Saturday, October 31, 2015

Playlist: October 2015

I guess I should start this post by saying Happy Halloween. I'm not doing anything exciting to celebrate, but I'm totally fine with that. Instead of dressing up and going out, I'm working on getting some posts written and scheduled for the upcoming couple of weeks, doing a few things that need to be done around the house, reading, and figuring out last minute details for the upcoming trip to New Mexico. That's more than enough stuff to keep me busy this weekend!

And, since it's the end of the month, it's time for yet another one of my playlists.

This month I'm focusing on a few of my favorite "haunting" songs. (It is Halloween, after all.) These songs aren't scary (not at all!), but they all have a way of crawling deep under my skin and sticking with me long after the song has ended.

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I know that haunting music isn't everyone's favorite thing, but I love it. I love when a song affects me in some way, and the songs on this playlist definitely do that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fall Film Challenge Update: What I've Watched So Far - Volume 2

When I listed my goals for October, I said I wanted to watch at least 5 movies for the fall film challenge this month. I still have a few more days left, but I don't know if I'll be able to watch 2 more movies before the start of November.

I knew going in that I'd probably have a hard time completing this challenge, but I'm kind of surprised I'm this far behind. On the plus side, at least it's been fun watching and discussing these movies with Eric!

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1.  127 Hours - Watched 09/29/2015

My Thoughts: This kind of reminded me of the movie Buried with Ryan Reynolds since it's focused on one actor for the majority of the movie. I actually prefered Buried, but I did think this was pretty good. I think I'd only seen James Franco in one or two other movies (never a serious role), and I was impressed with his performance.

Eric's Thoughts: It's really entertaining for basically just being one guy the whole time. I thought his reactions seemed realistic, like how he went crazy and stuff.

Kristen's Rating: 3/5 stars - Liked it.

Eric's Rating: 4/5 stars - Really liked it.

2.  It Follows - Watched 10/02/2015

My Thoughts: I initially didn't even want to watch this movie because the premise sounded kind of stupid. Although it seems like a lot of reviews claim it's the best horror movie in years, it's not ... But it isn't awful either. The acting (particularly Maika Monroe's performance) was surprisingly good, and the film does a great job building up a slow sense of dread throughout. But they never explained where this sexually transmitted supernatural force originated or why it exists. There were also a few inconsistencies that really annoyed me. It was a decent horror movie, but definitely not the best I've ever seen.

Eric's Thoughts: It was pretty scary, and I kept wondering if a condom would provide protection against the apparent "STD." They're lucky it didn't follow them faster.

Kristen's Rating: 3/5 stars - Liked it.

Eric's Rating: 2/5 stars - Didn't like it. (He said it was really more like a 2.5 because his feelings were mostly neutral on this movie, but I forced him to stick with the Netflix ratings and wouldn't let him tack on the extra 0.5.)

3.  The Hunt - Watched 10/10/2015

My Thoughts: I loved this movie. It was one of those films where you just want to shake the characters and scream in their faces saying, "Are you even watching what's going on? Are you even listening?" Eric touches on this in his review as well, but I liked that everything wasn't straightforward. It's easy to believe that Lucas (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is innocent based on the information given, but there are a few times where things get a little blurred and that tiny seed of doubt is planted. It's an intense movie that's most definitely not for everyone, but I thought it was amazing.

Eric's Thoughts: It was well done, and I thought it was interesting how they created a sense of doubt with regard to his innocence. While it wasn't based on a true story, it was realistic and shocking how quickly a situation like that could escalate.

Kristen's Rating: 5/5 stars - Loved it.

Eric's Rating: 3/5 stars - Liked it.

4.  Bridesmaids - Watched 10/21/2015

My Thoughts: I feel like everyone thinks this is one of the funniest movies ever, and, while it definitely had its funny moments, I was kind of surprised that so many people think it's so hilarious. (Though, to be fair, I tend to like dark comedies a lot more than silly comedies like Bridesmaids.) I did like that Annie (Kristen Wiig's character) seemed pretty realistic despite how over-the-top so much of the movie was. I think a lot of the things she was experiencing were things a lot of women have experienced at one point or another. I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but I don't know if I'd watch it again.

Eric's Thoughts: I didn't think it was as funny as people said it was. It seemed kind of slow, and I definitely wouldn't have watched it if I wasn't part of this challenge. [My comment: So cute that he said he was part of this challenge!] Even though I didn't really like it, it was still kind of a fun, goofy movie.

Kristen's Rating: 3/5 stars - Liked it.

Eric's Rating: 2/5 stars - Didn't like it.

