6.22.2018

Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt (A new favorite cookbook, and recent eats!)

If I make at least one recipe from a cookbook, I consider it a success. So far I've made two dinners and one breakfast from Healthyish and we're still going strong. First up, remember those Trader Joe's Bahn Mi Bowls that I'm addicted to? Well Hunt has a DELICIOUS Bahn Mi dinner recipe!
We used ground chicken in the recipe for Bahn Mi Rice Bowls with Spicy Pork and Sriracha Mayo and it turned out fantastic. Also, I'm not a huge fan of cucumber, so I subbed half with julienned red pepper. Definitely going into regular rotation.
The Brown Rice and Adzuki Bean Bowl was also a success, and I subbed tofu for the beans. I love both of these recipes for the summer because the veggies are no-cook and I always use Trader Joe's microwaveable brown rice, not the stovetop.
Lastly, I tried the 'Why Didn't I Think of That' breakfast bowl with brown rice, almond milk, diced apple, peanut butter, honey and a sprinkling of hemp hearts. 
The flavors are super tasty, but my brain is confused about my savory dinner staple in my breakfast, so I may try the combo with another grain like bulgur.
My dependence on the Trader Joe's microwaveable brown rice factored heavily in our menu planning with this book. It just makes the weekday crazy so much easier! I do plan to try a few more recipes, for sure.
We also tried Pinch of Yum's Summer Chipotle Chicken Cobb Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette last month and subbed cherry tomatoes for the strawberries. 
I'd definitely recommend!
And lastly, I had a Starbucks reward to try one of their new Mercato lunch items for 50% off and the Za'atar Chicken Salad was SO GOOD!
There was so much going on in this salad (grains, tzatziki, cauliflower, golden raisins) and it all comes together really well, and I love a tahini dressing. It's a little pricey for Starbucks, around $10, but it's comparable to something I'd get at a sit down restaurant. At the very least it'll be well worth a free reward redemption!

6.12.2018

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (NetGalley Review)

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Publisher: SJP for Hogharth Books (the new Sarah Jessica Parker imprint) June 12, 2018 
Description from the publisher:
As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best? 
A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children—each in their own way—tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home. 

Family sagas are definitely my jam, and this novel was no exception. I enjoyed the structure of the book, working backwards from the arrival of estranged son Amar at the daughter Hadia's wedding. Immediately we know that something is amiss and are not given the answers as Mirza quickly brings us back in time to the beginnings of their family, their parents marriage, and examines the childhood of the three siblings. I felt invested in the characters right away, as they struggled with universal experiences of childhood - most notably: first love. Learning about different cultures also makes a novel compelling for me, especially in the ways it affects the family dynamic. There is a lot to unpack about gender roles, religion, habit and individuality. 

"Maybe it was the exceptions that we made for one another that brought God more pride than we we stood firm, maybe His heart opened when His creations opened their hearts to one another..."

The second part of the book brings us back to the wedding when all of the family secrets come out and it plays out in excruciatingly dramatic fashion. I turned the pages furiously, hoping the characters I had become invested in had some closure or perchance a happy ending or two. 

"And remember that any time you point your finger to accuse someone, there are three fingers beneath it, curled to point right back at you."

In the last section, we are given the Rafiq's, the father's, story as he reflects on the entire history of his family from his devastating point of view.  Mirza's writing is simple and beautiful, evocative of first loves, unrequited love, familial and, in the end, excruciating parental love. If you enjoyed Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, I would HIGHLY recommend this book. There are so many similarities, and the common thread of a minority family struggling with the love they have for each other, their culture, and trying to do right by one another. Sometimes their actions end in happiness, and other times it ends in tragedy, as in life.
Many thanks to Hogharth books and NetGalley for the free advance digital copy for my review!

6.05.2018

Books I Read in May


Lots of books this month! I listened to more than half of Educated back in April, and I chose a number of slim novels just over 200 or so pages - Whiskey and Ribbons, The Gunners and Piecing Me Together.

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
You can read my review HERE!

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
I was so glad to have a seasonal reason to read another Inspector Gamache novel! The latest crime in Three Pines involves a woman that dies during a seance the over the Easter holidays. The way Penny delves into the human psyche in this one was really compelling, especially with the idea of the 'near enemy.' That there are emotions that look the same but are in fact opposites, one healthy, the other twisted. The 'enemy' being attachment masquerading as love; pity as compassion; and indifference as equanimity. Another great mystery executed brilliantly with multiple plot lines that mirrored each other and gave the story depth. I just discovered that the next book, A Rule Against Murder, is set in the summer! Might have to queue another one up soon...

