Thursday, March 28, 2013

Six Dining Hall Meals No One Eats

So I'm giving a young friend of mine a tour of Cornell later today. Right now, I'm in my Creative Writing class analyzing poetry with my hipster teacher, who has the exact same beard as every other graduate student in the English department. I'm thinking about three major sales points for Cornell: great academics, wonderful diversity, and excellent food. The all-you-can-eat sushi bar is a major component of that (I live for sushi).

But no matter how good the dining hall food is, there's some things that no one ever eats.

Any Ice Cream Flavor Beyond Mint Chocolate Chip, Cookies and Cream, Chocolate, 
and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

It's not that difficult, people.

The ice cream freezers in Cornell dining halls have room for four flavors. Listed above are the only four flavors which anyone ever eats. The obvious conclusion is to put those four flavors in every ice cream freezer. I'm not sure if they've got a weird contract with the distributor, or if there's some weird kid over in Dickson who eats absolutely nothing but lemon sorbet, but the dining staff insists on stocking the freezers with flavors nobody likes. 

My English teacher just admitted the poem we were analyzing was probably meaningless, and continued analyzing it anyway. 

No one eats that purple sludge they call raspberry ice cream. Or the white sticky stuff they pretend is Italian ice. Or the strawberry that has frozen bits of what are supposed to be fruit and are actually just big chips of ice. They just sit there for days and days, until someone (maybe the mice) finishes them off. Drop in a tub of the flavors everyone likes, and it'll vanish in a nanosecond. 

I was out to dinner with a group of six people once, and the only ice cream flavor left was raspberry  Only one of us got any, and she took one taste before throwing it out. There is no greater waste than raspberry ice cream


This is one of those foods that's great for spilling on yourself and not much else. The main campus dining hall, Oakenshields (named after that dwarf from The Hobbit, probably due to an alumni with a weird sense of humor), has a soup station in the middle of the room that never sees a line, and in other dining halls, the soup containers are tucked so far into the corners that most people don't even know they're there.

This is because soup isn't a food. It's not really a beverage, either. It's some weird hybrid of both. When people think about what they want for dinner, they never think of soup. Seriously. They have this cream of broccoli stuff that's heavier than your average textbook and this sweet and sour stuff that is filled with unidentifiable particles. The clam chowder may or may not have actual clam in it, and the french onion has neither cheese, bread, or actual onions.

My hipster English teacher doesn't know he's got one strand of hair sticking up straight out of the back of his head. He's like a freaking backwards unicorn.

Vegetable Sushi

This stuff tends to contain carrots, and we all know how much I hate carrots. But that's not the real reason no one ever eats it. Sushi is for fish. It's supposed to be exotic. It's not just a wad of rice and carrots.
Now wrap it in rice. Yay. 

Also, they always serve California rolls on the worst possible nights. I hate California rolls; they taste exactly like soy sauce. Maybe that's because I put too much soy sauce on them. Some nights they have tuna rolls or shrimp or even horseradish--the girl next to me just asked if D'Artagnan was a character on a TV show. Seriously?--but they never have the good ones on the nights I'm actually there. 

Vegetarian sushi is a horrible invention. Sushi implies fish, preferably raw. Making sushi without fish is like making a sandwich with only two slices of bread.  

Stir-Fried Bok Choy

This dish lives at the Asian station. It is suspiciously shiny. Never trust food that looks like the hood of a BMW in a car commercial. Also, they put scrambled eggs in it, and sometimes the eggs are only runny blobs that look suspiciously like saliva. It smells like salt, possibly because salt is the only ingredient, possibly because the only way to make bok choy edible is to drench it in salt. In fact, I think I hate bok choy worse than carrots. At least carrots have an interesting color. 

Sometimes they put meat in the stir fry. They favor seafood, which is why you'll occasionally see tiny octopus tentacles sticking out of the green, shiny strands, covered in dripping bits of runny eggs. This is not appetizing. I don't even think it's legal. I see the chefs mixing up bowls of stir-fry the size of a Mini Cooper, throwing tentacles and bok choy and eggs into the air, and all I can think it, I used to like Asian food.

