Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

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“Why does the typical adventuring group consist of a wizard, a warrior, and a rogue, anyway? It should really be a wizard, a warrior, and a rich guy. Otherwise who’s going to pay for all the swords and spells and hotel rooms?”


 

Clay Jannon would do anything to get a job in modern-day San Francisco – anything including working the night shift at a dusty bookstore that’s open 24/7. His background is in web design, but at least he read one fantasy series when he was younger, so maybe he’s qualified? The towering shelves of the store are filled with incomprehensible books, the customers are eccentric, and the epic adventure the bookstore introduces is, well, just plain strange.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is one of the most weirdly well-crafted novels I’ve read in a while.  I hesitated at first since I’m not really into fantasy, and the synopsis seemed a bit too magic-y for me. I’ll take the high drama of everyday life over epic dramas of crusaders in far off lands any day, thank you. I don’t know why. However, this book pleasantly surprised me.

The novel sort of reminds you of Harry Potter in how it’s a hodgepodge of the realistic with the fantastic. Technological computer savvy “magic” is mixed up with old…enchanted?…paper books.  If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. The character who narrates the story, Clay, is not entirely sure of what’s going on either. Beyond the brilliant plot line, Robin Sloan’s humorous writing style makes the book stand out. The characters would be off solving this complex mystery about a historical book club that revolves around a certain font, and then boom. The author throws in something like a side character who built his career on simulated boobs. Immature? Maybe. But admittedly still funny.

On top of the quirkiness, the novel communicates an interesting message as readers follow the characters on their journey.  As we see, the modern-day era gives access to so many different tools to solve problems. Technology, internet servers, books new and old, your friend network, etc.  That doesn’t mean that one method should be championed above the other though. Probably the answer to the problem to be solved isn’t even of eternal significance anyways.  These ideas are pretty counter-cultural in an era with so many voices saying things like “the internet is ruining culture” or “books are becoming obsolete.”

Even if you aren’t a nerd like me and don’t even care about subliminal themes, you should still read it. At the least, it’s entertaining.

Recommended to: students, adults, anyone looking for a smart but fun read.

Happy reading. (:

 

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How I Edit My Photos (without photoshop)

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Between the blog pictures, pictures from my trip to Europe, and random iPhone Instagram pics, I have a lot of photographs.  I tend to think of blogging as writing, but honestly the visual side of creating a website is much more time consuming. I wish there was an Instagram filter method of editing all my photos in a snap, or that I had the time/money to invest in some Photoshop and lightroom skills.  Since that isn’t happening, I use the default program is already installed on my laptop, Windows Photo Gallery.  Here’s how I edit my photos to give them a bit more of that wow factor.

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Here’s a picture I took on my iPhone this past summer.  First, I upload it, or if I’m feeling lazy, I’ll just email it to myself and download it on my computer that way.  Then I go into file explorer and hit “open in photo gallery”, then “edit, organize, and share”. This will be different depending on what computer you have, but mine is an HP laptop that uses windows.

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There you go. Open up the picture you want, and go ahead and hit “fine tune” in the upper middle toolbar.  You’ll have the option to adjust exposure, color, straighten photo, and adjust detail.

The next steps will really be up to your taste. I’m sure I’m making the photographers reading this cringe, because I have absolutely no idea what all of these buttons mean technically. I just like the look they create, so I guess it works for me!

The first thing I do usually is increase the brightness and contrast to make photos pop. Brightness is probably the single most difference maker in photos.

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You can also fiddle with the shadows and highlights dial to create different types of depths in your photos. See the differences in whether the town (shadowed) or sky (highlighted) stand out?  You can also adjust the histogram if you want an even more dramatic depth difference.  Different photos will do well with different amounts, but my preference is low shadow, high highlight for greater contrast.

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The last step I do is to adjust the color.  Color temperature tells whether you want more of a warm or cool tone to your picture.  Most often I adjust it to the right to make it warmer, but lately I’ve been favoring the cool tones as well. Maybe it’s a winter thing?  You can also up the saturation if you want a vivid, colorful photo. I usually ignore tint unless I really need to adjust the colors, simply because only a little adjustment of the tint and your photo can end up looking super green or pink.austria-4

Here’s how the photo progressed as I fine-tuned. Of course the version you like best is subjective. But now you know how to make it look how you want, and with practice it gets faster!

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This only takes a minute or two, and I really love seeing the difference.  Who needs photoshop when you can cheat? (: Hope this helps someone out!

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Book Review: The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

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It was the survival-in-the-woods story that pulled me in. Some days it seems like every other young adult book is either a quirky romance or a dark, probably psychological, “problem” novel.  Actually I love both the romances and the dark tales, but the synopsis of this book was some of neither.

