April 29, 2012
It's amazing what human beings can overcome. So many times life has a way of knocking you down and then not giving you the opportunity to pick yourself back up again. But as Jennifer Gilbert shows, sometimes you have to fight to get back up again and do it yourself; and it's entirely worth it when you do.
When Jennifer Gilbert is attacked, and brutally injured, her life seems to end for her. Friendships are different, her relationship with her family is different, and her outlook on life definitely changes. She throws herself into her work and realizes she is successful at it though. But in order to improve her life she has to work through what happened to her, and that part is a little harder. She also wants to find true love, keep up with her new business, and try to lead a more "normal" life, but it's hard after her attack. So many things now have a different perspective on them, but Jennifer develops a very good way of looking at life and a new philosophy that helps her get through. And we get this inspiring memoir as a result.
Jennifer is actually pretty harsh on herself I thought. She describes how cold and unfeeling or preoccupied she can be, and really, from her actions, I just don't think she was probably as bad as she considered herself. She obviously had lots of friends and people generally don't stick around if they don't like being around you; so in this case I think she's just being too modest. The other people she describes in the book are detailed very nicely. She doesn't criticize, just tells it matter of factly and most the people come out looking like good people. Which is refreshing in any type of book. And I liked how she described her husband-to-be through most of the book, he seems like a terrific guy.
This book had the capacity to be somewhat mundane and boring, but Gilbert is such a good story teller, that it really isn't for the most part. After the initial description of her attack, which in itself could be considered "exciting" and a main sequence of the book, the rest of the book details how she got through the next few years and built herself up. It described her ups and downs, the setbacks she had along the way, and the hard work she put into her business and her relationships. It was actually all very interesting. Honestly, I would have liked to have heard more about her business and some of her starting up years, because she was innovative, but perhaps this just isn't that type of a memoir.
In all this is a very inspirational book. If you think you've been through something tough, I say give it a shot. It might offer a few ideas on how to look at life a different way without discounting the fact that people go through tough times and it's ok not to compare it to anyone else's situation. And so I leave you with a quote from the book:
"You can't control what may happen to you in this life, but you can control who you want to be after it happens."
I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag
April 26, 2012
Miriam has been running the farm since her dad died. She has plenty of sisters, but in the Amish world, the women mainly do the indoor chores while the fields and barns are left to the men. But she feels more at home there. Luckily she's pretty enough that she catches the attention of two different men who want to court her. The one, Charley has been her friend forever and she's not sure she has that kind of spark for him. The other is just a little bit different, a little bit wild, and Mennonite, she'd have to leave her faith for him. Miriam's not sure what to do, and her heart isn't helping things. Should she go for the friend, or the man that can offer her the world.
I have mixed feelings about Miriam. She's a little wishy washy and it drove me up a wall at times. I did like her two beaus though. They both had good aspects and seemed like decent guys, although very different from each other. She had a good group of sisters too, which makes me excited that there seems to be a book for each of them. So really it was just Miriam that didn't thrill me as much in the book. The side characters are great!
The plot, well let's just say that the ending didn't go the way I wanted it to and Miriam didn't make the decision I would have made. But I guess there's plenty of people out there who probably think differently from me so they'll be happy. It was an interesting notion having an Amish girl courting two boys, just not very common. So I enjoyed that unique aspect of the book. And despite being a Love Inspired book and Amish fiction, the religion was tolerable and not preachy.
I look forward to the other books in the series. Should be interesting to see what happens with Miriam's sisters.
April 24, 2012
I waffled in between liking this book and not liking it. Finally I arrived at giving it 3.5 stars. There were a lot of neat aspects to this dystopian novel, but ultimately, it was very predictable.
Kira lives in a world that has been ultimately destroyed by the partials. At last count, there are maybe forty-thousand humans left in the world that they know of, and they're living on Long Island. As a medic, Kira has been trying to find a cure for the RM disease that wiped out most of the population, and is now killing their children. The youngest person is fourteen as they have not found a way to reproduce, despite making it mandatory in women of young age. So she decides she needs to capture a Partial to study the biologically engineered creature. She just may learn some truths about her world that she isn't ready for in the process.
