12.06.2017

Books I Read in November


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
OK, so I'm a year late to this party, but my library hold was nearly that long! It was absolutely worth the wait. I haven't cried at the end of a book in a REALLY long time (maybe Me Before You nearly five years ago). I had the ugly tears as well as shed many tears of laughter (the story about his blind grandmother sniffing out his poop is riotously funny). It is the story of his life, yes, but much of it centers around his incredible mother and their relationship. I have such a fresh perspective on his hosting the Daily Show: if there is anyone who has first hand experience with bigotry, oppressive government, domestic violence, gun violence, police brutality it's Trevor Noah. And, yes, I listened to the audio and feel that it is a must. I'm sure it's equally compelling in print, but listening to his impression of his mother (and his grandmother, oh man) is PRICELESS.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
My son chose this book for this year's Global Reading Challenge, and it happened to be a pick for the Diverse Books Club. I decided to count it as my Newbery book for the month - and I'm so glad I did! It's the autobiographical story of author Cece Bell's hearing loss after contracting meningitis when she was a child, and navigating school/her peers with a hearing aid in the 1970s. It reminded me a great deal of Smile, Raina Telgemeier's autobiographical story of resilience - her's after having a childhood filled with jaw surgeries. Both are funny, heartwarming and have great themes for kids. My youngest even read it and we spent a lot of time looking up Cece Bell on Youtube and learning all about the differing abilities of the deaf community.

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
This was the novel that sucked me in to Penny's hit series, for sure. Maybe it was the fact that I read this during the right season (I read the first Inspector Gamache novel, Still Life, in the summer), or maybe it's because I was familiar with the characters from the start? Either way, I am ALL IN with reading every single book in the series. A Fatal Grace was really lovely, lyrical and just the right amount of 'love to hate' kind of villain, plot twists and suspense. 

Artemis by Andy Weir
Major disappointment. You can read my full review here.

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
After I burned through El Deafo, I knew that the Diverse Books Club has excellent taste, so I read the adult fiction pick - which also happened to show up on the Amazon Editor's best books of 2017 list. And it will for sure be on mine! It is not for the faint of heart. Ginny's life as an autistic fourteen year old foster child is heartbreaking. Her obsession with her 'baby doll' that she left behind at her, obviously unsafe, birth mother's home is crazy making and became my obsession, too. What's the deal with the baby doll?! I turned the pages faster than any thriller I've read to get to the end of Ginny's all consuming story. Ludwig tells this with so much insight and heart, perhaps because he himself has adopted an autistic child.

The Good People by Hannah Kent
I have 'the good people' at Little Brown to thank for my review copy of the latest by Hannah Kent, and it was an engrossing and immersive story involving the shocking religious superstitions of the rural Irish in the 1800s. When Nora takes in her grandson who seems struck with an inexplicable illness, she turns to the local healer to help rid the 'changeling' to get her 'real' grandson back from the fairy world. It's a slow burn and super creepy, filled with ominous detail - very reminiscent of The Wonder with a little Witch of Blackbird Pond thrown in.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
I own a copy of this book, but I decided to give it a go on audio, and I'm wondering if that was the right decision... I found the account of the Osage Indians and the Reign of Terror highly compelling subject matter, but I honestly felt the delivery was a little dry. I was sucked in during the first section of the book centering around Molly Burkhardt and the deaths in her family. The second section getting into the minutiae of the FBI men kind of lost my attention and finally got it back near the end when the reporter speaks to present day Osage Indians and uncovers even more of the horrific events during the time. Maybe try the print version...

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Oh how I loved this book! It's an all time favorite that is reminiscent of a John Irving novel, like A Prayer for Owen Meany. The story of Cyril as he navigates life from birth to death is a moving triumph. The way that Boyne tackles religion, politics, homosexuality, love, loss and life is by turns horrifying and hilarious while being beautifully plotted. The way the equally memorable supporting characters deftly move in and out of his life is a marvel. It's so hard to describe a novel this grand, despite the fact that I could talk about it for hours with someone else who's read it - so, READ IT!

11.30.2017

November Monthly Meal Wrap Up

November is always the BEST month for meals because THANKSGIVING! But, before I get to that, I finally picked up Seriously Delish by Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats blog.

