Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to showcase upcoming books that you can't wait to read.

My anxiously awaited title this week is:
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Publish date: November 15, 2011
Genre: Dystopia
Pages: 352
Audience: Young Adult

From Goodreads:
Juliette hasn't touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. As long as she doesn't hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don't fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior. 

I was definitely starting to feel the covetousness this past weekend when it seemed like everyone and their brother got an ARC of this one.  I have heard the writing in this book is amazing and that is really what gave me pause and decided to put this one on my TBR list.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New blog header

Aaaaaah! I'm so excited about my new blog header! It's a perfect representation of me and what this blog is about. Thank you so much Sophistikatied from KD Designs! I love it!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In My Mailbox (43)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, inspired by Pop Culture Junkie. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

This was a rather slow week for me.

For review from Macmillan Audio:
Dreamland by Alyson Noel

From the library:

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer

What did you get in your mailbox?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pork Tacos with Black Beans and Cilantro

Before I left for my trip to Europe a few weeks ago, I was in a frenzy to clear out the refrigerator so as to not let anything spoil while we were gone. I had an extra pork tenderloin hanging around, and rather than do my usual wrap in bacon and put it on the grill, I decided to be a little more creative this time. I saw that I had corn tortillas and cilantro in the fridge, so that got me thinking: tacos!

Well, I'm here to say that these are by far the best tacos I've ever eaten - and they were created on a whim. Since my cooking style lately has been more about instinct and less about following recipes, I would normally tell you to go ahead and add in or leave out whatever your heart desires, but for this recipe, each component added something important to the dish. The pork tenderloin obviously gives it the nice meaty chew, the black beans have a nice, soft mouth feel, and then the red onions and cilantro help cut some of the heaviness from the meat and beans.

Then there's the tortilla. I highly recommend you buy a high quality, stone ground tortilla because it will take these tacos from pretty good to the best darn tacos you've ever had. Because I like to support local businesses, I bought a bag of corn tortillas from the Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory and now I will never buy tortillas anywhere else again. I went to Whole Foods the other day and they were out. To say I was sad was an understatement.

Pork Tacos with Black Beans and Cilantro
Feel free to experiment with measurements (these are all approximate anyway since I never measure anything) but I strongly suggest not to leave anything out.

1 small pork tenderloin, cut into small cubes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground corriander
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup beer or chicken stock
15 oz can black beans, rinsed
1 small red onion, sliced
2 green onions, chopped
Handful of cilantro, chopped
Stone ground corn tortillas
Lime wedges (optional)

Salt and pepper the pork tenderloin. Combine garlic powder, coriander, and cumin in a small bowl. Dust over the meat until all of it is covered. Add olive oil to saute pan and turn stove on to medium-high. Add meat once the skillet is hot. Brown the meat on all sides then deglaze the pan with the beer or chicken stock. Once all the bits are brought up from the bottom of the pan, add the black beans and let cook until most of the liquid is gone.

Warm tortillas in the oven or microwave. When the meat and bean mixture is finished, add a small amount to each tortilla, then top with the red and green onions and cilantro. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice if desired.

Serve with rice or, my personal favorite: quinoa

Best impromptu recipe ever!

Happy National Dog Day

Did you know there was a National Dog Day? I didn't. But I was perusing my regular book blogs this morning and  Mary Lee over at A Year of Reading did a post about it. So yes, August 26th is National Dog Day.

If you know me for longer than five minutes, you will realize very quickly that I am a huge dog lover. I will stop on the street just to fawn over someone's dog. While I have a penchant for pugs in particular, I love all dogs with equal gusto. It doesn't matter what kind they are.

Yesterday I read an article about the fallen Navy SEAL whose dog lay by his casket and wouldn't leave and I literally went into a full on Ugly Cry as Oprah would say. The love and loyalty of dogs never ceases to amaze me and this one in particular broke my heart.

