The Girl with Silver Eyes

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From Goodreads, modern cover

Recently, I treated myself to a bit of a belated book spree on Amazon. I’d been hoarding a gift card balance from Christmas and my birthday. I like to keep a balance for ebook purchases but I’d also been waiting for a move to be done before picking some books off the long to-buy list (not as long as the to-read list so that’s a good thing for my wallet).

A while back, I’d added a book from childhood to the list. I have a small collection of my childhood books. The ones I’ll re-read periodically or the ones I’m going to force down my nieces’ and nephews’ throats when they come to visit someday. However, there were a few glaring omissions. One of my latest acquisitions was a big one and I know why I didn’t own it. It’s actually one I found through school.

Most of the reading I did early on for school wasn’t my cup of tea. I was often bored because the books were too easy or I didn’t care for the characters. This all started to change in 5th grade. Mr. Clark wasn’t the sort of teacher I’d encountered before and I adored his class. We dissected owl pellets, cows’ eyes and a sheep’s brain that year. Went to the swamp for our class trip. Fostered baby snapping turtles and very happily called Mr. Clark’s Florida King Snake Blackie as we wore him around our necks. Science was big in his classroom and it was the first time it was a real focus of my schooling that I remember. With Mr. Clark also came some very cool science fiction books. When I recently posted about picking up a copy of The Girl with Silver Eyes, a classmate from that year said that was the teacher that led to her love of science fiction and fantasy and I would have to agree. This book and the White Mountain trilogy were like gateway drugs and I happily fed the newfound addiction with Bruce Coville’s Magic Shop books and Dinotopia that year too. Overall, 5th grade was a great reading year. Except for Where The Red Fern Grows but I have blocked that one out completely…not. I am still traumatized. Animals in peril. Enough said.

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From Goodreads, cover I remember from 5th grade (love the attitude Katie has going here!)

So, what is The Girl with Silver Eyes? For starters, it’s not a trilogy. Ten bucks says if it was written today, it would be. It’s also not preoccupied with world building; it’s completely character driven in a normal suburban setting. It’s the story of Katie, a very quiet, very shy not quite 10 year old who has silver eyes. And can move things with her mind. And talk to animals. In short, Katie is awesome and a bit of a spirit animal to my 5th grade self. As the book begins, Katie has just moved into an apartment with her mother after her grandmother passed away. Katie’s powers start to cause problems and brings the interest of a new neighbor on her head, a new neighbor who is not what he seems be at first glance. Also, Katie’s figured out why she has silver eyes and that maybe, just maybe, there might be other kids like her out there. But how to find them?

So, to start with, this book holds up really well even though to some extent, this book could not exist today. A lot of the tension and pages of this book owe itself to the fact Katie couldn’t simply Google the other kids’ names once she finds them. Also, a lot of it runs on the idea of the telephone in a way we just don’t worry about anymore. Katie has to stay in her apartment to wait for phone calls. Think about that. Still, the idea behind the story is still solid and I sort of love that the book has a bit of an ambiguous ending. Like I said above, today the book would probably be a trilogy and have some odd love triangle develop along with lots more details about the shadowy Psychic Institute introduced in the end but here, we’re left with this idea that Katie is going to be OK…we think. A kid can make up their own ending and I think we don’t do enough of that in kids’ science fiction and fantasy today (and I cannot believe I am writing that as I am one of those people that loves every little plot line wrapped up in the end usually).

So, in short, I still love this book and hope it’s still being shared in some way with kids today. If nothing else, I kept trying to think through how the story might change in a 2017 setting and realizing I’d still really like to be Katie, silver eyes and all.

Reading Catch-Up

Time for some drive-by book reviews to get you all caught up on my reading since the last one.

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas: It has been awhile since I read this one but I remember liking it. I especially enjoyed the setting; the touch of magic surrounding all the characters and the setting of the romantic Istanbul does a lot to save a sort of convoluted plot.

Maud’s Line by Margaret Verble: [This is excerpted from my Goodreads review and I still agree with it all] Ugh. So, this book and me did not get on. First of all, I know I am coming from a place of white privilege and do not have the same fear of authorities that minorities, particularly Native Americans in 1920s Oklahoma, rightfully have but ugh, Maud needed to trust someone, ANYONE. I found it extremely annoying. If she would have just been honest with a lot of people, she would have been better off. The story is not boring and moves along at a good clip. In fact, it is packed full of action. The author’s similes are a bit much at times; so much so they could bring me out of the story as they were quite jarring but I think that must be the cadence of the language of the area she’s bringing in. Not having visited Oklahoma, it was an area and a culture I was very unfamiliar with. So, I think that was also a sense of my discomfort with the story and its characters. It was very foreign to me, the distrust of authority, the scheming on Maud’s part and then her ability to know what she should do and not doing it anyway, the rather dreary setting and the way the very landscape seems to be driving people crazy. Maud and I agreed on one thing; she needed a change of scene. She was not a comfortable character but rather infuriating. And when it’s her story, it’s hard to get past that.

Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) and and Paper and Fire (The Great Library #2) by Rachel Caine: This series gets better with each book. I enjoy every character and it’s been awhile since I could say that about a book (or books). The idea for the series is also delightful and the world building is spot on. I do have difficulty when the big bad represents something I generally adore (libraries, books, knowledge) but I like that the whole idea of the series is exploring what happens when the desire to protect such things comes at too high a cost, with too much control over the very thing you’re trying to protect that you subvert its ideals.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger: A good mystery made more compelling by the coming of age story at the center of it. The brothers Frank and Jake make for excellent guides through a turbulent summer in small town Minnesota.

We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson: Really enjoyed this read; made difficult physics questions easy and fun to understand. Not that I still always understood but I definitely followed better than I did in my high school physics class all those years ago. I enjoyed the partnership between the text and the drawings as well as the type of humor. I’d recommend for someone like me who is curious but not always very good at following high concept science but also for someone a lot younger who hasn’t encountered a physics class yet. I think this would make a great companion for someone taking a class right now too.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: Second time the charm! Happy I got this back from the library fairly soon after I had to return it and go back on the waiting list (the first time I got it out, I didn’t have time to finish it!). I really enjoyed this memoir. The science interspersed with Jahren’s stories makes for a very interesting and compelling read. While it doesn’t sound glamorous in any way, it does make you want to be a scientist. Or at the very least go plant something after you’re finished reading it.

Letters to Zell by Camille Griep: As always, I enjoy a good fairy tale retelling. This one was a lot of fun to read. The premise was great to begin with and I love a good book of letters but I think this book surprised me a bit too. I think a lot about what happened after the “happy ever after” (it’s a hobby) and this is one of the more compelling and interesting takes on it. It’s a bit of Shrek meets chick lit in many ways which works better than you’d think.

Recent Journeys

Two weeks ago (good grief, how does time go so quickly?!), I was on vacation. I needed it. Spring has been sluggish for me. I’ve had a hard time getting a rhythm going so I looked forward to a change of scenery for a week to just give myself a chance to re-set.

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Seriously, he’s adorable and never stops moving (nor has he learned where a camera is yet LOL)

I started out my week with family. My nephew is already getting ridiculously big and has the best smile. I even successfully stayed alone with him while his parents had some pool time. Yes, he was mostly asleep for that time but small victories people. I am not a baby person. We also went and frolicked at IKEA for an afternoon – I do enjoy a good walk through IKEA even if the crowds are ridiculous.

I then went off to Walt Disney World for a few days. This was big for me as it was my first official solo trip in which I was on my own for the entire time. I kind of adored it. I didn’t have to worry about anyone’s whims but mine. I could go on attractions I hadn’t been on in forever or wait in lines for those that I enjoy but the others could care less about. I could decide to watch the parade or the night shows or go do something else while those went off. I didn’t have much of a plan. Which for Disney these days means I knew exactly what parks I would be in, what attractions I would be riding, what shows I would watch when and where I was eating at all times. But I didn’t know what I was doing in between my plans and that was delightful.

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The food in Pandora is pretty (and tasty too!)

I will note I got to see all the new things at WDW and I enjoyed them all. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about Animal Kingdom’s newest land, Pandora, since I got back (I managed to avoid most spoilers before my visit) and I have to say, I agree at times and other times I wonder if I visited a different place LOL as those bloggers and podcasters. Pandora is small but that’s the point. Disney Imagineering is trying to create a very personal, intimate experience with Pandora and I think they mostly succeed. There are kinks to work out but there always are with new attractions. Pandora is gorgeous; easily one of the loveliest things I’ve seen come out of Imagineering in my lifetime. It is different from day to night in a way we haven’t seen in the parks before. Both the official attractions are gorgeous; one worth the wait and one not in my opinion but that is usually the way of it right? For me, Flight of Passage was incredible. I think next time I ride Soarin’, I’ll feel like I’m on an antique. It was grandiose and yet so much…my experience. I rode a Banshee; there were other people in the room at the time but I couldn’t have told you they were there. I flew; I felt that animal breathing underneath me. I don’t know how they did that but I adored every minute of it and would happily wait for it a couple times next trip to do it again. The other ride? Has an audio animatronic to die for. It’s beautiful in every sense of the word. It’s also really short. Far too short for the amount of time you wait to board your boat. And also, any bets on how much time passes before that audio animatronic has technical problems? We’re still waiting for the yeti to be fixed…At least Everest has a ride without the yeti. Take away the Shaman from that ride and you just have a really short pretty boat ride.