So far we've tried the breakfast cookies, because I can't resist a breakfast cookie - and these were quite tasty.
We also tried the Chicken Pitas with Jalapeno Whipped Feta.
These were rather tasty, however I think I'll do about half the jalapeno next time. I can handle spicy, but I spent a lot of time roasting garlic for the whipped feta and I want to taste more than just the hot pepper. Since we had some left over feta, I decided to try Half Baked Harvest's Easy Greek Sheet Pan Chicken Souvlaki and Potatoes.
This was really easy! And good... However, I'll crank the oven down or cook it for less time than directed next time, as the chicken was super dry and the potatoes got a bit burned.
We also got out for a bite to eat after checking out the Funko HQ, which was a blast. If you are local, I highly recommend hitting up Scuttlebutt Brewing with the kids after a visit to Funko. Good beer, food, and service!
I enjoyed my fish tacos and the few bites I stole from my husband's spicy chicken sandwich. 
And, of course, we stuffed ourselves silly on Thanksgiving with perfectly brined turkey, stuffing, potato casserole and a big green salad - the links to all my traditional recipes can be found in this post. My favorite use of leftovers: turkey cranberry salad
 and a fried egg atop leftover stuffing!
Now it's time to regroup and get ready for all of the Christmas holiday eats!



11.22.2017

Holiday Wish List 2017

As holiday shopping starts up, I like to compile a little gift guide (here's 2015 and 2014). It's really been just a guise for putting my wish list together, so I'm calling it like it is this year. Since I didn't get around to it in 2016 (I wasn't in the best of moods last November) I thought I'd resurrect this rather fun exercise. Pictures are via the websites linked and Amazon affiliate links are included, as well as a couple others I've noted. Without further ado...

If you, too, are an avid What Should I Read Next listener, this should come as no surprise: I want ALL THE THINGS from CW Pencil Enterprise! So many fun pencil items that I should probably buy for my kids (erasers, pencil caps, cases, travel size colored pencils) and that I want to keep for myself. This vintage Viarco set of pencils is calling to me...

Usually I get the Harry Potter illustrated editions at Christmastime. However, my husband gifted me The Prisoner of Azkaban early this year. Instead, I shall request Pete Souza's Obama: An Intimate Portrait! If you are not following Pete on Instagram, you should rectify that situation.

These jammies from Nordstrom are already in my rotation, but I love them so much that I needed to share the info as such a great gift!

Our short cocktail glasses are flared and I've been wanting to get some straight sided glasses for whiskey drinks. There are so many fun options out there, and I'm leaning towards these ones with a PNW vibe.

Sephora gift sets are always a hit with me, and this year I'm eyeing the nude lip set or really just a gift card in general!

Emily McDowell studio is a fantastic site for gift giving. I sent my mom the Kicked Cancer's Ass pin last year, and I'm thinking I need to get some of her wisecracking in my life. I keep coming back to this pouch...

OK, here's another thing I already have, or rather, I caved to the Fab Fit Fun box. I saw that the winter edition has the Kate Sommerville ExfoliKate and decided it was worth the whole box! If you want to gift yourself this subscription box every season (it comes four times a year, and makes the price tag easier to bear) here's my referral link.

And, speaking of referral links, I must end on a book note! Here's one for Book of the Month and it's $10 for your first book and a free tote, which also makes an excellent gift. I always think that I should just give it up, but then they have the most excellent selections and I can skip as many months as I want. I mean, five of the top ten Amazon editors picks for 2017 were BOTM offerings, including the #1 and #2 spot - the best nonfiction and the best fiction of the year, respectively. 

OK, I should reign it in now. I hope everyone has a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving!





11.14.2017

Artemis by Andy Weir (NetGalley Review)


Artemis by Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown (November 14, 2017)
Description from the publisher:

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.
Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Oh, how I wanted to love this book! One of the reasons that the majority of advance copies I request are from authors I've read and enjoyed is because I really hate giving a negative dedicated review. I absolutely devoured The Martian, and it was one of my favorite books of 2014. The idea of a female protagonist who was going to 'science the sh*t' out of things on the moon was also very appealing. Alas... 