I like Kira. She's strong, makes mistakes, and isn't really afraid to say what she thinks. That being said, she is a little too perfect at times. And I completely guessed where her character was going to go by the end of the novel. My only thought was that I couldn't figure out how it made sense. But you'll see once you get to that point, I won't spoil it for you. Her boyfriend is pretty cool as well. He's got a sense of humor and adds some levity to the book. There are numerous other characters, but they aren't as focused on as Kira, and while it drives me nuts that we don't get their back stories sometimes, I'm hoping the continuing series will rectify that.
The writing, as said before, is predictable. I had an idea of what was going to happen long before it ever actually happened in the book. It also drags quite a bit for the first half. I got tired of the detail and just wanted something to happen, and then I got my wish and everything started happening at once and the second half went too quickly. I think some balance would have been nice. The idea was fairly innovative. With all the dystopian novels coming out it's hard to be wholly original. But I think Wells has written something here that's worth reading if you like that genre of books. It is considered young adult and while there's nothing extreme in here, it does reference to sex and other more mature themes.
I will probably continue reading this series. I like the concept and if the author balances the other books a little better they'll be worth reading. This one too was enjoyable when it came down to it as well.
April 22, 2012
Vanessa is a pretty normal twenty-seven year old. She likes fashion, pop fiction, food, wine, and dreams of having a boyfriend. But then she decides to green up her life and go ahead and make a new change every day in her life. These things run the gamut from turning off the fridge completely to writing haiku instead of regular poetry. Granted some of these things seem kind of superficial, but I think doing so many allows for a few of those. She also takes a few trips and meets other green bloggers; interviews celebrities, and also learns a little bit about composting, toilets, and other green initiatives.
The writing is done in short bursts. She outlines what she plans to do that month, and then tells snippets of some of the days. Some of the snippets are several paragraphs long, and others are only a few sentances. They are often humourous, telling of some of her exploits and failures of some of her Green acts. Others are more serious and detail how the change impacts her life in either a negative or positive way. She also maintained a blog for this endeavor, so everything is more than likely written in greater detail there as well. I do have to say that I would have preferred if some of the entries were longer. I would just get into a topic and it would end and go into a different day. It just felt very rushed.
She meets several unique people in her green journey. From Jamie Oliver to No Impact Man, she really expresses how nice the people are. It's a great way of writing about them. And even though there's not a lot of time devoted to any of them, I think she does a good job of expressing their character in the small bit she has for them. I also like that there was a lot of varied people. From her friends, to some of the other people she meets in Oregon on her bike tour, she never lacks for someone interesting to talk to.
I enjoyed reading this book for the most part. There are a lot of different things I'm eager to try myself, and Vanessa leads a pretty interesting life. Not a bad read and I may have to check out the blog as well.
Sleeping Naked Is Green
April 19, 2012
When you look at the cover of Twice it's hard to be sure of what to expect. Bright yellow, with a very muscular bald Superman on the cover it certainly doesn't seem like it would be a cancer memoir. But there's a lot of things in this book that don't quite line up with your traditional cancer memoir. For one it's funny. And it certainly doesn't skimp out on naughty thoughts, gross descriptions, and general risque stuff that is more associated with other types of books. But then again Benjamin Rubenstein isn't your traditional cancer survivor.
As a teenager, Benjamin is diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma. Thus begins his chemotherapy treatments, hospital stays, reactions to medications, and the myriad of other things that are associated with cancer treatment. But it's no sweat, Benjamin is Superman. Or at least in his head he is. He will be the BEST cancer patient ever; quick at recovery, master of his feelings. It's lucky he has the brashness of youth to help him sustain this belief. It gets him through some difficult times. Most of all it would come in handy when after defeating the Ewing's he is diagnosed with a second cancer not too far after. This time it attacks his bone marrow and he has to be placed on a transplant list. And the recovery will be harder, more painful, and gives him a multitude of other problems he will have to face for the rest of his life. He has to face all this with his family at his side, and his friends all continuing on with their lives.