So here's to my two dogs, Frank and Guenter. They might never save me from a burning building, or ward off burglars, but they never cease to make me laugh and they love me unconditionally (but I think they love me more when I'm feeding them).
Separating the darks and the lights

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Lacey Anne Byers is a junior in high school, has always listened to her parents, and never doubted her faith. As her church's annual Hell House approaches, Lacey Anne brims with excitement over the prospect of bringing people into the church with this outreach. What she doesn't expect, however, is to meet a boy whose very presence in her town causes her to question every belief she's ever had about her faith.

Small Town Sinners was not a book I was expecting to love. The premise and subject-matter had the potential to get a little too preachy for me. Matters of faith and religion in books and conversation are always met with trepidation and this book was no different.

But something extraordinary happened. I actually found this an insanely page-turning story. I became so invested in the main character's faith-journey that I couldn't stop reading. Lacey Anne showed such maturity and poise for her age and through her struggle.

Melissa Walker did a masterful job of proving her point in this novel, which is that people aren't all good or all bad. As much as we don't like to admit it, life is full of gray areas. Despite the fact that there were some characters in this novel that you wanted to think of as pure antagonism (like Lacey Anne's father for one), you can't help but be pulled in different emotional directions in how you feel about them.

The most fascinating aspect of this novel was that it introduced me to the concept of Hell Houses which I had never heard of before. The inspiration for this book was this article that Melissa Walker wrote for Elle Girl back  when she was the features editor.

Despite the fact that this is a contemporary work of fiction, in some ways it read like a dissertation on faith. I felt like this book could be an argument for why doubt and not having all answers is actually good for the health of your relationship with God. I've always thought that certainty in any religion is what breeds intolerance. Being humble enough to say, "I am only human and I don't have all the answers but I believe in your plan for me Lord," is what helps us to empathize rather than judge each other. Despite the fact that this story is fictional, it was a great thesis on how doubt is actually helpful in faith, as contradictory as that sounds.

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Published: July 19, 2011 by Bloomsbury
Pages: 259
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to showcase upcoming books that you can't wait to read.

My anxiously awaited title this week is:

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories
Edited by: Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones
Publish Date: September 6, 2011
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 352
Genre: Nonfiction
Audience: Young Adult

From Goodreads:

You are not alone.

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class. 

Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.

This is one of those books I wish would have been published a couple weeks earlier, either that or I had been able to get an ARC of because I was hoping to have it finished before the start of the school year. I really want to find a way to incorporate this book into my literature and English classes. I'm already imagining how I can use this book along with the picture book One by Kathryn Otoshi in order to address the bullying problem that seems to be so rampant in schools today.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New blog template

So I changed my blog template. My old one was looking kind of worn out and tired. This is just a basic blogger template like the old one. Now I've got to look into adjusting my header or getting a new one. Maybe it's time I shell out the big bucks and have someone design one for me. ;)

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Paige Turner (her parents are writers) is struggling to adjust to life in New York City, where she and her parents just moved from Virginia. With such a drastic change of scenery, Paige decides to turn to her sketchbook for inspiration and solace. Paige soon meets a group of new friends, and despite their loyalty to her and admiration of her talent as an artist, she still struggles with confidence in her ability.

So Paige decides to make a list of goals that she hopes to accomplish by year's end, which she documents in her sketchbook.

Page by Paige is full of gorgeous drawings that convey tons of meaning and symbolism. For those people who scoff at graphic novels and say that they keep the reader from having to use their own imaginations, well then they need to read a book like this. The story itself is rather unremarkable and overdone: girl moves to a new place, girl worries about whether she'll fit in, girl makes new friends... But what makes this book remarkable is how the drawings symbolically show Paige's worries and insecurities more than words ever could.

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Published: May 2011 by Amulet Books
Pages: 192
Genre: Graphic Novel
Audience: Young Adult

Monday, August 22, 2011

Audiobook Review: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

From Goodreads:
When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D.J. can't help admitting, maybe he's right. When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn't so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won't even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league. When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said. Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D.J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

What I liked about Dairy Queen was that it seemed to defy what a teen girl might normally consider uninteresting in a plot line. A girl who works on her family farm (and spends most of the novel talking about what it's like to work on a dairy farm) decides to try out for the boys football team after spending the whole summer helping to train a player on her high school's rival team.

