fluid motion. “You’re too young until you can tie your shoe.”
“I can,” Aniela shot, bringing her foot up close and playing with the laces. Her tongue wiggled around, poking out of the corner of her mouth in determination. It kept her busy the whole way home until eventually, Theodore reached over and helped.
“Ana, you still want gum?” Tatiana asked once they were home.
“Yes please!” she held out her hand expectantly.
“Here.” Tatiana took the piece of gum out of her mouth and placed it in Aniela’s hand. A familiar grin spread across Tatiana’s face.
Aniela’s jaw dropped and her nose wrinkled in mortified disgust. Saliva pooled in the palm of her hand as it slid off the damp wad while she stared at it until Theodore took it from her. Aniela wiped her hand on Theodore’s shirt and he made no signs of minding, but as soon as Tatiana started to do the same, he gave her a dark glare and she wiped her fingers on her own shirt instead.
Theodore took Aniela by the hand and walked her to her room. “Stay. I will be right back and we can talk about why I had to cut you off in the park,” he commanded. He closed the door behind him. She waited for his footsteps to fade down the marble hallway before tiptoeing out of her room and back into her sister’s.
“What now?” Tatiana groaned.
“Why can’t we use magic outside?”
Tatiana had been lying on her back but rolled over on the bed before she answered. The same grin she had worn that morning pulled at the corners of her lips. “If you use magic, or mention it outside the house, in the middle of the night, when the lights are out and you’re sound asleep…”
“You just don’t!” Theodore interjected firmly. The door to Tatiana’s room had swung open so forcefully it collided with the wall, cutting Tatiana off mid-sentence. “Inside is one thing, but outside it is forbidden.” Theodore informed Aniela before Tatiana could continue.
Tatiana pouted and rolled back over, but Aniela could not help but worry where the story had been going. All sorts of terrible scenarios played through her vivid imagination involving monsters in the closet or bugs that came and carried people away in their sleep, but she did not want to know badly enough to ask Tatiana to continue. Theodore took her by the hand, this time more gently, and led her back to her room.
“Ana, don’t let Tia scare you. Magic is not scary; it is a gift. You will understand when you are older. For now, you do not want to get in trouble, do you?”
Aniela shook her head.
-end excerpt-

This post is part of the Blind Sight Blog Tour. Blind Sight is an urban fantasy novel written in two volumes, each telling the story through a different character's perspective. preview on Barnes and Noble preview on Amazon

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blindsight (Through the eyes of Leocardo Reyes) by Ermisenda Alvarez

Woohoo! My second ever book review where I actually had contact with the author! I couldn't contain my excitement as I downloaded the Kindle version of the book. As an avid reader that has loved reading and stories of all kinds since birth I felt like I was seeing into the secret behind the scenes world that I dreamt of as a child.

Blindsight takes readers to an extraordinary world. It's almost like a world within our own. Leocardo and his blind sister, Odette are normal citizens of Spain. As the story starts we see a fascinating contradiction that drives the mystery of this book. Odette, for some reason starts drawing and not squiggles or lines, but life like pictures. Next thing she or her brother know they have been whisked away to Edaion, an island that has magical properties and it seems like it has taken the siblings hostage. Leo is frantic, desperate, and doesn't know what to do, while his sister is dealing with her own problems. No one seems to know or care that they were taken against their will and why does Odette keep drawing? She's blind!

The story starts out with an intense scene that completely sucks the reader in. Leo's distress and actions are believable and one can't help but watch (well, read) to see how he is going to handle things and if he will escape. A little later in the book, things slow down questions are poised that have no clear answer and the reader is given just enough to work on. Not so little that one is frustrated, but not so much that the plot is obvious. The plot trickles through while a fog of mystery and intrigue clouds your view and whispers of the other characters distract the reader.

The writing is rather straight forward, and in all honestly a little dry. However, the reader is given all of the technical information of the island and how the world that exists within the island works. There is no grey area that can leave readers confused, all is explained and is explained well.

The only big complaint I have about this book is the main character. He seems to be lacking a little in the personality department. His emotions seem one dimensional in the beginning (although I will admit that this gets better as the book goes on) and other than being an incredibly caring older brother I can't really remember anything specific about him. Although he was active in the mystery of the book I couldn't help but feel like he was a passive character overall. Stuff just kind of happened to him and for him, he didn't really get anywhere by himself. The only part when I felt like he was his own character and not just a pawn of the plot was in the pool scenes (oh yeah, one other thing about him is that he liked to swim). However, even though this may seem like a glaring flaw, it actually had little effect on the story as whole. The plot was interesting and unique enough that it didn't really need Leo to make it complete; he would have just been the icing on the cake.

