Book Review: The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer

When I found out Stephenie Meyer had written a new book, I turned to Tom and told him I had to read it.

“Why would you do that to yourself?” he asked.

“Because the worst case scenario is I have something to rant about on my blog.”

He then agreed that I needed to read the book.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this because the worst case scenario has indeed transpired.

I feel the need to add a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not a complete Stephenie hater. Her writing is pleasant and unobjectionable, and she does know how to tell an interesting story. I enjoyed several of the Twilight books for what they were, and I quite liked The Host. Obviously the Twilight series has some serious problems, but my main beef with Stephenie has always been the contemptuous way she treats her fans (don’t get me started on Life and Death, alrighty?). So when I heard she had written an actual book again, especially one with a title like The Chemist (in case you didn’t know, I used to be one of them chemistry types), I couldn’t resist giving her another chance.

Now, having read the thing, I’m just glad I found it at the library and didn’t actually spend any money on it.

(Fair warning: there are major spoilers in this post. In addition, this is probably the grumpiest thing I’ve written since my Hobbit posts. Also, I’mma go all pearl-clutching, Molly Mormon Utah girl on you, so if that’s not your thing, you probably oughtta skip this one. Please feel free to check out some of my other posts, like my last book review!)

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The basic idea is that “Alex” (not her real name, but the one she goes by most consistently in the book) used to work for a shady government agency using shady chemical compounds to interrogate shady individuals. It’s all very shady. At some point her shady boss decided she knew too much but she survived the murder attempt and has been on the run ever since. After several more attempts to kill Alex, the shady organization asks her to complete one last assignment for for them, and the chance to live a normal life again is too tempting to pass up. But (shady voice) all is not as it seems™.

The really frustrating thing is that The Chemist wasn’t a completely terrible book. The plot was interesting, the writing style was fine (although you can tell Meyer is out of her element writing in third person), and Alex showed promise as an interesting narrator. There was potential for Meyer to fall back into bad habits and include yet another really awkward love triangle (identical twins, guys!), but she spared us. There wasn’t even any actual science in this book for me to cringe at (which kind of defeated the purpose of my reading it in the first place). I wanted to like this book, and I did—for the first third or so. But things went downhill fast when the romantic stuff took off.

Still a better love story than The Chemist, too.

The whole relationship is riddled with problems, starting with this gem from the main male character (Daniel…I hate that she used that name):

I see a woman who is more…real than any other woman I’ve ever met. You make every other person I’ve known seem insubstantial, somehow incomplete. Like shadows and illusions. I loved my wife, or rather–as you so insightfully pointed out while I was high–I loved my idea of who she was. I truly did. But she was never as there to me as you are. I’ve never been drawn to someone the way I am to you, and I have been from the very first moment I met you. It’s like the difference between…between reading about gravity and then falling for the first time.”

Let’s pass over the “while I was high” comment for now, but we’ll come back to it in a moment.

Girls, take note: men do not talk like this outside of really terrible romance novels. And the kind of men who do talk like this are probably not the ones you want to be dating. Edward Cullen, for example, also uses this kind of nauseatingly romantic language. I’m starting to worry that Meyer’s love language is “words of affirmation” and her husband has no idea, so she’s constantly fantasizing about attractive men telling her how luminous and intoxicating and real she is. This is not a healthy way to live your life, and it’s not a healthy way to write fiction.

What’s worse is that this conversation takes place shortly after Alex kidnaps and drugs Daniel with “a chemical compound with manifestations similar to ecstasy,” tortures him for information he doesn’t have, and essentially takes him so far out of his comfort zone that the poor guy is desperate for any sort of reassurance. Not only does Meyer create the sort of unhealthy, unequal relationship power dynamic we’re all familiar with, but it’s obvious that Daniel’s attraction to Alex is 100% adrenaline and drugs.  This is just the extreme version of my high school psychology teacher’s awful advice to the boys in our class: take the girl you like to a roller coaster park or horror movie so she’ll mistake the adrenaline rush for attraction to you.

Boys, don’t do this. Just don’t.

This is even addressed several times in the book, but Daniel blows it off quickly. No, it’s okay! I asked for your number before you drugged me, remember? We had that awkward two minutes of small talk on the train! Our love is reeeeaaaaallll!

Oh. Well, that clears everything up.

The final nail in the coffin for me is that just after a particularly gory near-death experience, Alex and Daniel engage in some poorly-concealed “adult” activities. (Actually, “poorly-concealed” isn’t accurate–she didn’t even try.) There’s nothing explicit, of course, although the scenes leading up to the act are pretty racy. This is disturbing for several reasons, not least of which is the adrenaline/attraction thing we just discussed.

(Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that the purpose of this blog post is not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.)

Stephenie Meyer is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So am I. As Mormons, we believe that certain practices are not only bad for individuals, but detrimental to society, and extramarital sex is one of these practices. It’s well known that Stephenie is a Mormon, and so whether she likes it or not, when she publishes her work, she is acting as an unofficial representative of the Church. It’s one thing for a Mormon author to acknowledge the fact that people in “the world” engage in these types of behaviors for the sake of realism (I personally don’t feel like you have to include sexual content to tell a good story, but what do I know?). It’s quite another to present this event as the single best decision a character has ever made in her entire life, and dwell on the life-changing “joy” she feels to the exclusion of all other consequences.

