The Arrival of Autumn – Renaissance Faire and Apple Picking

Is there a better way to welcome the official start of Autumn than by going apple picking? or attending a Renaissance Faire? I can’t think of one.

Last weekend, in celebration of the official start of Autumn, my friend Jordan and I checked out the Warren County Renaissance Faire, which was super cute even though it was small. It’s been put together by the county 4-H group for the last three years, and they had actors, craft & food stalls, archery, jousting, and falconry! We hung out for a bit and then headed down the road to Mackey’s Orchard, where we went apple-picking and did and impromptu photo-shoot. The weather was gorgeous and warm, so we rounded out our fantastic day with some ice-cream! See some of our shenanigans below.

14468503_10210633149410735_8235087329459551119_o

Petting stalls – goats, sheep, and bunnies!

14468553_10210633156690917_4313169183559338798_o

Falconry! – This peregrine falcon is only a few months old, so we only saw a tethered training display, but he behaved really well! His owner/trainer said he should be hunting by Halloween. He also had a 17-year-old Harris’ Hawk who was much bigger and beautiful as well. He didn’t like some of the actors much and would screech at them if they came to close. It was hilarious.

14409478_10210633157450936_2358454064296891363_o

A ferocious female knight takes on a foe during the living chess match. It’s like Wizard’s Chess in real life!

14424696_10210633159970999_4436293337672767594_o

The orchard at Mackey’s

14424834_10210633194171854_7767459936541975719_o

Impromptu photo shoot! We kept our flower crowns on for a fairy-tale feel.

14425498_10210633197251931_3413380564457673071_o

Looking for apples.

14424737_10210633231532788_2409118330296390402_o

Found loads! I’m pretty sure these were Macouns.

14480694_10210633235812895_6157320117561730425_o

Jordan picking some apples for our basket.

14379733_10210633237572939_2605259153639736686_o

We found one that was almost completely red. So proud of ourselves.

14445055_10210633190571764_6631788811428487098_o

Stunning views of the Delaware Water Gap area.

14379629_10210633234372859_6343131386953801990_o

Free as a bird. These views are breath-taking. The dip in the mountains to my left is the actual Delaware Water Gap!

14409915_10210633214092352_2695172770004471378_o

All done and headed home with our bounty. Fantastic day.

How do you celebrate the changing of the seasons? Share in the comments!

Until next time,

~Amanda

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews

me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girl-jesse-andrews

Source: Goodreads

Greg Gaines is not a hero. Neither are Earl or Rachel, the other main characters. There are no heroes in this story, and that’s the way Greg likes it. Told from his point of view in a sort of personal essay that includes certain scenes written out like a screenplay, Greg tells the story of his senior year of high school, and the friend he never wanted. As Greg will tell you, this isn’t one of those sappy cry-your-eyes-out cancer stories. That doesn’t make it any less real.

This book has been on my radar since the film trailer started popping up, but my TBR list was pretty packed and I didn’t own a copy. In July, at a friend’s birthday party, I noticed she had a copy, and she was foolish enough to lend it to me. — I don’t lend books. They never come back, even from the people you trust. If it’s a really, truly good book, they will pass it on to another one of their friends and so on and so forth. — Luckily for my friend, I am a meticulous book nut who puts sticky notes on books that are not mine so they are sure to make it back to their original (or at least previous) owners. So, she lent me the book, and I read it while I was babysitting (no small feat).

I’m not usually a fan of 1st-person, but Greg managed to move between scenes seamlessly (maybe because it’s essay style, so he possibly re-wrote until it flowed like a paper?). The characters are all comically crazy. Parts of it were amusing, even. But everyone I had spoken to about the book had hyped it as hilarious, and maybe it’s not my brand of humor, but I wasn’t that impressed. To me, it was funnier in an “oh no, this poor kid, everything happens to him” kind of way that’s really more saddening than hilarious. But the writing itself and the formatting of the book were very good.

