Long overdue book reviews…

So, slowly my moving nightmare at least seems to be stabilizing (I did get stuck in the bathroom this weekend when the doorknob decided not to turn but that’s a little thing at this point) so it’s time to get back to some semblance of a schedule. And I am WAY behind on some book reviews so here they come, drive-by style:

Parrot and Olivier in America: This was a quirky fat paperback book I found wandering Powell’s last September and I am only now getting around to it. I liked this book; both for what it was commenting on and the ludicrous characters. Peter Carey built an incredible ensemble to surround his two named heroes and I was happy with the ultimate ending as well; Parrot deserved a happy ending and I loved the wacky way he gets it. Olivier, on the other hand, needed a swift kick in the pants and even once he got it and was STILL ridiculous. I figure the France of the 1830s deserves him back.

White Teeth: This was one of the books I received through the Reddit Book Exchange earlier this year. It wasn’t bad; it had some laugh out loud moments but it ultimately suffered from the Contemporary Novel disease for me. At least it was a contemporary novel set in London so I could enjoy that aspect of it.

Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women: A friend recommended this to me as something to help process what was, at the time, still the primary season. Glass ceilings have since shattered but this is the book that looked at the giant crack Hilary put in it the first try and does an excellent job of discussing all the aspects of that 2008 primary.

From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals: I really enjoyed this when I read it but now I can’t remember a thing about it…another reason to write these reviews sooner.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: So many people have recommended this to me over the years and it was as good as they said it would be. Fascinating read; I didn’t know anything about the Lacks Family or Henrietta’s story before reading. Well presented and never over anyone’s head. It also is a book that makes you think about your own tissues out there floating in the world and what science might make of them (with or without your consent).

Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2): In an effort to get back to what my actual reading challenge was for the year, I did pick up a few books in series I need to get back to. This series is getting more delightful by the book; this time Sophronia is on the hunt for the reason why her floating spy school is headed towards London with (gasp) boys aboard from an evil genius school and why the vampire teacher is acting so odd. Well, more odd than usual. Some days just call for a steampunk alternate timeline supernatural spy thriller complete with ball and tea party and this fits the bill nicely.

The Wicked Will Rise (Dorothy Must Die #2): So, apparently this is no longer a trilogy but longer? Sigh…That said, it still suffering from some “second book in a trilogy” issues but a solid installment nonetheless. Amy continues to be fun to watch develop as a lead (anti) heroine. I’m also not entirely sure where the series is headed which is fun and makes for a good and thrilling read each time.

Cinder & Ella: I don’t usually review all the romances and silly freebie ebooks I pick up on my Kindle but this one deserved at least a line since it is yet another Cinderella re-telling. This one is decent but the DRAMA…oy. This book was one act short of a teenage pregnancy and I feel like a few more chapters and she would have been there but the title characters are fun, actually have some depth to them and the stepsisters get played out well here (I always have a soft spot of the stepsisters) here so if you are a Cinderella re-telling junkie (like myself), this one is worth a few dollars on your Kindle.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: This was lovely; if nothing else, now I REALLY want to go on a walking tour of England. Like, tomorrow. But, beyond that, Harold is such a wonderful character. Someone you want to reach in and hug periodically and assure him that it is OK, that he is not a failure. That he did his best and life spit his efforts back in his face. And that happens sometimes. But as long as you remember the journey, and the good times along it, the ending is really just another place to start again.

 

 

Pete’s Dragon

I was going to love Pete’s Dragon. No matter what critics said or didn’t say, I was going to love it. That said, I didn’t think I would love it as much as I did. For starters, there is no singing which is my favorite part of the original film. Some of my all-time favorite Disney music comes out of the original Pete’s Dragon. And secondly, Elliot was…different. I remember the first trailer and just sort of sitting there until I could spit out, “wait…Elliot has FUR?!” I adored the animated pink and green dragon of the original (my first car that I paid for, which was blue, was named for him. Yeah, I don’t know either. I just loved the character that much). So, while I knew I would still love it because of reasons, I didn’t expect to be quite as enchanted as I was.

Luckily, I was primed for the big difference because of a review I read last Friday before I went to see it. They talked about how it was a quiet film, one that harkened back to some of the classic childhood films like E.T. There are action scenes but the real story is the family, the relationships, the growing pains the main characters feel; not the explosions or chase scenes. It reminded me of my favorite live action Disney films when I was younger: the original Escape to Witch Mountain, The Apple Dumpling Gang, even The Parent Trap. It wasn’t loud, overcomplicated, or silly to the point of ridiculousness. They were usually about a kid, or a group of kids, just trying to find a place to belong and the friends they make along the way.