When it comes down to it, when you hear that a book was written by a Mormon author, you generally expect that book to be reasonably clean and PG-rated, which made the whole experience really unpleasant I think Breaking Dawn straddles the line between appropriate and inappropriate (especially in a YA novel)but at least Bella and Edward are married. In The Chemist, it feels like Stephenie is prancing over the line, declaring to the world that she doesn’t have to follow the rules anymore.

Well, Stephenie can do what she wants, and her fans have proven that they’re going to financially support her no matter how she treats them. She’s certainly not going to read or care about my opinion. But on the off chance that she does, here’s my message for her: Stephenie, you’re a Mormon. And with all the sisters-in-Zion love in my heart, I’m asking you to please act like it.

I speed-read the rest of the book, skimming more often than was probably necessary, but it was pretty hard to enjoy it after that. The ending was rushed and underwhelming, and if I’d been at all invested in the story, I would have felt disappointed. Overall, The Chemist gets one star from me.

And now I’m going to go scrub my brain by reading something decent.

The 2016 GTA Year In Review

Last year it was brought to my attention that the “GTA” in my title made them think of “Grand Theft Auto.” That’s hilarious, so I’m not going to change it. Muahaha.

Anywho, here I am, late as usual, to bring my twelve fabulous readers the famous year in review post! And man, it has been a crazy-good year to review.

The Fam

This was a big year for us as a family. We bought our first house, accompanied Tom’s grandparents on an amazing, life-dream-fulfilling genealogical trip to Italy, road tripped to Corpus Christi and Big Bend National Park, and basically spent a lot of time figuring out how to be a family of three.

We also put up Christmas lights for the first time!

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There were definitely some hard times. We all barely survived the plague, and the other plague, and there was the time Dan got that rash and everyone was stressed and I stormed out of the house to go buy Cadbury Mini Eggs. But we made it through the hard times, and I can safely say 2016 had more good times than bad times for the fam.

The best news from this year, of course, is that we’re expecting a baby in July!

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

Yes, I actually got this fortune cookie right before we made the announcement.

We’re all very excited, although Dan doesn’t really know what’s going on yet. We’ve told him there’s a baby in Mom’s tummy, and sometimes he’ll say hi to the baby. But then he’ll point to his own tummy and say “baby,” so…we’re still working on it.

The Dan

This has been a big year for Dan. He learned to walk, talk, eat foods, and basically do all the amazing thing he does.

He also met Santa.

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He wasn’t thrilled.

Dan also started Nursery this year. He had a rough time at first, as most kids do, but now he loves it—especially when they bring out the bubble machine at the end!

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One time I went to Nursery with him, and he built a barricade of trucks around me so I wouldn’t leave.

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I covered most of what there is to know about Dan in my “18 Months of Dan” post, and he’s continued to develop along the same lines. He is much better at communicating now, and learns dozens of words every day. Right now we’re working on saying “please,” “thank you,” and “I love you.” He’s a real sweetheart!

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The Tom

This has been an awesome year for Tom. He put his Italian skills to good use, got promoted twice, experienced his first turnaround, and was accepted into his first-choice online MBA program. Wow!

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Tom continues to be an amazing dad.

Oh yeah—Tom was the scruffiest I’ve ever seen him on our camping trip in November.

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Wut.

The Me

I didn’t really know what to put in this section. It’s not like I didn’t do anything in 2016—it’s just that I don’t have really good physical evidence of my accomplishments. Unlike in 2015, I didn’t get much crafting done, largely because once we moved I couldn’t find my crafting supplies/equipment.

I did, however, learn to cook a bunch of cool stuff: Dancakes, beef with broccoli, japchae, singapore rice noodles, moqueca, pot roast (now I’m a real white housewife!!!), pho (new “Elissa Cooks Stuff” coming soon!), and many other delicious foodums.

(I thought I took more pictures of my creations, but apparently they were all snapchat videos…)

As far as writing goes, I wrote about 71,841 original-fiction words this year. That’s not a lot by most writers’ standards, but considering everything else that happened this year, I’m pretty happy about it. I did participate in NaNoWriMo and win, and I’m still working on that project right now. I’m hoping to do a more in-depth writing post in the near future, so if you have any questions about my writing stuff, leave a comment!

To be honest, 2016 was pretty hard for me. We had a lot of fun adventures, but not a lot of downtime. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, and/or sick. I expected the whole family would get sick more once Dan started nursery, but for whatever reason, most of the plagues originate with me. 2017 hasn’t been much better so far, which is part of the reason this post is so late.

I’m starting to realize that I’m a real wimp when it comes to traveling. My body just doesn’t handle it very well, and it can take over a week to physically recover from a short weekend trip. And every time something unpleasant happens while traveling (like, say, Dan and I getting stomach flu in San Antonio, or a night of travel insomnia turning an ordinary case of delayed-onset muscle soreness into an out of control, fever-ridden, excruciatingly-painful nightmare), it just makes staying home and reading books sound that much more appealing.