Educated by Tara Westover
I'm certainly not the first person to make the observation that this was SO similar to The Glass Castle (which I read last June). And my thoughts are also very similar! I was blown away by Tara's story of overcoming her abusive, neglectful upbringing to achieve educational success that is hard to attain no matter how well we are raised. Like Wall's memoir, I wish that it was heavier on the time she spent AFTER leaving her family behind. Although, the details of her upbringing were appallingly fascinating. The amount of viscerally uncomfortable scenes of accidents and injuries that happened to her family, who reject modern medicine, were many. I felt as if she meandered a bit, recalling all these childhood 'stranger than fiction' accounts. But her observations by the end of the book were searing: about gaslighting, what we know to be true, what is history and who writes it? There's a line there at the end, when she acknowledges that SHE writes history that made me tear up. It's a powerful read. Also, in general, it's another work that gives some pretty solid evidence that misogyny is the root of all evil.

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
This was basically The Big Chill in book form, but with grittier characters that had absent, neglectful parents growing up. When the adults reconvene for the funeral of their childhood friend, each has a secret about his or her relationship with the deceased and why they think she left their tight circle as a teen. I was drawn in, I found myself curious about all. the. secrets. And the characters are memorable and unique, but just didn't feel real to me for some reason. Maybe it's because I don't have a similar group of friends, mine are... different to say the least. Overall, I was impressed at how much Kauffman was able to convey in just over 200 pages. If you're looking for something short, with some heft, I would recommend The Gunners. 

Piecing Me Together by RenĂ©e  Watson
If The Hate You Give is a blinding light that we all are drawn in by (which you should be, it's a must read), then this novel is like a soft glow that is equally compelling with many similar themes delivered in a more nuanced way. Both are the stories of a young black girl who goes across town to a private school of mostly white kids (see also: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian). In this case there's not a jarring death of a young black man to propel the story, but rather the type of 'death by a thousand cuts' or micro aggressions that comprise the life a black person. Which is just as compelling, and perhaps more important to read these stories. I also was glad that it addressed the plight of black women and girls specifically. A friend on Instagram said that her kiddo's high school was giving families THUG for summer reading, which is AWESOME, and I would strongly suggest adding this one to the pile.

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Yes, I am late to the party on this one. I have found that memoirs read by the author are to my taste in audiobooks, I downloaded this one from the library on Sarah's recommendation as part of her Mother's Day roundup. It is definitely one of those 'right book at the right time' and I can't imagine reading this before becoming a mother. This memoir of Kelly's experience nannying for a widow, while on her post college trip to Australia hit me on many levels: as a mom, as a GenX-er, and, like her small charge Mille, someone who lost a parent at seven years of age. Not that I wouldn't recommend this for anyone that doesn't fit into these categories: Corrigan gives such amazing insight to anyone who has a mother or mother figure in their lives. LOVED.  "And it occurs to me that maybe the reason my mom was so exhausted all the time wasn't because she was doing so much, but because she was feeling so much."

Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
This was a slow burn of a novel that examines the relationship between two people after the most important person in their lives is killed in the line of duty. The trajectory of how Eamon's brother Dalton and his wife Evangeline will move forward after his death seems pretty evident from the get go. There are some family secrets uncovered, but I also felt as if these were evident to the reader and the tension came from wondering how the characters would learn the truth and deal with the fallout. It's a lovely and melancholy examination of love and loss. "Brian was with Eamon when he took his last breaths, so I think some of Eamon is with Brian still. Maybe some of his breath got inside of him and Brain carries that around and that's why we're quiet so often when we're together or when we're on the phone. So we can hear Eamon."

Still Me by Jojo Moyes
After reading a melancholy and introspective book, I really wanted something I could smile about and just devour. Fate brought me back to Moyes when I saw Still Me sitting on the Lucky Day shelf at the library, and oh, how I missed Louisa Clark! I loved this so much, getting reacquainted with this singular character and her family, as well as another fabulously unique and lovable supporting cast. I actually thought After You was enjoyable, even though I felt that it hardly had the same indelible feel and heft as Me Before You. Now that expectations for a reboot have subsided, I think Still Me is able to shine on the merits of Moyes' ability to make her audiences laugh, cry and swoon. RECOMMEND.

5.24.2018

Ten Books for Summer 2018 (five I would recommend, and five I'm looking forward to!)

Another Memorial Day weekend is approaching, and another barrage of summer reading lists have arrived. As per usual, I'm adding my list to the pile: five books I'm hoping to read this summer and five I've read (since last May) that I would recommend. Looking at last year's list, I realized that each book on my 'looking forward to' list had a publication date past Memorial Day. This year, in addition to the list of books I'd recommend, all the books are available RIGHT MEOW for loading up the Kindle or library tote - with the exception of the new Elin Hilderbrand. However, if you haven't read her novels, there is plenty of backlist to choose from while we wait just a couple of weeks for the June release. (There are lots of reviews for her books in my 'reviews by author' list.) 