I think our reviews were a little more in-depth this time around, but I still think I'm much better at reviewing books. I'm clearly also much better at reading challenges than I am at movie challenges.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Tortellini Soup

I don't make a lot of homemade soups. I don't really know why I don't. I mean, I like soup. But, to be honest, I usually only want soup when I don't feel like putting a lot of effort into making something for lunch or dinner. And at that point, it's just easier to heat up a premade soup.

Making your own soup doesn't have to be time consuming or difficult, though. And the tortellini soup I'm sharing today is a perfect example.

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I don't know why I waited until now to share this recipe because I've been making this soup for years. It's such a great meal! It's healthy, filling, delicious, and it requires minimal effort. It also comes together quickly, which is always a plus. Sometimes you just don't have the time (or don't want to take the time) to spend an hour or more trying to put something together in the kitchen!

If you're curious, the recipe as written makes about 4 servings. The last time I made it, I used these measurements. However, this soup does reheat really well, so if you're hoping to have a lot of leftovers, I'd suggest doubling it. I'll probably double it the next time I make it. Eric and I like to take leftovers for work lunches sometimes, and we were both kind of bummed that we only got one lunch each out of this.

Tortellini Soup

A recipe from Annie's Eats.

Ingredient List:
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (You can also use chicken broth, but then it will obviously no longer be a vegetarian meal.)
  • 9 oz. cheese tortellini (I prefer to use the refrigerated kind, but you can also use frozen.)
  • 1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juices
  • 3-4 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)


1.  Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pot (or Dutch oven) over medium high heat.

2.  Add the onion and cook until it just begins to soften (about 5 minutes).

3.  Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until fragrant.

4.  Pour in the diced tomatoes with their juices, and season with the oregano.

5.  Pour in the vegetable broth, and bring the mixture to a boil.

6.  Add the tortellini and cook according to package instructions.

7.  About a minute before the tortellini is fully cooked, stir in the spinach leaves.

8.  Once the tortellini is fully cooked and the spinach is beginning to wilt, remove the pot from the heat.

9.  Season the soup with the sea salt and black pepper, and, if desired, serve topped with shredded Parmesan cheese.

If you're in the mood for a delicious, healthy soup, you should definitely give this a try. As you can probably tell from the instructions, I wasn't kidding when I said it's incredibly simple and quick. (I'd even say it barely requires more effort than heating up a premade soup.) And, as an added bonus, the tortellini cooks in the broth, so you don't even need another pot!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Crockpot Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Pasta

If you came here today hoping for a healthy recipe, you're going to be disappointed. If, however, you were hoping for something simple, spicy, and delicious, you've come to the right place.

I love buffalo chicken, and have for many years. The obsession began when I was in college. I lived on campus all 4 years, and our dining hall had (surprisingly) good food ... Most of the time, anyway. The most popular station in the dining hall was the one that allowed you to get a "made to order" meal. On Saturday mornings, that meant omelets. Sometimes during the week it meant pasta skillets with whatever toppings you wanted. And, on the very best days, it meant buffalo chicken wraps.

I'm not even joking when I say that the line for the buffalo chicken wraps was always insane. It would snake through the entire dining hall, and if you really wanted one, you knew you had to give yourself at least 25-30 extra minutes for lunch in order to wait in line. But they were always completely worth the wait.

Even though I graduated college in 2006 (which makes me feel really old sometimes, by the way), my love for buffalo chicken is still just as strong. So when I found a recipe for buffalo chicken pasta (which is, as most of you know, one of my other favorite foods), I knew I had to make it immediately.

And the best part (besides the fact that it was amazingly creamy and delicious, of course)? You can make it in the crockpot!

Crockpot Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Pasta

I'd suggest not throwing this in in the morning on a work day (unless you're only working for half the day or happen to work from home), though. It only required 5.5 hours of total cook time for the chicken and sauce, and you do need to be nearby to add the noodles (and stir regularly to make sure they don't stick!) during the last 30 minutes. 

Although it does require slightly more effort than the average "set it and forget it" crockpot recipe, I promise that it's completely worth it (especially if, like me, you love buffalo chicken and pasta)! This is a rich, creamy, cheesy dish ideal for a chilly fall or winter evening. And while it's not something I'd recommend making all the time (because calories), it's the perfect meal if you want to indulge a bit.

Crockpot Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Pasta

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Crockpot Gourmet.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 box linguine noodles (I used whole wheat pasta.)
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 1/3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup hot sauce, divided (I used Frank's Red Hot.)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp + 1/4 cup water (You may not need the additional 1/4 cup, but I felt like I needed to add the additional liquid to properly cook the pasta. You will, however, definitely need the tablespoon of water!)
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 packet dry ranch dressing mix
  • Diced green onions for serving (optional)


1.  Spray the inside of the crockpot with cooking spray.

2.  Add the chicken, chicken broth, packet of dry ranch dressing mix, black pepper, garlic salt, and 1/4 cup of the hot sauce to the crockpot.