This year I’m hoping for more relaxing family time at home, more crafting, more writing, and more delicious foods. As far as new year’s resolutions go, these seem pretty attainable.

Looking Forward to 2017

There’s a lot to be excited about in 2017! Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Dan’s 2nd birthday!
  • Dragonwatch in March!
  • Our 2nd baby in July!
  • Oathbringer in November!
  • More blogging!
  • The return of THESE GUYS!

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It’s going to be a great year!

Happy mid-January to all, and may all your times be good!

18 Months of Dan!

Do you guys want to hear a funny story?

So I was going to post a cute thing about Dan when he turned one, but then we were packing and moving and traveling and I was lazy. By the time things settled down, he was, like, fifteen months old. And that’s not a cute milestone. I mean, with Dan every day is cute, but that’s beside the point.

Okay, that wasn’t funny at all.

Anyway, Dan is 18 months old as of Saturday, and we celebrated by weaning him off his pacifier and sending him off to nursery. Poor little guy. He handled both really well.

What I really wanted to say in this post (and this hasn’t changed from his birthday) is that Dan is absolutely amazing. He is so full of love for his family, his toys, his books, and so many other things. He’s learning and developing at an incredible rate, and we’re just so lucky we get to be part of it all.

So, in honor of his 18-month-ness, I thought I would share…

18 Fun Facts About Dan!

1. Dan loves books!

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As you may remember, Dan has always enjoyed reading. Now that he can understand some of what we’re reading him (and we’ve acquired some very nice lift-the-flap books), reading has become a really exciting experience. Dan will bring me book after book after book until I have tho get up and do something else. And then he’ll whine, because what could be more important than reading Where’s Spot? or Hoppity Frog for the 85th time?

I’m not complaining, though. In fact, I’m really proud that Dan loves books so much. That means we must be doing something right!

2. Dan LOVES wheels!

Big wheels, small wheels, plastic toy wheels, rubber tires…basically, if it rotates, Dan loves it. He will point out every wheel on every car in every book we read him. He’ll sit on our front porch and point to every car or truck or lawnmower on our street. He nearly destroyed his vocal cords a month ago when he learned to say “Vroom!” If we take Dan to a museum or the zoo, he’s much more interested in pushing his own stroller around (and running after other kids’ strollers) than in looking at the attractions. We actually took the wheels off our office chair, because leaving them on would be disastrous. Dan would be playing with them all the time and one of us would inevitably crush his fingers.

 

Tractorin it up with Aunt Natalie!

Tractorin’ it up with Aunt Natalie!

3. Dan LOVES buttons!

Similarly, Dan is fascinated by buttons.

This was the best experience of Dans life.

This was the best experience of Dan’s life.

4. Dan is weirdly into rap…?

Imagine you’re on a long car ride. Dan is crying in the back seat because he’s tired and needs a nap and wants to be out of the car. You want to put on some music to calm him down. You put on some relaxing classical music, like a nice Beethoven sonata. Dan ignores it completely. You turn on some Enya—everyone likes Enya, right? Not Dan. He screams so loud you can’t hear the music.

So what do you do?

Well, you use this nonsense:

He’ll calm down instantly, and be asleep within minutes. Just don’t turn it off, or he’ll start whimpering again.

We don’t know why he likes rap so much. Tom thinks it’s the steady beat. I really don’t know where I went wrong, because this is clearly evidence of severe parenting failure, but I’ll admit it was pretty funny watching him dance to the Kreb’s cycle rap the other day (warning: mild language):

Luckily, I’ve discovered that the Undertale soundtrack is just as effective at keeping Dan calm in the car, and I’m using it and Little Einsteins as gateway drugs into instrumental/jazz/classical music appreciation. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making some breakthroughs. And in case you’re wondering, this is his favorite Undertale song:

5. Dan is very helpful!

Dan loves to help me out around the house. Once after I changed his diaper, I saw him pick the wet diaper up and put it in the trash can, so that is now his official job. He’s good at it, too. Last week he went to throw the diaper away, realized the trash can didn’t have a liner, and went looking for a different trash can. Wow!

Dan is also good at helping me put clothes into laundry baskets and put toys and books away. He also likes to help me “load the dishwasher,” which really means playing with the brightly-colored knives—so he’s not actually allowed to do this. Yet.

Here are some pictures of Dan “helping.”

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Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

Climbing into the laundry basket is helping, right?

6. Dan loves to go outside!

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In fact, “outside” is one of the handful of words he can say. Which brings us to number 6…

7. Dan can say words!

His vocabulary includes the words “outside,” “hi” (“Hieeeeeeeee!”), “dada,” “mama,” “shhhs” (shoes), “bah” (ball), “yeah,” “up,” “pat,” and “button.” He can also quack, moo, meow, and vroom with the best of them.

8. Dan is terrified of the garbage truck!

His room faces the street, and if we’re in there while the garbage truck is doing its thing, Dan will cling to me and stare at the window until it’s gone.

