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BOOK REVIEW: The Killing Room by John Manning

July 15, 2010

This review is for The Killing Room by John Manning. I bought the Kindle version, as the title and premise sounded very interesting and it was on sale at the time.

I enjoyed this book, up until about 3/4 of the way through. The last quarter of the book really frustrated me. I felt the author took cheap and easy plot turns, bringing in paranormal elements that were not necessary although recently popular (i.e., zombies).

The characters were fairly well-developed, and I appreciated the way their backstory was woven into the plotline. There was not too much information dump, but when it was given in large chunks it worked as part of the storyline.

I believe the author’s greatest gift is in building suspense and giving an edge of psychological suspense – at times I wondered, is this real or is it the character’s imagination?  There were a couple of times near the start of the book that I looked over my shoulder when reading it at night. That, to me, is significant in the telling of a good ghost story. When overdone, you are laughing at the attempt and when underdone you are just not scared. This author managed to find the perfect balance, without going into scaring you so much you stop reading! Excellent storytelling.

If this had continued, I would have rated this book higher than three stars. However, the main characters took too long to realize the impact of the Young family on the ghost. There was also some inconsistencies in characterization. For example, the old uncle consistently withheld information – but although the main characters realized this, they never questioned (until the end) why he would do this. Also, with a background from the FBI, it seems our heroine would have cast an early suspicion on the Young family also being involved – and this should have grown with the increasing realization the family was keeping secrets. I was frustrated, and it seemed this was only serving as a plot device – I don’t mind plot devices, but they must stay consistent with characterization already established.

Finally – the turning of David into a zombie at the end. There was no reason for him to return, and again I felt frustrated this was only a plot device. Once they realized he was a zombie, I felt it was almost a satire. However, there was no satire up to this point – so again I was left frustrated.

The strong beginning of this book, and the ability of the author to tell a good ghost story, kept this book at a solid three stars. It would have been five stars, if the above issues were resolved to this reader’s satisfaction.

My review: Save your money for the paperback, and minus the zombie, hope for a movie version.


As Tired as a Dog on a Sunday Afternoon…

July 13, 2010

I am so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open, must less type. I am working on my next blog, which is about my favorite past-time: reading! I love good books, and I will read nearly anything I can get my grubby little paws on. I will go into more detail on that in my next post, which will be up sometime tomorrow.

Night all. Sweet dreams.

I’m in iLust

July 12, 2010

I was in Atlanta (well, close enough) this past weekend visiting my mother-in-law. She’s a delight, and we always get to shop while I am there. This time, DH went along and we hit the Best Buy (larger than the one closest to our home). I was meandering around the store while DH shopped with MIL. My teens were looking at cell phones and MP3 players (should I have guessed anything else?), so I took my four-year old (who was happy behind the wheel of her race-car shopping cart) and browsed around. Then I saw it.

The display.

A large table… a large gray board behind it. One white logo – an apple.

And on the table was my virtual playground – the iPad. I fell in lust immediately. For anyone that has just crawled from under a rock to read my blog – you can go here to learn more about it. Here’s a nice little picture:

There were multiple iPads for customers to touch, feel, play, caress… oh I am getting carried away. Suffice it to say, after a few minutes whipping around that touch screen I was hooked.

Now, for most of you this could be “so what?”. But you do not understand the full significance. The last time I touched an Apple was as an undergraduate (we won’t specify just how long ago that was, but the comparison between a newly launched Windows and the Apple was the hot debate). When I say Windows, I mean a version prior to 3.1 – which itself was long before Vista. I had eschewed all things Apple and starting with an “i” before the name. I kept thinking how nothing is compatible with a Mac platform – I would never find programs, I wouldn’t be compatible with any of my friends, and so on and so forth.Then there’s the DH – a computer geek that has spent many an hour (even day) building and rebuilding all the computers in our house (do you know how frustrating it is to turn on your computer only to realize you must reload all your programs because your loving husband just upgraded your computer for the eighth time in one week?). Talk about having an iAttitude. I knew I had a greater chance of sailing with him on the Titanic than I did taking home an Apple. We all know the Titanic is a little less than seaworthy these days, so that should clue you in to my chances of success. So, compatibility with the DH would reach all-time low should I even consider an Apple.

After today’s date with an iPad – I don’t care who or what I am compatible with or what programs are available. I found plenty on that little device to keep me happy for a long time. And if I get bored? There are about a million more applications that I could download from iTunes.

I am a good little iSheep… I have been assimilated.

And that was before I found the grandbaby of them all. A nice 27″ Mac… it had a gigantic screen. So glossy. So high-def. It was gorgeous… then I remembered. The screen is the hard drive and is the whole computer. No bulky box at my feet. And then there was that straight from the Enterprise deck keyboard and mouse – totally wireless, sleek metal gray. It was beautiful and bliss all packaged right up.