The ending was not predictable, which was refreshing. Greg, for all the complaining that he does throughout the book about this not being a story of self-acceptance and growth, sure does a whole lot of growing and changing. I still have yet to watch the film, but I imagine it will be pretty good, though the voice-over may get a bit boring.

I think if I had read this book in high school, it would have had a rather large impact on me. It may even have made me take stock of my life and possibly prevented some of the stupid things I did in college. But reading it now, I feel that much of the meaning is lost on me, having works like The Fault in Our Stars, A Walk to Remember, Eat, Pray, Love, The Paris Wife*, and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald** under my belt already. So, would I recommend it? Yes. Of course. But for me, personally, it wasn’t a stellar read.

HHC Rating: 3 Stars

* See my review of The Paris Wife

** See my review of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Let’s Talk Patronuses

Pottermore, that wonderful place built in the name of J.K. Rowling for all of the Harry Potter fans out there, launched it’s Patronus quiz today! As it firmly states that the quiz may only be taken once, I naturally took it six times, as I did with the Sorting Hat Quizzes.

Pottermore seems to be only sharing what a general Patronus is, rather than background on the what the specific conjurings mean (if they mean anything), so here are my results along with what I’ve found out about each of them, and the symbolism regarding each of the animals I was assigned to better understand how they might possibly represent me as my Patronus.

First of all, each Patronus was different. I had no doubles. Part of that is because the quiz doesn’t always ask the same questions, and part of that is because the whole thing is timed, so if you do get a question you’ve already seen it takes less time to answer it than it did when you had to read the question through. Unless you’re a robot and you got exactly the same questions, I don’t believe there is a way to get the same Patronus twice.

Second of all, any sites I used for researching this post will be linked at the bottom. Photo links are located below each picture for easy sourcing.

Now, on to the Patronuses! 🙂

ievminn001p1
Source: Britannica

1. The Stoat
Also known as an Ermine, in the winter its coat turns completely white. Related to the weasel, marten, fisher, and otter.

The stoat has a vast range, seen everywhere from North America to across Eurasia. You could call them global citizens. They symbolize royalty, purity, and strong morals mostly. There’s a myth about a queen in Brittany who was hunting a stoat and when they reached a mud pit, rather than cross it and ruin its fur, the stoat turned to fight in the face of certain death. The queen was so inspired by the animal that she kept it as a pet and made it the symbol of the royal family, their motto being ‘death over defilement’, meaning something along the lines of they would die before they would lower their standards, besmirch their good name, etc.

The stoat also symbolizes the spiritual journey to enlightenment; something or someone who has gone through all 4 spiritual seasons, including a dark night of the soul and being born again into a new dawn.

7149-004-472851c5-ragdoll7146-004-7fe4520e-ocicat

Ragdoll Source: Kids Britannica                 Ocicat Source: Kids Britannica

2. The Cat(s)
General Cat Symbolism
There is no specific symbolism for either the Ragdoll or the Ocicat, probably because they’re both specific breeds and symbolism tends to a generalized study. Cats are known to symbolize a bridge to the spirit world, communication, unpredictability, independence, and creativity.

a) Ragdoll Cat
The Ragdoll cat is a long haired domestic cat with blue eyes and mostly white fur except for bits of brown, especially on its face and paws. It loves people and tends to follow them about doglike. It loves to be picked up and gets its name from the way it goes limp when you do pick it up.

b) Ocicat
The Ocicat is a fairly new breed of domestic cat that looks like a tiny cheetah. They are known for being extremely sociable, affectionate, and intelligent.

152565-004-bb150f1c-black-swan
Source: Britannica

4. The Black Swan
Much of the symbolism for black swans is the same as your average white swan, but there is a myth about how it got its dark color.

The story goes that in the aboriginal tribes of Australia, there were only a couple of women who knew the secret to making boomerangs. A group of men decided to steal the boomerangs, and to distract the women two of the men decide to turn themselves into swans and land on the nearby lake. The women were distracted by the birds’ beauty for a time, but they caught the men in the end. The women shoo the swans off the lake and they settle on another lake where some eagles live. The eagles attack and rip all of the swans’ feathers out, leaving them for dead. To spite their enemies the eagles, a murder of crows offer the swans some of their own feathers to create new coats.