Farms and football? Not your usual teen-girl fare. But DJ Schwenk was just so darn likeable. She had a great deal of obvious flaws that even tended to get annoying throughout the course of the novel, but the entire time you never felt like she wasn't being real. You were rooting for her throughout the entire story.

And what made the novel even more pleasurable was the audiobook narrator, Natalie Moore, who sounded so much like DJ that you thought she WAS DJ. Right down to the impeccable Wisconsin accent.

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Published: May 2006 by Houghton Mifflin and Listening Library
Pages: 278
Audiobook Length: 6 hours, 7 minutes
Audiobook Narrator: Natalie Moore
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In My Mailbox (42)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, inspired by Pop Culture Junkie. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
I listened to the audiobook of this a few months ago and fell HARD for it. I just knew I'd eventually buy a hard copy of it. I couldn't wait anymore. I wanted to make sure I got a hardcover because I really dislike the new paperback cover. 

Bought my library's used book store:
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
National Velvet by Enid Bangold
Smiles to Go by Jerry Spinelli
Strange Happenings by Avi
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan
Uncle Boris in the Yukon and Other Shaggy Dog Stories by Daniel Pinkwater

Library Loot:

Picture books:
Should I Share My Ice Cream by Mo Willems
Scapegoat: The Story of a Goat Named Oat and a Chewed Up Coat by Dean Hale, illustrated by Michael Slack

I Am the Book poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Yayo

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond


Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Trash by Andy Mulligan

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
The Fast and the Furriest by Andy Behrens

And I know this isn't a book, but I had to share how awesome my library is for carrying this:

Hey Dude Season 1
This was my favorite Nickelodeon show when I was a wee tween and OMG did watching this bring back memories.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

From Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

Every review I've read about this book has been glowing, so I was very excited to receive a review copy so I could see what all the fuss was about. As someone who adored The Phantom Tollbooth, I was excited to see Fairyland compared to books like it as well as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

But alas, I just could not connect with it. To me, short of September and Ell, the characters were difficult to imagine and Fairyland didn't seem vivid enough for me to feel like I was there, traveling with September on her quest.

I also found the language and style of writing to be way beyond the capacity of a student in the middle grades, unless they are reading way above grade level. Heck, I'm 31 years-old and even I had a difficult time with it. I don't think I'll be able to recommend this book to my own students unless I know that they need a challenge.
I'm going to put this book in the hands of my high readers this year and see what they think. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe this will be a good fit for my readers who need a challenge yet aren't mature enough for young adult books.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Published: May 2011 by Feiwel & Friends
Pages: 247
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Middle Grade

Friday, August 19, 2011

Audiobook Review: After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

From Goodreads:
The day D Foster enters Neeka and her best friend's lives, the world opens up for them. D comes from a world vastly different from their safe Queens neighborhood, and through her, the girls see another side of life that includes loss, foster families and an amount of freedom that makes the girls envious. Although all of them are crazy about Tupac Shakur's rap music, D is the one who truly understands the place where he's coming from, and through knowing D, Tupac's lyrics become more personal for all of them. 

The girls are thirteen when D's mom swoops in to reclaim D, and as magically as she appeared, she now disappears from their lives. Tupac is gone, too, after another shooting; this time fatal. As the narrator looks back, she sees lives suspended in time, and realizes that even all-too-brief connections can touch deeply.

It's amazing how beautiful a novel can be where not much happens. This was a reading experience that merely involved sitting with a group of really loveable characters who, if you knew personally, would just want to hang out with all day long - which is basically all they were doing in the entire book - hanging out, that is. They contemplated life's trials and tribulations in bedrooms, on porch steps and the city bus.

Jacqueline Woodson has done a service to children's literature by writing a contemporary story of African American children rather than a historical one. So often the stories in children's literature that are written about African Americans are historical fiction, which are no less important, but what is conspicuously lacking in the canon of children's literature are books that include contemporary African American children as the main characters.

