Subscription Showdown: Blue Apron vs. HomeChef

It’s a little strange, isn’t it, seeing a post on this blog that has nothing to do with either books or writing? True, this post won’t fit with the general theme of this blog, but it does have to do with another passion of mine – food! I’ve noticed lately that the most visited post on this site is Uppercase vs. OwlCrate – A Review, where I reviewed two young adult book subscription boxes. While receiving those fabulous bookish goodie boxes was an awesome experience, I was actually inspired to try those because of another subscription we regularly receive – meal deliveries. You see them advertised all of the time – Plated, Hello Fresh, HomeChef, Blue Apron, Freshology, etc. But are they worth it? My short answer – absolutely. Long answer – We spent six months receiving Blue Apron boxes each week, and we only recently made the switch to try out HomeChef. Keep reading for a detailed review of the strengths and weaknesses for those two services, and see why meal subscription boxes are the best thing ever, at least in this house.
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Off the Shelf: A Review of The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog here lately, then you’ll know that a few weeks ago, I discovered Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series. Once I got hold of The Raven Boys, as I told you in my review, I COULD NOT put it down, and I immediately ordered the rest of the series and preordered the fourth book.  When I started reading the second book, The Dream Thieves, I had much the same reaction as I had to the first. Homework wasn’t completed. Texts and phone calls went unanswered. Bits of conversation were entirely missed. All because I could not get my nose out of this book, and, well, sacrifices had to be made…

dreamthieves

Summary (via Goodreads)

If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

Ronan is one of the raven boys—a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface—changing everything in its wake.

I’m so excited to talk about this one!
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A Plethora of Prompts

There are a million reasons why I love my writing group, The Wicked Wordsmiths of the West, – their assorted, wild personalities; the hard work and dedication with which they approach a project; the never-a-dull-moment meetings – but most of all, I love the way they recharge my batteries. Our meetings are once a month, and often fall on a day when I’m having the worst case of Mondays and the idea of staying two and a half hours after work fills me with dread, BUT the second I enter the meeting room, everything changes. These people pep me up and get me excited about writing. Even when I’m feeling like a talentless hack and, like lately, haven’t been able to churn out anything worthwhile… by the time I leave the meeting, I’m racing home to write because I feel the drive and inspiration.

That was especially true in February’s meeting. Three of us presented writing prompt activities that covered a variety of topics but also included an element of fun. Knowing how much those prompt activities helped pull me out of a writing rut, I decided it would be a good idea to share them here and maybe inspire someone else who might be struggling to get their pen moving.

PROMPT #1
This was a short and simple prompt that I presented. It was right after the Oscars, so drawing on that, I had the Wordsmiths construct their Oscar-style acceptance speech for winning Best Book of the Year. Most all of the Wordsmiths have a project that is either close to being ready for publication or a project that they are working continuously on, so the catch was that, in their acceptance speech, besides thanking their family, God, publisher, etc., they also had to draw out details that actually described what their “Best Book of the Year” was about. This helps us be concise when summarizing. Not many of us actually like reading our writing out loud, but this prompt seems to have been the exception. We had quite the mix of hilarious, dramatic readings and those who gave sage advice about writing as an art (that I swear sounded like they could’ve been quoting Neil Gaiman…they were just that good!).

PROMPT #2
This activity came from Stacy Atkins (Check her out over at The Peculiar Cookie). She said that often when rereading some of her work she would find that she would mention a person, place, or thing, but not describe it sufficiently. As an exercise to improve this, Stacy went through dozens of real estate listings (some of which you would never believe to actually be on the market), and she printed off pictures of the houses. These were homes all over the world, in every architectural style, from secluded cabins to thoroughly modern, geometric homes. We randomly selected two photos without looking at them first, and then had 15 minutes per house to come up with a description that would adequately tell the reader all about the house without seeing the picture. For example, here are the two houses I received:

Nice, right? The one on the left was easy because my first thought was that it reminded me of an abandoned library, and really who WOULDN’T want to live in a library? The one on the right, however, proved that I would have to get creative because nowhere in my vocabulary could I find specific terms for Victorian architecture. At the very least, I did compare it to a gingerbread house, but this one was especially challenging. It definitely made for good practice when writing what you don’t actually know. After each person read a description, they would pass around the photo they’d been working from. 99% of the time, I could see the houses vividly in my mind before the photo arrived in my hands.