A few last things I would like to touch on before I end this review. One is just a technical issue that may need to be looked into. While reading the book, about three quarters of the way through I had problems with the file. For some reason chapter 18 would not load for me for 2 days. I rebooted my kindle and still no luck, instead of the next section of the book I got a white screen. I tried to turn the page and for some reason I was put back to mid-way through chapter 17. It could have been my kindle (I have been having some minor loading problems lately), but in case it wasn't and other people previewing this book have had the issue I want my case to be known as well. The other thing I wanted to address is my concern over where the story may be headed. I won't reveal anything in particular, but I worry that this book may be headed for the overdone messiah ending that plagues sci-fi and fantasy books. Meaning (I want to be clear, the following scenario is SPECULATION! This was not written in the book!)  that for some reason the island is dying and that the one of the characters is so special and powerful that they have to die in order to save everyone. It was done in The Matrix, Artemis Fowl, and Stranger in a Strange Land just to name a few. In this day and age these types of endings are overdone and it worries me that the book may be headed in this direction.

I really enjoyed this book and it has made me a fan of the series. The author did something I always love to see at the end...SHE GIVES A PREVIEW TO THE NEXT BOOK!!! Now I'm caught in between a sadness of being unable to continue the story (even though the ending was satisfying)  and the excitement for the next volume. This was truly a unique book and I enjoyed it greatly. And for all of you who are still on the fence I'll leave you with an excerpt from the book to whet your literary appetite.



This post is part of the Blind Sight Blog Tour. Blind Sight is an urban fantasy novel written in two volumes, each telling the story through a different character's perspective. preview on Barnes and Noble preview on Amazon

 
Blind Sight is an urban fantasy about a blind girl who suddenly develops the ability to draw. Told in two different novels, Ermisenda tells the story through the eyes of the blind girl's brother, Leocardo. He thinks Odette is having premonitions. The other volume written by Eliabeth, tells the story through the eyes of Odette's best friend Aniela, who thinks Odette is a medium channeling voiceless spirits. This is the prologue to Blind Sight Through the Eyes of Leocardo Reyes.

Blind Sight Through the Eyes of Leocardo Reyes

 