Books I'm looking forward to:
 The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin got a lot of social media buzz this winter, especially with such a gorgeous, Instagram-worthy cover. Apparently the inside is worthy of the outside, as some of my most trusted sources gave this novel the thumbs up (Megan's reviewTara's review and Anne Bogel's Summer Reading Guide). A Grey's Anatomy-esque drama sounds perfect for summer.
It wouldn't be summer without a trip to Nantucket! I didn't go for Hilderbrand's new book last summer, as I was catching up on some backlist that helped prep me for the final Winter Street book. This summer's The Perfect Couple is her first Kirkus starred review (after 21 books!) so I am definitely adding it to the beach bag.
 The Ones We Choose by Julie Clark is my pick for a debut author read. This story about the emotional bonds versus the DNA that bonds family sounds intriguing and hopefully a family drama with a little heft.
I have yet to read a Jenny Colgan novel, but from what I gather, they are perfectly cozy and sweet reads. I'm hoping  Little Beach Street Bakery will be the perfect summer treat that the title evokes.
 Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is hitting the big screen this summer and looks like so much fun! I don't know how I missed the boat on this one years ago, but I hope to make up for it in time to watch the movie.

Books I would recommend:
Castle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge is a fast paced, tearjerker love story of two complete opposites stranded on an island. It's melodramatic and a little hard to suspend disbelief in parts, but it's a quick and romantic read. (my review)
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is an adorable, magical romance set in the south. Definitely recommend for those who loved Practical Magic. (my review
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a must read, full of fabulous old Hollywood glam and drama. I think every summer should include a novel by Reid. (my review)
I just read The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy and if you are a fan of domestic thrillers poolside, this is definitely the summer book for you. (my review)
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett is my off the beaten path book for summer. A story about a girl navigating life after her mother's death does not scream SUMMER. But, there is so much warmth and hilarity in this quirky story about a girl named Elvis trying to bake a world record number of rabbit shaped cakes. (my review)



5.17.2018

Monthly Meal Wrap Up for April

I checked out a bunch of cookbooks from the library again and this month I made a couple things from Katie Lee's Endless Summer Cookbook. The biggest success were these healthy banana oat muffins!

Who knew that spelt flour bakes so nicely? I'm super glad this recipe gave me the excuse to buy some, and now I'm going to use it instead of whole wheat. We also made her recipe for a creamy chipotle sauce to use in lieu of our usual cilantro lime sauce on fish tacos and is was delicious. 
We also tried this Mexican Lasagna recipe from The Kitchn. It was tasty, but I'd use almost half the suggested noodles next time.
I happened to catch Trisha Yearwood's show on Food Network and decided to try her Pork Medallions recipe which we'd definitely make again! 
I didn't catch what the 'ginger sauce' was or where to find it, so I used Trader Joe's Soyaki for both the Teriyaki and ginger sauce the recipe calls for and it turned out great.
Speaking of Trader Joe's... ZOMG, the cauliflower gnocchi is TO DIE FOR - that is, if you are a fan of gnocchi. 
I do enjoy cauliflower, but if it's not your thing, I'd still try them. They taste like perfect pillowy gnocchi, with the added bonus of more fiber and veggies! As per the advice from the peeps at Trader Joe's List, I just sauteed them from frozen instead of steaming them in water per the package directions and they come out great. I've been heating them up with some sauteed onion, garlic and butternut squash.
And last, but not least, we went on our first Spring Break family vacation in April! Since this focus of this trip was sightseeing and family fun, I didn't delve too deep into foodie mode like our previous trips. However, we did enjoy some fun local eats. On advice from a San Diegan friend, we hit up Mona Lisa Pizza in Little Italy which was so adorable, so reminiscent of little family owned Chicago eateries, and delicious comfort food: chicken Parmesan, stuffed shells, lasagna, garlic bread and of course, the kids (and adults) loved the pizza!
Another recommendation that was a hit for brunch: Breakfast Republic. My kids were over the moon for the pancake trio with choices like cinnamon roll, Oreo cookie and strawberry cheesecake.
I cannot resist eggs Benedict and their mushroom and pesto version with SPINACH HOLLANDAISE was to die for. Plus you can upgrade your potatoes with Brussels sprouts!
At the end of our trip, we decided to take the kids out for a 'fancy' dinner. Since they both eat steak at home, we decided on Ruth's Chris as they actually have a kid size steak on the kid's menu. Although, in the future we'll probably have to order the eleven year old the adult size portion! They were so adorably striving to act like grownups in the 'fancy' restaurant, and the looks on their faces when their virgin daiquiris arrived were priceless. Of course, that's a picture I didn't take! They discovered the allure of virgin drinks at the pool and asked if they could order one at the restaurant. Ruth's Chris has a slightly elevated presentation compared to the pool bar, and I think my kids now have slightly elevated expectations for our next restaurant adventures!