Let me start with the good: Weir is SUPERB at world building. The city of Artemis is fully realized in my mind and full of fun and unique details about the way people live, eat and entertain themselves on the moon. Like many great sci-fi novels, I can ABSOLUTELY picture the inevitable movie version. And, like Mark Watney's character in The Martian, Jazz's ingenuity was compelling. However...

The main character has a similar irreverent shtick that worked in The Martian, but didn't work for me in this novel. The salty language was not used to any kind of great humor - I just felt as if Jazz somehow needed it to make her seem tough and have a chip on her shoulder. For the life of me, I never really figured out why she was so angry at the world or her dad. If I did, it might have gone a long way to make me want to pick up the book more often and care about her plight. The action was fun, but I didn't care how it would play out. It's one thing to think about being stranded on another planet, trying to get home to your family. That has drama and heart. An inexplicably angry woman trying to pull off an illegal heist? Not so much.

If interesting science (lots of stuff about heat, atmosphere, how things would work on the moon in zero gravity - like the way dust settles, which was really interesting!) or a cinematic heist sounds like fun fare, by all means, you should definitely read Artemis. These are things I nerd out on as well, but I just wanted a little more.

Many thanks to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!



11.08.2017

October Monthly Meal Wrap Up

My husband and I kicked off the month with a day date to Rattlesnake Ledge for some hiking and our first visit to Twede's Cafe: home of the 'damn good cherry pie' of Twin Peaks fame. It was damn good, as was the club sandwich and my spinach omelette the size of my head!
 I didn't try many new meals this month, as it was pretty hectic with school commitments and my husband taking back to back business trips. I did make Skinnytaste's baked potato soup with cauliflower for a few solo dinners and it was super easy! I added some sauteed garlic and onion to give it a little more depth and it turned out quite tasty.
 For solo dinners when my husband is MIA, I almost always grab a Tarte D'Alsace from Trader Joe's. However, this year I had to try the seasonal tarte with gorgonzola and butternut squash. Sooooo good! I stocked up on a few before they are gone for the season. They're perfect with some roasted greens, brussel sprouts being a favorite.
Speaking of Trader Joe's, they remodeled my local store in a new shopping development across the street from the old one and it is GLORIOUS. Of course we went on opening day to pay our respects!
 And to finish out the month, we dealt with my least favorite holiday - yay! I know, I know. I am a Halloween scrooge, but I make up for it tenfold over Thanksgiving and Christmas. We get our pumpkins at the local fruit market which has plenty of fun for the kids with games, free popcorn and cider.
 And then I hand the reins over to my husband for the carving assistance. 
 This year, though, my son did it entirely on his own and I think he did a pretty good job replicating his toy sloth. And my husband did a lovely job replicating my daughter's Pusheen.
Now it's time for planning menus for the most wonderful time of the year, starting with Thanksgiving!

11.02.2017

Books I Read in October

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I don't know if there's anything more I can add to the conversation about this fantastic novel! I also got a signed copy and heard her discuss the book, which was wonderful.
The story of these two starkly different families that come together in an affluent American suburb is a blistering take on privilege and class. My only small critique would be that it felt more like allegory than story. You will not finish the book wondering what the message is that Ng is trying to convey, especially in the case of the two mothers. However, it is a very worthwhile one. I am probably in the minority when I say that I loved Everything I Never Told You (a favorite from 2015) a smidge more - also definitely worth a read.

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur
Yes, this was a HIGHLY frustrating read about the Trump campaign. I'm thankful that my main takeaway from the book was a glimpse inside the life of a campaign reporter, which was surprisingly fascinating stuff. The focus on small, yet intimate stories on food (seriously, she talks about food A LOT), travel horrors, mirror-less curling iron conundrums, and thousands of cups of coffee made this such an enjoyable read. And the stories about her personal life, especially the chapter about her parents who are also journalists, were heartfelt. In the end though, fair warning, having to look some terrifying and grotesque realities in the face is difficult: "I will never unhear him, not the man's message, and not the thousands of other voices that summarize 2016 by not shouting him down. 'Assassinate that bitch,' the man said, and the crowd said nothing. 'Assassinate that bitch,' and the crowd cheered on."