Hallelujah (yes that is actually the protagonist’s name) doesn’t want to go on the retreat in the woods with the youth group she’s alienated herself from. Or have they alienated her? It’s hard to tell after the incident six months ago, when one event turned her social status on its head. Either way, the tortuously awkward hiking retreat in the Smoky Mountains becomes even worse when Hal and two others become separated from the group and lost in a storm, in the woods.  It’s a classic: “will they make it out again…and become best friends in the process…?” *insert cliffhanger music here.*

As stated before, props to Kathryn Holmes for creating a  novel that is readable and entertaining, and one that strays from the typical backdrops for YA novels of the 21st century. Unfortunately, for me as a reader, I found many of the plot turns formulaic. Of course I enjoyed a break from my typical genre, but the lost-in-the-woods story line is not original enough to render it a real page-turner.  The most predictable, and slightly annoying plot point is the incident.  Why does Hallelujah have no friends? Hinted at in the synopsis, all the details are finally revealed in the second half of the book, but at that point I had pretty much guessed what was going to happen anyway. No spoilers here, however, overall the backstory felt forced and frankly a little cheesy.  Holmes intrigued me with the ideas in this survival tale, but, in my opinion, failed to deliver the story in a realistic or original way.

All that being said, I can’t entirely discredit the novel. It did keep my interest, and a few slices of dialogue toward the end were particularly resonant.  As Hal and her friends are trekking through the wilderness, they bring up whether they’ve ever “felt God” and if that’s even hypocritical to talk about. At another point, they discuss whether cursing is justifiable in certain contexts. As a church kid, I can relate asking those same questions with my own friends, but you almost never find topics like that explored in writing that doesn’t also try to shove the gospel down your throat.

While not substantial enough to stay in your head and haunt you for days, I enjoyed the journey with The Distance Between Lost and Found enough to check out another Kathryn Holmes, How It Feels To Fly…second time’s a charm?

As always, if you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Recommended to: YA readers looking for a quick read, people who enjoyed the tv show Lost, My Side of the Mountain, and Hatchet (wilderness survival type books)

 

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thankful | volume 5

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{previously…}

  • The new friends I made this summer when I worked as an overnight camp counselor for eight weeks. Lesson learned: the best friends are the ones who can make even cleaning the dining hall seem like pretty much the most fun job in existence.
  • The opportunity to visit Italy and Austria with my family a few weeks ago. I still can’t get over the experience of merely existing in another culture – hearing Italian spoken all the time, walking everywhere instead of driving, seeing yet another 400-year-old cathedral.

{currently…}

  • Thankful for whoever invented the Common App so I’m filling out all of the paperwork involved in applying to colleges only once instead of 5+ times.
  • For plums and peanut butter and pesto and having access to good tasting food in general. And spicy zoodles!
  • For metronomes for making practicing an almost mindless activity for this rhythm-deaf pianist.

{potentially…}

  • Cheering on the Falcons on Sunday afternoons
  • Taking the test to get belay-certified at the rock climbing gym near my house
  • Drinking loads of tea and coffee while conquering Calculus. BOOM.
  • Getting to wear all the lovely giant sweaters in the near future
  • Reading my growing stack of library books…book review time maybe??

Have a good Wednesday, guys.

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thankful | volume 4

thankful again

  • Libraries.  Gotta love a place that will let me take home an armful of books for free. I love that now school is slowing down I have time to read again!
  • Tea. I used to hate tea, but I started drinking it last fall. It’s gotten me through a lot of school stress this semester.
  • That I had the opportunity to stage manage a show this semester. I learned a lot from working backstage, and I’m so thankful my “drama friends” as I call them were there for me.
  • Spotify. All the free music and organizing it into playlists!!! I’m sensing a theme with the free stuff though…
  • My friends.  Some of them are graduating on Saturday, and it’s gotten me reeeeally sentimental.   Those of you reading this – I’m so happy for you guys and am 100% positive that you’re going to do great things!

Right now, I’m also thankful to anyone reading this. Life happens, and school hasn’t given me a lot of leeway to pursue more creative things (hence no blogging since last JANUARY), but I enjoy getting to use this text box as an outlet when I can.

Happy Thursday!  Book review coming soon…

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Living the Homeschooler Life

This post really should be titled “Living the High Schooler Life.” Despite being educated at home my whole life, besides kindergarten which doesn’t really count anyway, I don’t believe identifying as “homeschooled” is such a big deal.

However, I get a ton of questions whenever one of those people who actually go to school (in a building! everyday!) find out that I’m a homeschooler. So here I am to interpret this label for you guys!

1. We’re pretty unsocialized. (;

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I have friends. Even more mind-blowing, I met most of them through school! Whether it be those people who I met through co-ops that I did in middle school and we still get together every few months, or the ones that I see multiple times a week for class and drama club, my friends are actual [really awesome] people.

2. We’re also pretty sheltered.  

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Observe, our family Christmas card! Not really…

I get the vibe that the non-homeschool crowd thinks that homeschooler is synonymous with with weirdo.  And I sorta get where that’s coming from.  I have noticed that at least in my Christian homeschooler group of friends we can definitely make a whole lot of drama over any little thing, but that might not have to do with being sheltered as much as being teenage girls. (:

Not all homeschoolers wear long skirts, do side hugs Duggar-style, and think Harry Potter is evil.  Most of them don’t wear crop tops and aren’t fluent in rap music either.  It’s a spectrum. I will say that I’ve met people in the second category before, but have yet to come in contact with the first group…

3. We have a lot of things in common with “normal” schools.

We have prom.  I go to high school football games as often as I can drag my friends along with me. I don’t wear pajamas to do school work.  There are a few cliques. I have tests, teachers, grades, and a high school transcript (basically that means that I do in fact have to take 4 years of English and P.E. class to graduate).  I take summer vacation.  Oh, and study hall is a thing too.