Because of the trial that the black swans went through, they symbolize the spiritual journey, especially suffering and faith. Swans, in general, symbolize the journey to purity and perfection, as well as the balanced life. In Astronomy, the constellation of the Northern Cross is also known as Cygnus the swan.

100696-004-addf2ccd-osprey
Source: Britannica

5. The Osprey
Also known as a fish-hawk and a sea-eagle, the osprey is the only known bird in the eagle family that lives not just in the air, but in the water. Other eagles may grab fish near the surface or those that jump with their claws, but ospreys are known for diving under the water in search of food. Much of the fish that other birds eat are in fact stolen from ospreys.

The osprey symbolizes the guardian in much of Native American folklore. It also symbolizes acuity of sight, abundance, salvation, redemption, resurrection, the sun, nobility, deep creativity, good timing, respect, communication, vigilance, the soul, and a beacon. In myth, the osprey was the animal symbol for Hermes, the messenger. It is also known as a guide of souls, as it is the only animal that moves seamlessly between air, symbolizing the mind and the conscious as well as the land of the living, and water, symbolizing emotions and the unconscious as well as the land of the dead.

The osprey is known for going after what it wants rather than staying back and waiting for an opportunity. It is known for building strong boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others.

62580-004-ff7653e2-red-fox
Source: Britannica

6. The Fox
The fox is known for persistence and patience, as well as creative, out-of-the-box solutions that often make it seem eccentric, if quick minded. The fox symbolizes loyalty, wit and quick thinking, longevity, protection from evil, fortune, luck, opportunity, the jack-of-all-trades, and the arrival of solutions. Foxes are known to adapt and ‘blend in’ to their environments. They can be tricksters as well as teachers, and they possess an uncanny ability to find their way around. They are often respected as guides and honored for their wisdom.

So there you have it, the six Patronuses I was assigned: Stoat, Ragdoll Cat, Ocicat, Black Swan, Osprey, and Fox. When I first got each one, I thought they were all completely different and didn’t really understand how they related to me or could possibly be my Patronus. After doing the research and better understanding the symbolism of each animal, however, I can see how they relate to me. As a proud Gryffinclaw Hornedwudgie with some Hufflepuff and Wampus tendencies, I can see how the strong morals of the Stoat, the communication skills of the Ragdoll Cat and the sociability of the Ocicat, as well as the faith of Black Swan, the vigilance of the Osprey, and the persistence of the Fox, could all represent me in some way. Even if I could cast a real Patronus charm and none of these animals came out of my wand, I am pretty grateful I had the chance to learn about them. They are daring and smart, loyal and cunning, just like the heraldry animals of Hogwarts, and I am proud to be associated with all of them.

30th September 2016 –  EDIT: I’ve been getting a lot of questions asking me what I say when people ask what my Patronus is since I took the quiz multiple times. For all intents and purposes, I’ve been saying the Stoat, since that’s what I got the first time when I took the quiz the way a normal user would, not knowing what type of questions to expect.

What animal or fantastic beast is your Patronus? Head on over to Pottermore.com/Patronus to find out. You just need a Pottermore account to take the quiz. Let me know over on Twitter, and I’ll see y’all next time!

~Amanda

Further Reading/Where I Did My Research:
Stoats in Folklore
Ragdoll
Ocicat
Cats as Spirit Animals
Swan Symbolism
Swans as Spirit Animals
Osprey as a Power Animal
Ospreys as Spirit Animals
Ospreys – Guide of Lovers and the Heartsick
Osprey as a Totem Animal
Foxes as Spirit Animals
Animal Symbolism – Meaning of the Fox
Spirit Animals and Animal Totems – Fox Symbolism
Universe of Symbolism – Symbolic Meaning of Fox

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4) – J.K. Rowling

 

hpatgof

Source: Goodreads

Fourteen-year-old Harry Potter is ready for his fourth year at Hogwarts; preferably a quiet one where nothing goes wrong and no monsters try to attack the students. Unfortunately, this is Harry’s life we’re talking about, and things are never easy or simple where Harry is concerned. After a terror-filled night at the Quidditch World Cup, Harry finds himself thrown into hot water again as students arrive from other European wizarding schools to compete in a time-honored traditional trial by magic. Harry will need all of the help he can get to survive the challenges that face him in the coming year, but will it be enough?