3.  Top with both the cream cheese and shredded cheddar cheese.

4.  Cook on low for 5 hours.

5.  After the 5 hours of cook time is up, remove the chicken to a plate and shred with two forks.

6.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 1 tbsp water.  Pour the mixture into the crockpot, and whisk everything together until the sauce is completely smooth and combined.

7.  Break the noodles in half, and add them to the crockpot. Stir to cover them with the sauce.

8.  Add the chicken back to the crockpot, and pour in the remaining 1/4 cup hot sauce. Stir several times to combine.

9.  Cook the noodles with the chicken and sauce for about 30 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent any sticking. Add the additional 1/4 cup water if you feel the noodles need more liquid in order to cook properly. (I thought the noodles turned out perfectly with this additional liquid, but you may not need it.)

10.  Serve with diced green onions, if desired.

As I said earlier, this isn't the typical "set it and forget it" crockpot recipe, but it's still very simple. (And you don't have to do anything for the first 5 hours once you've added the initial ingredients!) It's also totally worth the extra calories. It's probably my favorite thing I've made recently, and we will definitely be having this as often as we can (i.e. as often as we can without gaining tons of weight)!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge

After the Literary Ladies Summer Book Challenge came to an end, I was ready for another. That was my first time participating in a reading challenge, and I loved it! It forced me out of my reading comfort zone a bit (and made me realize that sometimes YA lit can be really enjoyable!), and also introduced me to a bunch of other great bloggers who are also passionate about books. Plus, I love making lists and challenging myself to read a little more ... So challenges like these are perfect for me.

Needless to say, I was beyond excited when I saw another reading challenge mentioned on Erin's blog. I immediately headed over to Megan's blog to read through the complete list of rules, and began thinking about what books I might be able to fit into each of these categories.

And, let me tell you ... Some of these categories are hard. It didn't help that I wanted to pull from my "To Read" list as much as possible (because it's far too long not to), and I had to make sure that I would have easy access to each book I picked (i.e. I either own it already or I won't be on the waiting list at the library for months). As I've said before, I'm weirdly anal when it comes to these challenges, so I really want to stick with my original list. I know I should allow myself more flexibility, but some stubborn part of me just won't go for that.

Anyway, today I'm sharing my preliminary list and linking up. If you're interested in getting involved, the full set of rules for the challenge can be found here.

1.  A Book That Is 100-200 Pages Long - 5 pts

This was a pretty easy category for me since I knew one of the YA books on my "To Read" list is pretty short. I remembered this only because I originally wanted to use it for my YA pick in the Literary Ladies challenge, but every book in that challenge had to be at least 200 pages long. At only 170 pages, this book was much too short. I'm glad this challenge will push me to finally pick it up!

My pick: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

2.  A Debut Book By Any Author (Does Not Have To Be A 2015 Debut) - 10 pts

This year I've managed to read a ton of debut novels (it feels that way, anyway), but thankfully I still had a few more on my "To Read" list. I may regret my choice for this one since it's a pretty lengthy book (500+ pages), but I've wanted to read it for a really long time. I own The Little Friend and have read it twice, so I'm looking forward to seeing what Donna Tartt's debut novel is like. (Also, if you haven't read The Little Friend, I highly recommend it ... It's beautifully written and so haunting. I still think about it regularly, and the last time I read it was at least 4 or 5 years ago.)

My pick: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

3.  A Book That Does Not Take Place In My Current Country Of Residence - 10 pts

This was an easy pick for me. I checked this book out from the library a while ago, but I still haven't gotten around to picking it up. I'm trying to finish up the stack of books I have out anyway, so I was glad I could use at least one of them in this challenge (even though I used an Australian book for a similar category in the Literary Ladies challenge).

My pick: Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

4.  A Book That Someone Else Has Already Used For The Challenge - 10 pts

This one was a little more difficult since a lot of people haven't linked up yet (not to mention the fact that a lot of people will likely swap out some of their original picks). I looked through every list that was already posted, and finally decided to go with one of Erin's picks. It's already on my "To Read" list, and there's no waiting list for it at the library ... So it's pretty much the perfect choice.

My pick: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

5.  A Book Published Under A Pseudonym - 15 pts

I immediately thought of Stephen King's pen name, Richard Bachman, when I saw this category. I've actually only read one Stephen King novel, which is pretty shocking since I'm a huge fan of thrillers and horror. (If you're curious, I read The Shining ... And that was back in the 8th grade.) I loved The Shining, but I guess there were just always other books I wanted to read more. I'm sure I'll read more of King's stuff in the future, but I figured I may as well start with one of his books originally published under the Bachman name for this challenge.