This new version of Pete’s Dragon is gorgeous; visually stunning. Its time period is slightly non-descript but probably the late 1970s? At one point, I remember thinking “a John Denver song would fit well here.” It’s harkening back to what seemed like a much simpler time, a safer time, though villains still lurk. The villain of misunderstanding, of fear, of ambition. Those people who must destroy what they do not understand. The worst kind of villain to me; the kind I wish I could just reach into the screen and shake for all I’m worth. Pete’s Dragon has a good one of those here. In the original, the villain is a cartoon in live action; here the villain is someone who is simply afraid and has the power to act on his fear and turn it to his advantage in the town.

For a villain, there must be a hero and Pete lives up to the title. They do maybe hammer it home a bit much (lots of the characters call Pete brave throughout the film) but Pete lives up to the word. His story is heartbreaking on many levels (why he meets Elliot is pretty devastating); but his character is one of curiosity and acceptance so he learns to adapt, to adjust and to thrive. Some will argue I’m sure that the character adjusts too quickly; to which I would remind them it’s an hour and a half movie. He is brave but I don’t think he’s ever thought of himself in those terms. He was simply living. Those he meets in his journey are much like him; curious about the world around them, trying to adjust and accept as the world around them changes. The forest ranger Grace who finds Pete, Grace’s father who swears he saw a dragon in the forest years before, Grace’s fiance and his daughter. Perhaps they are reluctant at first but as the movie builds, they see that a dragon can be a friend, not a foe.

Which brings us to Eliot. The animation is fantastic; at no point does Eliot looks like a cartoon out of place in the film. He blends with his scenery, interacts seamlessly with Pete and the other actors. The fur does make him a bit more cuddly, a bit more approachable and less like a dinosaur out of Jurassic Park so that did the job. But the character remains much the same as the original film; he’s still a bit of goof, clumsy at times, fierce when his friend is in danger and lost when he doesn’t understand something. His relationship with Pete is the heart of the film and honestly, that is what makes it sing.

I may have rented the Money Pit…

As some of you may know, I recently moved. I was so excited about it. It was out of apartment complex living and into a duplex in a quiet neighborhood. It had tile floors and two bedrooms complete with a lovely back patio. It was going to be awesome. Well, I am two weeks in and I am fairly certain I rented the Money Pit.

Luckily, I only rented it but now have to live through them trying to fix everything they apparently didn’t notice after the last tenant moved out (which I might add was almost an entire MONTH before I moved in so what they are doing, I am not sure; my faith in their ability to manage is quite low at the moment). I am also having to deal with an apartment that had a former tenant, as well as a cleaning crew that supposedly cleaned the place twice (before and after I had the keys), that clearly did not define the word “clean” as I do. Scrubbing floors by hand has been a weekend pastime since I moved in…and I’m still pulling up dirt like the floors has multiple layers of it so I’ll keep at it.

I adore the space; I do. The size of it is perfect for me. And I knew there would be challenges to a garden apartment in Florida. Logically, it shouldn’t exist but Tallahassee is one of the only places in this state it could. However, I wasn’t quite expecting the level of entertainment I’ve had so far. It will be good someday; I know it will. I just need to grin and make it through. In the meantime, they pushed back the date for wall construction so I’ll make it through a weekend where it feels more like I am camping out in the place rather than living in it. I think that might be my biggest issue so far. I can’t get settled or comfortable in the space because I can’t finish with it yet. I had gotten my office/library into some semblance of  order only to have to basically re-pack it all up again last night to find out I could have done that Sunday since they won’t be there until Monday now.

Oddly enough, for someone who has moved around as I have, I don’t actually handle change well. I plan for it; plan it to death in fact. So, when the plan doesn’t work and chaos ensues, I might not handle it well (read: I do not handle it well). At all. I don’t like what I cannot research, plan and make lists for so that I am prepared. Some would say then this is a good thing, I should learn to deal, but not when it comes to my living space. I am one of those people that adores going home at night, to my space, to hide out for a while from the rest of the world, so it’s important that that space is safe and clean and organized and….mine. It’s an introvert thing big time. This move is just…never ending it seems and my introverted self is on a short fuse (and yet always incredibly polite and not yelling at anyone).

So, in the meantime, I am trying to get back to my schedule, my routines, in the hopes that will keep me sane. So, look for my usual reviews soon!