The only other thing that consistently freaks him out is when he’s holding my phone and it vibrates. He doesn’t get a lot of sympathy for this one, because he’s not supposed to touch my phone in the first place.

9. Dan is a major flirt!

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Yeah, Dan. Flirt with the little girl AND her mom. That’ll get you places…

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“Help me put this shoe on and my heart is yours, babe.”

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He likes girls.

10. Dan knows some of his body parts!

Dan can correctly identify his nose, ears, head, tummy, arm, hand, leg, knee, and feet!

11. Dan is my green smoothie buddy!

12. Dan has a mild egg allergy!

We’ve had to learn to make substitutions in recipes, but that just means that raw cookie dough is 100% safe for consumption at our house!

Dan chowin down on his egg-free birthday cake

Dan chowin’ down on his egg-free birthday cake

13. Dan loves carbs!

Specifically, he loves bread. If he sees bread on the counter or on someone’s plate, he’ll beg until he gets some. I don’t want him to be internally obese like the ducks down at BYU (or externally obese, for that matter), so Dancakes continue to be useful.

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14. Dan is a budding photographer!

Here are some pictures he took with my phone when I wasn’t looking (I spy a cute foot, a favorite book, moving boxes, and a tired mom):

 

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15. Dan’s three fictional characters from that one meme are…

Yikes, that picture quality is bad. If you’re wondering, that’s Twitchy from Hoodwinked, one of the minions (Bob?) from Despicable Me, and Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb.

16. Dan has an excellent sense of style!

We don’t call him “Dapper Dan” for nothing. Here are some of his fabulous outfits:

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17. Dan wants to be just like his dad!

And who can blame him? He’s got an awesome dad!

 

18. Dan’s kidneys are doing great!

Looking good!

Looking good!

I posted about Dan’s hydronephrosis after he was born, and I’m happy to report that his kidneys are doing just fine. The swelling on both sides has slowly but surely improved, and both kidneys are functioning properly. Woohoo!

We sure love this Dan, and are so grateful to have him in our family. Thanks for being our little guy, Dapper Dan!

Elissa Cooks Stuff: Dancakes

Dang Gina, when did June get here?

So much has happened in the past two months. Dan turned one, we did buy a house, I plunked out a respectable (and palindromic) 21012 words during Camp NaNoWriMo, and we went on this amazing genealogy trip to Italy with Tom’s grandparents.

All of this is to say I have a lot of blogging to do. I still need to write about Dan’s birthday and first year, an awesome book I read, and various adventures, but everyone is grumpy around here because Dan is working on tooth #6, and to be honest I’m still feeling kind of lazy from jet lag.

(EDIT: Tom would like to add, “I’M NOT GRUMPY!”)

Instead, I’m going to tell you about a food that has revolutionized our lives: Dancakes.IMG_1457.JPG

Right around the end of April, Dan went from wanting nothing to do with finger foods to never wanting me to spoon-feed him again—overnight. Suddenly I was stuck with a huge pot of rice porridge, an open can of salmon, a bunch of pureed fruit, and a baby on hunger strike.

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I’m Dan, and I don’t like food anymore.

When he’s not on active hunger strike, Dan loves carbohydrates—just like his father, he would probably eat cereal all day if I let him. But I don’t want to let him. I may be wrong, but a diet exclusively made up of Frosted Mini Wheats doesn’t sound like a good idea. Something had to change.

In a stroke of what I can only describe as inspiration, I remembered hearing about my sister’s delicious banana pancakes from my mom. I knew Dan would love them, and they would help break up the Mini Wheats diet. I started googling up the internet, trying to put together a recipe. I had to be a bit creative since Dan seems to be allergic to eggs, but I now have a procedure that works. Thus, “Dancakes” were born.

You’ll notice this isn’t a very quantitative “recipe,” and I actually have no idea if the ingredient amounts are optimized (or if they’re necessary at all). All I know is that Dancakes are easy to make and can’t get enough of them.

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One batch makes about eight Dancakes, or about two meals for Dan (and one tribute Dancake for me!). They’re better fresh, and better warm. The recipe can be doubled if you want to save some for later (or have some for yourself—they’re delicious), and will last in the fridge for a few days. They can also be frozen and reheated.

Dancakes

Ingredients
1 ripe banana
~3/4 cup oat flour
Pinch of brown sugar OR drizzle of maple syrup
Dash of cinnamon
Smaller dash of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
Pinch of baking powder
Milk, apple juice, or water

Procedure
To make oat flour, dump some oats in the blender or food processor and blend/process until floury.

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Mash the banana with a fork with the brown sugar or maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little bit of your liquid of choice. Make sure you mash the bananas well; any large chunks will oxidize in a few hours, leaving nasty black chunks in your Dancakes.

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Measure out the oat flour (just eyeball it), and add salt and baking powder. Add to the banana mush, and add liquid until your mixture resembles pancake batter. If you don’t know what pancake batter looks like…well, that’s a problem that’s beyond the scope of this tutorial. Don’t worry, these are super forgiving.