My pick: The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

6.  A Book With "Boy," "Girl," "Man," Or "Woman" In The Title (Or The Plural Of These Words) - 15 pts

I've already read 5 books with the word "girl" or "girls" in the title this year. I also have two others on this list already and at least two more sitting at home that I've checked out from the library (in addition to Girl Defective). I was originally just going to go with one of the books already sitting at home, but I figured it was time to switch things up since titles featuring "girl"/"girls" seem to be dominating my reading list this year.

My pick: The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner

7.  A Book With A One Word Title - 15 pts

I had quite a few books on my "To Read" list that would work for this category, so it was tough to choose just one. In the end, I picked a book that sounded light and fun. As many of you already know, I love my dark, fucked up novels, but I figured I should add a few lighter reads to my list for this challenge. Sometimes it's nice to switch things up!

My pick: Spin by Catherine McKenzie

8.  A Book With A Person's First And Last Name In The Title - 20 pts

I opted to go with yet another chick-lit book for this category, mostly because it was the first book that popped into my head (probably because I'd recently read Jana's review and thought it sounded like an enjoyable read). It's also currently available at the library (no wait required!), so I took that as a sign that it was the right pick for this category.

My pick: Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin

9.  A Food-Themed Book - 20 pts

This was one of the most difficult categories for me. None of the books on my "To Read" list really seemed to fit, so I spent quite a bit of time poking around on Goodreads for something that looked moderately interesting. I already read The Dinner by Herman Koch earlier this year, so that was out ... And most of the other books that popped up didn't really sound that great. Although the book I wound up choosing has a lot of mixed reviews on Goodreads, it was the most promising of the bunch (plus it's currently available at the library!). If nothing else, it has a very unique and interesting premise!

My pick: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

10.  A Book With A Verb In The Title - 20 pts

I still have quite a few books that I've purchased over the last year or two that I haven't read, so I wanted to try to use at least one of those in this challenge. I'm not allowing myself to buy any additional books until I read all of these, but I keep getting distracted by all the books the library has to offer! Still, there are quite a few books I want to read that the library doesn't have, so I'll have to buy them if I ever hope to cross them off my "To Read" list. I also watched this movie about a while ago (and loved it!), so I'm interested to see how the book compares.

My pick: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

11.  Two Books With The Same Title By Different Authors - 30 pts

I thought it would be much easier than it actually was to find two books to fulfill the requirements of this category. I noticed in the comments that the rules were going to be pretty strict on this one (i.e. the titles had to be exactly the same), so that made it a little more difficult. I spent quite a bit of time searching through both Goodreads and my library's website to find something, and I was really happy when I finally found two books I could use that would also allow me to cross something off my ridiculously long "To Read" list. (The Joe Hill book is from my list.) The April Henry book doesn't really sound like something I ever would have picked up otherwise (and hopefully I don't need to read the other books in the series in order to get into this one), but the titles matched ... So I'll take it.

My picks: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill & Heart-Shaped Box by April Henry

12.  Two Books About The Same Subject (One Nonfiction, One Fiction) - 30 pts

I had a historical fiction book on my "To Read" list that I thought would be perfect for this category. Unfortunately, there were no nonfiction books at my library on the exact same subject. So I decided to kind of stretch it a bit (especially since the rules for this category aren't as strict), and pick a nonfiction book that focuses on a different killer during the same time period. Both books are set in Victorian London during the time of the infamous Jack the Ripper, though the novel focuses on the (also very real but less famous) Thames Torso Killer while the nonfiction book is all about Jack the Ripper. True crime is pretty much the only nonfiction I truly enjoy (with a few exceptions, of course), so I was glad I could use a true crime book for the nonfiction portion of this category!

My picks: Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough (fiction) & Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History by Paul Begg (nonfiction)

The challenge doesn't officially begin until November 1, so there's still plenty of time to compile a list if you think this looks like your kind of thing! I'm already excited to get started!

For now, though, I need to tear through a bunch of my library books (that aren't on this list, of course!). I've been trying to avoid checking any extra books out (unless they're books I've been waiting for for a while) until I get through the majority of the stack I have at home right now. I've been doing a great job sticking with that so far, but once this challenge starts I know I'll be making more trips to the library!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Life Right Now/Random Thoughts and Things

I rarely write "currently" or "life lately" posts because, to be honest, my life isn't always that exciting. Not that I'm complaining. Sometimes I like to reread my old journals (including my LiveJournal), and I have to say that I do not miss living a crazy life worthy of a teen soap opera!

I'm happy with the way things are in my life right now, but I don't always go out and do a lot of things that I'd consider "blogworthy." I mean, if I'm being totally honest here, most of my weekends are pretty low key. And by low key, I mean that at least 80% of my weekends are spent living like a hermit, escaping to the world of books. Nothing wrong with that, right? 