This slim book packs some power in its few pages and is certainly worthy of its Newbery honor.

A note on the audio production: Susan Spain is the narrator for this lovely little audiobook and she does an amazing job at setting the mood of the story. She's one of those narrators who enhances the enjoyment of the story and makes for a listening experience that is more enjoyable than if you had read the book yourself.

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
Published: January 2008 by Putnam Juvenille
Audiobook Published: July 2009 by Brilliance Audio
Audiobook Narrator: Susan Spain
Pages: 151
Audiobook length: 3 hours, 11 minutes
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Middle Grade

My favorite street food in Germany - and it's not bratwurst

If you ever visit Germany, you will most likely come across these curious little food stands called Döner Kebap. If you don't know what they are, you might be tempted to just pass them by and never give them a second thought. But I'm here to tell you, do all you can to find the time to try one.

What is a Döner Kebap? It's only the most glorious sandwich ever to grace this planet.

The largest ethnic minority in Germany are people of Turkish origin and one of the things they have imported from Turkey is this amazing sandwich (so I guess if you're in Turkey, you should seek one out too :p). As an American, I find myself comparing a Döner to a Greek gyro because of how ubiquitous the gyro is in our culture and also the fact that the meat is roasted on a vertical spit just like the gyro. But, no offense to the Greeks because I like gyros just fine, but a Döner is infinitely better.

Just what makes it better? Well, there are a few things that help catapult this sandwich into the stratosphere of ethnic street food. First of all, let's start with the bread. A Greek gyro is typically served with warm pita bread that you fold the meat into like a taco. A Döner, however, has this special bread that is crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside that they grill very briefly on a panini maker to help warm it and create grill marks. They then cut into the bread to make a pocket so the meat and toppings go inside the sandwich rather than folded into it. The crispiness of the outside and warm, chewiness of the inside is such a lovely contrast of textures.

Secondly, there is the meat. I haven't investigated exactly what meat goes into a gyro (unless it's a chicken gyro) or a Döner, nor do I think I want to. I fear if I learn exactly what goes onto that spit, I might not want to eat it anymore. No matter, the way the meat is handled once it is taken off the spit is what makes these sandwiches so different. Gyro meat is either served in chunks or in long, thin ribbons (at least that's the way they're served at the Greek coney island diners in Michigan) whereas Döner meat is shaved off the spit into really small pieces that are crispy and full of fatty flavor. Every piece of meat in the sandwich has a bit of chew and a bit of crisp to it, just like the bread.
It's like I can hear a choir of angels when I see one of these

Another difference is that some Döner places serve their sandwiches with salty rectangles of feta (or what I assume is feta) and gyros are cheese-less (at least all the gyros I've ever had anyway). If you know me at all, you know that the addition of cheese to anything is a good addition.

Once you get past those major differences, the sandwiches are similar from there. They are both served with toppings like onions and tomatoes, and they both get doused in a yogurt sauce.

I highly recommend if you've never tried one of these sandwiches and you find yourself in a German-speaking country (or Turkey for that matter) to seek one out.

Believe it or not, one of the main reasons (though not the only reason) why I wanted to visit our old hometown in Germany was to eat a Döner at the stand where we used to get them when we lived there. I don't know if it was just because that was our regular place, but it had, by far, the best Döner in all of Germany.

Which is why I was devastated on the day of our arrival in Schweinfurt to be walking toward our Mecca of street food, only to discover that our Döner stand had been replaced by an Asian noodle place!
Ninjas like noodles, but not at the expense of a Döner!

We searched downtown high and low for a new Döner place, and it wasn't until after we gave up and had already eaten somewhere else that we came across this oasis:
All is right with the world. Ninja found a new Döner place!

Never fear! We still had one more day in Schweinfurt. We'd just eat there for lunch the next day.