First Book Loves

My uncle pointed me at this Question of the Month and it’s right up my alley so I’ll jump in with some thoughts. I came at it via the post on Tossing It Out where there were even more questions added! I do love answering questions about reading. Mainly because it’s an excuse to go remind myself of books that somehow I’d slightly forgotten.

This is also a perfect time to discuss because I’d actually already started drafting a post somewhat along the same lines. After a visit home last month, I brought back with me all the books I still had at my parents’ house. It was mostly my childhood books; picture books, early chapter books etc. However, I’ve been re-reading them all to see if I really did want to keep them all. So, I’ve already been thinking about first loves when it came to reading. So far, only one has broke my heart (Sideways Stories from Wayside School did not hold up for me which is quite tragic and then I realized my favorite vignette is in the second book in the series and I immediately felt better).

So, to get to the question of the month: “What was the first book (or book series) you fell in love with?”

 

808821

Image from Goodreads

Full disclosure, I have no idea what the first book was. I vaguely recall my grandmother had a book about camels that I had her read to me on repeat but I have no idea what its title was or where it ended up or even if I really loved it or it was just the only book at her house. What I best remember are some of the first book series my mom would read to me and my sister: The Berenstain Bears and Amelia Bedelia. We had a ton of the Berenstain Bear books (mainly I just wanted to live in their treehouse) and I thought the Amelia Bedelia books were hilarious. Amelia seemed like a less put together Mary Poppins to me. Sadly, none of those books were in the books I still had at home. The one book that is still with me, with one of the nicest author-signed notes ever, is Sarah’s Unicorn. Bruce Coville came to my elementary school in kindergarten and I had somehow forgotten about it! My copy of Sarah’s Unicorn is well-loved (i.e. basically falling apart) and I had forgotten how much I adore it. Looking back now, it sent me down the fantasy story avenue very young and suddenly a lot of my reading makes a lot more sense now.

Those were the first ones; they weren’t necessarily the most influential though. If I would to pick the book series that comes to mind fastest, it’s the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. I read through those at a blistering pace during 5th and into 6th grade and they have stayed with me all my life. I could never pick a single book; that is just not going to happen. Even trying to keep my Favorite shelf on Goodreads at a reasonable number is challenging. I resort to picking “representative” books from series or authors there in the hopes to keep it manageable.

Tossing It Out also threw in some more questions with his post: Do you remember Little Golden Books? What was the first book that you ever received where someone inscribed a message to you? There were many books series like the ones I mentioned: Was there a set that you owned as a child? I do remember Little Golden Books but not as fondly as some other bloggers did. We had them, but I don’t think I thought of them as a “series” in the way some people do. My first book with an inscribed message is Sarah’s Unicorn but the one I think of most fondly is a copy of Beauty and the Beast (Disney Edition) from my Aunt Michele and Uncle Joe for my birthday in 1992.

In terms of owning series when I was a kid, I know I had a lot of American Girl books but I don’t think I owned a completed series for any of the girls. I really think the first series I read through in its entirety, bought, and still own today are the Anne Books. After that, it might not be until Harry Potter that I felt the need to own all of a series. That may explain my anger when everything is a series these days; for a long time, I apparently wasn’t very drawn to them! Nowadays, they plague my to-read list since people don’t seem to just write one-offs anymore – everything must be a series! Which reminds me, quick update, I am down to 5 books in my to-read pile!!!! So, I’ll be returning to my reading goal of the year to finish all the unfinished series on my to-read list now that I have room on my nightstand again. I am excited to get back to them for sure!

Mini Garden Turkey Loaves

IMG_5605

In cleaning out pictures on my phone, I stumbled across the pictures I took maybe the 2nd or 3rd time I made this recipe and I realized I never shared it with the blog! Which is weird because I am pretty sure I have shared it everywhere else. I adore these tasty mini meatloaves and will make them when I want to have quick and easy dinners all week. I don’t think they are the healthiest dinner I have on rotation but it’s not un-healthy. Much. I like to pair this with cottage cheese for a side or if I’m going really healthy for the week, a side salad though I never seem to be able to eat all the lettuce fast enough on my own before it browns. Is there some trick to keeping lettuce fresh longer because please share!

The original recipe is from Budget Bytes, one of my favorite recipe blogs so if you like this, check out her other recipes!

