Friday, February 26, 2016

Book Review: A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons

A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons
by  Cressida Cowell
Date Read:  2/22/16
Rating: ★ ★ 

Oops. I finished this at the beginning of the week and forgot to write my review about it!

The How to Train Your Dragon books have stayed surprisingly entertaining.  The author is doing a good job at mixing up the plot and characters.  I really enjoyed this one because it didn’t really involve a “bad guy”.  It still had drama and a climax, but they weren’t fighting off one of Hiccup’s arch enemies – though he may have just made another!

The addition of Kamikaze to the story has been refreshing.  She’s a lot of fun and I like having the girl’s perspective on things – even though she’s the least girliest girl I’ve ever seen!  She really pushes Hiccup and Fishlegs when they want to wimp out and she is actually pretty brave.

I loved the Stealth Dragon in this story. Not only was his accent super cute (love this narrator!!!) but he was just a lot of fun. The addition of Kamikaze’s dragon was a nice touch too. Poor Toothless has a little crush on her!  I hope we see her more throughout the series now.

I also really liked that Stoick is starting to be accepting of his son and see that just because he doesn’t have the typical Viking build and strength, that he has gone through some pretty seriously scary situations and come out on the other side thanks to his quick wits. 

The best part about this story? It takes place in a library! And Hiccup tries to get books unbanned. He tries to impose how helpful books are for knowledge.  Perhaps this is why he becomes the last Great Viking Hero.

I actually feel like I like these more and more as the series progresses. I hope they don’t get boring.

Monday, February 22, 2016

3 Easy Ways to Save Extra Money

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to find ways to save money.  So far I’ve come up with 3 really solid ways to do this. I wanted to share them with others. If you sign up with these referral codes, you’ll also get some bonus cash.
  1. Ebates -  I’ve been using Ebates for several years now and I love it. It’s the easiest way to get cash back. All you need to do is create your account and then install the “Cash Back Button” on your browser. Then, when you do your shopping online, all you need to do is either start at the Ebates website and then click to link to the merchant’s website…. OR if you have the button, you can go directly to the merchant’s website and Ebates will notify you if and what the cash back is available. You just need to click to activate it for that store. It’s THAT easy. Once you complete your purchase, it will take a few days for the credit to appear in your pending cash back. They send checks quarterly. You can also get bonuses for referring friends.  There are also several times a year where the cash back is increased – specifically around Black Friday. I just received my check for the time period of Black Friday 2015, and I got $154!  If you haven’t signed up for Ebates, use this link to do so now and you will earn a $10 bonus when you make your first purchase of $25 or more.
  2. Ibotta – This is an application that I had signed up for a long time ago and just never used. I think back then I thought it was too much work and I don’t buy name brand products very often.  However, I decided to log in again recently and it’s actually pretty simple. All you need to do is log in to the app and browse the rebates. You have to either watch a video or answer a short question to unlock the rebate. Go to the store (any store – there are more than just grocery stores) and buy the things in the rebates. Then you just verify that you bought them. For Walmart, it’s super easy. You just scan the QR code on your receipt.  For other stores I’ve had to scan the product and then take a picture of the receipt. But still worth it.  And it isn’t only name brand items. There are several rebates for “Any brand”.  While “Any Brand” rebates don’t count toward bonuses and are generally a lower dollar amount than name brand, you can still get cash back by buying what you want.  They also have bonuses and teamwork goals – you can team together with your friends and work toward getting even more bonuses.  I’ve been using it for about 2 weeks now and I am up to $24.  Use this link to earn $10 when you redeem your first rebate.
  3. Inbox Dollars – I was skeptical about this one at first. Though when I was in high school I had been signed up for a research company who would send me products to test and then I would answer a survey about them.  It was pretty easy cash. So I thought, what the heck. I like having my opinion heard – let’s try it. This is actually super easy and there are SO many ways to make more cash than just by answering surveys. The surveys give you the most bang for your time though. They are a variety of lengths and worth a variety of cash.  There are the main surveys and then there are also daily surveys. Whenever you are disqualified for a survey you will get a spin on the Spin & Win wheel. You have the chance to win sweepstakes entries, cash ($0.01, $0.05, or $0.25), or no win. The sweepstakes allow you to enter sweepstakes to earn giftcards or cash bonuses – I have not won one yet.  There are WINIT codes that give you freebies if you follow their social media accounts – I’ve gotten extra sweeps entries and today I got a $0.01 cash bonus. But you can also earn cash for confirming paid emails (this means you just click the link), performing searches through the inbox dollars search engine, watching videos, playing games, completing offers, printing coupons, etc. It’s really easy. I’ve been using it for probably about 2 months now and I’m almost at my first $30 payout.  Use this link to signup and earn a $5 bonus.