Though the Döner wasn't quite as good as our regular place (I'm convinced, however, that part of this was psychological), it still hit the spot and was a great way to end our time in Schweinfurt.
Pardon me while I inhale this sandwich

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

Sheridan Wells is known around town and by her classmates as Cake Girl because she spends more time in her family bakery decorating cakes than hanging out and being social. Her mom also had a great gift for cake baking, but she has been gone for many years, having abandoned Sheridan and her father for another man.

Sheridan still hasn't gotten over the sting of her mom leaving, especially since she and her dad seem to be growing further and further apart. Now her father, a well-known and highly respected chef, has been offered his own TV show and must move to New York to take the job. Sheridan, convinced her mother will soon return for her, refuses to go with him and even manages to come up with a scheme to find her mother and convince her to come back before her father leaves for New York.

The Sweetest Thing was a roller-coaster ride of a novel. Sheridan is quite the persistent little protagonist, and by midway through the novel, gets to be persistent to the point of delusional. Her compulsion to find her mother is so strong that it gets to be irritating. But I'm sure that was all by design so you can see her growth by the end.

I enjoyed the food and baking aspect of this novel for obvious reasons, but I felt there was a tiny flaw in the logic of the plot. The network that wants to hire Sheridan's dad is insistent that he move to New York in order to make his reality food show. What I don't understand is, if he's making a reality show, why can't he just stay where he is? Wouldn't it be more realistic for him as a well-known chef to stay at his restaurant and do the show from his home town? Plus, having watched Food Network almost incessantly for the past six years, I can tell you that not all their talent lives in New York. It is helpful to live in NYC, but it is not  a deal breaker if you don't. Melissa D'Arabian who won Next Food Network Star lives in Seattle and flies in to NYC to tape all the episodes for one season of her show in a matter of days. Paula Deen films her show in her very own kitchen in Savannah, Georgia. So if this fictional network is so insistent that Sheridan's dad move to New York, I want to know why because not all celebrity chefs in real life do.

And yes, I know I'm being nit-picky since this is fiction and not real life, but still. It was just one of those things that bothered me personally. If you don't have Food Network on in the background 24/7 like I do (Heck, I have it on right now as I write this!), then something little like that will probably go by unnoticed. As for me, it's the one thing that held me back from absolutely loving this novel.

The major aspect of the novel that I enjoyed was watching Sheridan's impression of her father morph and grow. When we first meet her father, the reader is led to believe that he's a jerk who cares little for his daughter and only about his growing career. This is where the unreliable first-person narrator comes into play because the more her father is in the novel, the more you see that unreliable narrator facade start to crack. 

Overall impression? A really enjoyable page-turning debut that that kept me engaged and entertained the entire time. There was never a point in the novel where I felt a lull in the plot, which in this case was good and bad. It was good because it kept me turning the pages, but it was bad because it did make for a bit of a  predictable plot. The reason being is that as you slowly wend your way inside the story, you start to see that every scene clearly is important to the outcome of a future scene and when that happens, you start making easy predictions as to why the author put that scene in the book. Still, the story had great closure and Sheridan shows some definite growth by the end. Plus for YA, it was a wholesome story that would be a great gateway book to move those younger kids who are ready into YA lit.

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski
Published: May 2011 by Egmont
Pages: 352
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult/Middle Grade

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Fever by Lauren DeStefano

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to showcase upcoming books that you can't wait to read.

My anxiously awaited title this week is:

Fever by Lauren DeStefano
Publish Date: February 21, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Dystopia
Audience: Young Adult

From Goodreads:
Rhine and Gabriel have escaped the mansion, but danger is never far behind.

Running away brings Rhine and Gabriel right into a trap, in the form of a twisted carnival whose ringmistress keeps watch over a menagerie of girls. Just as Rhine uncovers what plans await her, her fortune turns again. With Gabriel at her side, Rhine travels through an environment as grim as the one she left a year ago - surroundings that mirror her own feelings of fear and hopelessness.