PROMPT #3
This is our take-home prompt presented to us by Brent McGuffin (go give him a like!), and we have until the next meeting to complete it. I’m rather giddy about just how fun this one sounds. Brent said that some of the requirements he snatched from a newsletter that he receives, and some of them he added himself. Everything listed has to be included in a story that should hopefully come in at around 2,000 words. Here’s the full list if you’d like to try it out yourself:

1. To find the first sentence of your story: Take the third book from the left off of your book shelf. On page forty-two, seventh sentence from the top, is the first sentence of your story. (If it is a blank page, keep going until you find a page with words.)

2. The leftovers in your fridge is what the main character ate for breakfast. (If there are no leftovers, your character has to eat leftover pizza or the most common dish in your world.)

3. The conflict in the story is what is under your bed. If you are one of those organized minimalist people and don’t store anything under your bed, then here’s your other option: your protagonist wants the last item you purchased.

4. Your protagonist is wearing what is hanging in your closet, second item from the right. I will give you another option if you hate what is hanging second from the right. Your character may wear whatever clothes you left on the floor last night. If there are only your white socks that you didn’t put in the clothes hamper on the floor, here is a terry-cloth robe and a pair of pajamas for you.

5. The protagonist’s hair color is the color of your dog, or your cat, or your neighbor’s dog or cat. If both of your neighbors have pets, go with the neighbor on your right.

6. The protagonist will use whatever is in your pockets to win their conflict.

7. Please, please, please use this word at least once in your story, “bacon”. I said, please, please, please, so I didn’t sound so bossy. (To be nice, I will give you a choice of three words to choose from. One of these words has to be in your story.)
a) bacon        b) cat        c) page seventy-four in your dictionary, left hand column, fifth word from the top

8. The Antagonist, the person trying to keep the protagonist from getting what they want, has the same name as the person you had a crush on in second grade. (If you didn’t have a crush on anyone in second grade, use the name of your best friend in second grade.)

9. The location is where you spent your last vacation.

 

10. You will get help to resolve your conflict from a brown paper bag.

There you go! Three different prompts to get you going, now get to it! Happy writing!

Waiting on Wednesday #5

I have some pretty exciting personal news to reveal…

Later this year, I will actually get to meet one of my idols – Cat Winters! Every other year, the library I work for hosts the Ohio River Festival of Book (ohioriverbooks.org), which is a free event that connects the public with some pretty amazing authors. In the planning stages, I had suggested Cat for the young adult audience, and you can’t even begin to imagine my excitement when this actually panned out. October 1st, I’ll actually get to meet her and see her speak, and you better believe I’m counting down the days.

Another thing I’m counting down the days till is the release of this week’s featured Waiting on Wednesday read…

The Steep and Thorny Way

By Cat Winters

Publication Date: March 8, 2016

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Synopsis (via Goodreads)
A thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Steep and Thorny Way tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.

1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

Why I’m Waiting

If you’ve never read one of Cat Winters’s books before, prepare for mass amounts of mystery mixed with heaps of history and a dash of mysticism. If In the Shadow of Blackbirds and The Cure for Dreaming are any indication of just how talented Cat Winters is, The Steep and Thorny Way is going to be the one book this year that you DO NOT want to miss!
We all know I’m a sucker for retellings, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone in the YA game approach Shakespeare with a new look. BUT this is exactly the kind of innovated idea that I expect from the author. I read the summary aloud, and then had to shout, “WHERE does she come up with this? I want to have such brilliant ideas!”
The Cure for Dreaming made such a lasting impression on me that, when asked to write a book review for the local newspaper last year, it was a clear choice what book I needed to tell the public all about.

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It’s a fabulous book, and one all of you should check out.

Oh, and before I forget…Cat Winters currently resides in the cultural and creative epicenter of America – Portland,  Oregon. Portland also happens to be home to one of the coolest book stores in the world, Powell’s, where Cat will be doing a signing on March 10th. Know what the coolest part is though? You can preorder one of her signed copies directly from Powell’s – which of course, I did.
 Have I mentioned she’s really receptive to talking to fans on Twitter? Cause she is. I can’t wait to meet this incredible woman! Hopefully, she’ll have a tip or two for writing YA fiction for me.

Add The Steep and Thorny Way to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
Pre-Order via Amazon
Pre-Order via Barnes & Noble