I critique because I love of course. I always want them to keep moving their ideas forward and keep wowing me. But keeping what they have up and running is important too. Wowing me was certainly on the menu with Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom. That show is incredible. And overwhelming. There was almost too much going on; I didn’t know whether to watch the fireworks or the Castle projections. So, repeat viewing is a must for this show (as is getting your spot at least an hour early; I was used to Wishes where I could stroll up 30 minutes before and get a good spot so this threw me a bit). I missed the narrative of Wishes a lot; HEA is just sort of an compilation of greatest hits and current favorites. I ADORED that Hunchback of Notre Dame got some serious love from this show; a lot of “forgotten” or often overlooked Disney characters poked their heads up in this one and I can only applaud that. The Disney geeks will always want more of that for ourselves and also so we can share those movies with the new generations. Yes, I love Frozen but it was nice, like I said, to see Quasi get his moment center stage too.

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Best part of the reunion was hanging with this crew for the weekend

After I let my inner eight year run rampant, I headed north so my inner 20 year could re-visit undergrad. It was time for my ten year reunion at Gettysburg College. I find it so hard to believe it’s been ten years. In so many ways, I feel am the same kid who lived there for four years and in so many ways, I know I am not. I especially loved getting to room with my Senior year roommates again and just be around friends for a weekend. I am coming up on five years in Tallahassee; the longest I have lived anywhere since finishing undergraduate studies at Gettysburg and I’m feeling that a bit. It’s hard to describe exactly. I enjoy my work a lot; always have and I like Tallahassee but I’m still working on making it home and one of the things I’ve never quite succeeded in doing is finding a solid core group of friends here like I always had at home or in school. It’s different now of course; so much of my age group is married and has young children and doesn’t have time, or make time, for friendship outside of those groups. Which is fine and I understand. It’s just…it would be nice to have some of my oldest friends closer geographically for sure. So, I clearly just need to travel to visit people more. The whole student-loans-take-over-my-bank-account lifestyle will just have to take a hike and I’ll fly around and visit people instead.

So, that is what I have been up to. I need to do a reading round-up here and share a few recent recipes (as well as an experiment with Hello Fresh!) here too. I’m hoping to get back on a schedule on so many things (cooking! reading! exercising! blogging!) so fingers crossed I can. And oh yeah, work travel next week to add a challenge to scheduling should make this interesting per usual.

In which I hope May is better than April

Last month was pretty rough for a number of reasons. May so far is so-so. My body continues to hate me with a passion so the fun burning in my chest from what they say is an esophageal ulcer followed me into this month. But, there is travel and fun and vacation on the horizon so we’ll keep moving forward in the hopes of better days.

I am at least adoring my new apartment. It has a brand new kitchen with appliances so new I often don’t work my oven right because it doesn’t have a simple dial to turn like every other one I’ve ever had. I am enjoying having carpet back too. No more acres of tile to scrub constantly in an attempt to keep it clean. I am looking forward to getting my balcony screened in so once it is slightly cooler than the surface of the sun outside, I will have a lovely bug free place to eat and read. I am already hunting for a comfy reading chair for it. It’s been nice to want to spend money to make home more comfortable for sure.

My reading this year has been sporadic; I am so far off my year reading goals at this point, I am just going with the flow for the moment. The disorganized reading though is throwing me off. Figures my leisure reading not being structured would be a point of contention for me. I’ve enjoyed running a book club this spring and it’s introduced me to books I never would have read before so that’s been a nice change of pace for sure. Look for an upcoming drive by book review post!

Reading since January

I have been reading. I promise. Lately I’ve been feeling the need for historical romances as chasers for some heavier fiction. Being part of a book club has changed my reading habits more than I expected so I’m still adjusting to the fact I have this one book each month that is not of my choosing. I’m enjoying them; they just aren’t often quick reads. They need to be read slowly and thought over, mulled if you will, so I have something to say about them when I sit down to informally lead a discussion on it. So, let’s take a look at what I’ve been reading since I started the year with Austen. [You will note none of these go towards my reading goals really…I need to re-group on that set of goals one of these days…]