The two are determined to get to Manhattan, to relative safety with Rhine’s twin brother, Rowan. But the road there is long and perilous - and in a world where young women only live to age twenty and young men die at twenty-five, time is precious. Worse still, they can’t seem to elude Rhine’s father-in-law, Vaughn, who is determined to bring Rhine back to the any means necessary.

In the sequel to Lauren DeStefano’s harrowing Wither, Rhine must decide if freedom is worth the price - now that she has more to lose than ever.

When I read Wither back in March, it left me spellbound. I knew that as soon as Fever came out, I would be scrambling to read it. When Lauren DeStefano revealed the cover of Fever a few weeks ago, it left me just as breathless as I felt when I finished reading Wither. I'm hoping Simon & Schuster adds this much anticipated sequel to their monthly GalleyGrab soon!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book vs. Movie: The Help

A few years ago, I was hearing a great deal of buzz about a novel called The Help by Kathyrn Stockett. I honestly didn't give this book any thought until I started hearing so many people talking about how amazing it was. So I decided to give it a go.

Boy am I ever glad I did. The novel was amazing.The characters just leaped off the page. I would often find myself thinking about the characters even after I put the book down. I'd be in the kitchen making dinner and thinking to myself, "I wonder what Skeeter's going to do about that" or "I can't believe Minny actually did that" or "Wow that Hilly is pure evil."

I was leery about whether the movie would succeed in making all of those characters leap off the screen like they leaped off the page of the book. I had my doubts that Emma Stone could pull off Skeeter. But I needn't have worried because the movie was amazing. All of the characters were wonderful and brought the book back to life in vivid detail.

Every actor in this movie did an amazing job, but I really have to hand it to Bryce Dallas Howard who played Hilly. She was so good at being bad that she made me uncomfortable. I believed her as that character and I didn't want to because Hilly is such a horrible, awful person.

So you already know that I thought that actors were great, but was the movie true to the book? Well it's been a few years since I've read it, but I'd say it follows the book extremely well. It's probably one of the best book to movie adaptations I've ever seen. My only criticism is that Skeeter's romance with Stuart was so brief in the movie that it was almost a non-event. There was a much bigger focus on that part in the novel, but I understand why they decided to play that down. Still, it felt like it needed to have a bit more emphasis.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the movie and loved it so much that I had to resist the urge to applaud when it ended.

I'm humming tunes from Avenue Q as I write this

Germans have a word that does not directly translate to English, but has crossed over into our language because it's just such a wonderfully descriptive word: Schadenfreude. If you've never heard of this word before, basically it means happiness at the misfortune of others.

There was a bit of Schadenfreude going on during the Czech Republic portion of my trip to Europe.

Let me explain.

One of the things we wanted to do while we were in Cesky Krumlov was rent a canoe since the river snakes around the city. We thought it would be a perfect way to get the lay of the land and to see great views of the city.

When we arrived at the canoe rental, which just happened to be in the same building as our hotel, the lady working the desk showed us a picture of where to drop of the canoe/raft further downriver and informed of us of two places where we needed to be on alert because there were rapids and we needed to travel through a weir in order to pass through safely. Both weirs had rapids, but we were assured that they were mild, but said that we needed to make sure we hung onto or things tightly if the boat tipped over because the current would surely carry it away.

This worried me a little bit but my husband assured me we would be fine. After getting through the first set of rapids without any incident I was feeling confident and seemed to relax. I was taking pictures and just enjoying the lovely view of Cesky Krumlov from our canoe:

But then this would be the last picture our little point-and-shoot camera would take because right after I took this picture, disaster struck:

As we approached the bottom of the second weir and the rapids were more aggressive than the first, our entire boat tipped over and we were in the water. Thankfully the water wasn't deep, but the shallowness of the water caused me to scratch up my leg on some rocks and also caused one of my oars and a shoe to go floating down the river.

At this point we had a whole chorus of Czechs along the side of the river just laughing hysterically at our expense, which was bad enough on its own, but I was freaking out as I thought for sure I'd never see my shoe again - and it was the only pair of comfortable walking shoes I had with me.