The 'Fresh' Fruit

Cornell is big on locally grown fruit. But sometimes, they can go overboard. I'm pretty sure the oranges were grown in New York, because they're tiny, tasteless, and covered with little black spots. Also, they're quite flammable. 

If the blond girl in the Alpha Phi v-neck turns to the left, she'll give half the class a peek at her nipple. Seriously, wear a camisole!

Every banana in the fruit bin is covered with spots--though they make excellent props if your roommates are reenacting Charlie's Angels and pretending to shoot each other in the hallway. All the apples are bruised and some have been chewed on by bugs. And those are the only three pieces of fruit you always see, unless you count that bucket of pathetic honeydew melon slices that no body likes but for some reason appears in every fruit salad.
Does real honeydew melon ever look this appetizing. No. No, it does not. I'm expecting there's some kind of melon growers conspiracy going on. They're keeping all the pretty melons somewhere else and selling the gooey green cubes. 

The Gluten Free Corner

There's a big sign in the corner of one of my dining halls that says 'Gluten Free', but there's never any actual food there. Cornell's the second most vegan friendly college in the country, we have a kosher station in the--geez, Alpha Phi girl just used the word 'like' eighteen times!--Appel dining hall, and we have soy milk in every freezer--and now the shy premed girl is talking about her yeast infection!--but the gluten free section is as empty as the stomachs of every man, woman, or child on campus with a gluten allergy.

I really don't understand what they have against gluten free food. According to Taylor, it's only about 1% of the population who's allergic to gluten, but we mark our vegan dishes, and veganism's a (really weird) choice. The gluten free zone's more abandoned than the old observatory, which is probably haunted.

And my hipster professor wants to know why I'm staring at my screen so intently. I could tell him that's because he knows absolutely nothing about good writing, but I'm relying on him to give me an easy A, so I guess I better start paying attention. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Review: Breakers, by Edward W. Robertson

It's not often I come across a book that makes me not want to put it down, even to take notes. Breakers, by Edward W. Robertson, is one of those books. A post apocalyptic story with a twist, Breakers hits all the familiar notes of the genres and plays the riffs as well. Told from the viewpoint of two men who struggle to survive in a world where all the rules have changed, Breakers, much like the waves of the Pacific that crash down on every page, has its peaks and valleys--but they're emotional tides, not literary ones, and they truly capture the human spirit of the survivors.

See? This is what a professional design looks like!

Raymond's a freelance graphic designer who's discovering that 'freelance' is a fancy word for 'unemployed'. The one thing he loves more than the beautiful weather and water of LA is his wife, Mia. No matter how his search for a job flounders, Mia keeps him afloat. Even when a superflu sweeps around the world, he's got her to rely on. They shack up in a mansion in Beverly Hills, stock a garden with food, and settle down to raise chickens. The end of the world might not be so bad, if it wasn't for the alien invaders intent on wiping out what remains of the human race.

Walt's girlfriend, Vanessa, is on the brink of breaking up with him. Unfortunately, she dies of the flu first, sending her devoted boyfriend off the rails. Walt decides to live her dream of going to LA, even if he has to walk there. He's kind of hoping he'll die on the way. He's got no illusions about human nature, and he doesn't mind resorting to deadly force at the drop of a hat. Then again, he doesn't much mind risking his life to help others, either. But Walt doesn't have much of a purpose in life--until he meets a ragtag group of rebels who've gathered to strike back at the aliens who've invaded our world.

Walt is one of the best anti-heroes I've read in a very long time. The way he fondles his dead girlfriend's breast makes me lose all respect for him, and yet, by the end, I find myself rooting for him to succeed. Some morals might be displaced by the apocalypse, but Walt's got a firm grip on what he is and isn't willing to sacrifice. He might walk a dark path, but he does it with conviction. Raymond may be nowhere near as dark as Walt, but his relationship with Mia felt a lot more real and touching than do relationships in most romance novels I read. Could that be because he takes practical steps to take care of her and protect her, instead of always thinking about her? Maybe.