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A friend demonstrates how we all feel about study hall. (:

4. I’m in some classes.

There are many different kinds of homeschooling that you can do.  Contrary to popular opinion though, my mom isn’t the one who teaches me physics.  But I do actually “do” physics.  What happens is I physically go to class for a few hours once or twice a week per subject.  Then the majority of the school is homework that we get to work on for the rest of the week, and then is graded by our teachers.  The homework gets done either in study hall, or in my living room table/sofa in between driving all over the place for classes.

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Imagine this with a ton more books and papers laying around, and it’s “school”

So Mondays, I go to a homeschool co-op and take economics with other homeschool students (there are other classes happening at the same time as well). Tuesdays and Wednesdays I go to a French class somewhere else and we meet in a community center type building.  Wednesdays are also for Health and P.E., which meets at someone’s house.  Thursdays, I take physics, study hall, then AP Literature at another co-op that meets at a church. And then Thursday nights and Friday morning I’m in an AP psychology class that meets online through gmail chatting and a skype (sort of) meeting.

My largest classes are the AP ones (psych has over 40 students, AP Lit has 20ish I think). Smallest is French, which only has 4.

5. I’m going to college!  

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visiting a very, very large college with a very, very large bulldog

It’s really hard for me to think about college since it seems ages away, except really I have to start thinking about applying in the next few months (SCARY), but yes, I am actually going away to an actual college! That exclamation point was sarcastic…I’ve always known that my homeschooling will definitely not be continued past high school graduation, and it kind of weirds me out whenever someone asks if it will.  My parents are my guidance counselors, the ones encouraging me to go on college visits and working on my transcript.

There’s still a lot of options I’m considering. Large university or liberal arts college, for example…I don’t know for sure, yet. Nowadays it’s always in the back of my mind as I’m wading through precalculus homework.

Speaking of which, I should probably go do.

Stay strong! It’s almost summer (oh yeah)!

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Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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This might be a first for me…I actually saw the movie before I read the book, and I ended up reading the book because I enjoyed the movie so much!!!  That probably seems normal for most people, but it felt really odd for me.  I’m so used to the unwritten “you-can’t-watch-the-movie-until-you-read-the-book” rule I guess (#rebel).

Mark Watney’s crew shouldn’t be held responsible for leaving him on Mars.  When the Ares 3 mission is forced to abort because of a 175 kph storm, and the communications antenna falls and impales you, piercing your body systems monitor on your suit so your heart rate appears to go flat, it’s a sad but safe bet to assume you’re dead.  But Mark isn’t dead.  With an insane amount of pluck and science-y know-how, he’ll do whatever it takes to get back home.

I so enjoyed The Martian, which is mostly made up of Mark’s logbook entries but also includes narrative from Ares 3 NASA team and Mark’s crewmates.  For a fairly fat novel, the prose is conversational, so it was easy to read.  On the other hand though, the entries were smattered with a bunch of extremely nerdy science explanations: fixing the water filter, rigging the mars rover, figuring out a way to grow plants on dead Martian dirt.  I’ve heard that all the finagling could hypothetically work though…random cool trivia about the book.

The movie probably helped my speed through the book, because I could picture what scene in the movie went with what part of the book (the movie followed Weir’s novel pretty closely, if you were wondering!).  If I didn’t have that visual to match it up, a lot of the more technical logbook entries probably would have gone over my head.  The author’s/Mark’s voice is down to earth, so that helped too.  The movie also helped me keep track of the different characters. Many of the minor characters I couldn’t differentiate until the end of the novel.  I wanted to go back at the end and re-read some of the Ares 3 crew sections after I finally figured out the difference in personalities between Beck and Martinez!

However, what set this book apart as a favorite from my 2015 reading list was an overall vibe.  Mars threw a lot on one man’s shoulders, albeit that the one man is a sassy, nerdy, optimistic botanist/mechanical engineer.  But there was no trace of self-pity in the story!  The tone was suspenseful without making you go insane; it had a good feel…

It’s hard to describe without comparing it to a movie from this year, Inside Out.  The film has similar upbeat adventure elements, but instead of being about space, Inside Out chronicles cute animated emotions, inside of a brain. But wasn’t that movie S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L to watch?! Everything that could go wrong did. I can’t figure out exactly why Martian was inspiring but Inside Out was taxing, but it was.  Weir created a hilarious (although a lot of language could have been deleted and it still be funny, just saying), smart, and well-paced novel.

I could probably ramble on a bunch more, but at the end of the day, The Martian entertained this happy reader.

And that’s what’s important when picking up a book to read for fun. (:

Recommended to: Nerds/science-lovers, people who enjoy a feasible yet inspiring book, anyone old enough to handle excessive language


 

Have a great week back from break (2016, we got this!!)

 

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