5.08.2018

What Should Be Wild (ARC Review)

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
Publisher: Harper Books (May 8, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.
But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.

This book was a definite departure from my normal fare of mostly literary and contemporary fiction. But, when I do find a fantasy novel that speaks to me, I love it with my whole heart. I have the most success with character and relationship driven stories, whether they are fantastical or not.  (The Raven Boys and The Night Circus are great examples of magical realism/fantasy that worked for me.)
There is certainly not a lack of unique characters in Fine's novel, and a great deal of them are quickly introduced at the beginning of the novel, as part of Maisie's family tree. At first, I had a hard time keeping the stories of her ancestors straight. Though, as the present day plot moves forward, interspersed are chapters dedicated to each of these women that were cursed and how they disappeared into the forest. This was my favorite aspect of the book, told like fables that engendered so much empathy for each of these women. The pace picks up as Maisie begins to interact with the real world in order to find her father. Her exceptional power, or curse depending upon how you look at it, is an engaging aspect of the book and makes for interesting interactions and I wished there were more scenes of Maisie navigating the outside world. 
Alas, I felt as if the main plot didn't have the same heft and emotional pull as the legends of her ancestors. There were so many abstract ideas, situations wherein it was tough for me to suspend my disbelief, and plot points that didn't seem to coalesce - nor did Maisie's relationships. There was so much potential for her romance with Matthew, her caretaker's nephew, as they join forces to find her father, but he is absent for a large part of the book and the time they do spend together is never really fleshed out. Three days waiting for at a mechanic's for a car part is rife with potential bonding moments, yet this time together is not delved into and is over in less than two pages. The same can be said of her relationship with her father. He disappears pretty early in the book, and their interactions told in flashbacks are brief. 
That being said, I thought much of the writing to be lovely, enjoyed the creepy atmosphere and can pretty confidently say that it will go over well for those who really adore fantasy. I also found what Fine was trying to convey about the dangers of the stories we tell ourselves, living our truth, of embracing womanhood, and feminism admirable. Though I wasn't entirely sure of what was going on, I desperately wanted to - and furiously turned the pages until the end. Overall it was an intricate and thought provoking story and I'd love to hear other readers thoughts - and maybe answer a question or two for me! 
Many, many thanks to the wonderful people at Harper Books for an advance review copy!

5.04.2018

Books I Read in April

This was an unprecedented month wherein I read THREE advance reader copies from publishers. I usually do not stray from one a month, tops, but I couldn't help myself requesting all the great spring reads! I have one more in the pipeline for next week and then I'm taking a break until mid June.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
This book was such a cool departure from my usual literary fiction. I went in without knowing much about the premise and found it to be amazingly creative fantasy. It's thoughtful, entertaining and super creepy. In addition to the excellent world building, McGuire has some searing observations in her writing:
"Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women."
"Parents don't always like to admit that things have changed. They want the world to be exactly the way it was before their children went away on these life-changing adventures, and when the world doesn't oblige, they try to force it into the boxes they build for us."
Now that I have the lay of the land at this school for 'wayward children' I think I will most likely check out the other books in the series that give them some more back story. At only 173 pages, McGuire was able to create vivid characters that I want to get to know. 

Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly
Not only was this an unprecedented month with so many ARCs, but I read TWO story collections. I honestly can't say when I last read a short story collection! Heating and Cooling is a memoir written by Fennelly in these amazing little snippets that had me guffawing (her 'Married Love' stories are a hoot) and then holding back tears (mostly stories about her mother). It is uproarious, emotionally raw and searingly witty. It took me just over an hour or so to read it, and I would have spent ten hours reading her work - absolutely a favorite read this year.

The Magnificent Esme Wells by Adrienne Sharp
This was a surprisingly dark, yet mesmerizing novel - you can read my full review here.

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
I gathered going into this that the second Anne of Green Gables is kind of an in-between book, before Anne really goes on her next big life adventure. Though it wasn't as linear with a clear story arc like the first book, I love, love, loved it all the same. One of the many reasons I enjoy the series, is that most of the chapters are fantastic little anecdotes in the life of the main character. I pick it up and feel like I check in on how my beloved friend is doing. The lovely, warm and humorous Anne is like a balm. It is the definition of comfort reading and solidified my decision to treat myself to the gorgeous Boxed Set with cover art by Elly Mackay.

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
The second of the aforementioned short story collections I read this month, and I give it ALL THE STARS. It's totally going on my end of year favorites list and you can read my full review here. I suppose I should start reading more short story collections...

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
This was a fun read, despite the fact that I'm not usually a fan of thrillers! Full review here.