Those are all the money saving tips I have for now. If you have others that you use that you think are a great easy way to save some extra money, please leave it in the comments section! I would love to find more ways to save even more money!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: How to Twist a Dragon's Tale

How to Twist a Dragon's Tale
by  Cressida Cowell
Date Read:  2/17/16
Rating: ★ ★ 

I like that every story has introduced a new character. The world is getting so big now. I thought Humongous was an interesting character. I wasn’t sure which way he was going to side.

I really enjoyed the quest involving not only Hiccup and Fishlegs, but also Kamikaze. She is hilarious! I love her. I’m interested to see if she stays the only girl in the story. I really like Astrid from the movies, but I think she may have been completely made up.  Kamikaze brings out the bravery in the boys though – mostly because she teases them about being scaredy-cats.  She’s also just super funny.

This story was a little more complex than the other stories have been. It got fairly emotional too. It makes you question whether Hiccup’s mom really loves Stoick. I think she does, but if definitely makes you think. And it makes you have compassion for a guy you’re not sure who’s side he’s on.

I liked that they introduced different dragons too – riding dragons, fire dragons. I like learning about all the different types of dragons in this world.

I really enjoyed this story since it had more complex themes – not that I don’t enjoy the other books as well. But this one just seemed a little bit more grown up than the others. I’m interested to see how the rest of the series plays out and how Humongous and Alvin the Treacherous come back in to Hiccup’s life.

I would also like to see Hiccup’s mom!  We got a glimpse of her in this story – because she’d barely been mentioned. What quests does she go on? Why is she never around?  The epilogue was sad too!!!  Very heavy and emotional. Really enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review: The Lightlings

The Lightlings
by  R.C. Sproul
Date Read:  2/15/16
Rating: ★ ★ 

I picked this book up at the annual massive VNSA used booksale here in Phoenix this weekend.  I picked it up because the illustrations were beautiful and I flipped through and the words seemed long enough for my child's bedtime routine, which is starting to get a little longer now that she's getting older.

I didn't realize at the time that this is actually a Christian book. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened to the front page and there was a bible verse. The whole story is actually about the creation, fall, and redemption of man. It is done in a beautiful way to get children involved. It's also on a much lower level that they can understand. I was very happy with this book and so glad that I picked it up - unknowingly.

I highly recommend this book to any Christian family that has young children learning the concepts of their religion.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review: The Nixie's Song

The Nixie's Song (Beyond #1)
by  Holly BlackTony DiTerlizzi
Date Read:  2/10/16
Rating: ★ ★ 

This was a pretty good addition to the Spiderwick world.  The one thing that I don’t like about these books is that the ending just ends. The authors basically write one long story and cut it in to three sections.  You’re never sure when the book is going to end.

The new characters were likeable enough. I’m not super attached to either one of them, but they’re decent enough. I like seeing how other characters react to the faerie world, how others get the sight, etc.

I did not like the nixie. I’m not sure if the nixie itself I don’t like, or the way the narrator portrayed her voice. It was super annoying. I almost want to find a printed version of the book to see if it was printed that way as well.

These are good books to listen to while driving to and from work. They’re short enough that I can get through the whole book before it’s due back to the library; they’re a good distraction from stressing about traffic; and they’re not intense enough to need total focus on them – which is good because I drive in rush hour.