Thankfully, between chortles, we had a family with a baby (who managed to get through the rapids without losing their first born) pull off to the side and grab our oar for us so at least we wouldn't have to pay for losing that. And that was all well and good, but I was most worried about my shoe, as I was thinking I would have to walk the streets of Cesky Krumlov with only one shoe. By some miracle, some old man, who looked as old as the river itself and who was wearing swimshorts so short that they were almost speedos, was standing on the side of the river, holding up my shoe. I might have hugged him if I hadn't been so worried I'd lose something else out of the boat.

While we were lucky that our oar and my shoe were returned to us, something else did not survive our "incident" and that was our camera. We didn't lose the camera, it was in my pants pocket, but the water destroyed any chances of it ever working again. We were lucky that the SD card still worked so we were able to rescue the pictures on it, but the camera itself is kaput. Thankfully we had also had a digital SLR with us on our trip (not in the canoe thankfully) so it's not like we didn't have a camera for the rest of the trip, but it was such a bummer since our little Canon Powershot is what we'd take with us when we were going places where we didn't want to carry a huge camera with us.

The next day as we were exploring the castle grounds above the town, I found myself looking down at the place in the river where my husband and I bit the big one, and hoping the people going through the weir would tip over like we did, just so I didn't feel like the only idiot in town who couldn't remain upright in a canoe.
Darn! That one made it.

But it didn't take long standing there for us to come across this pair of guys
OK, now I don't feel like such an idiot. Except now I'm a terrible person because I was happy that these guys tipped over. Total and complete Schadenfreude. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe, but it also makes me human.

P.S. if you don't understand what the title has to do with my actual post, Google the track list for the musical Avenue Q and you'll understand. (Warning: If you don't already know, the songs in Avenue Q have a great amount of obscenities so don't listen to any of the songs at work or around little children.)

What have been your Schadenfreude moments?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard

From Goodreads:  
In Paris for a weekend visit, Elizabeth Bard sat down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman--and never went home again.

Was it love at first sight? Or was it the way her knife slid effortlessly through her pavé au poivre, the steak'spink juices puddling into the buttery pepper sauce? LUNCH IN PARIS is a memoir about a young American woman caught up in two passionate love affairs--one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine. Packing her bags for a new life in the world's most romantic city, Elizabeth is plunged into a world of bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size 2 femmes fatales. She learns to gut her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen), soothe pangs of homesickness (with the rise of a chocolate soufflé) and develops a crush on her local butcher (who bears a striking resemblance to Matt Dillon). Elizabeth finds that the deeper she immerses herself in the world of French cuisine, the more Paris itself begins to translate. French culture, she discovers, is not unlike a well-ripened cheese-there may be a crusty exterior, until you cut through to the melting, piquant heart.

Lunch in Paris is the perfect book to review here in my blog: It has has recipes (Foodie), it's a book (Bibliophile), and it takes place in Paris (in Wanderlust).  

What I loved about this book was that it was a fast, lovely little read to savor while on vacation or just sitting on the couch at home on a lazy Sunday. What I appreciated about this book over other memoirs of people moving to a new culture was that Bard didn't completely slam the American way of life. She didn't write of Paris as a way to say, "Screw you America, you suck! I moved to Paris and I'm never coming back." Throughout the book, Bard wrestled with her American cultural sensibilities that seemed to completely headbutt French convention. 

While Bard writes extensively of her appreciation of the French way of life when it comes to food and pleasure, she also addresses the frustrations she has with how the French deal with people, be it in the service industry or in health care. We see this especially when her father-in-law is battling cancer and the doctors in charge of his treatment won't even allow him or the family to be a part of the conversation for how he should be treated. The culture over there is "doctor knows all" whereas in America, the paradigm has shifted and we are encouraged to be an advocate for our own health. While our system in America is in desperate need of reform, it was enlightening to see how American doctors are much more willing to not just allow the patient to be part of the conversation, but also accept their input.   