This fourth book in J.K. Rowling’s best-selling series is a marked turning point from Juvenal Fiction to YA. The tone of the book becomes darker as Harry’s life becomes more dangerous, and all of the characters begin to hit the dreaded puberty.

I absolutely love how the characters were developed in this book. There were so many new people to introduce and examine because of the visiting schools, and we gain a much better picture of the overall state of the global wizarding community. It’s no surprise that at over 700 pages this is one of the longest books in the series. It’s a whopper of a book to be sure, but it reads very quickly. Rowling’s writing is so compelling that it is extremely hard to put the book down. I ended up finishing the last 300 pages in one sitting. Whoops. What is sleep, anyhow?

There is just so much about this book that I love, not the least of which is Hermione coming out of her shell and becoming a much bigger character. Ron kind of takes a back seat in this one as he spends much of the story grouchy and jealous of various people and happenings.

Hermione though, Hermione shines in this book. She’s in her element, studying anything and everything to help Harry out with his situation, and mediating between Harry and Ron, and just generally being the voice of reason in an otherwise crazy world.

“You can’t Apparate inside the Hogwarts grounds, how often do I have to tell you?”
~Hermione Granger

But that’s not all. No, this is the book where Hermione finds her passion(s). This is the part of the story when Hermione begins to take note of the world around her. She discovers boys, and she discovers human rights issues (which may sound a tad boring compared to the magical world, but I assure it is NOT), and with a little magic on her side, she finds the confidence to be herself and speak up for what she wants. Best of all, she’s not afraid to tell it like it is (I’m looking at you, Ron), and put people in their place (Also you, Rita Skeeter). It just makes me so happy to see the character of Hermione grow so much in one novel.

Not everything was cake and roses in this book, though. There is a lot of darkness and a lot of plot set-up for the final three books, which of course means a lot more Voldemort. As much as we wish Harry’s path wasn’t headed in that direction, the Dark Lord is a continual evil that plagues our young protagonist.

Overall, this is an amazing read. The first time I read this book, I was 8, and I was moving. To me, it was the darkest thing that had ever happened in my life. I was leaving all of my friends, and in the 90’s/ early 00’s, this basically meant that aside from long-distance calls on the landline or writing snail-mail, I was losing everyone I knew. Having something, like the Harry Potter series, that followed me from house to house and had characters that were going through turmoil like I was was remarkable in itself. The fact that they overcame their problems and made new friends with people from new schools helped me to overcome my fear of never having friends again and ultimately helped me adjust to a new town.

I highly recommend this book to literally everyone. Tissues required.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Book #2 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Book #3 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Book #5 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Book #6 – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Book #7 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Book #8 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Fantastic Beasts #1 – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

September Update – 2016 Goals Check-in

september-update-2016

 

It feels like it was yesterday that I was writing last month’s update. Boy, did that month fly by; I went up to Boston to babysit my cousin, I was in not one, but TWO of my best friends’ weddings and four more couples I love got married that month as well (I didn’t attend them all. I’m not that magical). It was a very long month. and yet, suddenly we’re halfway through September! I’ve been a literal zombie for the past week, recovery from my trips while trying to get back to work as usual. At least I haven’t gotten sick yet (fingers crossed that I won’t!).

This month isn’t too busy, but it is full of planning for the next year. So many exciting things are happening! I’ll tell you all about them soon, but first, let’s check in on my goals for the year.