So I was still worrying about compatibility (the way I consoled myself since I was already reconciled to the fact I would not be driving away with one of these beauties).  DH was still wandering in other parts of the store but headed my way – so compatibility was definitely a concern. I still had a two-hour drive home with him in front of me. Like magic, there was the representative. And guess what he could mind read? You got it – and he erased all my concerns about compatibility.

Did you know today’s Mac can run Windows programs?

Did you know it can even let you view Windows documents and spreadsheets and all that jazz?

Let me just put it out there, since there are some things you can’t view…. Did you know it can even run Windows?

Yes, why yes it can. I am there. All I need is the Mac, the Mac Book and the iPad, and I am a happy little momma at home.

Fortunately, my DH loved the sleek design too. He said we would see what we could do for Christmas.

I love that man.

Just what is a “real” mom anyway?

July 11, 2010

I never really thought of there being such a thing as a “real” mom. I grew up in a traditional, nuclear family (my parents are still happily married even now) and few of my friends came from anything different. I grew up in a university town, so it’s not like I never encountered a child of divorce or a child of a single mom. However, none of them ever referred to their parent or stepparent as being real or not real. Once I became a stepmother myself, I was often faced with the question, “So where is their real mom?”

Excuse me? What am I? Plastic?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not about to suggest I should be seen as their only mother. Or their birth mother should be ignored. But, why is the term “real” used? It makes the rest of us sound like a pretend Barbie doll. Yes, I am Barbie stepmother and come complete with my own stepchildren, first aid kit, frying pan, laundry basket and bottle of Valium. Certificate enclosed to prove this stepmother is 100% plastic and in no way, shape or form real.

As a custodial stepmom, I am about as real as it gets. I should probably back up and explain a little of my story and how I got here. I had previously been married, but I had never had children and even been told the probability of that happening successfully was very slim. I returned back to my hometown, looked for a job and found some temp work that led me to my DH. We started talking, and I found out about his pending divorce. His wife had left him the previous year to move in with her boyfriend. In the temporary hearing, my DH and his EX shared custody 50/50 both physically and legally. They had a highly contested, bitter custody battle and it was still in process when we met.

It took nearly a full year to finalize the custody issues, although the divorce issues were settled rather quickly. During that year, his EX kept their children from him for approximately three months. This, combined with her admitting to living in her boyfriend’s home with the children (against the court order, since we are in the South), resulted in her losing custody to my DH. He won full custody and she had standard visitation. At that point, he enrolled the children in counseling at my suggestion – he would have done that sooner had his EX allowed it. By the time of the final hearing, she settled for modified standard visitation (she would not get any mid-week visits only every other weekend).  Eventually my DH and I married, and I settled in as a custodial stepmother.  Did I mention that he was custodial to five children?

In the space of about twenty seconds (the time it takes to say “I do”), I went from zero to five children. Most women at least get nine months to get accustomed to a family. And unless you have a reality show, you typically don’t have five all at one time. And they certainly don’t span the age range of 2-15. Oh, and no, I didn’t have a brain tumor. Nor did I realize what I was getting into. If I may digress a moment, the whole concept of “you knew what you were getting into” really chaps my hide the most. Until you have walked it and lived it as a married woman in that situation, there is no way under the sun you would ever know what you were getting into. Trust me.

The 15 year old was the daughter of my DH and his first ex-wife, and he already had full custody of her when his second ex-wife left for her boyfriend. Unbelievably, the first ex-wife waited until he was about halfway through his second divorce when she filed for full custody of the 15 year old. That was another ugly one, but DH retained full custody. Through the following years until now, we have retained custody of his children. The eldest, who is now 23, eventually grew up, graduated, moved out, married and now has children of her own. I have a cordial but distant relationship with her. I never wanted to be a mother figure or anything else, since her own mother functioned perfectly fine and loved her completely. I may have disagreed with many of her parenting decisions, but that is not a reflection of either of us other than different parenting styles. I only wanted to be a mentor to OSD23 (the easiest way to refer to her).

The second ex-wife is completely different. She has been an inconsistent figure in the kid’s lives, going between unsupervised to supervised visitation and back again a few times. Currently, she has therapeutic supervised visitation by the court order – but she has chosen not to schedule any visits since August 2008. There have been several periods where she has just not seen the kids – sometimes by choice, sometimes because she is in jail, and sometimes because she was prohibited by the Court. As a result, I have many times been not just a custodial stepmother – but a 100% custodial stepmother with no breaks. There is a substantial difference in those two situations. A custodial stepmother typically gets every other weekend and perhaps a couple of weeks in the summer without any stepchildren around.