We also see her cultural struggle when her husband Gwendal is having career trouble and she encourages him to take the initiative and make a drastic change.  Gwendal himself wrestles with this idea because they are both met with people criticizing his self-made success, saying that he needed to wait his turn, and that he was too young to be successful at his own endeavors. 

In terms of being so overtly critical of the French culture, I'd have to say that's where the book surprised me. I was expecting a completely indulgent food and travel memoir filled with joie de vivre and decadent descriptions of French pastries. While there is certainly a great deal of that, there is also more than the typical "culture shock" experiences that most people have when they first move to another country and then eventually assimilate.  

That is not to say that this book completely disses the French culture. There are a lot of wonderful moments that make you appreciate their way of life, but the book goes beyond croissants and creme brulee. It shows the struggle one must endure when you leave your own way of life and adopt another. There are things you appreciate about your new home, but there are things that will always go against what you've been brought up and led to believe your whole life. With Bard you can see that it will always be an everlasting struggle, and for some people that might be disheartening to read a book that doesn't have that total and complete sense of closure, but for me I found it refreshing. It shows that Bard is still living her life and that despite the fact that the pages in the book end, she is still learning and growing. 

Lunch is Paris is touted as "A Love Story, with Recipes." At the end of each chapter there is a collection of three or four recipes that supposedly go with the theme of the chapter. Some theme chapter recipes are obvious because she mentions the food somewhere in the chapter, but other chapters are kind of awkward because you feel like they're just there because each chapter is supposed to end with some recipes and she was struggling to figure out how to incorporate them into the end of the chapter. Still, there were quite a few delectable sounding recipes in the book that I will be trying some time soon I am especially eager to try the Chicken Tagine with Two Kinds of Lemon and the Oven Roasted Pork Ribs with Honey.  

Overall this was a page-turning memoir, and a must-read for anyone who loves to read about food and travel.

Visit Elizabeth's blog 

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
Published: February 2010 by Little, Brown and Company
Pages:  326
Genre: Memoir (travel/food)
Audience: Adults

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In My Mailbox (41)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, inspired by Pop Culture Junkie. The books you share do not have to be ones you actually received in the mail. They can be ones you bought at the book store, checked out at the library, or downloaded to your e-reader. The idea is just to share what's on your TBR pile for the upcoming week.

While I was in Germany, I had the privilege of visiting with Lenore Appelhans and her husband Daniel Jennewein in Frankfurt (recap of our splendid time here).
Before I left their house, I ended up having to rearrange my suitcase because she sent me on my way with these 8 books to take home with me:
Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart
You Wish by Mandy Hubbard
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Possum Summer by Jen K. Blom
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
The Predicteds by Christine Seifert
The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez
All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Thanks again Lenore! You are made of awesome! 

Books I bought in Germany:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
I have no delusions that I'll actually be able read these books, but I just like having them on the shelves. I know some German, so maybe the drawings in Diary of a Wimpy Kid will help me figure out what I'm reading.  The Hunger Games, however, would probably take me a lifetime to figure out.

Check out my larger post about my trip to a German book store.

From Netgalley:
Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
Super excited for this one! It was my Waiting on Wednesday pick a few weeks ago.
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
I love Carl Hiaasen's middle grade books. I was all agog to see he has a new one coming out. How can you not love his book covers?

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

I went to Borders to mourn and I bought a couple books:
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
I was very excited to get the special edition paperback cover, but in a hardcover!

From my library's used book store:
The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-fu Cavemen from the Future by George Beard and Harold Hutchins
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Strange Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson
Bad Kitty Vs.Uncle Murray by Nick Bruel
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32 by Joan w. Blos
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
Howliday Inn by James Howe
Firewing by Kenneth Oppel
Magyk by Angie Sage
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Library Loot:
Vincent Van Gogh and the Colors of the Wind by Chiara Lossani, illustrated by Octavia Monaco
Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh

Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White
Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

Twosomes: Love Poems from the Animal Kingdom by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Lee Wildish
Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love by Pat Mora

What did you get in your mailbox this week?