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Cook the Dancakes for about a minute on each side. Prevent your eager baby from grabbing them out of the pan.

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I ran out of cooking spray, so I had to use coconut oil.

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Confession: I’m terrible at flipping pancakes. Tom, on the other hand, is a pancake whisperer. He is the official pancake man in this house. But Dancakes are my job.

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Yeah, that’s right—I’m the cool mom who makes Mickey Mouse pancakes for her child.

Break the Dancakes into halves or thirds and serve. Make sure your baby has one piece in each hand at all times. Don’t let your baby see you snitching them. Enjoy!

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***

One more quick thing:

You may have noticed the poll in my sidebar. This blog has been up for a few years now, and my twelve loyal readers have a pretty good feel for what it’s about. I’d like to know what you like about this blog, and what content you’d like to see more of in the future. If you could take a second and respond to the poll, that’d be great! Thanks!

 

Fat Dan Reads a Book

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There you have it!

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Wasn’t that a great experience?

Just kidding.

After getting fewer views on my last post than pretty much any other, I grumpily joked to Tom that if I’d titled it “Fat Dan Reads a Book,” it would have been super popular. I almost reposted it the next day with the joke title, just to see what would happen, but decided that wasn’t the best idea.

“Fat Dan Reads a Book” is just too good of a title to waste, however, which brings us to today’s post.

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He loves the shiny cover on The Alloy of Law.

Dan actually likes books a lot. I try to read to him at least a couple times a day, and he sees Tom and me reading all the time, so he seems to have figured out that books are cool. Every day he pulls all the books he can reach off the bookshelf and examines them one by one, flipping pages and talking to himself like he’s reading. When he can get a-hold of one of our books, he’ll try to carry or drag it out of my line of sight, then play with it silently until I take it away (he usually can’t resist crinkling pages after a few minutes).

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Dan definitely has strong opinions about his books, and on Tom’s and my end, some are just more enjoyable than others. Today we’re going to talk about our favorite Dan books!

Most of these are board books, because they’re indestructible and about right for Dan’s attention span, but a few have paper pages. Tom usually reads those to Dan because his arms are longer and can keep them out of Dan’s sticky, destructive hands more easily.

1. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

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This is a fun little book about a friendly blue truck who makes friends with all the animals and helps a grumpy, self-important truck out of a tight spot. It’s one of Dan’s absolute favorites. The illustrations are pretty and detailed, and he loves the colors. He also loves hearing me make animal noises, which are color-coded for reader convenience.

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Little Blue Truck isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but there are enough amusing details to keep the parents entertained.

This guy is the real hero.

This guy is the real hero.

All in all, it’s just a nice story that teaches kids that being friendly gets you farther than being a jerk to everybody. What’s not to love?

2. Bugs Galore by Peter Stein and Bob Staake

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I picked this book up at 2nd and Charles, and I’m glad I did. It’s chock full of good times. Dan generally can’t sit still long enough for me to read it straight through, but that’s partly because he’ll keep going back to previous pages to stare at all the bugs. You can’t really blame him—there’s a lot going on in this book! It helps that there’s not really a plot, so you can just open up any random page and have a good time.

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You have to admire the fun details in this book, even if they’re not very entomologically correct.  I mean, the “fruit bug” is a pineapple with wings. That’s pretty great.

I just hope Dan doesn’t ever decide real bugs are this much fun and bring them inside to show me. Ew.

3. Pretty much everything by Sandra Boynton

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I’d never heard of Sandra Boynton before I was pregnant with Dan, but once we received Happy Hippo, Angry Duck at the baby shower, there was no going back. I love these books even more than Dan does, and I grab them at 2nd and Charles (or Amazon) whenever I can. They’re so quirky and random, and I love the illustrations.

The first time I read this page, I lost it. Tom was looking at me like I was crazy.

The first time I read this page, I lost it. Tom was looking at me like I was crazy.

I feel you, cow. I FEEL YOU!

I feel you, cow. I FEEL YOU!

If I can be as cool as Sandra Boynton when I grow up, my life will have been a success.

4. All the Dr. Seuss Classics!

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Plus…Sam and the Firefly? Where did that come from?

Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? Tom is usually the one who reads these to Dan because of the aforementioned arm-length issue, but they’re always a good time. We received a bunch of them from Tom’s grandparents, and we’re so grateful!

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Foo-Foo the Snoo. I always wondered what that guy’s deal was.

5. Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever

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The title doesn’t lie—this was one of my favorite books as a child, and I made sure we had a copy once Dan was born. To this day, my family still talks about Couscous, Schtoompah, and I Am a Bunny.

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Where else do you put a tuba?

Im pretty sure I learned everything I know about colors from Richard Scarry. And maybe some of my chemistry classes. But mostly Richard Scarry.

I’m pretty sure I learned everything I know about colors from Richard Scarry. And maybe some of my chemistry classes. But mostly Richard Scarry.

And what Richard Scarry-loving child doesn’t want to visit a castle in Denmark?

Watch out for that dungeon, Dan.

Watch out for that dungeon, Dan.