by Ermisenda Alvarez

  Something was wrong. Leocardo’s blind, sixteen-year-old sister Odette was drawing. She stood next to the fridge and scribbled feverishly on a piece of paper.
“Odette?” he walked over, certain his eyes deceived him. He quickened his pace when she didn’t respond. “Odette what are you doing?”
Something was wrong with her eyes; her pupils were huge, and they engulfed her usual chestnut color.
“Odette, stop.”
He tried to pull her arm, but like a cat that didn’t want to be picked up, she seemed to become instantly heavier. The pen continued to run across the page as her silence persisted. He frowned, growing angry.
“Odette!” She did not flinch.
He glanced down at the paper and realized her scribble was actually an image. Trees and mountains framed a large lake on the paper and Leocardo was frozen in confusion. How was she drawing? The pen fell onto the paper as Odette collapsed into Leocardo’s arms.
Twisting her around to face him, he demanded, “What were you doing? Answer me!”
Her limp body shook in his arms; her eyes closed and she was barely audible as if on the brink of passing out. “I don’t feel good,” she murmured weakly. Even though she was naturally petite and fragile, now she looked like she was about to shatter. “I want to sleep.”
The warm brown crept back into her unfocused eyes and her pupils normalized.
“Odette,” he started again, but her trembling became more violent so he stopped. “Okay.” He scooped her up in his arms and carried her to her room. As soon as she hit the sheets, the trembling stopped and almost as quickly, snoring followed.
Leocardo wanted to wake her up so he could question her, but he wasn't sure if she would have any answers. He couldn’t help but wonder if this had happened to her before. He stormed back to the kitchen, picked up the paper, and examined the drawing. The sun’s rays tore through the clouds, and Odette had even added glimmer to the lake’s rippled surface. Odette had been blind since birth; so how could she have drawn this so perfectly? If he hadn’t seen her doing it, he never would have believed it.
Leocardo slouched into the leather couch, still holding the paper. He felt a throbbing pain behind his eyes. Staring at the drawing, he tried to glean some divine understanding of what it meant or how she had done it. His black labrador, Cielo, had abandoned him to sit outside Odette’s bedroom. He was stunned; he knew he shouldn't have been angry with her, but he had been scared and confused.
An hour passed; he was no more enlightened. He looked up to find Odette standing in the open doorway to her room. He kept silent, but his gaze followed her. She seemed better, no longer moving with the mechanical gestures she had used when she was drawing. Cielo’s nails clicked on the hardwood floor as she followed Odette’s every move.
With disbelief, he watched as Odette began to prepare some sandwiches. “Odette,” he called softly, not wanting to startle her.
“Yeah?”
Leocardo hesitated; why was she acting like nothing happened? “What happened to you before?”
She shrugged, “I guess I had low blood sugar. It was just a headache.”
“What do you remember?” he pried. How could she not remember?
“I had a headache. I went to the fridge. I got dizzy for a second. You caught me.” She paused. “How’d you get from the couch to the fridge that fast?” she asked, as though he was the one who did something strange.
“What?” Irate, he marched over. “Don’t you remember drawing this?” He flapped the page so she could hear it rustle. “What are you trying to pull? This isn’t a game.” He was losing his already short patience. Something could be seriously wrong and she was being evasive.
Her brow pressed together and her lips thinned as she let out a frustrated huff. She spoke slowly, as if concerned he was losing his mind. “Leo…you know I can’t draw, much less see whatever it is you might be holding.”
“I know you can’t,” he said a little defensively. Why was she questioning him when she should be providing answers? “You got up and went to the fridge before you started to draw this. I’m not making this up. I have the drawing right here in my hand!” He restrained himself, shaking the paper again, as if hearing the sound made his story more believable.
Odette’s calm expression indicated that she was not amused.
“How can you not remember?” he asked angrily.
He sighed and dropped the drawing onto the floor. His fingers ran through his hair as he tried to make sense of everything without flying off the handle.
“I’m sorry,” Odette murmured, “but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s okay…sorry,” The moment was awkward and disjointed; he was unsure what to do. Odette went back to making the sandwich, and Leocardo returned to the sofa. He snatched the remote and flipped between channels until he settled on the news.
Tragedies flashed on the screen as Leocardo watched, desperate for a distraction. Something wasn’t adding up, cognitive dissonance, ironic that something he was learning in school was relevant to his life for a change. Maybe he imagined it all. Maybe the lack of sleep was getting to him and he had drawn it. Television bored him, but he didn’t know what else to do. The news changed topics, now featuring Alaska and its trading partners.
“Edaion,” Leocardo repeated one of the countries listed. A sudden and overwhelming desire to visit this island nation overtook him.
Odette came over and sat next to him, her unfocused eyes in the direction of the screen. Leocardo leaned forward as if being pulled into the screen. He was mesmerized. Slowly he felt his eyelids droop.
“Edaion,” Odette whispered. A silence fell over them and a supernatural film began to wrap around them. Invisible to all, it pressed down on them. Cocooned in this new state, he continued to stare in a trance at the screen. Unable to understand why, he had never wanted anything in his life as much as he wanted to travel to Edaion.
When he tried to stand, he felt an immense pressure upon his shoulders, face, and chest. He reached out to Odette, feeling as though he was falling through the sofa itself. Cielo whined and nuzzled his knee. His grip around Odette’s hand tightened. Suddenly the pressure snapped and he felt the painful sensation of being rammed from all sides, as if hit by a train.
In a dreamlike state, he stumbled forward with Odette sandwiched between him and Cielo. They were somewhere else, no longer in the cozy Barcelona apartment. The air was clean and chilly. A stranger’s arm brushed up against him as a group huddled together, all looking lost and confused. Half a dozen dogs circled and sniffed them. While trying to restore his equilibrium, he noticed the dogs wouldn’t leave Odette alone. They sniffed and licked her palms causing her to wipe them on his shirt. Someone asked him if he was okay, but he didn't answer. The speaker herded the group onto a bus, and as soon as he was seated, Leocardo’s head fell against the windowsill. Blackness engulfed his vision.
The bus lurched and Leocardo was propelled into the seat in front of him. His eyes flew open; his throat felt dry and his nose was pink from the cold. Someone held a colored version of Odette’s drawing before his eyes. It was blurry, and as he reached out, his fingers hit glass. With his sleeve, he wiped the window to see the drawing become clear. Something was wrong.
Why was it behind glass? Where was he? Why was he on a bus? His gaze darted back to Odette who had Cielo nuzzling her affectionately. Her eyes were closed. He woke her up with a shake of the shoulders.
“What is this?” Leocardo demanded as if she would know.
“What’s what? You’re the one who can see, remember?” Her voice was soft and timid. He realized she was just as confused. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close and then placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
His gaze returned to the window. It was still there. As the bus meandered through perilous mountains, he never lost sight of the lake. It was glistening, majestic and overwhelming in size, but it was not a drawing. This time he knew it was real. Something was terribly wrong.
-end excerpt-
This post is part of the Blind Sight Blog Tour. Blind Sight is an urban fantasy novel written in two volumes, each telling the story through a different character's perspective. preview on Barnes and Noble preview on Amazon