The pacing in this story is excellent. No sooner has one antagonist passed than a larger, more dangerous one shows up to take its place. There's a few plot threads that aren't resolved--we see that the US government still has a few remaining outposts, but never learn their ultimate fate. The imagery is excellent, especially the juxtaposition of the peaceful Pacific with the apocalyptic carnage. Some apocalyptic novels simply describe rotting corpses over and over until the reader looses interest, but Breakers uses the same terse, disgusting, horribly fascinating descriptive language as The Stand while remaining a third of the length.

The action scenes do feel a little dull, at times--mostly just descriptions of physical actions that don't always engage the reader's senses and mind. And, at first, I did feel like Raymond and Walt were too similar, both being lower middle class men with artistic backgrounds in a monogamous relationship. The pop culture references could have been tuned down a little, because I can't always think up a timely pop culture reference when I'm fighting for my life. But these are minor criticisms for such a well told story (in fact, my list for The Stand is a hell of a lot longer). Both as an apocalyptic story and as a novel, Breakers earns five out of five stars.

--You can download Breakers here. You can also go here and purchase my book, Iceclaw.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How NOT to do your senior research project

I know I've been procrastinating on this entry for a while, but can you blame me? I've got spring break-itis, which is a great deal like senior-itis, which I suffered through last year. This was a problem, as I still had my senior research project to complete. For those of you who don't know, the senior research project is your big graduation requirement at TJ. You have to run an experiment and write a paper about it. Some kids model the surface proteins of HIV. Others design and build beer coolers. Both will prepare you equally for different kinds of success at college. 

Mine was on the biocorrosive properties of sulphate reducing bacteria, which was mostly my father's idea, which is cool, because I really didn't have the initiative to come up with an idea of my own. Senior-itis. I was in the biotechnology lab, which sounds really legitimate, until you realize we spent the majority of time in first period biotechnology chatting with other students in the class on Facebook. 

Well, that's not true. I spent a majority of first period sitting in traffic on the Beltway, cursing myself for leaving for a school that was forty-five minutes away twenty minutes before class actually began. And sometimes I was late because I was getting coffee. Coffee is fun. And sometimes I had to pick up Katherine Sheridan.

These things break down more often than a drunk Snooki

So we started in the fall by writing our introductory topic papers. The first five weeks of the year were devoted to determining what our projects will actually do. Since I already had the project idea, I spent the first five weeks doing my multivar homework, which was extremely easy and boring as all get out. Then we spent another three weeks writing our introductory topic papers, which involved a lot of googling. The hardest part was having to make the citations. You have to remember which parts to italizise--italicise--put in slanty letters. Also, you have to know page numbers and put things in parenthesis. It's hard. But I got an A on the paper, so I decided I could relax for the rest of the year.

And relax I did. Maybe a little too much at times. I finally got my little freeze-dried pod of bacteria. Then, I had to mix up bottles of bacteria food. When mixing up bacteria food, it's always helpful to make sure your lab has the correct ingredients ahead of time. Otherwise we end up with bottles full of half-mixed pulp because your lab is out of permagnium biphosphadiddle. Also, glucose smells like Chinese food. And cow fat is disgusting brown glop.

But at last, my bacteria started to grow in their little airtight container in the incubator. Said airtight container had to be opened every week to feed them. Said bacteria, being sulphate reducing bacteria, had a habit of smelling like rotten eggs and making the whole lab smell like said rotten eggs. Eventually, I trained the other people in my lab to flinch whenever I took my container out. So I decided, out of the goodness of my heart, to come in after school to change my rotten egg soup and spend first period on Facebook, like normal. 
The black stuff smells like rotten eggs. 

Then came March, when we were expected to get results. Results! Yikes! So I got my father to send me instructions for the cleaning solution we were supposed to use to clean the little pieces of iron that had been living in the bacteria test tubes for six weeks. Somehow, I talked Taylor into helping me. I seriously didn't know how I managed to do that . . . oh, wait, I had driven her to school three times that week because her car kept breaking down. 