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Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher #1): I discovered Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix late last year and it was the best find ever. I was happy to discover they were books first and my delightful friend got me the first one for Christmas. While the book was lovely, I am going to say something that pains me a bit…I like the TV series version better. I know! For shame! But the series does a few things with what is a solid story base and the makings of a fabulous characters that make it that much better. 1) It cast perfectly – seriously, the TV series was almost too perfect in picking actors to enhance the makings of the characters in the book. And it edited them well too – taking some roles out and attributing them to other more prominent characters. It could also be over the course of the book series this happens as well but the TV series hits you with them 10 minutes in. 2) It takes everything on page and fleshes it out more. Which is odd because you usually have the opposite problem with film adaptations but this is a relatively short book with some odd choices in it. The series edited it perfectly; adding where needed, removing some of the odder choices. It’s one downfall might be it made all the “hero” characters a lot more likable than they come across in the book sometimes. I will be interested to keep reading to see how they continue to compare but for the moment, the TV version is winning this series.

As Old as Time (Twisted Tales #3): ** spoiler alert ** I am enjoying the Twisted Tales series from Disney. I missed the second one somehow but they are really stand alone stories, just in the same vein of storytelling. Besides, Beauty and the Beast is a personal favorite so clearly this was a must read for me. This particular retelling played well with the original story, having that pivotal moment again where the book begins to deviate from the movie we all know so well. In this tale, it is the moment of Belle and the rose in the West Wing. In the movie, she is stopped before she can touch it; here, not so much and so sets off the adventure. I liked this version of Belle; she is the one you recognize but also a bit like you would probably be in her shoes. The talking furniture freaks her out, she calls herself out when acting too much like a gothic heroine and is, quite rightly, not perfect. She sticks her foot in her mouth with the Beast as often as he loses his temper. I also liked that this story focuses as much on Belle and the Beast as it does on Belle’s mother and father. For the first part, the two stories are actually told in parallel and well the changes are sometimes clumsily wrought (the forgetting spell is convenient but doesn’t play out 100% well and Gaston is…well…not the villain here so I can forgive the changes there but they are kind of just weird in the end.) Overall, I liked this re-telling of B&B and I liked that it left the door open for more adventures of Belle and the Beast as they head off to find more of the displaced magical creatures.

The Complete Stories: I picked this up when I was in Savannah last fall at one of the most swoon-worthy bookstores I’ve found in a while in my travels. Flannery O’Connor is one of those 20th century authors I actually rather enjoy. I remember thanking heaven for Wise Blood in my contemporary American lit class as it was one book I enjoyed out of many I loathed. However, it took me awhile to get through this collection. Her stories are lovely but can be a lot in one sitting. I needed to pace myself to enjoy her language and quirky plot twists. These are never fun to read; it is language you read O’Connor for and that particular brand of Southern Gothic no one does better.

Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World: [I read an uncorrected proof via Edelweiss so some issues I had with this one are probably fixed in the published copy.] I both liked this and found it extremely annoying at the same time. I think a lot of it had to do with the formatting and I hope once this is actually published there will be better indicators to the readers when Stevens is switching between her narrative, one of her short stories, and the unfinished novel she’s working on because I spent a lot of pages figuring out which one was which a lot when reading. That said, I liked the disjointedness of the narrative (which surprised me), I just want a better marker for when the narrative is switching up. The author herself can grate a bit. She’s very much what you think of when you think “twenty-something rather insecure MFA graduate working on first novel.” But she is incredibly honest (or seems to be) and I cannot but applaud that sort of raw honesty about one’s self. She can be annoying, whiny, and unlikable and she doesn’t sugarcoat that. She also isn’t hiding her failure here and I liked that best of all. She is very clearly writing an entire book about this really weird and rather foolish idea she actually acted on and then failed at pretty spectacularly. I think she is strongest when it’s her narrative; I found the fiction she includes of that sort of pretentious overly sexual blather that MFA programs are churning out by the literary review full and I find utterly ridiculous and boring most of the time (because do you know the people in those stories? I don’t and I don’t want to either). I read this for the premise; the idea of a writer going off to live in the middle of nowhere and Nell Stevens delivered beautifully for that part of the story.

The Never-Open Desert Diner: I liked this novel but I’m not entirely sure I could tell you why. I liked the characters; as weird and rather unlikable as they could be. I liked their quirkiness. I loved the setting of the book. The desert is as much a character as its human counterparts and it made me want to go explore middle of nowhere Utah someday. The plot…is odd. About halfway through the book, the plot becomes even weirder than the characters involved and I’m not sure I really buy it in the end but I also don’t think the reader gets the full story so there are still a lot of blanks when you read the last page. It fits the story though so didn’t bother me as much as it normally would.

The Underground Railroad: This is as good as everyone is saying. You need to read it. Heartbreaking and yet inspiring to read. Cora is a character with a story who stays with you long after you finish the last page. I have nothing more to add, just go read it ASAP.