TOTY 24 Goals:
Write Every Day – This is day three! I wrote a book review each of the last two days, and I’m hoping to write another two over the next couple days, while I finish this post and hopefully get some time in on my novel during my day off on Friday. I tried to write last week, but my brain was so dead that only nonsense came out of it. It was painful.

Apply to Full Time Jobs – I HAVE NEWS!!! My aunt and uncle and I have been discussing a potential opportunity for me for nearly a year now, but I didn’t want to rely on it because it always seemed like it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. They had a baby in March, and up until now, my uncle has been a SAHD (Stay-At-Home-Dad). He’s due to start a new job in November though, and that’s where I come in. I’ll be taking care of my cousin for them all day while they are at work. For all intents and purposes, I’m a live-in nanny. If that isn’t a dream job at some point in the life of someone who is maternally inclined, I don’t know what is.

If all of that wasn’t exciting enough, they live in Boston! Which means I’m MOVING there. Like, I get to live in this city that I’ve been mildly obsessed with for ages. Which brings me to Goal number three for the year –

Apply to Grad School – My top grad school at the moment is Emerson College and their Masters in Writing and Publishing program. Being that Emerson is in Boston, I’ll finally being going on a tour of campus and trying to meet some of the professors to determine if it’s definitely where I want to go.

Also, this Friday I’m sitting down to plan out my studying strategies for the GRE. Woop Woop!

September Goals:
This month I decided to let y’all in on a secret. I don’t just have yearly goals! I also make up a set of goals for the month, which filters into my daily to-do list(s). This month I want to:

Read 5 books – So far I’ve only finished two, but I’m nearly halfway through my third, so it’s looking good!

Study for the GRE – As I mentioned earlier, this starts on Friday!

Walk 5 miles, 4 times – I originally had this read “walk 5 miles, once a week”, but after the double weddings I was down for the count. Hopefully, I can walk one of my 5-mile stints on Friday!

Ab workout, 4 times – Another one that read once a week and has since been amended.

Write 3 posts for TCSB – This is the first! I’ll probably fill you guys in on more details about Boston, and I’m visiting a Renaissance Faire on the 24th that should be pretty interesting as well!

Write 4 book reviews – Two down and two to go! Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich and The Escape by Mary Balogh are up on CSR now!

Write 10,000 words towards your novel(s) – That’s right, I’m writing a book (or is it ~SeRiEs~?). I’ve been writing it for over 10 years actually. Very few people have read any of it, and those who have, haven’t read it in so long that they probably wouldn’t recognize it today. For one, the characters started out as 11 or 13-year-olds, and they’ve since evolved into 20-somethings. Not like they aged in the book, more like as I aged I found it harder and harder to write young characters. The universe(s) the book(s) take place in has expanded exponentially, to the point where I keep trying to populate parts of it and ending up with literally hundreds of characters. And I love every one of them so much that they all have a background and purpose and a future… And you wondered why I’ve been working on this for 10+ years. My goal for the year (TOTY 24, not 2016) with writing every day is to get at least half of my rough draft of the first book finished. Hoping to dive into this some more this month.

 

I think that’s all for now ,you guys! I hope you enjoyed this update, and I can’t wait to share more with you about my move to Boston, and my grad school apps, and my adventures in writing!

 

Until Next Time,

Amanda

The Escape (The Survivors' Club, #3) – Mary Balogh

the-escape-mary-balogh

Source: Goodreads

Sir Benedict Harper was a second son who dreamed of one day becoming a general. He never imagined he’d end up crippled before his 30th birthday, or that he’d inherit the family title after a freak accident killed his elder brother, but that’s exactly what happened. Still reeling 3 years after the accident that nearly cost him his life, Ben finally begins to realize he won’t be going back into the army, and must find a new future for himself.

Samantha McKay has been in mourning for the  four long months since her husband finally lost his fight against his war wounds. Five years of constantly nursing him meant that she never got to know anyone in the neighborhood in which they live, and now her sister-in-law demands the longest and strictest form of mourning known to humankind.