Benjamin is a pretty good narrator. He tells it like it is; and while at times I'm skeptical that he held up emotionally as well as he claims, it still reads as very inspirational. And who am I to say he didn't hold up that well? Some people just have better control of their feelings than others. I do wish I would have had a little more insight into his parents throughout the book. They're described very positively but it would have been interesting to see what their actual perspective was; not just Benjamin's interpretation of what he thought they were going through. Towards the end there's a little more light shed on the matter, but not as much as I would have hoped. We are often the stories of the people around us in addition to our own experiences, so it would have made it feel a little more complete for me. I do like how Benjamin described the other patients and the doctors. It fit in line with his trying not to be like the other "sick kids" and offered a lot of insight into his personality.
This book is pretty gritty, dirty, and is definitely chock full of hard language and themes. It's not a warm fuzzy feeling kind of book. Unless you're talking as$-kicking boots with fuzzy trim. This book doesn't leave room for pity. Benjamin tells it matter of fact and doesn't hesitate to curse, describe his bowel movements, share his upchucks with you, and basically gives you the real ride on what it's like to experience cancer. There is no calm repose at his bed thinking grand thoughts of the world. Instead there's playstation and poisonous liquids seeping into veins. And I think that's what makes this book so much more inspirational than a lot of other cancer memoirs. Everyone who goes through it is ultimately a stronger person; but with Benjamin you can really see it. And it doesn't hurt that he's a very humourous writer as well. It feels wrong to laugh at a book describing a kid going through cancer, but you just can't help it with this one. About the only thing I couldn't hack with this writing was the endless descriptions of vomit; I don't do well with bodily fluids, even if they're only in text form. But I didn't get sympathy hurls, so they weren't really too bad I suppose.
I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has had an experience with cancer. It might at the very least give them a laugh or a whole lot of inspiration and dare I say even a little hope. Because if a previously curly-headed kid can be superman, maybe others can too.
April 12, 2012
This was a very interesting book. I have a traditional longbow, and while I'm sorely remiss in using it much, I still have a great appreciation for bowmakers and the actual bow itself. Not that this book is really about the bows in a traditional sense. It's more of a commentary on how the bow and arrow relates to life and also about the Lakota people as well.
This book has two main topics; the life of the Lakota and their resiliency and history and how it relates to to the bow and arrow, and also stories and legends of the Lakota. There is a story of a young warrior, learning to be a great scout from his grandmother. Another of the "shirt men" of the tribe and how they contributed and were selfless in their acts for others. A little bit of the history of the Lakota is shown, and their erosion of culture due to the outside influence of the English. But the author talks about how the culture and histories are preserved, even in small ways.
The stories were some of my favorite parts within this book. I always find cultural legends fascinating and they always seem to impart a good lesson the reader. These were no different and I think I almost learned more from these than I did the rest of the book. I especially liked the story of two men that traveled to find a shiny rock and the dangers they faced along the way. They went on faith in what someone told them and even though the journey was difficult, they became good friends as a result and even had a pretty good story to tell when they got home!
The other part of the book was a little more rambling in its tone. The author switched up what he was talking about and it didn't flow as smoothly. Which made the lessons a little more difficult to understand. I also found it difficult to connect to some of what he was saying as I have no native blood or culture in my life and so some of the concepts were not relatable. But there were still some very good lessons despite all this. I especially liked what the author had to say about resiliency. He liked life to a bow and that when it shoots an arrow it always returns to its normal position, ready to take what life throws at it again. And that strong people can be the same way. I think it's the most important lesson of the book (and it should be considering it's part of the title).
A very interesting book. I enjoyed the author's take on the bow and arrow and the meaning behind it; it's not just a weapon but a way of life. And I learned more about the Lakota than I had ever learned before.
