March 2015 archive

Review: Making Pretty

Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

From Goodreads: Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life.

With Arizona wrapped up in her college world and their father distracted by yet another divorce, Montana’s been immersing herself in an intoxicating new friendship with a girl from her acting class. Karissa is bold, imperfectly beautiful, and unafraid of being vulnerable. She’s everything Montana would like to become. But the friendship with Karissa is driving a wedge between Montana and her sister, and the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.

In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a heady distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?

Jennie’s Thoughts
: I was drawn into this book in a way that gives you the feeling of an addiction. I could not get enough, wondering with each page out things could get worse for Montana…but then they would and I would be sick with anxiety. This book was whirlwind of ups and downs, crazies and normals, pink hair, and lots of alcohol and smoking.

As in any good book with characters that are a little lost, I wanted to shake everyone by the shoulders more than a few times. And then I would see these moments of hope and love and get all heart-eye-emoji. This book was full of emotion and deep questions about perfection and what that means when your family is funded by making women look perfect. I thought that aspect of the plot was fascinating and deep and wow.

My only complaint is that on one page of the ARC I read, Montana mentions she has a peanut allergy. It’s mentioned in an offhand way, more to point out that a short-coming of her father (I won’t spoil with specifics) and nothing is ever mentioned again. I picked up on this because my daughter has a peanut and hazelnut allergy. I know, first hand, how involved life with a food allergy is. Montana never mentions an EPI, she never considers if what food she’s eating is peanut/nut free. I’m not sure if it was an error that will be changed with the final copy, but it struck me as unnecessary and false.

Review: Consider the Fork

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson

Synopsis (Goodreads): Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks.

In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Knives—perhaps our most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of fire, whereas the fork endured centuries of ridicule before gaining widespread acceptance; pots and pans have been around for millennia, while plates are a relatively recent invention. Many once-new technologies have become essential elements of any well-stocked kitchen—mortars and pestles, serrated knives, stainless steel pots, refrigerators. Others have proved only passing fancies, or were supplanted by better technologies; one would be hard pressed now to find a water-powered egg whisk, a magnet-operated spit roaster, a cider owl, or a turnspit dog. Although many tools have disappeared from the modern kitchen, they have left us with traditions, tastes, and even physical characteristics that we would never have possessed otherwise.

Blending history, science, and anthropology, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be, and how their influence has shaped modern food culture. The story of how we have tamed fire and ice and wielded whisks, spoons, and graters, all for the sake of putting food in our mouths, Consider the Fork is truly a book to savor.

Jacki’s Thoughts: I love nothing more than the relaxing ritual of making a big meal. The chopping, flipping, stirring, folding: these things put me in the zone. Normal weeknight meals are of the quicker variety now, with kids underfoot and things thrown and dashed more than anything, but on the weekends, it is this perfect, wonderful thing to really slow down and make a more complex meal for our family.

More than once, while I was kneading a ball of dough for bread or dumping ingredients into the Kitchenade to make a cake (caaaaaarbs!!)  I have wondered how on earth someone ever figured this out. I (correctly, as it turned out) assumed that meat and seasonings and most vegetables were kind of put together by accident and trial and error, but figuring out the things to put together to make bread? That is just… amazing. When I saw that this book was about the history of how we cook, I knew that this would be something that was written just for me.

While this book had less history of the actual food that we make, it was more focused on the history of the things that we use to cook. And right now, there are a zillion things: microwaves and ovens and colanders and knives, but that wasn’t always the case. We don’t really consider a bowl technology, but a bajillion years ago it totally was! This book goes waaaaaaaaaay back and then comes right up to the present: making foam and using vacuum bags and other sciencey fun.

The book is not exactly chronological, so it will talk about the history of, say, the knife in one chapter and the history of the microwave in the next but it does flow well from one chapter to the next and I never felt like a lot was being repeated. I thought that it flowed well- short chapters followed by longer chapters and so on- and even though it was history and fact heavy, it never seemed too dense. I thought the author took a page from Mary Roach’s book and mixed some humor and person experience in with the history, thus making it a perfectly readable piece of non-fiction.

