Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Virgin, by Radhika Sanghani--New Adult Book Review

 I got an arc copy of this through Netgalley. In honor of it's release on August 5, here's a review. Run out and get it on Tuesday!

VirginVirgin by Radhika Sanghani

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I love books that make me laugh. That's all there is to it. If a book can make me laugh out loud even once, it's pretty much guaranteed 3 stars even if it's crap. And this book is not crap.

In short, it's about a girl trying to lose her virginity. But it's also about so much more. Considering the shallow topic/plot of the book, I was expecting it to be a lot of fluff. But for someone who places such importance on such a thing as virginity, our protagonist is actually smart and somewhat empowered. It was a very female book, and even though it has a great message about accepting ourselves, it is definitely not for everyone (especially those uncomfortable with the word "vagina"). This book is all about loving oneself completely, as our protag Ellie learns to do.

But aside from the important feminist issues cloaked in the silly, candy-coated shell, this book is just real. It's like reading someone's diary--someone very honest with herself. I doubt most people are even this honest in their diaries, so I applaud the author for not shying away from squirm-inducing topics. On top of that, the characters are loveable as well as real and honest. Even when some parts get predictable or obvious(her mom walking in on her, Jack talking about someone else), they still work. You are waiting for them to happen, cringing because you know they will, but it doesn't make them any less painful when they do.

By the end of the book, when I hit the 90% mark, I was so invested that I got a bit teary-eyed when Ellie is rejected. I wanted to punch the guy...but I also wanted to say, "Yes, this exact thing happened to me!" It didn't, but this book felt so real that for a second, I thought it had. I WAS Ellie in that moment. I've had enough similar situations that it felt completely real. And that's where this book succeeds--because we've all been rejected, or misread the signs, or gotten our hopes up, or gotten crushed and had to pick ourselves up and start over (and the lucky ones have had friends as good as Ellie's to bring wine, encouragement and their own horror stories).

I would recommend this frank, hilarious book to just about all women, but especially those in the 18-30 age group. THIS is the new-adult book I've been waiting for. THIS is the book I was excited to read when I heard about the new-adult category. Not another romance with a generic plot-line and carbon-copy characters.

I could not stop reading this book. I found every excuse I could to read more of it. I used precious moments when I should have been doing other things, but all I wanted to do was keep reading. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me become the character. It grabbed me and didn't let go. All that adds up to a 5-star read. This book may not change your life, but it will make you feel good. Sometimes, that's enough all by itself. Not every book needs to be THE NEXT BIG THING. This book is like it's message--it doesn't try to be something it's not. And that's just fine with me. For what it is, it's perfect in itself.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Disaster Chef: Peanut Butter Baked Oatmeal

My son is a picky eater, so sometimes dinner is a bit of a battle as it seems he never gets anything he likes. Once in a while, I like to let him choose dinner. Usually he’ll ask for a grilled cheese sandwich or something. But after trying baked oatmeal at my sister’s house, he’s really wanted me to make it. So, I looked up baked oatmeal on Pinterest and found about a billion recipes. He chose peanut butter baked oatmeal, and even though it’s summer and I encouraged the more summery blueberry baked oatmeal, he wanted the pb version, so that’s what I made.

Here is the recipe, off the fabulous Tidy Mom.

  • 1-1/2 cups quick cooking oats (I used regular and increased cooking time to 30 mins)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar (here I used 1tbs black strap molasses)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar (I used xylitol instead)
  • 3/4 cup milk (whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg (I used 2)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (I used 1/4 tsp baking soda here)
  • 3/4 tsp salt (and left this out)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Skippy® Peanut Butter (I used East Wind organic)
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×13 pan. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and stir well. Spread in to pan and bake for 20-25 minutes (I used 30 mins for regular rolled oats) or until edges are golden brown. Serve with warm milk poured over top (I used cold milk and sliced bananas, like Tidy Mom suggests).

As you can see, I altered nearly everything in this recipe. It wasn’t very sweet when it came out, and my son complained about it, but he ate up a whole big bowl full. If I was making it for breakfast, I wouldn’t want it to be super sweet anyway, and with bananas and milk, it was just sweet enough. I also added an extra egg, since we have our own and I like to use them whenever I can. I don’t use baking powder, so I used ¼ tsp. baking soda instead. And I left out the salt, since I’m very sensitive to the taste of salt in baked goods.

The outcome was pretty tasty, but I don’t know if I’ll make it again, and not in the summer, for sure. It’s heavy and wintery with the peanut butter. I might try the blueberry one this summer, though. It was super easy and only required one bowl and one pan.