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
This sequel did not live up to the excellent Garden Spells, but it was fun to immerse myself in the world of the Waverly's again. There were a lot of plot points that seemed scattered, meandered a bit, and didn't have a clear sense of urgency. The only fun was catching up with all of the characters and her whimsical writing. I definitely plan to read more of her work, though.

The Party by Elizabeth Day
I burned through this dark and compelling psychological thriller. It's one of those stories that starts with the feeling that something is 'off' that you can't put your finger on and becomes more and more ominous as it goes on. Similar to Big Little Lies, it starts with an incident at a party that gets the police involved and flashes back in forth in time to drop clues for the reader to piece together. I loved Day's vivid scenes and searing commentary on sexism and class politics. I wrote more extensively about it here.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstoree by Matthew J. Sullivan
I'm not usually a big mystery fan, but I'd been hearing about this one a lot and it was on the lucky day shelf at the library. I'm glad I picked it up, it was a perfectly quick October whodunit. It was smart with well fleshed out characters and great atmospheric writing. Sullivan had me guessing until the last, and it was a pretty big shocker that also made perfect sense - which I feel is lacking in a number of contemporary thrillers/mysteries. It is also a little more maudlin than the title and cover lets on, FYI.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
This was my Newberry pick for the month and it was a sweet and touching story of a girl trying to find her 'higher power' in the aftermath of her mother's death, while being raised by her father's ex wife. It reminded me a lot of the themes from Flora and Ulysses, as well as the eclectic characters and the 'magical thinking' of children. It's a little on the morose side and the atmosphere that Patron conjures up is so evocative of Lucky's desolation, literally (set in the Mojave desert) and figuratively, yet also her optimism. 

I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly quick lit - be sure to check out all the great book recs!

  

10.26.2017

On Unlikeable Characters

As I was (voraciously) reading my copy of The Party by Elizabeth day (provided as part of my Little Brown & Company ambassador program), I couldn’t help but think about the effect of an unlikable character on a narrative. Martin, the main character, is morally ambiguous at best. But this information is delivered like breadcrumbs left in a trail for the reader to piece him together, as well as the mystery of why the story begins with his police interrogation.
Unlikeable characters seem to be an obstacle for many readers and, for the most part, I would include myself in this assessment. At least I thought so. But there are exceptions, including the aforementioned book, as well as the ultimate example that leaps to mind: Gone Girl (which is always excellent food for thought). Funny enough, The Party is the first book the TRULY reminded me of reading Gone Girl. Something sinister is afoot from the beginning, and the tension builds as you learn more about the past and all of these ostensibly irredeemable characters. Additionally, part of the story is told through flashbacks, police investigation, and the diary entries of Martin's wife. And, like Gone Girl, I devoured it! It was really compelling stuff. 
Of course it's had me thinking about what makes these characters readable for me, and other 'unlikeable' characters infuriating?
The first realization I had is that they are thrillers and I tend not to put myself in the shoes of someone who is, for lack of a better word, crazy. So the suspension of disbelief is built in: this is totally not who I am, nor anyone I know, and it is FASCINATING. Clearly Amy Elliot-Dunne is a unique character and I can't identify with her motivations, but I CAN furiously turn the pages to see what she might do next. 
Second, thrillers have plot and a sense of urgency. Many of the books that center around a character I did not care for seem to be more of a sociological study than a story - such as Hausfrau or Rich and Pretty. I have a hard time with this type of book as it is, so not having an emotional investment ruins the reading experience. 
Lastly, the characters that inevitably ruin a book for me are the kind that make repeated stupid mistakes and never learn from said blunders. Yes, we all make mistakes and the plot of a great story usually revolves around one. Yet either you can identify with choice the character makes (however stupid), or he is penalized, or learns from his transgressions. In the party, Martin is a very unlikable guy, but it is easy to see why he does the misguided things he does, which in the end, leads him down a dark path that is revealed by inches with searing commentary on current culture, including class and sexism.
OK, obviously I enjoyed The Party. Any recommendations for other despicable, yet fascinating characters? Would love to hear more thoughts on on this pervasive trend in books!