The Lakota Way of Strength & Courage
April 11, 2012
Ok, first off I have to say that this is not the first book in this series. I wasn't aware of that, and there isn't any indication on the cover or back cover description that would alert to that. It's not that you can't read this book without reading the others per say, but it would help the reader to understand a lot of what happened that is alluded to in this book.
Callie has settled in in Shipshe, selling quilts in the shop she inherited and solving crimes. This time, it's a local Amish man who has been convicted of murdering a young girl. He won't say a word in his defense, and Callie, her friends Deborah and some other Amish women know that he isn't capable of murder. But since he won't help them figure out what really happens they have to attempt to discover it on their own. Add to that an older Amish man who suffers from dementia and is claiming that Callie can help him find his missing daughter, and Callie's got a lot on her plate. She's also confused by three men who seem to pop in and out of her life, and her feelings towards each of them.
I like Callie. She's a pretty rounded character, doesn't know everything, and can take instruction with Grace. Sure she gets herself into trouble sometimes, but its a murder mystery, the main characters do usually get themselves into trouble investigating. Her Amish friends are nice too although they seem very outspoken and from the limited contact I've had with Amish women, it just doesn't seem natural to me. But I could be very wrong about that. The policeman, Shane, was a little harsh, and I didn't understand his character at all, but I suppose that could be because I hadn't read the other book(s) in the series and may have missed some background there.
I thought the premise behind this book was very confusing. I couldn't understand why the Amish man Rueben wouldn't help himself. The characters seemed to understand why he did what he did, but it wasn't clear to me at all. And the plot started off almost too slow, and then rushed by haphazardly at the end. I suspect that that contributed to my confusion as well. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't well paced by any means. I did like the way the scenes unfolded and the setup for the investigation. That part of the book seemed very plausible. And since this is an Amish romance it can be considered Christian fiction, but it wasn't too preachy. There were some mentions here and there of following the will of a higher being, but it didn't go on and on about it.
An ok Amish fiction mystery. I wish I would have read the first book first, but I'm sure I'll get around to it at some point.
April 04, 2012
Alex is in a gang that roams the streets at night, causing mischief and mayhem. They strike terror into those who meet up with them and are capable of causing great violence. But when Alex gets caught his life changes drastically. And after a few years in prison he is offered the chance to go free again, but only if he submits to a new experiment the government wants to try out. Not realizing what he'd be giving up, he goes for it, and discovers what its like to have choice taken away from you.
I personally didn't think Alex suffered enough. Actually I think he gets off pretty easy throughout the book. So the message involving Alex and free will and such didn't really get through to me. Although I don't really think I'm for a souped up government for thinking that way. Alex just isn't a compassionate character, its part of his design. And since I would never think like the majority of the characters in this book, I just can't connect to any of them. I can't even muster compassion for the victims because of the way it's written. Alex's friends are second to him so we don't really get to know them too well, aside from being partners in his mayhem.
The writing is absolutely off the wall. I was so frustrated within the first few chapters that I almost decided to set it down and leave it alone for awhile. But then I came across a certain word, "okno" and something clicked in my brain. And I realized that a lot of the "slang" was actually Russian. And after I discovered that I found reading it a lot easier. There's still unknown slang, but at least I was able to translate some of the words to make for easier reading and wasn't hopelessly lost trying to figure out what on earth the characters were saying. Because not even context helped some of the slang be recognizable. Even so, I wasn't a big fan of the way this book read because of it. I think it enforced too much on the reader if you really wanted to drive a lesson home.
And the lessons in this book are unusual. Themes of good vs. bad vs. free will vs. control are predominant. And the author makes you question what is best. But there's also a lot of violence in this book that can be so gruesome and "horrorshow" that the lessons could be lost while the reader is focused on the horrible things that happen. It's definitely not a book for those who don't like to read about violence, rape, murder, and other various terrible things. Although most of it is only recognizable if you can get past the slang.