Recipe: 3 out of 4 spoons.
Product: 3 out of 4 spoons.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain SightConfessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E. Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just looked up this book and was surprised to find I'm in the minority for liking it. Yes, it is repetitive, as others have said. Yes, the woman's personality is beyond irritating. But I can't fault a book because I don't like the narrator.

I for one found the book pretty fascinating. Maybe it was a sick fascination, but still, it kept me interested and entertained. As others have said, I do wonder if it's one of those fake memoirs, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In a way, it almost seems like it would take a sociopath to write a fake memoir about being a sociopath.

Anyway, this book isn't a warm fuzzy read, or anything I'd say was fun to read. But it was still hard to put down. And I couldn't help but feel like I was reading about a couple of people I've known (who I suspected might be sociopaths) as I read it. So, even if the woman is unlikeable and 'faking it,' she did get a lot of the sociopathic tendencies correct (or as correct as someone with a psych degree could diagnose an acquaintance). Overall, I was greatly entertained by this book. However, if the author really was as likeable as she claims, I wonder why so many of her readers seem to despise her after reading her book...

You have to wonder when reading a book about a self-confessed liar, how much of it is true. I feel like the author is probably sitting somewhere laughing her ass off as her readers ponder this question. But, I think it's fun to ponder.

Recommended to: Those interested in psychology and memoirs.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Disaster Chef: Traditional Beef Stroganoff

Last month I posted about a beef stroganoff with wine sauce. While I was looking for stroganoff recipes, I found many, most with cream of mushroom soup. While I liked the wine sauce, I wanted to try my hand at a more traditional stroganoff, too. So I made this for my family.

I'm not big on using prepackaged foods, so I made my own cream of mushroom soup. See recipe on last week's post, here.

The recipe I used this time was a quick and easy one from Everything in Moderation, again using ground beef, although I used lamb. I admit, I'm not the hugest fan of lamb, and I ended up with a lot of it when one of my friends offered me a year-old sheep. Since it was raised outdoors and not mass-market, of course I accepted. I have to find recipes that will somewhat disguise the flavor, so this one seemed like a good one for some of the ground lamb. But I don't think it would be much different using beef, except beef may have a bit more fat in it.

Here is the recipe. It was super easy!

1 lb. lean ground beef (I used lamb)
1 med. onion, chopped
1 T. Cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water (I used milk here)
1 tsp. garlic powder (here I substituted 3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (I used 2 c. cream of mushroom soup and 1/2 c. whole milk)
1 (16 oz.) pkg. dried egg noodles (we used quinoa for a bed instead of noodles since my sister is gluten free)
1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)

Brown beef and onion in skillet till meat is done and onion is transparent (I also added about a cup of sliced portabella mushrooms to the pan with the onion and meat). Drain grease (I didn't do this). Dissolve cornstarch in cold water and pour onto meat. Stir in garlic (saute another 1-2 mins if using fresh), salt & pepper and soups. Cook for five minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 10 minutes (everything was done, so I removed from heat after about 3 minutes). Meanwhile, cook noodles (or rice or quinoa) according to pkg. directions. When done, drain . Remove meat mixture from heat and stir in sour cream and mix well. Add to noodles and mix till well blended.

We topped the quinoa with stroganoff, though you can mix if you want. One of my sisters did not like this recipe at all, but everyone else thought it was okay. I liked it, and my son ate some, though he complained and picked out all the mushrooms. So, for a picky eater, maybe not.

Recipe: 4 of 4 spoons.

Clear instructions, very easy.
Product: 3 of 4 spoons. Tasty enough. I'd make it again, though my family isn't a big fan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

YA Wednesday: Legend, by Marie Lu

Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've seen this book at school on tons of kids' desks, so I've read the back a few times. I kind of wanted to read it, but at the same time, I'm not the biggest fan of the popular dystopian love stories. So I've put this one off for a while.

Once I started it, though, I could not stop reading. It is compulsively, addictively readable. It's told from altering points of view, which doesn't always work, but in this one, it does. Sometimes in books from 2 POVs, I find myself rooting for one character and disliking the other, or I find one story more interesting so I rush through the other story and start to dislike it as it keeps me from the story I want to read. But this book balances the two main characters perfectly, so that they each have as much of a part to play in the story, both are equally interesting and sympathetic. I usually root more for the underdog, which would be Day in this novel, but I found myself liking June a bit better. Day was just a little bit irritatingly arrogant for my taste. I'm glad the romance was minimal, and I have a feeling I'm not going to like the next 2 books as much, as I foresee some more romantic elements creeping in. But as for this one, the romance was kept to the background (where it should be in a dystopian, IMO) so it wasn't too distracting from the story.