This book is full of short, colorful stories that are perfect for an easily-distracted Dan, and he’ll appreciate the experience more and more as he gets older.

6. Parables/Stories Jesus Told by Nick Butterworth and Mick InkpenIMG_1158

This book gave me my first exposure to the parables, and it’s absolutely fantastic. The authors turned the parables into cute, funny stories that are easy for little kids to remember. I’d highly recommend it.

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7. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

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This one’s a classic, and the different sized pages and caterpillar holes keep Dan engaged while we’re reading.

IMG_1161Plus, Dan gets to learn about healthy eating!

See, Tom? Green smoothies are good for you!

See, Tom? Green smoothies are good for you!

8. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr, John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert

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This one found its way onto one of our wish lists at some point. I’d completely forgotten about it, but once I started reading, I remembered disliking it as a child. We kept reading it in school, and even then I knew that books read in school weren’t as cool as books read with my parents at home. “a” was a smug little jerk. I was suspicious of anthropomorphized letters, and I couldn’t figure out why they kept saying “chicka chicka boom boom.” And then there was this scene, which disturbed Little Elissa greatly:

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The book clearly states that these letters were comforted by “Mamas and papas and uncles and aunts.” But there’s only one capital letter for each lowercase letter (a fact confirmed by the inside back cover), so do all of these baby letters come from single-parent families? What about those that only had an uncle or aunt? Were they orphaned? Why aren’t we talking about the sad story of these letters coming from broken homes? How does gender work with anthropomorphized letters, anyway? None of this made any sense to me, and it made me distrust the book even more.

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In hindsight, I was probably overthinking things a little.

I’ve had to take another look at this book, because Dan really likes it. The bright, bold colors catch his attention, and he loves pointing at the sun, moon, and coconuts. Maybe the book isn’t so bad.

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Let’s just hope Dan doesn’t ask me where baby letters come from.

Do you guys have any suggestions? Which books remind you of your childhood? What do your kids love to read?

How I (Almost) Met Shannon Hale

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Hello, friends! I hope you had a good Valentine’s weekend.

We just got back from a lovely trip to Utah, where my family lives. As you can imagine, the Dan was thoroughly spoiled by his aunt and grandparents.

This little boy loves his grandpa!

This little boy adores his grandpa!

He also learned how to eat Cheerios, and now he won’t stop shoveling them into his mouth. I’m not complaining, though, because they made our 2.5-hour flight home a breeze.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

In addition to fun family times, I was also in Provo for Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE), an academic symposium on science fiction and fantasy. If you’re into writing in those genres and have the resources to get to Provo in February, I highly recommend it. This was my second year attending, and I learned so much about writing and publishing.

I forgot to take pictures, but here are some notes I took. Also, if my name tag looks like its been chewed by a teething baby...it has.

I forgot to take pictures, but here are some notes. Also, if my name tag looks like its been chewed by a teething baby…it has.

I could tell you guys all about the magnificent learning experiences I had at LTUE, but we all know that’s not why you read my blog. Instead I’m going to tell you about my painfully awkward experience with Shannon Hale. This type of thing is why I love writing so much—when I’m busy writing, I don’t have to interact with people.

***

On Saturday, I thought it might be fun to take a break from furious note-taking by sitting in on a live recording session of my second favorite podcast, Writing Excuses (again, if you write genre fiction, you really need to be listening to this. I’m just plugging all kinds of things today). It was interesting, but I soon found myself zoning out and scribbling in my notebook. As I was doodling, a woman asked if the empty seat next to me was taken.

I thought for a moment, and then remembered the chair’s previous occupant muttering about having to leave early, so I told the woman to go ahead and take it. Then I turned back to my notebook.

During a break, people kept coming up to chat with my neighbor, asking her if she was going to be at Comic Con and if they could take selfies with her. I realized she must be a panelist, but I couldn’t remember having seen her before. I peeked at her name tag—and sure enough, I was sitting next to Shannon Hale.

Shannon Hale is kind of a big deal. She was actually one of the Guests of Honor. I’m not a passionate fan of her books (and in fact, I skipped her keynote address to run back to my parents’ house and feed the Dan), but they’re enjoyable, and similar to the kinds of books I’d like to write someday (light, YA fairy-tale-type stories). I probably should have recognized her, but in my defense, her hair was lighter and shorter than it was in her picture in the program:

Shannon Hale

Suddenly I felt very awkward. Shannon Hale was sitting next to me, and I had all but snubbed her. Now that I knew who she was, I couldn’t just ignore her and doodle. Here’s a bit of my thought process.

“Maybe I should say something to her.”

“Why on earth would I do that? I don’t talk to people!”

“I’m at a con. People come to cons to talk to people.”

“This isn’t that type of con. I didn’t come here to kiss up to famous people.”

“I came here to network. This is kind of like networking.”

“But not really.”

“Come on, this is a neat opportunity.”

“What do I say? ‘I’ve only read two of your books and they were a’ight, and I’ve just ignored you for the past twenty minutes because I ditched your keynote and didn’t know who you were. But you seem pretty cool, so let’s take a selfie’?”