Orphan Train: I really enjoyed this read; I particularly liked the structure which is odd because often in a split narrative like this I prefer one storyline over the other but I liked both stories equally here and thought they complimented each other incredibly well. Both Vivian and Molly are strong, relatable heroines that you root for throughout the book. I also liked learning more about this odd little episode in American history and its after-effects on the generations that followed the orphan trains in the American midwest.

I have a stack on the bedside table at the moment (of course). I am about halfway through The Oracle of Stamboul and have Maud’s Line and Lab Girl on deck then it’s back to working on the books in the to-read pile before then getting back to my reading goals for the year…oy. I need more time to just read!

Working on a Re-Boot

So, to say I got off to a lazy start for 2017 is somewhat of an understatement. I have fallen off the wagon across the board (with eating right, working out, reading, staying organized, you name it). However, an upcoming move is forcing me to at least get myself organized. Getting myself back onto a workout schedule is proving more difficult but two upcoming 5Ks will mean at least have something to hold me accountable. Eating right is hit or miss at the moment and I was hoping for good things this weekend because I was finally going to try out my new spiralizer. Bonus, the recipe was delicious. Not so cool is it only made two servings and it was a lot of work for those two servings.

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See? Veggie City and so good just…not enough for the week.

Once I figured out how the spiralizer worked (and only destroyed a half of a zucchini to get there), it was a lot of fun but not particularly easy to get even enough for two portions. Another downfall for this was the amount of dishes generated and major con, the spiralizer and its various parts are not dishwasher friendly. And I really loathe washing dishes by hand.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, these portions are huge and filling but now I’m stuck trying to figure out dinner for the rest of the week. If a recipe can’t get me to at least Thursday, it’s not doing it’s job in my opinion (and usually means my eating habits go off the rails for the rest of the week because I never feel like cooking after work). So, fix for the future: make a double batch of this next time. Because it IS delish! So many tasty vegetables and I think I mentioned the portion is huge and so filling. I didn’t feel hungry five seconds after eating (which has been happening a lot lately with recipes I’ve been trying). It may not look like anything but a mess but I recommend this. I am a fan of the zucchini noodles; now just to figure out how to make enough to last a week.

Z’paghetti Primavera [Clever name; it’s one of HG’s recipes]

Prep: 15 minutes [I don’t know what planet they are from; there is a lot of chopping involved with this one; I was at least 45 minutes in prep and that is not including figuring out how to use my spiralizer…]

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:
1 lb. zucchini
3/4 cup thinly sliced onion (1 medium sized yellow onion)
3/4 cup thinly sliced bell pepper (1 large; I used green but yellow might be good here for some color contrasts in the final product)
3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped broccoli
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (I quartered grape tomatoes)
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. each salt and black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Using a spiral vegetable slicer, cut zucchini into spaghetti-like noodles.
  2. Bring an extra-large skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to medium-high heat. Cook and stir zucchini until hot and slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
  3. Transfer zucchini to a strainer, and thoroughly drain excess liquid.
  4. Remove skillet from heat. Re-spray, and bring to medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, broccoli, and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook for 4 minutes, or until veggies are tender and water has evaporated.
  5. Add drained zucchini and all remaining ingredients except Parm. Cook and stir until entire dish is hot and garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in 2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese. Serve topped with remaining 2 tbsp. cheese.

BBQ Chicken without a Grill

I am still grill-less. I even still have the money my parents gave me to buy one. My backyard is apparently the host of a constant mosquito convention so I do not spend any time out on my patio so getting a grill was never really a viable option. Fingers crossed for the next place maybe. In any case, sometimes you just really want some tasty BBQ chicken. So, when I had a recent craving for it, I turned to my go-to site for recipes. Hungry Girl did not let me down. This was tasty and quite filling with lots of tasty BBQ goodness. I also love a good foil packet recipe and a recipe that is a single serving all on its own.

Ingredients
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 small-medium yellow onion, chopped
5 ounces raw boneless skinless chicken breast, pounded a bit to thin it out
Dash each salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons BBQ sauce with 45 calories or less per 2-tablespoon serving (I used the Publix Original)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay a large piece of heavy-duty foil on a baking sheet, and spray with nonstick spray.
  2. Place veggies on the center of the foil. Top with chicken, and sprinkle with seasonings. Drizzle with sauce.
  3. Cover with another large piece of foil. Fold together and seal all four edges of the foil pieces, forming a well-sealed packet.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and veggies have softened.
  5. Cut packet to release steam before opening entirely.