The suspense in here was great. It was killing me all the way through. I kept bringing the CDs from my car to the house and back so I could listen to it every spare moment. And a few surprises made me gasp out loud (view spoiler). The world-building was fantastic, too. I could picture the world very well, even though I've never been to LA. I found it all very intriguing and fast-paced. I've already picked up the next two books, and I'm hoping they will be at least close to this one.

Age 13+ for violence.</["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]></["br"]>

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Disaster Chef: Cream of Mushroom Soup (project pinterest)

My inspiration for this soup was actually a beef stroganoff recipe that called for 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup. I would probably have to be very desperate to use canned soup, so I thought I'd find a good recipe and save some for the stroganoff. This recipe, from Pinterest, caught my eye. But let me just warn, there was NOT a lot of it! Not even enough for the stroganoff...and I'm not talking about leftovers here. I mean, it made about 2.5 cups total. So, I'd recommend doubling the recipe, especially if you want to have some leftover for cooking or if you just like soup. And trust me, you're going to want to have a bowl of this, and probably go back for seconds.

Here's my version, adapted from the original recipe, which can be found over at Veg Recipes of India.

  • 1 16oz. package baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small to medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup full fat milk at room temperature
  • 6 tbsp half&half or cream
  • 1 tbsp whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ½ tsp dried parsley
  • freshly crushed black pepper as required
  • salt as required
  • a few chopped parsley or coriander leaves for garnishing (I didn't have these, but they make the pictures so much prettier on the original website!)
    I made this in my cast iron, where I make everything!
Here are her Instructions
This step is not pretty. It looks pretty disgusting right now, actually.
  1. melt the butter in a sauce pan.
  2. add the bay leaf and saute till fragrant - about 4-5 seconds.
  3. add the chopped onions and garlic.
  4. saute till they soften and become translucent.
  5. add the sliced or chopped mushrooms and saute till the mushrooms start to release water.
  6. saute till all the water dries up and the mushrooms are a light brown (this took quite a while, and the onions got a bit mushy by then, so I might not cook them as long next time).
  7. add the flour and saute for 3-4 minutes stirring often.
  8. then add freshly crushed black pepper and saute for half a minute.
  9. add water first followed by milk.
  10. stir well and season with salt.
  11. on a low flame let the soup come to gentle simmer
  12. the soup would also begin to thicken.
  13. simmer for about 4-5 minutes.
  14. then add the cream and parsley.
  15. simmer for 2-3 minutes more stirring often.
  16. lastly sprinkle nutmeg powder and stir.
  17. switch off the stove top and pour the soup in individual serving bowls.
  18. serve the cream of mushroom soup steaming hot garnished with parsley or coriander.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw this book in the airport for the first time, and was immediately interested, as I've been fascinated by orphan trains since reading Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story. So I was excited to see a full-length novel about the trains.

This book interweaves two stories, that of Molly, a modern-day goth in the foster system, and Viviene, a 90-something woman whose house Molly must clean. Viviene was also orphaned at a young age and rode the trains west from New York, and her story comes out as she interacts with Molly. I couldn't wait to get back to this book every time I had to walk away. It was addictive and gripping as I went through it. I couldn't wait to see what would happen to Vivien next, how she'd escape each situation to make it to the life she has as a 90-year-old widow in Maine.

Although I understood the interweaving of the stories, and I did enjoy how Molly was able to help Vivien with technology and get her life more modernized so she could reach out to those in her past who she needed to reach for, I didn't find Molly's story all that interesting. There are stories of kids in foster care that are done with much more detail, brutality, and depth. Not to get too nit-picky, but for one thing, being a goth is expensive. Seriously. All that stuff costs a lot. There's a joke somewhere about how someone would have been a goth but couldn't afford it (it may be another book, I can't remember...if anyone knows, please let me know so I can cite it properly), and it's so true. So I wondered how Molly could afford the arsenal of goth gear while being in foster care with parents who didn't seem keen on sharing the wealth. There were several little things like that in Molly's story, things that weren't a big deal but just made her seem somehow fake. She was definitely not as developed as Vivien.