Ingredients

For Loaves:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
2 medium carrots
1 small zucchini
8 oz. button mushrooms
¾ tsp salt
Freshly cracked pepper
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup ketchup
1 lg. egg
¾ cup plain breadcrumbs
19oz. ground turkey 93% lean*

For Glaze:
½ cup ketchup
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Directions

  1. Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Sauté both in a large skillet with 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until soft and transparent. Peel the carrots, then use a large holed cheese grater to shred them into the skillet. Cut the ends off the zucchini and shred it into the skillet as well. Continue to sauté over medium heat.
  2. While the onion, garlic, carrots, and zucchini are sautéing, roughly chop the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms to the skillet and season with ¾ tsp salt and a generous dose of freshly cracked pepper. Continue to sauté the vegetables over medium heat until they release all of their moisture and it has evaporated from the bottom of the skillet (there should be no juices pooling on the bottom of the skillet).
    After the vegetables have sautéed and are mostly dry, transfer them to a bowl and let them cool for 5-10 minutes. Begin to preheat the oven to 375 degrees and coat the wells of a muffin tin with non-stick spray.
  3. Once the vegetables have cooled some, add the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, egg, and breadcrumbs to the bowl. Mix these ingredients well until they are evenly combined. Add the ground turkey and use your hands to gently mix it into the vegetable mixture. Try to avoid over mixing.
  4. Evenly divide the meat mixture between the 12 cups of a muffin tin. Bake the mini loaves in the preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  5. While the loaves are baking, mix the tomato glaze. Combine the ketchup, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Once the loaves have baked for 15 minutes, spoon the glaze over the muffins and let them bake with the glaze for the remaining 15 minutes.
  6. Allow the loaves to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carefully running a knife around their outer edges and lifting out of the tin with a fork. The rest time will help solidify the loaves and keep them in one piece.

    *If you use a higher fat content ground meat, this will effect the final texture of the loaf and how well they stay together in one piece.

Recipe makes 12 mini loaves.

A Tangled Web

As you know, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, I am a big L.M. Montgomery fan. Maud is my girl; she gave me Anne Shirley for which I will always be grateful. As I grew up, I also found all her short stories and the few standalone novels she wrote. Not only did she give me Anne Shirley (who, let’s face it, is the original manic pixie girl to some extent) but she gave me Jane Stuart who is my spirit animal if there ever was one. Jane is a practical little soul who gets excited about organizing her house, keeping to her schedule and cooking for her dad. She also at one point ends up leading an escaped circus lion around. Jane is unflappable and I still aspire to be like her.

The Tangled Web (Goodreads)

The Tangled Web (Goodreads)

There are few of Maud’s books I haven’t gotten to (although notably, I haven’t read the Emily books. I find people often read either the Anne books or the Emily books…why is this?) so when I received The Tangled Web at Christmas, one of her few adult audience books, I was excited! But things happened and it’s only now I got around to reading it when my to read pile expanded beyond one drawer of my night stand.

The Tangled Web shows Maud at her best and worst as a storyteller. At her best, no one writes crazy, kooky and yet lovable families like Montgomery. The Darks and Penhallows of The Tangled Web are a cantankerous, loyal, slightly certifiable bunch who dance to the tune of Aunt Becky, the family matriarch and holder of Rebecca Dark’s jug, an ugly family heirloom that everyone wants but cannot really say why other than they don’t want their other relatives to have it. Aunt Becky holds a get together, proceeds to remind everyone about years’ worth of family scandals while bequeathing her many belongings to the family member that least wants it and then, at the end, announces that only a year after she has died will it be announced who gets the jug. So starts a year of chaos as the family fights, engagements are broken, old romances rekindled and dreams lost and found before the final twist of the book.

In many ways, The Tangled Web is simply a group of short stories all linked together by a common family and the jug. Read enough of Maud’s short story collections and you’ll find she is not above re-using storylines, names and places from her short stories in her novels and vice versa so I recognized a lot of the characters and where the stories were going pretty early on. The difference comes in the characters themselves. Margaret Penhallow’s story, for example, is a bunch of common Montgomery tropes. A women who wants her own home and someone to love but is taken advantage of by her relatives because of her unmarried state and never expected to amount to much. It is Margaret, a spinster who writes poetry and daydreams, that makes her storyline lovely and different from the other Montgomery stories that follow that base plot line. I knew Margaret would get her happy ending (Montgomery never lets a character like this down) but it was still fun to get to watch how she got there.