I loved this from start to finish. I sent texts to my husbands about the history of cooking technology (“In a cookbook from the 1300’s, it said to mix pancake batter until one or two people were wearied. haha, you’d never admit to being weary, you’d mix forever!”) and made foods just because Bee talked about them. And if you don’t know about turnspit dogs, you need to Google it ASAP. Crazy.

If history or cooking are even kind of your thing, I think you’ll love this!

Review: An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek

From Goodreads: Everywhere acclaimed for its compelling narrative, its fresh insights, and its dispassionate appraisal of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, this #1 national bestseller is the first full-scale single-volume biography of JFK to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing on previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives, An Unfinished Life is packed with revelations large and small – about JFK’s health, his love affairs, RFK’s appointment as Attorney General, what Joseph Kennedy did to help his son win the White House, and the path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement had he survived. Robert Dallek succeeds as no other biographer has done in striking a critical balance – never shying away from JFK’s weaknesses, brilliantly exploring his strengths – as he offers up a vivid portrait of a bold, brave, complex, heroic, human Kennedy.

Jennie’s Thoughts: This book was interesting, but a few hundred pages too long. The information about Kennedy’s health problems was news to me, and very fascinating in both his personal life and how they deceived the American public. It got me thinking about how hard it would be to hide and destroy childhood records nowadays.

The detailed day to day about his campaigns lead me to skimming some sections, but the Cuban missile crisis information had me riveted. I was disappointed that so little was dedicated to his assassination and subsequent hunt for his murderer, but I’m sure there are many other books out there that cover that well enough.

I think the thing I felt most when finishing this gigantic book was that JFK lead a very different life than I did. Money and fancy doctors and trips abroad and elite colleges he slacked off at…very different life than mine!

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

(or, more simply…. The KonMarie method)
Andrea’s review:
I know this book is getting a lot of buzz right now- It kept popping up everywhere I looked, and I am not one to read headlines, follow trends, or even check Facebook. But since I have a full time job, a husband, two kids, and, (well, let’s face it… a heartbeat) I have trouble with clutter. After reading how excited Susan was about it, I decided to check it out.
 
First off, and most of my circle will agree… Marie Kondo is nutty. She is absolutely obsessed with tidying and talks about how from the age of 5 she would browse magazines to see how people stored things. She talks to her house and possessions. If you are her client, she talks to YOUR house and possessions. She introduces herself to your house before she knocks on the door and meets you. BUT. since I’ve finished reading this book, I have to back off of my original feeling of incredulity because I realized a few things: first of all, this book was translated from Japanese to English by someone else. It was not written for Americans. We do not (generally) attend shrines, or have the cultural reference that goes along with that habit. Another thing she talks about is keeping absolutely nothing in the bathroom (except TP, of course) and keeping all of your shower goods stored in your central storage area. Again, it’s a cultural thing- in Japan, they live in teeny tiny places. They don’t live in sprawling 4 bedroom, 3 bath houses with bonus family rooms (neither do I, but I also don’t live in a two story apartment with less square footage than my daughter’s treehouse) I’m not schlepping my shampoo out of a closet in the middle of the night when my baby vomits on me. I’m getting in the shower immediately (clothes and all!) and I’m going to have my soap and shampoo available.
 
But ultimately, underneath the quirky little habits and the absolutely crazy ideas, is the heart of her method: Keep the items that bring you joy. If you do that, you will have decreased your possessions to the point that tidying up will be a breeze.
 
So. Have I KonMarie’d my house yet? Nope. Haven’t had time, because I was too busy looking for my keys, which are never in the same place no matter how hard I have tried to train myself. Do I think the book was worth the read? Yes…for both a good laugh and also for that simple truth: if it doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it.
 

Reading Roald Dahl with My Kids

My kids have been crazy about chapter books lately so when I found a pile of Roald Dahl books at a library book sale a few months ago, I was all over it.

In the last month, we have read Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You guys, my kids have LOVED THEM. There were parts of each that I’m sure they didn’t grasp (one of the farmers in Fantastic Mr Fox is a drunk, but he gets drunk on cider, so I think they boys just thought he loved apple juice 😉  ) but the stories as a whole were had just enough whimsy and imagination to suck them right in.

Matilda in particular had them foaming at the mouth. They couldn’t wait to read “just one more chapter!” before bed. They thought she was so awesome and she is now regarded as highly as the superheroes in our house- three cheers for kick butt bookish girls!