Being the only girl in your group of friends with a working car is really handy. Katherine Sheridan still owes me fifty miles and a couple of coffees. 

So I mixed up my cleaning solution, which required me to mix scraps of metal in a gentle acid and submerse my iron scraps in it. We had to do it under a cleaning hood, and it was Taylor's job to take out the scraps and weigh them every five minutes while I brushed them with a toothbrush. She complained the whole way that it was something I should be doing, but I told her that if I did the weighing, I'd mess it up--only she had the precision to get the results we needed. I think she took that as an admission of my general incompetence, but I really meant it as sarcasm. And, also, we had a track meet that evening. 

So after we got the data and bottled up the weird chemicals we used, we went up to the track meet. My final paper was due the next day, but I'd be darned if I didn't want to watch everybody run. So Taylor took her position of official score keeper, Chris and Dylan took the announcer's mike, and I brought my little laptop up into the press box and started hammering out my data tables. 

All was going fairly normally until Coach radioed up to us to make an announcement about the concession stand being open. Chris and Dylan decided to put on a little skit about how great the concessions were. The first scores rolled in and Taylor began recording them with razor sharp precision. Katherine was there, helping, and Taylor was bossing everyone around. 

For some reason, halfway through creating my data tables, everyone disappeared from the box--I think they'd all gone to get Chinese food (the glucose had turned me off for good). Coach radioed up and told me to announce the first call for the 800m run. I took the mike and announced "First call for the eight hundred meter run!" A feeling of immense power washed over me. 

Taylor sprinted back into the booth, her eyes on fire. "What did you do?" she shouted. "I told you not to touch anything!" 

Now, I expect that from her. But then Katherine runs up and says, "Liz, did Coach tell you to do that?", and Chris rushes back and says "You had permission for that announcement, right?" So that's how I learned that no other senior on the team trusted me with responsibility. 

The night went on. I formatted my graphs and asked Taylor about APA formatting. Matt Baron showed up and proceeded to hug Chris. The concession stand was heavily advertised by food puns, including some about 'hot dogs' that contained small amounts of innuendo. Of course, the best one was "What do you call a nosy pepper? Jalapeno business!" 
Because jalapenos are peppers! Get it?

Did I mention that now the basketball coach does announcements during home meets? 

Anyway, apparently I was the only member of my biotechnology class to have data, so I was the first one to technically finish my paper. The lab director suggested I should do another round of my experiment--after all, I didn't get statistically significant results. But it was second semester, and there was Italian water ice in the classroom, and I had data. So the answer was no. 



Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: Sophia: Within, by Jordana Lizama

            Self-publishing a first novel is generally a bad idea. This week’s book, Sophia: Within, by Jordana Lizama, confirms the rule. While the plot is interesting and even suspenseful at times, a combination of weak characterization, poor pacing, and lack of technical skill drags the story down. These are the marks of inexperience, which in my mind would have been much improved if the author had written another novel prior to this one.

Beautiful cover art, but the shiny blue thing never happens in the book
            Seventeen year old Sophia is a massive introvert who (despite the fact introversion and extroversion are mostly fixed elements of the human personality) only became that way after her father’s premature death. As winter closes in on her hometown, it brings with it an epidemic of depression which (despite the fact that the holidays are the most common times to experience symptoms of depression) is decried as extremely unusual. Mysterious new boy Alec offers Sophia an explanation for the town’s—and her mother’s—illness: a group of ancient magical beings called the Aged Men, who’ll suck all the happiness from her town unless Sophia gives them what they want. Turns out, our heroine has the spirit of an ancient nymph imprisoned in her soul, a being with immense potential for good or evil. If Sophia can’t learn to control her unwelcome roommate, her life and everything she cares about could be destroyed.