“For the love of all that is Mike, do not say that to Shannon Hale. And who says ‘a’ight’ anymore?”

As I dithered, Tom pointed out that a panel I’d been interested in was about to start. I took my opportunity to escape.

“Sounds good. Let’s go.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, let’s go! Now!

Tom seemed a little surprised at my urgency, but he rolled with it. We packed up our stuff, squeezed past Shannon Hale, and booked it out of there.

***

And that’s the story of how I almost met ran away from Shannon Hale at a writing conference. Ms. Hale, if by some bizarre chance you happen to read this, I’m sorry. From one Jane Austen fan to another, “Tallyho!”

A Thing I Wrote

I love fairy tales—they’re timeless and exciting, and their infinite variations are my favorite stories to read and write (Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, is the reason I’m a writer). Last summer, I participated in a fairy tale retelling contest. It overlapped with a family wedding and our Glacier trip, so I didn’t end up finishing (we had to write five stories between June and August), but I did write one story that performed pretty well. Against my better judgment, I promised Tom that if he wrote some Twilight fanfiction for my blog, I would post the story here. Last week Tom delivered, so I have to post this thing no matter how embarrassing it is.

In case you can’t tell, this is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, “The Fisherman’s Wife,” in which a magical fish grants the insane wishes of a very greedy woman. I decided to give it a Texas-style twist, since we’d recently passed the one-year mark of living in Beaumont. Without further ado, I give you “The Armadillo Trapper’s Wife.”

Armadillo

“C’mon, let me out of here!” the armadillo said. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

Joe couldn’t believe it—what rotten luck. Money was tight, and he’d taken to armadillo trapping to help put food on the table. This was the first one he’d managed to catch, and now it was talking to him! “How’m I supposed to eat a talking armadillo?” he demanded. “It ain’t right.”

“No it ain’t!” said the armadillo. “Besides, I’m not a real armadillo. I’m actually a powerful wizard, but one of my spells went wrong and I got stuck like this. If you let me out of this trap, I’ll grant you a wish—anything you want.”

Shaking his head, Joe opened the trap’s door. “Off with you,” he said, nudging the cage with his foot. “Can’t eat a talking animal, even if you’re not a wizard. It just ain’t right.” Without another word, the armadillo crawled out of the trap.

“If you change your mind,” the armadillo said, “Just come back here and holler for me. My name’s Hoover.” Then he scampered away.

“Rotten luck,” Joe said, shaking his head. His wife wouldn’t like it—Sally’d have no problem eating a talking armadillo. But Joe’s conscience just couldn’t allow it. Trying to figure out what he’d say to her, Joe got into his truck and drove home.

Home wasn’t much to look at—just a tiny house with a bit of garden and a tire swing for the grandkids—but Joe had lived there ever since he’d married Sally, and now he couldn’t imagine life anywhere else. He went inside and found Sally in the kitchen stirring a big pot of her infamous squirrel stew.

“Catch anything?” she asked as Joe sat down at the table.

“Matter of fact, yes.” He told her about the talking armadillo, and how he’d had to let it go.

As he’d predicted, Sally was angry. “He offered you anything you wanted, and you let ‘im go?”

He shrugged. “Didn’t seem right to kill something that can talk. Besides, couldn’t think of anything to ask for. We got everything we need. Except a decent meal.” He grimaced at the stew pot, making Sally scowl.

“Joe, you’re just dumber’n a bag of hammers. I know what I’d ask for. I’d be out of this run-down shack.” She gave the stew a swish and banged her spoon on the side of the pot. “Tomorrow you go back there and tell that armadillo I want a nice house. Ooh, and a pool. Get me a pool.”

It still didn’t seem right to Joe, taking favors from some magical varmint, but he knew better than to argue with his wife when she started banging the cutlery.

***

And so, the next morning Joe went back. “Hoover!” he shouted. “C’mere! I want a word with you!”

The bushes rustled, and the armadillo from the day before emerged. “Well, if it ain’t my friend Joe! What can I do for you?”

“I talked to my wife, and she told me to ask you for a nice house. A swimmin’ pool, too, if you can manage it.”

The armadillo just looked at him for a few seconds. “You sure that’s what you want, Joe? You don’t seem too happy about it.”

He shrugged. “Gotta keep the wife happy.”

The armadillo nodded. “You’re a wise man, Joe. Tell you what: when you get home from work today, you’ll be livin’ in the house of your woman’s dreams.”

***

Sure enough, when he pulled up to where their little house had once been, he couldn’t recognize the place. It took fifteen minutes just to get down the driveway, and at the end of it was a house bigger than any he’d ever seen. He was almost afraid to get out of his truck, but Sally came to greet him.

“Ain’t this place wonderful?” she said as she took him inside and began to show him around.

“It’s real nice,” he admitted. “You sure outdone yourself, Sal.”

Sally was in a great mood for a few days while she set things up to her liking. Then she realized how much more they would be paying in property taxes.

“We’ll never afford it on what you’re making at that job of yours,” she said to Joe. “Go back and ask that armadillo for a better job.”