Anyway, today I've decided that I actually have enough random things I want to share to write a post. Some are more exciting than others, but they'll give you a good snapshot of my life right now.

Right Now in Entertainment:

- I'm slowly making my way through my gigantic stack of library books. I returned a couple today, but, of course, I had one waiting on my hold shelf. At least I returned more than I checked out (which is rare for me!).

- I'm currently reading Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin, and I'm having trouble getting into it. I think part of the problem is that I've been reading it in very short spurts, but I don't know. I feel like it's taking me forever to read it. I started it on Tuesday, and I'm not even 100 pages in! I hope it wows me soon because I was on the waiting list at the library for at least 3 months for this, and I was so excited when I finally brought it home!

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- Speaking of books, I still need to finish reading and commenting on the blogs that participated in Steph and Jana's Show Us Your Books! link-up. I've gotten so many great recommendations so far, and my "To Read" list just keeps growing!

- I've been on a huge Dallas Green kick thanks to the release of the new City and Colour album last Friday. I knew he'd be exploring some new sounds on this album (his willingness to play around with different musical styles is just one of the reasons I love him), and I definitely wasn't disappointed! 

- In addition to If I Should Go Before You, I've been listening to the entire Alexisonfire catalog on shuffle every afternoon on my drive home from work. The weather has been beautiful lately, so I've been enjoying it by opening my sunroof and singing at the top of my lungs. Definitely one of my favorite things to do.

- And just one more Dallas Green related thing (sorrynotsorry). When I was trying to figure out what live Alexisonfire video I wanted to include in my post last week, I found some videos of them performing back around 2004-2006, and I could not get over how young they look! I know it's been like 10 years and I've seen plenty of pictures of them from that era, but man ... They're just so adorable with their headbanging. Also weird/funny: Dallas with no facial hair and significantly fewer tattoos and George actually wearing a shirt. Haha.

(P.S. The quality of this video isn't as shitty as the still frame would have you believe. Also, this is a shortened version of the song, but you can at least get the idea.)

Okay, I promise to stop going on and on about how much I love Dallas Green ... For now, anyway.

Right Now in Random Shit I Like:

- I've been having some issues with breakouts lately. It's nothing serious (thankfully I've never had any major issues with my skin!), but it's annoying. I started using Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser a couple of weeks ago, and my skin looks so much better already! It's also not drying out, which is a problem I often have when I'm trying to fight breakouts. (By the way, this isn't sponsored or anything, I just really like this product and wanted to share it!)

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- I always take a late morning break at work in an effort to recharge. I'm usually starving by this point, and my new favorite thing to snack on is a Clif Bar. If you haven't tried them, you should ... They're so fucking good! They have a ton of varieties, which is really nice if you're like me and find yourself eating one every day during the workweek. (Again, this isn't sponsored ... I just really love these. If you don't believe me, see the picture below.)

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Right Now in Things I'm Looking Forward To:

- I'm getting really excited for Christmas this year. I've been pretty depressed around Christmas for the past few years, so this is a nice change. I think I'm mostly excited because Eric and I will be flying to my hometown to spend Christmas with my family. This is something I haven't done since 2008 (and my grandmother passed away the following month). I'm hoping I can shake off the sadness this year and just enjoy the time with my family. 

- Eric and I finally picked a destination for our anniversary trip next month! We were having a hard time agreeing on where to go, and it suddenly just clicked for us in the most random way.

At first we considered going back to Europe (we considered Greece and Spain), but we really didn't want to spend that much money. It just wasn't practical for us to blow thousands of dollars on a vacation this year, so we started researching places closer to home.

New Orleans was pretty high on both our lists, but we knew we'd probably end up spending a lot on food and alcohol if we went there ... So not exactly a "cheap" trip.

We then started considering places within driving distance, and Colorado seemed like a good option. The only problem is that Eric has already been there several times, and we really wanted to go somewhere that was new to both of us.

So then I just started researching bed & breakfasts in random states we'd never been to that were 15 hours away or less. I found The Chocolate Turtle in Corrales, New Mexico and asked Eric what he thought. He thought it seemed like it was exactly what we were looking for, and we booked a room shortly after.

New Mexico is completely random and pretty far away for a road trip (about 13.5 hours, according to Google Maps!), but I think we're going to have a lot of fun. And, really, we were sold after looking at pictures like this:

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I can't wait!

If anyone has been to New Mexico (specifically the Albuquerque area), please feel free to give me some recommendations on places to eat, things to see, etc. We're only staying 5 nights, and we have a few things in mind already, but I'm always open to suggestions!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - October 2015 Edition

This month's Show Us Your Books! post might be a personal best for me. Somehow I managed to read 9 books since the last link-up! I'm not even sure how that's possible since I felt like it took me forever to read a few of these, but I'm really proud of myself. I'm now just a mere 4 books away from hitting my goal of 50 for the year!