            But Sophia herself isn’t a very interesting character. In fact, she’s a classic Mary Sue. She’s got no flaws and no life goals. The author tells us that, even at age ten ‘She was very mature for her age, or, at least, that was what her family and friends thought’. We see she’s ‘embarrassed by her intelligence’ and ‘possessed an exceptional memory’. When she dances at a party, people tell her they can’t keep their eyes off her. She is admired by almost everyone she meets, except the villains, despite the fact her character is incredibly anti-social, and no character honestly criticizes her once. Sophia’s perfection may make the author happy, but it’s so fake it’ll make the readers slightly queasy.

             Even though she’s seventeen, Sophia has no thoughts about her future. Normal seventeen year old high school students think about applying to colleges. The only hint we see as to her future goals is when she spots her copy of Little Women and thinks she’s like Jo (the independent girl who leaves her hometown to have a career), but she hopes to one day be more like Beth (the daughter who dies without accomplishing anything in her life). Since Beth is also a kind of Mary Sue, this makes sense, although I find it disturbing that any modern girl would actually want this. But this thread is abruptly dropped for no reason.

            Poor pacing is another problem in Sophia: Within. Chapter Two is entirely devoted to Sophia walking home from school with her brother. There’s tons of needless description of her neighborhood, paragraphs about why she can’t drive yet, that could be summed up into a single line: ‘Sophia and her brother walked home’. Sophia can’t even go to a party without having to describe getting invited, shopping for an outfit, eating at the mall food court, doing her nails, worrying about her outfit, talking about the party . . . and chapters pass without anything happening.

            Any scene that doesn’t advance the plot of a story should probably be cut, but Sophia: Within is riddled by long paragraphs of Sophia lying on her bed and conversations where she informs her brother she’s going to the park. That conversation can be reduced to ‘Sophia told her brother she was going to the park’. We don’t need the scene with the dialogue unless Sophia’s brother is actively preventing her from going to the park, thus putting another obstacle between her and success.

            The best fiction constantly puts larger and larger barriers between characters and success. Sophia: Within does the opposite. Alec, the romance interest, constantly assures Sophia that they’ll be able to defeat the Aged Men invading her hometown. Alec tells Sophia not to do any research on nymphs on her own, so she finds a website about nymphs . . . and decides not to look at it. Even when she gets into a fight about Alec, she decides to make up with him for no reason other than liking him too much. And after the final climatic battle, we still get pages and pages of Sophia being happy with her family. Twenty percent of a novel is too long for a character to be truly happy.

            Finally, the lack of technical skill. When Sophia’s finally succeeded in controlling the nymph, ‘She smiled; she was so proud of herself for doing it well.’ Show, don’t tell, is a basic maxim in most creative writing classes. Here, we get sentences telling us that Sophia’s hair was ‘neither straight nor curly’. In other words, she had hair. Sophia looks in a mirror and, thinking about how she doesn’t look pretty, says “Maybe my eyes are an exception.” Real people don’t do thinks like this.

            We’re told that Alec is ‘young of age, but there was a great force inside him’, which rings with sexual innuendo. And at the end of the prologue, we get ‘This is the story of Sophia, a frightened and lonely girl, who is having trouble accepting a battle she knows nothing about but has been chosen nonetheless.’ Thank you, author, for telling me this, because I wouldn’t have gotten this in any other way. By the end, Sophia and Alec had ‘truly begun to heal; to be young and joyful.’ We know they’re young. We can see from the description that they’re joyful. We don’t need to be told that the ending is happy. We want to see it for ourselves.

            Within Sophia: Within lies a potentially good story—but the author lacks the experience to tell it well. I’d prescribe writing classes and a complete overhaul. For YA paranormal romance, I’ll give it two stars out of five. As a novel, one and a half.

 You can download Sophia: Within here

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Five Worst Ways To Amuse A Girl Scout

About fifty percent of the people reading this were Girl Scouts at one point--I think it's a requirement for all American girls between the ages of six and twelve to spend at least one winter hawking cookies. Eventually, you wise up to the fact that the other girls in the troop are badmouthing you behind your back because you're not in a training bra yet, and quit. 
The girl on the left has some insanely big hair. I bet the other girls mock her for it.