What was really fun about these three in particular is that they all have movies that go with them. We haven’t watched Fantastic Mr Fox yet, but for the other two we waited until we were done with the book then organized fun family movie nights to go along with the book- we made crafts, had snacks and watched the movies and for one of them we even had DELIVERY PIZZA- I am not kidding when I say that my boys screamed with delight.

We talked about the books as we went so I could be sure that they were understanding what was happening, but I loved talking after the movie about the differences and similarities that they noticed- it showed me just how much attention they were paying when we read.

I have love love loved Roald Dahl since I was a little girl and Matilda especially holds a dear place in my heart so sharing these with my own kids has been such a blast. Really, the fact that they now get my references to tossing them in the Chokey just makes our days run much more smoothly 😉

Review: Invaded

Invaded (Alienated #2) by Melissa Landers

From Goodreads: Cara always knew life on planet L’eihr would be an adjustment. With Aelyx, her L’eihr boyfriend, back on Earth, working to mend the broken alliance between their two planets, Cara is left to fend for herself at a new school, surrounded by hostile alien clones. Even the weird dorm pet hates her.

Things look up when Cara is appointed as human representative to a panel preparing for a human colony on L’eihr. A society melding their two cultures is a place where Cara and Aelyx could one day make a life together. But with L’eihr leaders balking at granting even the most basic freedoms, Cara begins to wonder if she could ever be happy on this planet, even with Aelyx by her side.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Aelyx, finds himself thrown into a full-scale PR campaign to improve human-L’eihr relations. Humans don’t know that their very survival depends on this alliance: only Aelyx’s people have the technology to fix the deadly contamination in the global water supply that human governments are hiding. Yet despite their upper hand, the leaders of his world suddenly seem desperate to get humans on their side, and hardly bat an eye at extremists’ multiple attempts on Aelyx’s life.

The Way clearly needs humans’ help . . . but with what? And what will they ask for in return?

Jennie’s Thoughts: Disclaimer: Melissa is my friend, but I promise this review is honest!

I generally avoid reviewing past the first book in a series, but I’m making an exception for Invaded…because I found the world of L’eihr straight-up fascinating. Not only was it culturally interesting to imagine, but the differences in terrain from Earth was creative and imaginative, too.

I’ve read some reviews that state that they wanted Cara and Aelyx together more, and while I agree…not as many make out scenes when you’re on two different planets…but I thought this book was deeper in heart and big life questions than Alienated.

I’m keeping this review short, so I don’t spoil things, but the drama Aelyx finds himself in on Earth was as crazy as what Cara was experiencing on L’eihr. Things were happening everywhere, all the time!

I highly recommend this series, so check it out!

Review: The Last Letter from Your Lover

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

From Goodreads: “This story of passion and missed chances is entrancing.” –“Parade”
“A Brief Encounter” for our time, “The Last Letter from Your Lover” is a sophisticated, spellbinding double love story that spans decades and thrillingly evokes a bygone era. In 1960, Jennifer Stirling wakes in the hospital and remembers nothing–not the car accident that put her there, not her wealthy husband, not even her own name. Searching for clues, she finds an impassioned letter, signed simply “B,” from a man for whom she seemed willing to risk everything. In 2003, journalist Ellie Haworth stumbles upon the letter and becomes obsessed with learning the unknown lovers’ fate–hoping it will inspire her own happy ending. Remarkably moving, this is a novel for romantics of every age.”

Andrea’s Review:

At some point I’d requested that my library order this ebook, and then I promptly forgot all about it. Fast forward to them actually fulfilling my request, it being automatically lent to me…I downloaded it to my nook, read about 3 pages, and forgot about it until about 3 days before it expired.

I am so glad I picked up my nook and read this. It was a sweet, touching, wistful little love story that I read just prior to Valentine’s Day and just seemed to be good timing. It’s one of my highest rated books of 2015- earning 4 stars on Goodreads. Not too shabby for a twice-forgotten title, huh?

I liked Jennifer’s character; really I liked all the characters. I mean, I disliked the dislikable ones, liked the likable ones, and all in all enjoyed the writing, the story, and the imagery. I’d definitely recommend this one to my friends!

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