This can be a much-needed break. That may sound harsh, but think of the role we have. We are very much like school teachers. We are pretty much neutered in firm discipline – time outs, restrictions – those types of discipline are fine and can be handled by a custodial stepmother in most situations. However, like a school teacher, if our child acts out further we can only sit by and watch then refer that child to the principal (in this case, daddy). Now imagine you are that school teacher – only you don’t get to go home at the end of the day. And you don’t get summers off. Instead, you have those children all the time. It can wear you down in a hurry. Adoptive parents and biological parents form bonds with children where the children realize the bonds are lifetime and pretty much unbreakable. Even though my stepchildren’s mother has been inconsistent, they still feel her love and they are still very much bonded to her. For stepparents, they are like teachers – if they are “fired” (in this case, there is a divorce), then they are removed from the children’s lives. Stepparents have no legal rights. In the event of a divorce, they do not get visitation. They simply disappear. That realization alone prevents certain bonds from forming.

In those respects, I guess it is correct to say I am not a real parent. I have no legal standing where the children are concerned other than what my spouse gives me. (I must add here, there are some very rare cases where a stepparent is made a child’s legal guardian – and in those cases, they are granted legal standing.) I have no right to discipline those children – and I am okay with that in my case. Each stepfamily is different, so in some cases it is a detriment to have the stepparent so neutered. So, I guess in that respect I am not real. However,

I was real enough to potty train SD12 when she was almost 3 years old.

I was real enough to be the chosen parent to go into SD15’s room when they had to reset her broken arm.

I was real enough to teach SD12 how to ride a bicycle.

I was real enough to cook their meals, do their laundry, and help with homework 365 days a year for almost ten years.

I was real enough to quit my job to raise them full-time.

I was real enough to be the one the school called when SD15 threatened to commit suicide – and real enough to take her to the emergency room and later to the pyschiatric hospital.

I was real enough to bake cupcakes, lead Brownie Scouts, volunteer in the PTA, and coordinate birthday parties.

I was real enough to hold SS17 through all of his tantrums and crying spells when he was a little boy.

I was real enough to stand up and take care of these children even though I was not the one who laid down to give birth to them.

I have shed real tears many days and nights. I have had a very real heart break at some of their hateful words, but glow at some of their kindness.

In the end, I am not their biological mom. I am their stepmom. But that does not make me any less real. I think all of the reasons I just listed make me very real indeed.

WoW – My Husband Turned 50

July 6, 2010

My DH has always loved computers and things associated with them. It used to be eBay. Then it was building computers. Then we went through a dreadful phase of him upgrading our computers – no data was safe. I lived in fear. Finally, he was introduced to this harmless little game called World of Warcraft. I am sure some of you are familiar with this darling little role-playing game. It’s harmless enough. You create a cartoon, or your “Alt”, on a massive computer server where other people from all over the world have also created a cartoon of themselves. We are talking thousands of people. Which is why it is referred to as a MASSIVE role-playing game.

He has become addicted, and he has spent hours leveling and upgrading his characters. Yes, he has more than one. It has been relatively harmless. Although he does spend many hours on the game, it could be worse. He could be out drinking with the boys. Or playing endless rounds of golf. Or working multiple hours of overtime. At least this way he is home and accessible – at least most of the time. And it has been an effective stress reliever for him. So, while he has a mild “addiction” it’s definitely the lesser of some evils.

He recently turned 50, and like a good enabler I themed his whole birthday around World of Warcraft. I mainly just put together a cake, inspired somewhat by Cake Boss (my own addiction). Not nearly as good, but I am nowhere near New Jersey to order one from him either.

Here’s the cake with a top/aerial view:

I made a red velvet cake with buttercream frosting. The “addict’s manual” is a white cake with buttercream frosting topped with yellow fondant. I used tinted buttercream and royal icing for the decorations (grass, river, plaque, etc.). The river rocks are chocolate, the scrolls are marzipan with fondant bows, and blue sprinkles give the river a sense of movement. I made the treasure chest with chocolate candy, and stuffed it with homemade strawberry-flavored rock candy, peppermint pearls, and gold chocolate coins. The Death Knight figure standing against the hill is a fondant and modeling chocolate replica of DH’s character.

Here’s a closeup of the treasure chest:

When playing the game, DH loves to drink Diet Coke and Monster. I used both of these as elements as well. In the game, there are potions for Health and Mana. These are pretty basic and almost all characters use them. I made replicas of the two drinks using rice crispy treats, carving them into the can shapes. I covered them with a thin layer of buttercream icing, then covered this with the appropriate color fondant. I cut all logos out of fondant and used royal icing to write on the cans and do detail work. The Diet Coke became Diet Health, and the Monster became Monster Mana. It all worked out rather well.

Here are pictures of the two drink potions:

It’s a start, so it’s not perfect. Most of all it was fun and my DH loved it. Oh – and it was delicious!