Until you hit that point, there's nothing quite as rewarding as earning a badge. My roommate, Ayesha, is a member of the Society for Women Engineers, and spent yesterday helping eleven year old girls earn their Entertainment Technology badge. Apparently, there's no better way to get girls interested in math and science than explaining, don't worry, math and science aren't just for solving important world problems and improving the living standards of mankind, they're also the same forces powering your powder pink Nintendo DS on which you're currently feeding a virtual puppy. 

Here's some of the ways they got the girls 'interested' in 'math and science', as explained by the activities packet I 'borrowed' from Ayesha. 

Note: I wrote this fully with Ayesha's permission. SWE is a wonderful organization not only because it takes my roommates out of the dorm on a Saturday morning. 

Animate Your Own Artwork
This one sounded kind of promising. The introduction starts by explaining how a flip book works. Because the packet was written by engineers, it starts a sentence with 'Did you know' and end it with a period. Not a question mark. And after explaining in depth how flip books work, it informs the girls they will not be making flip books, but something called a thaumatrope. This is a thaumatrope:
Because he is in quest of prey! Ha, ha, ha, gets me every time!
You tie the things together and spin it really fast. The images blend. This is supposed to teach the girls how animation works. Unfortunately, this isn't how animation actually works, since all animation has been co-opted onto computers and even Disney says it won't make any more hand-drawn pieces. So what it really teaches the girls is that advances in technology will render all but the most skilled labor obsolete, casting them down into a pit of poverty they'll have to struggle all their lives to emerge from. 

Also, the standards of children's film have gone way down

Video-Game Development + "Blue Screen"
I'm not sure what blue screens have to do with video game development. I think the main connection is that they couldn't get a film studies professor to talk at their event (those clove cigarettes won't smoke themselves, people!) so they had to settle for a CS professor who specializes in data management. The packet begins by proving it was written by a woman, since it asks "Does Superman and Batman actually fly in the air like you see in movies?". Obviously, an eleven year old girl would know by now that men can't fly. And neither can Batman. Next thing you know, they'll be asking "Does getting bitten by a radioactive hawk turn you into Hawkeye?"

The packet explains blue screen by warning the participants can't wear any blue, which is actually the favorite color of most girls who know that, like, pink is for babies. Good thing they didn't actually have a blue screen, even though I knew kids in my elementary school who could work one of those things. Instead, they had the girls cut out pictures of themselves and stick the pictures against magazine cutouts. Note: this also counts to the scrapbooking badge.

Create An Amusement Park
The packet tells us that there's a thing called physics that makes roller coasters work. But is there? To find out, a courageous team of girl scouts will create a roller coaster out of paper towel tubes, pieces of cardboard, and 'other available materials'. The packet instructs girls to start at a high place and make hills and loops, an task we all learned from Roller Coaster Tycoon. It normally ended like this:

It always amazed me how a 4-byte NPC would wait in line for six game hours to ride this deathtrap without noticing the screams of doomed pixels falling to their deaths. Also, this is the real definition of entertainment technology, far as I'm concerned.
After the girls test their roller coasters by dropping a marble down them, they get to vote on who has the best coaster. I bet that bitch Stephanie wins. Everybody thinks she's so cool just because she's already gotten her period. 

Sound Waves
Sound counts as part of entertainment technology, right? Like, music is sound. Movies have sound. Sound is how preteen girls express their appreciation for Justin Bieber. And ears are how we hear sound, so ears must be part of entertainment technology, and therefore part of this badge. Right? It's not like we're stretching for ideas. We genuinely know what we're doing. . 

According to this packet, an elephant's ears help make sounds from far distances sound better. According to Wikipedia, they actually allow the elephant to access low frequency noise while acting as cooling devices, which is close enough to what the packet is for it to not matter that the information they're basing their whole demonstration on is incorrect. The packet also tells us that acoustics are important to 'avoid room to room transmission' of sound. Living in a dorm, I can affirm that avoiding room to room sound transmission is indeed important, although eleven is pretty young for learning about those sounds.