Life According to Steph

I won't waste a lot of time with the introduction because we all know you're just here to see what I thought of the books I read most recently. As always, I've written a detailed review as well as a "TL;DR" summary at the end for those who prefer something a little less involved. (And linking up with Steph and Jana on the one year anniversary of this awesome link-up, of course!)

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The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman - 338 pages

Completed on 09/09/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

This was a really difficult book for me to rate. Part of me felt like some of the situations were completely unbelievable and the characters were (mostly) unlikable.

But another part of me really enjoyed this novel. It's dark and disturbing (so obviously my kind of thing), and it really got under my skin (in the best way possible).

The Kingdom of Childhood is essentially all about infidelity. More specifically, it focuses on a relationship that blossoms between Judy McFarland, a married kindergarten teacher in her early 40s, and a 16-year-old boy from the Upper School (who happens to be friends with her son.)

At first I thought the relationship between Judy and Zach was the result of a woman's desire to be desired. Her husband is preoccupied with earning his Ph.D., and isn't exactly the sweetest guy when he does give her attention.

After finishing the novel, though, I'm not so sure. I think both of them have a similar need for escape, but they're both so fucked up and manipulative with one another that it becomes less of a relationship and more of an obsession. They're literally addicted to one another, and, no matter the consequences, grow increasingly bolder with their actions.

Rebecca Coleman managed to blur the lines with this novel: it's not as simple as "she's obviously a predator taking advantage of a young boy." While that's certainly part of it, Zach also uses any leverage he has to get what he wants.

I think this is why I like books like this so much. I think any author who can make me see things from different angles or write in a way that doesn't clearly define "good" and "bad" or "right" and "wrong" is amazing. The Kingdom of Childhood is a challenging read in all the right ways, and it lingers long after the last page.

My only criticism is that I wish Coleman had either stuck with third person narrative or first person (possibly shifting between Judy's and Zach's point of view). Instead, she used first person (from Judy's point of view) sometimes and third person (when focusing on Zach) sometimes. It was not only a little confusing, but also inconsistent (which may be why it was confusing).

Parts of the book were also a little slow, but once I got sucked in, I had a hard time putting it down. It took me almost a week to read it, but that was because I was really busy. If I'd had the time, I probably would have finished it in a couple of days.

Overall, I thought The Kingdom of Childhood was great. (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, if you're curious.) It was thought provoking, and the type of novel I'd want to read and discuss in a book club.

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Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes - 436 pages

Completed 09/13/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I almost gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, but I had to settle for 4. It was really good (on the verge of being amazing), but it took me a while to get into it and a couple of things kind of bugged me about the ending. (I'm anti-spoiler, though, so that's all I'll say about that.)

I think the reason it took me a while to really get into this book was because there were so many main characters. There's Detective Gabriella Versado, lead investigator on the newest set of horrific murders plaguing Detroit, and her daughter, Layla, a young teen who puts herself in increasingly dangerous situations. There's Thomas Keen (or TK, as he prefers to be called), a homeless man who will do anything to keep the people he loves safe. There's Jonno, a freelance journalist obsessed with learning (and sharing) all he can about The Detroit Monster. And, finally, there's Clayton Broom, an aging artist intent on bringing his vision to life ... No matter the cost.

Because there are so many major players in the story, significant portions of the novel are dedicated to getting to know each of these characters and their backstories. For the most part, Lauren Beukes only shares the details that are most important. Unfortunately, it makes for a somewhat slow start.

I will say this, though: on Saturday morning, I was on page 142. By late Sunday afternoon, I'd finished the book. I don't consider myself a fast reader, so it says a lot when I can read almost 300 pages in just a couple of days. (And, trust me, this wasn't a "quick read" kind of book!)

Broken Monsters is interesting because it doesn't neatly fall into any one category. It's a crime thriller (though you do find out who the killer is early on, so it's not a true "suspense" novel), but it's also a novel about the power of the internet and social media. It also touches on things like mother/daughter relationships, friendships, and moving on from the past. And, just to keep things interesting, Beukes also threw in some supernatural shit. (And this is partly why I couldn't bring myself to give this novel 5 stars.)

Overall, I thought Broken Monsters was an entertaining read. Despite a fairly slow start (minus the first chapter, in which Gabriella sees the first very unusual body left by the killer who later becomes known as The Detroit Monster), it eventually picked up and I found myself completely hooked. And, while I wasn't frantically trying to move ahead to figure out who was responsible for the murders, I needed to know what was going to happen next.

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Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam - 335 pages

Completed on 09/16/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I liked Last Train to Babylon, but I wanted to love it.