I really liked that the original characters pop up and/or are referenced. It just reminds me that I prefer those characters over the new characters – but maybe that’s just because no one can be as good as the original?

I’ll keep reading the series to see how it ends.

Book Review: How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse

How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse
by  Cressida Cowell
Date Read:  2/10/16
Rating: ★ ★ 
★ ★ 

I’m really happy that by book 4, the plot seemed to mix up a little bit. That was always a gripe with the Lemony Snicket books for me.  While this book still follows another harrowing adventure for Hiccup, this book found us traveling not with Fishlegs, but with Kamakaze.

A couple other new characters were introduced as well. And in addition to this, it wasn’t the same villain.   I really liked the references to the “mythological potato” and “America”. Haha. It was a nice little plot twist at the end; though I was still pretty much expecting that.

I also am proud that Stoick comes to an understanding at the end of the book as well. Overall, this book was a very good development in the series.  I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to read them.

And I just want to reiterate how amazing this narrator is!  It's amazing how many distinctly different voices he can create, and that he can keep them all straight!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Joining the 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

I have had a lot of books sitting on my TBR shelf for a while, and physically on my bookshelf that I haven't read yet. I recently discovered the 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge at Bookish Lifestyle.  This will be a great way to not only make sure I work on my TBR shelf, but also to make new blogger friends!  I may have a lofty goal, but even if I'm able to knock a few of these off the list I'll be happy.

Having a challenge though, and perhaps bringing more traffic to my blog, will be good motivation to get this done.  I hope some of you will join me in this challenge and link up to it as well!

Here are my goals:

1) Aiming for the "Firm Handshake" level of reading 1-10 books from my TBR shelf.

2) Current list of books I want to read from my TBR Shelf:
  - Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
  - The Scorpio Races
  - Seraphina
  - Shadow and Bone
  - The Maze Runner
  - Grave Mercy
  - The Raven King (Raven Cycle #4)
  - Dangerous Lies
  - The Trap (The Hunt #3)

Book Review: These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars
by  Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner
Date Read:  2/5/16
Rating: ★ ★ 
★ ★  ★ 

“For a moment the image before us is frozen: our world, our lives, reduced to a handful of broken stars half lost in uncharted space”.

I find that sci-fi novels are generally not my cup of tea.  However, These Broken Stars blew me away!  This is a young adult sci-fi adventure, focusing on survival. The cover initially drew me in, the summary blurb sounded interesting, and once I read my friends reviews on goodreads, I knew I needed to try it out. 

I was hooked within two pages. I fell in love with Tarver at the very beginning and I couldn’t wait to see how his story played out. Lilac took a little more time to warm up to. Once they were on the planet and she started letting go of her past and expectations, I really started getting attached to her.

The book moved really quickly. I was surprised how early the crash actually happened. The description of the two watching the Icarus fall out of the sky was beautiful and horrifying.  This is more of a survival tale with sci-fi woven in.  I have discovered that I really enjoy survival stories – seeing the skills, ingenuity and strength people go through to survive is amazing.

Tarver and Lilac have a rough time getting along at first.  They both have preconceptions and stereotypes they are dealing with. They are also both going through a little PTSD after having crashed landed on a planet, and being the only survivors. Lilac has lost her cousin and her friends, and that is very hard on her.

While they are stranded together for most of the novel, it never got boring and you watched as their relationship transformed from dislike, to friendship, to love. It did not feel rushed and I found myself begging for their first kiss as much as they were.

I was happy to figure out the mystery of the planet along with the characters. It never felt like the characters knew more than I did. Everything was revealed in a decent pace and I was aching to know the whole truth.  As they unravel the horrifying truth surrounding the planet and what caused the Icarus to crash, I felt the same emotions as them.

Most of the loose ends were tied up, though pretty close to the end of the novel. While the ending was satisfying, I wish there was a little more wrap up to the story. I was blown away by the last scene in the book, though I probably should have expected it. I am looking forward to reading more books in this series. It is an interesting concept to have the same bad guy but with different characters. I’m interested to see if they can pull off another stunning story with wonderful new characters.
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