While Vivien's time with Molly was no more interesting than Molly herself, it was Vivien's time on the trains (and before and after) that so captivated me. Her life beforehand is only sketched, but her time on the trains is given plenty of time. And her time with each family afterwards is rich and multidimensional. She was a character I could understand and relate to, even though I've had virtually no shared experience with her. That's when you know a character is developed wonderfully, so much so that she becomes real--when you feel like you could have been her even though you have nothing in common with her. This character and her experiences and her life made you feel for her, root for her, become her. I love when a book grabs me and pulls me in, absorbs me so fully I forget reality. During the portions about Vivien's childhood, this book did all these things. Luckily, those parts filled most of the book, with Molly's portions being significantly shorter.

Age 14+ due to some violence and adult situations.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Disaster Chef: Foodie Friday: Barbecue Ribs (project pinterest)

Another search on Pinterest yielded results. This time I went in search of a ribs recipe. I've heard that ribs are hard to make, and I didn't want to use the Crock-Pot this time, since I was making them one evening after work. This was a good oven recipe that turned out great! It would be perfect for those who have to work on Fourth of July and still wanted to cook afterwards. Everyone in my family loved it and wanted more. Again, a recipe my son scorned, but then he gobbled them up.

I served them with Chinese cabbage my sister had given me from her garden. Organic veggies=yum.

You can find these ribs on my Project Pinterest board now, from the original recipe from Jenny Can Cook.

Here's her recipe:

  • one rack of baby back ribs (I had two racks of ribs from a pig my sister gave me--no idea if they are babyback or not, but they were small racks).
  • juice of one lemon (I didn't measure this, just squirted some on from one of those lemon juice lemons)
  • 1/4 cup rub (your own or my recipe below)(I used her recipe, modifications listed)
  • 1/2 cup barbeque sauce (Our favorite is Sweet Baby Ray's) or look on Jenny's website for hers.
 Rub: Here’s her rub recipe: 1/4 cup brown sugar (I used 2tbs xylitol, 2tbs black strap molasses here); 2 tsp. each of chili powder & sweet paprika; 1 tsp. each of salt, dry mustard & oregano; 1/2 tsp. each of garlic powder & onion powder (I didn't have these, so I slice a couple cloves of garlic and scattered it on top before the ribs cooked); 1/4 tsp. pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 300° F.
  2. Remove excess fat from ribs. Peel the silver skin off the back of the ribs - lift with a sharp knife and grab with a paper towel to remove (I don't even know what this means, so I didn't do it!)
  3. Cut ribs apart into individual pieces.
  4. Rub ribs all over with lemon juice.
  5. Coat ribs with dry rub. Place meat side down in large baking pan, & cover tightly with foil, shiny side out.
  6. Bake in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.
  7. Remove from oven & pour off liquid (didn't pour off liquid, but just b/c I forgot and there wasn't much liquid in the pan, anyway)
  8. Brush bbq sauce over all sides of ribs.
  9. Grill: To finish ribs on the grill, remove from the pan and place ribs on the grill (I use a basket over direct but low heat) basting and turning a few times for about 10 minutes.
  10. Oven: To finish ribs in the oven, set oven to broil and return ribs to the same oven rack, basting and broiling about 5 minutes per side, watching so they don’t burn. They will be so tender, it’s best to turn them using gloved hands. (I used the oven and they turned out great!)
    Ribs and Chinese Cabbage.
 So, another non-disastrous recipe! That's two in a row. Maybe I'm getting better at this whole cooking thing (or at least choosing recipes).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

YA Wednesday: Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and what's more American than SUPER HEROES! So, without further ado, I bring you the first book I've ever heard of featuring a Superhero squirrel. Happy Independence Day, Americans! Happy Wednesday, everyone else!

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though Middle Grade is a little, well, young for me, I'd still like to read all the Newbery Award Winners. I have maybe 20 left to go, and in the past few years, I've slacked a bit. So I grabbed this one from the library, figuring I could listen to it with my son in the car. I wasn't expecting much, even though I've read and enjoyed many of DiCamillo's novels.

Like a lot of books I read, I didn't read the back before starting the book. So I was a bit startled when I realized the book was about a superhero squirrel. That's right. A squirrel who is also a (suspected) superhero. At least our other title character, Flora, would like to believe when the magically blessed Ulysses enters her life. Ulysses isn't your average superhero. His feats of strength include lifting a vacuum cleaner over his head for no apparent reason. His arch nemesis is a romance writer. He vanquishes nothing more than a large cat. And he is more concerned with giant (and gianter) doughnuts than saving the world. But he may just be able to save Flora.

With wit and humor, DiCamillo proves that superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, and that even when broken, we can still shine (much like a headless shepherdess lamp).