Lab Tour
This is an excellent activity if your group is getting restless and you want to shut them up--the only material listed as 'Required' in the packed it 'Killick the AUV'. I'm not sure what Killick is, but I'm thinking murderous robot. The last item under 'Activity Instructions' is 'Vehicle demos--torpedoes, blinking lights, visual recognition, ect.', so my murder robot hypothesis is pretty well supported. And I'm pretty sure this is the part of the movie where Queen Bee Stephanie takes control of the murder robot and begins her reign of terror. 

Come to think about it, that's the most entertaining use of technology we've seen so far.

Editor's note: Apparently, I wasn't supposed to keep the copy of the packet I took off Ayesha's desk. Does 'Can I take one?' not mean 'Can I keep one?'

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Book Review: Frost, by Kate Avery Ellison

It's not often that I encounter a story that combines a unique world, strong characters, and a plot that keeps you guessing. But that's what I found in Frost, by Kate Avery Ellison--plus a realistic romance that I genuinely hoped would work out. It does borrow a bit from The Hunger Games, in that there's a strong female protagonist who supports her family, but it's much better than Divergent, which seemed to think the winning elements of The Hunger Games are a dystopian society and girl with weapons.
Don't ask me where she got that pink lipstick in the middle of the icy wasteland.

Yeah, I really hate Divergent. It's a cheap, derivative, boring book--but that's for another post.

In the secluded world of the Frost, young Lia Weaver takes responsibility for her brother and sister following  their parents' death. She has two concerns: meeting her family's work quota and protecting her siblings from the Watchers, demonic creatures that live in the Frost and leave tracks that slice through the ice wherever they go. But that all changes when a man from beyond the Frost blunders onto her farm. Lia's got to choose if she'll endanger her family to save the life of a stranger.

Of course, she does--she wouldn't be the heroine if she didn't--but her struggle to make that choice felt real, and I could appreciate how difficult it was. The stranger, Gabe, turns out to be a fugitive from another kingdom, an exiled nobleman who's never worked a day in his life. Lia can barely imagine what that life must be like, but the more time she spends with Gabe, the more she finds they have in common. Unlike most YA romances, which require one participant to have supernatural powers that far outweigh the other's, Lia and Gabe are equals--at least as long as they stay in the seclusion of the Frost. But Gabe's enemies aren't too far behind him, and if Lia wants to keep him safe, she and her family will face more and more danger.

The imagery in this story is quite beautiful, especially towards the end. The Frost is neither a dystopian nor medieval fantasy setting, but reminiscent of a cold, biting, fairy tale. The characters are wonderfully developed, with pragmatic Lia, her impulsive sister Ivy, the reclusive young Adam Brewer, and the mysterious Gabe all bouncing off each other in interesting ways. The plot is well paced and engaging, doling out mysteries and answers that make you want to read on.

One flaw of this story was the climax; which I felt was over rather suddenly and could have been drawn out a little longer. There isn't a clear sense at the end that everything has been resolved, which leaves the door wide open for the sequel, but at the same time doesn't make me feel like I've read a whole book. Still, if my one complaint is that I wish there was more, how bad a book can it be?

My rating? For YA fantasy, five out of five stars. As a novel, four and a half.

You can download Frost here

The Six Books You Read In College

            So I walk into my bio class and the TA asks if anyone has questions about the lecture. I raise my hand. “I skipped lecture because I was busy doing the homework I’d forgotten. So what was it about?”

            The TA stared at me. “There’ll be a handout posted on Blackboard.”

            “That was supposed to be funny,” I mutter, and sink into my seat.
            A girl next to me asks what happens when there’s more animals in the environment than it can support. Whaddya think, chick? They all go out for ice cream? So the TA takes the next ten minutes to explain that, when there’s not enough food for all the animals, lots of them die. “Start two penguins in generation 1. Then in the next three generations—”

Underneath the snow, he has three feet. Three adorable little penguin feet.
            “You get a lot of inbred penguins?” I say. Everyone stares at me again. Joke, people, it’s a joke! Premeds don’t really have a sense of humor, do they?