When Samantha’s learns she’s inherited a house in Wales from a great aunt she never knew existed, she quickly decides to flee there and start a new life. Soon, Ben becomes tangled in her plan and agrees to ride as her escort. Will their tenuous friendship survive the adventure?

This third book in Balogh’s Survivor’s Club series is actually my least favorite of the seven total stories. It’s not bad or even unlikeable by any means, but the characters just aren’t as developed as in the other books. The fact that much of the story takes place in Wales facilitates the lack of the other survivors appearing right up until the very end. The book, in general, tends to give you more background on all the secondary characters than it really does on Ben and Samantha, which, admittedly, was frustrating. I just felt like they could have been anyone. Throughout the series, we tend to learn about the other survivors even in the books where they are not the main character, but Ben is the exception. Even in his own story, he tends to stay rather mysterious and unknown.

Lastly, can we take a moment to talk about the cover? They re-did the covers for the first book, and books 4-7, yet books two and three still have the half-dressed people on the front. It makes it really hard to read these books in public and not be judged for it. How are the random people I see on the train supposed to know I’m reading it for the plot and not just the steamy scenes? Yes, I know, it’s a problem all romance readers deal with on a daily basis and has no solution in the foreseeable future, but it’s still a bummer.

Overall, I adore this series, and I even liked this book, just not to the extent that I loved the first two. The scenery was beautifully described, but the character development was a bit lacking. The plot itself was genius, and I was second guessing every thought I had about every character throughout. So, if you don’t mind the slightly less-than-stellar character development of Ben and Samantha, you will simply love this book.

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – The Proposal
Book #2 – The Arrangement
Book #4 – Only Enchanting
Book #5 – Only A Promise
Book #6 – Only A Kiss
Book #7 – Only Beloved

Wicked Charms (Lizzy & Diesel, #3) – Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton

wicked-charms-janet-evanovich

Source: Goodreads

Lizzy and Diesel’s third adventure takes to the high seas in search of the Avaritia Stone, the SALIGIA stone of greed. Besides boats and pirates and buried treasure, Lizzy is on the hunt for a publisher. Will she find everything she’s looking for?

After the second installment, I was very dubious going into this story, but the pirate theme had me pretty excited. There is so much historic potential in this series! However, I have a constant worry that she’s trying to build a love triangle by making Wulf more likable, the problem being that nobody likes him. Now, on top of all that, I’m worried about the series in general.Why has she brought in a co-author? Will Phoef Sutton be continuing on with the series? and HOW EXACTLY are you supposed to pronounce his name? Is it like loaf? or pho-eff? or is the pho like fuh?

Apparently, all of these are wrong according to Wikipedia, which says that it’s a nickname for Christopher, pronounced feef. How does that make sense? Also, you would think that the former executive producer of Cheers would be able to imbue the story with a bit more Boston/New England history, wouldn’t you? You would be wrong.

Some of my favorite things about Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series are the tidbits of New Jersey history that creep into the story. Since this series in based in Boston/Salem, and there is SO MUCH HISTORY TO WORK WITH THERE, why isn’t more of it included? We get maybe 3 pages of history per book and it’s always told in a super-quick and non-important seeming way. They are literally hunting stones that have been passed down through history, and they can’t spend more than 3/300 pages telling us about that history? Maybe some readers didn’t even notice, but it is quite possibly the most frustrating things about these books for a history lover like myself. Even the secret tunnels are rushed over, and they are SO IMPORTANT TO EVERYTHING.

The storyline itself felt extremely rushed, and the characters didn’t develop at all, except for Hatchett, who has suddenly gotten a lot nicer. Carl the monkey, thankfully, has gone back to his bird-flipping ways. But really, not a whole lot happens in this book. There are a whole bunch of new characters that may or may not be continuing on in the series, and it just all seemed like it was over in a day or two. I feel like in the other books it took them weeks to find everything. I’m just feeling really disappointed, okay? Not sure if I even want to give the next book a try or just give up on the series.

HHC Rating: 1.5 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Wicked Appetite
Book #2 – Wicked Business