Mom vs Mouse – The Bloody End

July 5, 2010

I took a little time away from the computer for the Fourth of July so I never got a chance to update on Pierre, the aggravating mouse. He finally met his bloody end on Saturday morning.

By this time, he was venturing into other rooms. As a result, the mousetraps stalked him about the house. On early Saturday morning I heard a loud snap in my daughter’s room. A quick check revealed an upside-down mousetrap inside the basket. Because I didn’t want my hyperactive four-year to accidentally – and literally – run across the mousetrap, I placed it inside a shallow basket. With very slick plastic walls. I then baited a trail with birdseed and sunflower seeds – they love those – to the basket and inside. He climbed the wicker outer shell, fell into the basket and snapped the trap. I win!

I got DH to check the trap because the only thing worse than a rodent is a bloody rodent. No rodent in the trap but his bloody remains had been launched to the other side of the basket. So DH disposed of the mouse.  Despite his objections that we could clean it up (after all, it was “just a mouse”), I had him also dispose of the basket.

End result? Mom – 1 and Mouse – 0. Life is as it should be.

Mom vs Mouse: Day Two

July 3, 2010

Here it is just past midnight and a few minutes into Saturday morning. My goal of posting daily has officially been shot down upon my second real post. Which brings me to Thursday’s post about my furry friend Pierre – the house mouse squatter. It was only yesterday (it still feels like Thursday is yesterday so just bear with me) I battled with Pierre at 5 in the morning.

Two mousetraps, cheese and birdseed bait, and much frustration later it’s been a two days since I have seen my furry friend. He disappeared sometime mid-morning on Thursday. All stayed quiet through the remainder of  Thursday and most of today (Friday). Until a few minutes ago.

Yet again the little beast chooses to wait until I am stressed to my last nerve before popping around to let me know he’s still stalking the household. I was mentally preparing today’s blog about the stress of having a tween and teen, both girls, living in the same house. Between their typical drama (which reached heights exceeding the entire soap opera industry today), I dealt with a hyperactive pre-schooler that is too smart for my own good. It’s probably fine for her own good, but I can foresee her dancing circles around me by the time she makes it to the teen years. Heaven help me now.

After surviving the two girls getting to the point of strangulation with one another, neither completing their daily chores, the pre-schooler finding a new obsession with balloons that go POW! when you pop them (this happening repeatedly), a husband who had a bad day, an aunt who broke her ankle, and the oldest stepson (OSS) dropping in at the last minute with his former girlfriend who is back as his girlfriend because she got pregnant with what they think is his daughter who also came and is adorable, and feeding all these crazy people a decent meal… I was ready for a long hot shower, a quick blog and good book. Not so fast.

Before I can say “hot water”, my oldest stepdaughter (OSD) has a meltdown of Three-Mile Island proportions. Let’s just say bad day at work for DH now equals bad evening at home for OSD. And more stress for me, because really, is anyone ever calm after the firestorm? Nah, didn’t think so.

OSS then calls back. He’s at his apartment that he shares part of  the time with the girlfriend and their daughter but also apparently his mother (DH’s EX) although she also lives part of the time a couple of cities away with her boyfriend that nobody claims is her boyfriend but is the same place that OSS lives when he’s not living in our town with the girlfriend. Got that? Don’t worry, I stay confused too.

So OSS was in the dark – literally. He said they had to catch up on the power but his mother didn’t pay her part before she went to jail (she has more tales for titillating posts than this place has room) so now they are stuck with no power. Well, they could have power if they had the nearly $1000 it will take to turn it back on again. Don’t even ask. He asked if he could come spend the night with us, since his girlfriend went to her parents’ house to spend the night. One former bedroom, waiting and ready.

By that time, I am living the brief sanity a shower will bring because I dare DH to join me. He will get the pleasure of holding down peace in the Middle East while I take a shower, thank you very much. If I can do it for the 12 hours he is at work, he can do it for the 30 minutes it takes me to shower. Until, that is, Pierre makes an appearance. Everyone is getting settled down for the night, when pitter-pitter-pat his four little paws scurry across the floor of our living room and into DD’s bedroom. I guess he fears a pre-schooler the least – oh little does he know. I think we’ve already established he’s not the smartest mouse yesterday, but this was the final exclamation point of stupidity. It would have only been worse had he run towards the fire-breathing drama teen OSD.

So, mousetrap is now moved and placed in a place that is hopefully pre-schooler proof. Yeah right, in my dreams, and all that.  It’s freshly baited. It’s got a trail of breadcrumbs (not too much, not too little but juuust right for little Goldimouse). I am waiting. And yet, I still watch my door carefully because I have this odd feeling he will manage to eat his little delights, avoid capture and come mock me yet again outside my door.

Have I mentioned how much I hate mice?

I hate cats, but I hate rodents more.

I think I need a cat.