Not a book for me. I know people love it but apparently it just didn't speak to me. I'm not sure if I'll watch the movie as a result of not really caring for this book. It may have some great themes, but I just couldn't get past the writing.
A Clockwork Orange
April 02, 2012
Stanley Hastings is rather surprised when a hitman just shows up at his office, wanting help getting out of the business. But he's also not sure he wants to work for him. But a man's life is at stake and Stanley knows he has to take the case. He just doesn't realize how much trouble it's going to cause him. And getting involved is getting him into tons of trouble, both personally and also with the police. Going from a private investigator to a prime suspect was not in his plans. Of course, neither was getting shot at. But both things seem to happen quite a bit in this book.
I liked Stanley. He was a funny guy. Loves his wife, seems like a decent person, etc. He's a bit oblivious for a Private Investigator, and I'm not sure if the bumbling act was intentional or not. His wife Alice is an even better character. She seems to be the brains behind the operation and I enjoyed that. Although I wish she had a job of her own so she didn't have to rely on Stanley's exploits. The cops and lawyers in the book weren't as awesome as they could have been. In fact they all kind of seemed liked jerks. Of course we were seeing them through Stanley's eyes.
The plot is what disappointed me the most. For one, there was no way you could have seen the ending coming, and that just isn't quite fair when you are writing a crime mystery. Or at least a book that acts like a crime mystery. Everything skips around so much that its hard to keep track of where you are at in the book too. It seems like Stanley is always rushing around to this place or the other and sometimes with no rhyme or reason. I wish it would have slowed down a bit so I could have contemplated what was going on better. A lot of the story was implausible too, as I don't see real life people acting the way the characters did. But hey, at least the writing was funny, although a little course at sometimes. If you don't like cussing and references to sex and female anatomy you probably won't want to pick this book up. Because it has all of that.
I don't think I'd seek out another one of Hall's books, even in the same series. While I enjoyed his humorous writing style it just wasn't enough to make up for the sub par storyline.
April 01, 2012
Food52 is a food blog, but now is a cookbook, filled with recipes from different cooks. And I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. Almost all the recipes turned out fantastic, although there were a few duds. It is a higher end, tougher cookbook; but I think that it would appeal to a wide range of people.
To date (4/1/2012) I have made 22 of the 140 recipes within this cookbook.
This book is separated into seasons. Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, based on the ingredients available during the season and the general theme of food. As said before, a good portion of these ingredients are higher end. So this isn't a budget cookbook, nor is it a quick fix cookbook.
At the front of the book is actually a bonus chapter, known as the test run that has three recipes. I haven't tried either, but they seem simple enough, although the one calls for an obscene amount of butter. They include a salad, pasta dish, and a dessert.
The first recipe in this section is the Summer Corn Chowder. This is one of the ones I've made and it was extremely good. The removal of the corn from the cob took a little time, but otherwise it wasn't a complicated dish to make. It just took a little time. The Blueberry-Coconut Muffins were also extremely good, with healthful ingredients, and were a quick mix to stir up. They'd probably be good with another kind of berry as well. Daddy's Carbonara was interesting, because of the use of eggs. But it tasted good and it didn't require a lot of prep work. I do think it could have used a touch more seasoning. A snack of Rosemary Thyme Pita chips was simple to make, although I found peeling apart the pita layers much more difficult than the book would leave me to believe. But they tasted much better than any pita chip you could find in a bag at a store. For cookies, the Zucchini-Lemon Cookies were very healthy tasting and almost made you feel like you were getting away with something even though you were having a cookie. Another dessert, the Simple Summer Peach Cake, was enjoyed by my coworkers, but it was kind of dry and crumbly. For another Zucchini Dish, the Zucchini Pancakes did not turn out well at all. I had an inkling at the beginning that they wouldn't hold together based on the ingredients and I was right. The taste was a little bland too. The Eggplant Parmesan was another one of those failed recipes for me. It was complicated to make and definitely not worth the time it took. It wasn't very flavorful.