Aubrey has just gotten the news that her best friend (make that ex-best friend), Rachel, has committed suicide, and she doesn't know how to feel. Mostly, though, she just feels bitter.

Although she doesn't plan to attend the funeral, Aubrey goes back to her hometown. But her return to Seaport stirs up the memories she's tried to repress for years: times spent with Rachel (both good and bad), her relationship with Adam, her high school boyfriend, and all the shit that led to the unraveling of her relationships with the two people who were once most important to her.

The thing about a novel like this is that it can stir up some intense emotions. I didn't cry while I was reading it, but I came close a couple of times. And those were the times when I felt like I was reading an entry in my old journal.

My experiences (thankfully!) weren't identical to Aubrey's, but I could definitely relate to so much of this novel. For the most part, Charlee Fam did a great job creating believable characters with believable experiences. There were times, though, when I thought, "I don't think anyone would really do this." I know I can't compare everything to my own life, but when I identify so strongly with something, I can't help it. And even in my worst, most self-destructive moments, I don't think I would have even considered doing some of the things Aubrey did.

It was a good book (especially considering it was a debut novel!), and I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. I enjoyed the story, and I liked the fact that it was centered around the loss of a childhood friendship (something I think most of us can relate to by the time we've finished college). I just didn't fall in love with it.

As I tried to figure out what kept me from loving it the way I thought I would, it suddenly clicked. This book sounded like it was written for me. And I realized that it kind of was ... It was just written for the girl I was about 10 or 11 years ago.

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell - 435 pages

Completed on 09/21/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I finally decided to check out one of Rainbow Rowell's novels, and I have to say that I wasn't impressed.

To be fair, I chose to start with one of her less popular books. I did this on purpose because I knew if I read something and absolutely loved it, I'd want to check out all of her other books. And if I started with something amazing and then read something that was just "okay," I knew I'd be disappointed.

After reading Fangirl, I have to believe that there's nowhere to go but up. I hope so, anyway. I mean, books like Eleanor & Park and Attachments don't get rave reviews for no reason ... Right?

I was looking for something light and fluffy to mix things up, and Fangirl certainly fit the bill. While I love dark and disturbing books, I'd been reading a lot of pretty heavy things lately, and I kind of just wanted to read something that was purely entertaining. Unfortunately, Fangirl really wasn't that entertaining.

Rainbow Rowell had some really good ideas, but I felt like the execution was kind of sloppy. And some of the writing. Oh God!

I feel like an asshole ripping apart someone else's work, but when you write things like "[Character's name removed to avoid spoilers]'s smile broke free and devoured his whole face. It started to devour her face, too." and "[Character's name removed to avoid spoilers] licked her mouth like he was trying to get the last bit of jam off the back of her throat" ... Well ... No. Just no. That's fucking terrible, and I have no idea if the jam thing is supposed to be awkwardly funny or sexy. (I really hope that's not her idea of sexy!)

So now that I've rambled on about how awful most of this book was, I suppose I should at least tell you what it's about.

Cath and her twin sister, Wren, (yes, those are their actual names) go away to college. Although they go to the same school, Wren has decided she wants to be more independent and experience things (like drinking and parties) without her twin. Cath simply wants to spend time alone in her dorm room, updating her very popular Simon Snow fanfic.

The very introverted Cath is suddenly thrown out of her comfort zone and finds herself trying to navigate her freshman year on her own, dealing with a roommate who may or may not hate her, her roommate's charming boyfriend (who always seems to be around), a creative writing professor who seems to expect a lot from her, and a cute guy from her class who either likes her or just wants her help writing stories. On top of all this, she's constantly worrying about her dad. He has some mental health issues and has never really been completely alone (her mom left the family when she and her sister were only 8 years old).

I actually gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads because it had a few redeeming qualities. Along with the terribly written passages, there were some really nice passages (mostly referencing what it feels like to write and create something out of nothing). Rowell also did a nice job reminding me what it felt like to be a freshman in college. (For the record, it was pretty scary at first. While many of my friends went to a local university, I went to a school 6 hours away ... And I knew no one.)

I also liked the fact that Rainbow Rowell is from Omaha. I've lived in Omaha for 6 years now (crazy!), and it was fun to pick out all the real life references in the book (Valentino's, Jacobo's, Guaca Maya, etc.). However, I did find it a little strange that she describes Lincoln in a way that makes it sound like it's really far from Omaha (it's only 45 minutes to an hour) and like it's in the middle of nowhere. I mean, Lincoln is a really small city, but it's not what I would consider "middle of nowhere Nebraska." You'd need to go a little further west in order to get to that part of the state.

Because she's from my area and because she's so popular, I want to give Rainbow Rowell another chance. If the next book I choose is as bad as this one, though, that's it. I don't want to waste that much of my time!