“But I like my job.” Joe ran the local convenience store. It gave him the chance to talk to folks, and he always had a candy jar out on the counter for the kids who came in. But Sally was right: they couldn’t afford a house like this.

“Then tell that armadillo to make me one of them oil tycoons. That’ll set us up.”

“It don’t seem right,” Joe said, “for my woman to work.”

Sally glared, slapping her wooden spoon into her palm. “Don’t be stupid. I won’t have to do much. I’ll have folks for that. Now you go talk to that armadillo!”

***

“An oil tycoon!” said Hoover. “That woman of yours thinks big.”

“Too big if you ask me,” Joe grumbled. “She don’t know nothin’ about running an oil company. But it’s what she wants. Can you help me out?”

“It’s already done,” said the armadillo. “Enjoy your vast riches.”

***

The armadillo was true to his word. Sally became the CEO of a major oil company, and she and Joe were suddenly very well off. Sally said it was bad for their image to have Joe working at the convenience store, but he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving, so he continued to drive his old truck out every morning (he wouldn’t give the truck up either, despite Sally’s nagging).

For a time, things were going well. Like Joe’d said, Sally had no idea how to run an oil company, but she did have people who handled it for her. Joe still wasn’t sure he was quite comfortable with their new way of life, but it did have its advantages.

For one, Sally hardly cooked anymore. One night, they went out to a nice restaurant Sally liked. “Well, Sal,” said Joe, glancing at her over the top of his menu. “It looks like we got everything we could ask for.”

Sally frowned at her menu. “Hmmm,” she said. “We’ll see about that.”

Gunshots cut off Joe’s answer.

There was a dead man lying not too far from Sally’s chair, covered in bullet holes. Four people at neighboring tables were holding still-smoking handguns. Sally took one look at the scene and fainted dead away.

Someone called the police, and almost everyone in the restaurant was questioned. While Joe tried to revive Sally, he got the whole story. It turned out the man had pulled a gun on Sally, but because this was Texas, the guy had four bullets in him before Joe or Sally even noticed. It was nearly 9:00 by the time the police let anyone go home.

**

When they got back to their mansion, Joe pulled Sally into a hug. “Oh, Sal,” he said, “It’s all right—”

But Sally pushed him away. “I ain’t scared, Joe. I’m angry. It shouldn’t be allowed.”

Joe frowned. “What shouldn’t?”

“Pullin’ guns on folks. It ain’t right. It’s a shame a self-respectin’ woman can’t go to a restaurant in peace.” She pointed her finger at Joe. “Tomorrow you go and tell that armadillo to make guns illegal. Better yet, git rid of ‘em altogether.”

Joe paled. “You can’t do that, Sally!” he said. “This is America. Folks have a right—”

“You don’t listen when I’m talkin’ to you. Do what I say!”

“I can’t Sally. It ain’t right.”

Sally drew herself up, flaring her nostrils the way she always did when she got angry. Joe rarely stood up to her this way. “What kinda man are you? Won’t even defend your wife! If you won’t make that armadillo give me what I want, I’ll go spend some time with Nancy.” (Nancy was their daughter. Joe was sure she wouldn’t take too kindly to Sally moving in with her.)

For the rest of the night, Joe tried to talk her out of it. He tried persuading, demanding, even begging; but Sally wouldn’t budge. And so, the next morning, Joe drove once more to see Hoover.

The armadillo was waiting for him. “Well well!” he said. “What does she want this time?”

Joe told him—he could hardly force the words out, but he managed. When he finished, the armadillo just stared at him.

“I can’t do that,” he said finally. “Shoot, I like you, Joe, but this is…this is out of line.”

Joe just sighed, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t ask you to,” he said. “But she insisted. She’s losin’ it, Hoover. All this money and power…it ain’t good for her, somehow. Can’t you do anything?”

The armadillo thought for a while. “Go home, Joe,” he said. “I’ll do what I can, make sure you get what you deserve.”

Joe watched Hoover for a moment, and then nodded. He started walking back to his truck, then turned and waved. “See you ‘round,” he said, “or maybe not.”

“Let’s go with ‘maybe not,’” said Hoover.

***

Joe drove home, wondering what the armadillo had had in mind when he’d said they’d get what they deserved. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, and with the way Sally had been acting…well, Joe hoped everything was all right.

He turned onto their road and whistled. The giant mansion Sally had ordered had shrunk back into their own little house. Sally herself was sitting out on the porch, wearing her old apron (splattered with fresh squirrel stew, of course), her hair done up in its usual little bun. Joe got out of the truck, expecting her to lay into him—obviously the armadillo hadn’t complied with her wish.

But instead, Sally smiled at him. “Can’t believe I’ve missed this place,” she said. “That armadillo gave me everything I wanted, but it was never enough. Who’da thought all I needed was to have this house back?”

Joe chuckled, sat down beside her, and put his arm around her shoulders. “Well, you know what they say,” he said. “Don’t look a gift armadillo in the mouth.”

She frowned at him. “Why would I want to look in its mouth?”

“Never mind.”