There were plenty of other recipes from ribs, to fried chicken, to other things, and I definitely plan on trying some more of these dishes. They fit the Summer theme well and I imagine the vast majority of them are tasty.
I absolutely loved the Savory Bread Pudding. It was easy to make and with the mushrooms and gruyere cheese, it was definitely savory. I really enjoyed it. Continuing with the mushroom theme, the Creamy Mushroom Soup was delicious as well, although it was quite time consuming to make. A great snack was the Smoky Fried Chickpeas. They didn't last very long because they were so good though. I didn't really enjoy the Chicken with Creamy Dijon Mustard Sauce. It sounded so delicious but was quite plain and took a long time to make. It should be forewarned that the Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies will keep you up all night if you eat too many of them. I speak from experience. I do have to say, as delicious as they were they would have been great with some dried cherries added in. The Southwestern Spiced Sweet Potato Fries with Chili-Cilantro Sour Cream turned out some fantastic fries, but the sour cream dip was not very good. I ended up using ranch dressing instead.
There's once again some great recipes I haven't yet got to try in this chapter. I look forward to some of the heavier meat dishes, like the Rib-Eye with a chocolate sauce. It just sounds intriguing.
Lentil and Sausage Soup for a Cold Winter's Night was exactly that. Perfect for a colder day. It was heartier healthier fare. It did take awhile to make though. Moving on to the Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli, I just wasn't impressed. The flavors, despite having somewhat bold ingredients, weren't very strong. The Creamy Sausage Stuff Mushrooms were easy to make and had a fantastic flavor. I liked the use of Asiago cheese in the filling.
I have to admit, there just weren't as many recipes that intrigued me in this chapter. There were a couple of seafood recipes that would probably be good. But I didn't really see the heartier fare that I expected. There also weren't as many desserts in this chapter either, as compared to the others.
The Chewy Sugar Cookies were not very flavorful, but they were easy to make. A great spring ingredient is asparagus, and the Absurdly Addictive Asparagus is extremely good. I loved the pancetta that was mixed in with it. It was even easy to make. Pasta with Prosciutto, Snap Peas, Mint and Cream was also another wonderful dish. And again, east to make and a quick fix. The Maple Yogurt Pound Cake has been voted the best baked good I have brought into work thus far. It was just moist enough, and had great flavor. My mom is the connoisseur of Creamy Cucumber dishes, and the Creamy Cucumber Side is one of the best she's ever had.
I haven't tried too many recipes from this section yet, but I'm eager to. Since we're just getting into spring I look forward to trying more of these. Especially the Caramelized Pork Bahn Mi, it just looks delicious.
So overall everything in this book was very good. Its rare to find a cookbook that has every recipe turn out perfect or be tasty, so the few that aren't are acceptable. I do think that the expensive or odd ingredients might make it difficult to make some of the recipes, or turn more strictly down-home type of cooks off. Because some of them can be hard to obtain, and my family didn't even know what a good portion of them were (porchetta, Sriracha, etc.). So this book is definitely more of an adventurous culinary trip.
The layout of the book is nice. Despite having a hard back cover, it sets open easily enough. The recipes are easy to read with a large enough font, and almost every recipe has a picture. Some even have some preparation pictures the ones that are taken are quite beautiful and make the food look delicious. I do have to complain though about the way the recipes are sorted. Since its by seasons I didn't expect desserts, main dishes, etc. to be in separate chapters. But I at least expected them to be organized within the chapters themselves. This book had a week type structure, but I think it would have been better served to have everything separated by type of food within the chapters. I didn't enjoy flipping one page from a main dish, to the next to a dessert, to a side dish, back to a main dish, another dessert, etc. It just makes it harder to find things as I'm not one for really looking at the appendices or table of contents.
I do like this book, and its definitely deserving of a permanent position on my cookbook shelf. I plan to refer back to it again, especially for some of the recipes I have already tried, like the chickpeas and a few others. They seem to be good standbys with great flavor.