            Late February. Between exams, study groups, and searching for an apartment, I’ve barely had time to work on my blog and for this, I apologize. I’ve carved out fifty minutes of an English lecture for which I haven’t done the reading. Not that it matters, because the professor only ever lectures on the first ten pages. Sometimes, this makes me wonder just how much of the assigned reading she’s done herself.

            “Today, we’ll be discussing the difference between what it is to be ‘un’ something and ‘not’ something.” The professor pauses. “Seriously.” You know a lecture’s going to be fluffy when even the professor thinks the topic is ridiculous. “Here’s a cartoon of Darwin’s head on an ape’s body. It’s supposed to be satire.” No duh.

            There’s an empty can of Red Bull at my feet and the girl in front of me is dangling her hair over my computer. Here’s some of the books you read in college.

The Ancient Philosophical Rant
            Much like Plato’s Republic or Utopia, this book was written hundreds of years ago and is mostly complaining about their society. No matter what the professor says about its impact on society or the historical value of the text, you have a sneaking sensation it was just as boring back when it was published. Since it was written before the invention of hygiene, movies, or editors, it is extremely long and nothing much happens. People publish hundreds of philosophical rants on the internet every day. It’s a little disturbing to think that, six hundred years from now, ktxbits228 might be considered the greatest writer of our time, and future college students will discuss why 21st century humans worshiped anthropomorphic cats.

The Depressing Modern Novel

            One of my friends took a class last semester entitled, ‘Reading the 9/11 Novel’. Fun! Nothing spells education like reading about the horrible deaths of thousands of people. The Holocaust, the sinking of the Titanic, Hiroshima and Nagasaki . . . A surefire way to add gravitas to a boring novel is linking it to one of histories’ great tragedies. I once read a novel about six college students who got superpowers when a radioactive meteor crashed into their apartment. They don colorful costumes and set out to stop crimes. Then 9/11 happens and they’re powerless to prevent it. Seriously? Stop getting your tragic in my light-hearted sci-fi!

The Token Good Book Added to Fill the Class
You can read this! After spending a semester reading incomprehensible first-hand reports of the real War of the Roses.

            In my English class, we’ll be reading Snow Crash . . . eventually. First, we have to get through Utopia, New Atlantis, and Brave New World. My roommate gets to read Watchmen at the end of her class, after The Road, a book of obscure short stories, a book of more obscure poems, and a graphic novel about a woman discovering her sexuality (because it doesn’t count as pornography if it’s literature. Even if you do see many, many pictures of oral sex). Other classes get to read The Hunger Games. Lots of students take these classes and push through weeks and weeks of boring discussion for a chance to read their favorites . . . only to find that analyzing actual good books takes all the fun out of them.

The Obscure Book of Poetry

            In order to help Ithaca’s independent bookstore to stay in business, my friend’s professor has ordered an obscure book of poetry from it and has forced every student in the class to walk all the way to town to buy the obscure book from the obscure author, published by an obscure university press. The poems are all about a teenager’s lesbian relationship with her adult music teacher. This is the second book about lesbians in the syllabus of that class which is taught by a male in his mid-twenties.

The Graphic Novel

            The Holocaust. Suicide. AIDS. Hundreds of books have been written about these very, very, very depressing topics. How will you make your book different? You’ll write it in pictures! A cheap gimmick intended to sell books to people far too lazy to read an actual book (and some nerds who don’t bother checking what this manga is about), The Graphic Novel is quick to read and will leave you feeling slightly depressed on the inside, like one more fun, innocent thing has become corrupted and tragic.  

Postmodern Book Seeking Attention

The girl in the middle lives in my dorm. She's the one with quotation marks tattooed on her wrists.
            Lots of people I know love The Road. I read parts of it. Good enough. But, seriously, what does the author have against quotation marks? Or naming characters? What does a book gain from being deliberately hard to understand? I promise you, there will be one book on every syllabus where the characters don’t have names, or everything is WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS, or the author plays with FONTS to make a stupid point. Written by English majors for English majors, these are the books you carry around when you want to look smart. Warning: you will look like a hipster instead.