At her worst though, Maud is a product of her time and her background, which was a predominantly white, rather narrow, by the book outlook. Though I would never call her close-minded per say, she can write characters that make you wish she has just stopped a little sooner. Her characters of Big and Little Sam in The Tangled Web are unnecessary; their storyline rarely cross with the rest of the stories. You could easily remove them and not harm the rest of the narrative. And yet, these are the characters Montgomery chooses to end The Tangled Web with and on an especially horrible final note. I literally shuttered on the last sentence because it was unnecessary and pointless and left me with a sour taste in my mouth. No, her language choice was not uncommon at the time; in fact, it was accepted but you wish your heroines to be above the prejudices of their time and it’s never pleasant to see them fall short of your expectations.

That said, I still very much enjoyed The Tangled Web and Maud remains a favorite whom I always recommend no matter someone’s age. Now excuse me while I go daydream about getting a surprise windfall and being able to purchase a dream home and adopt a neglected relative (totally happens in this book).

Reading Catch-Up

So, about a few weeks ago, I brought home books from a secondhand sale and realized my to-read drawer of my nightstand was full…so, I hit the pause button on my reading goal for the year to start to make room for bringing home books again. Because let’s face it, not buying books is most likely not going to happen. But so far, it’s only been 3 Kindle books and luckily, not worried about space with the Kindle yet. So, some quick and easy reviews of books that had been on the top of the to-read pile for awhile.

The Ghost Bride was lent to me by a friend a few months back and I figured it was time to read and return to owner. This book was quite a bit different than my usual fare. It tells the story of a young Malaysian woman who is asked to be the ghost bride for a recently deceased son of a local wealthy family. As you can imagine, she’s not all that interested (in fact, she’s got feelings for the dead man’s cousin who may or may not have murdered him). Also, to make matters even weirder, the dead man starts haunting her and the only way to fight back is to enter the spirit world herself and figure out what is happening and how to escape the ghost and his family. The culture explored with this story was fascinating and I enjoyed learning about the spirit world and all the rituals performed by the living to help their family members in death. Li Lan, the heroine and purposed ghost bride also developed into a character you really root for; she is a bit wishy-washy in the beginning and I was wondered that would ruin the story for me but she definitely finds her backbone in the end.

Sarah Vowell is delightful; if you don’t know who she is, go Google for a moment and then come back. She also has a knack of taking obscure moments in American history and writing fascinating books about them. The Wordy Shipmates looks at the second wave of Puritans who emigrated to New England and founded Boston. First off, I had no idea there was such a distinction as Plymouth and Boston Puritans so right off the bat, I’m learning something but it’s Vowell’s tone that will keep you reading. Her dry wit never ceases to crack me up. Also, I can’t read anything by Vowell and not hear her reading it in my head – built-in audiobook!

When I travel these days, instead of picking up useless souvenir knickknacks that I would just get rid of a year later, I try to buy books and then write in the front cover where I picked it up from. That way, I’m buying something to remember my trip but also something I will keep and use over time. My trips to Disney are not an exception to the rule (well, I also buy pins but that’s another addiction next to reading and should be forgiven). On my latest visit out to Disneyland, I picked up A Whole New World (Twisted Tales #1). Twisted Tales are a new series out of Disney’s publishing arm that take a pivotal moment in their movies and ask “what if this happened instead?” As you all know, I adore a good re-telling of a fairy tale so I was all in for this one. This installment tells the tale of what could have happened if Aladdin hadn’t got the lamp but if, as planned, Jafar had. It was cool to watch scenes from the movie I knew so well get played out in very different ways or the few brief scenes between Aladdin and the Genie. They both feel they should be friends but never get the chance in this story. Instead, it is Jasmine and Aladdin and an army of street rats that take center stage. Excellent pacing for the story kept it moving and, though it had a pretty large cast of characters, all of them worked together well. Can’t wait to see how this series shapes up! (in fact, it looks like the next book is already out and the 3rd is going to be on Beauty & The Beast?! Just take my money already.)

Lastly, I finished up Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s exploration of books and reading, Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books just last night. I picked this up at the delightful Paper Hound in Vancouver, BC last fall. I adore a book about books and/or reading. It’s like finding a kindred spirit who’s thought to put on the page what you think every time you open a book. Schwartz looks particularly at how her childhood shaped her reading and how she is still dealing with effects of her childhood reading and reading environment into her adult years. I have not read Schwartz’s fiction but her writing here is divine. It flows along so nicely from one story to the next but always keeping you along for the ride. It’s not a big book but it has a lot of substance for the book lover to parse out.

I’m still working on my to-read pile as I head into the summer season. Hopefully I can get back into my reading of series year goal soon!