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Disclaimer by Renee Knight - 336 pages

Completed on 09/25/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

When I started reading Disclaimer, I thought it was okay. I wasn't immediately sucked in, but I was curious to see if it would get more interesting.

I know that a lot of people will give up on a book if it doesn't immediately grab their interest (or at least grab their interest within the first 100 pages or so). I'm not one of those people. In most cases, it kind of sucks that I need to find out what happens in the end. I'm rarely satisfied, and I usually get annoyed that I forced myself to read something that wasn't that entertaining just because I "needed" to finish it.

When I came to the end of Disclaimer, I was reminded why I stick it out with books that aren't amazing from the start. Nine times out of ten, a boring and/or shitty book will end the same way it began: boring and/or shitty. But there are those rare books that kind of sneak up on you and deliver the kind of ending you were hoping for ... The kind of ending that made reading that novel worthwhile. Disclaimer was one of those books.

I originally picked this book up because the plot sounded really intriguing. Catherine Ravenscroft finds a mysterious novel, The Perfect Stranger, on her bedside table with no idea how it got there. She decides to read it, enjoying it at first ... Until she realizes the book is about her.

The Perfect Stranger describes a very specific event that happened 20 years ago. It's something she's tried desperately to forget and has, until now, kept secret. The only other person who knows exactly what happened is dead.

But Catherine isn't the only person who has received this book. Her 25 year old son, Nicholas, also has a copy. As time goes by, she begins to realize that maybe someone else knows the truth ... Someone who is very much alive.

This is definitely one of those books that requires you to suspend your disbelief. If you can't do that, you probably won't enjoy it at all. But, while it's not the most realistic story, it was fine for a relatively quick and easy read.

I will say that I found some of the writing to be a little awkward and clunky, but it was Renee Knight's debut novel ... So that's probably to be expected. I also wished the characters had been a little more developed. I assume Knight was deliberately trying to keep Catherine at a distance because she wanted to keep her readers wondering whether they should like and trust her, but, unfortunately, it made me care a lot less about what happened to her. (And, really, I felt the same about all of the other characters as well.)

And while I didn't think the twist was mind blowing or overly original, I thought she did a nice job tying it in with the rest of the story. I liked the fact that she basically flipped the reader's original perception of the events Catherine tried to keep hidden. It made for a much more interesting book, especially since I was pretty disappointed when parts of that time in her life were revealed near the middle of the book. (At that point, it was like, "Whomp whomp. Your so-called 'dark secret' is pretty lame.")

Although Disclaimer wouldn't fall under the "must read" category, I thought it was decent. It didn't live up to the hype for me, but it had a really interesting premise and the ending didn't disappoint. I wound up giving it 3 stars on Goodreads.

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Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon - 306 pages

Completed on 09/28/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I think I may have started this book with ridiculously high expectations. I thought it could potentially be another book like The Sea of Tranquility ... A book that would literally make me feel almost every emotion, and end with me ugly crying for a long time after the final page.

It didn't.

I liked Everything, Everything, but I didn't love it. I thought the overall "Life is a gift, so don't waste it" message was great (and a great reminder!). I also liked that Nicola Yoon included illustrations in the book. It made for a quick read (I probably could've finished this in a single day if I hadn't been so busy with other things), and I thought it was a pretty unique idea. Additionally, I really liked the main characters.

Before I go any further with my thoughts, though, I'll summarize what this book is about.

Madeline is a teenager with bigger problems than finding a date to prom or stressing out about a midterm. She has SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency), a rare disease that forces her to stay indoors at all times and have limited contact with others. She's accepted her life as it is, finding enjoyment in books, game and movie nights with her mom, and chats with her nurse, Carla. She's mostly content ... Until a new family moves in next door and changes everything.

She begins chatting with the boy next door, Olly, online. He's smart and attractive and different, and Madeline suddenly doesn't feel like her mostly solitary life is enough anymore. She knows it will likely end in disaster, but she can't help it ... She's falling in love.

Nicola Yoon does a great job describing the thoughts and feelings of a person falling in love. But, although it was a cute love story, I felt it lacked some substance. Maybe I'm a bitter, jaded old lady, but I found several parts of the novel completely unbelievable. I won't share them here (because spoilers), but I felt like Yoon kind of cheapened the story by throwing in some things simply to move the plot forward. If she'd chosen to add more realistic elements to the story, I think I would have enjoyed it a little more and been a little more invested in the outcome.

I'll admit that I did tear up a bit at the end, but I didn't get overly emotional because, as I said, I felt a little less invested in the story once things started to seem a little too over-the-top. I understand why the author chose to do some of the things she did, but it still ruined parts of the novel for me.

That being said, I enjoyed the book and gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. If you're looking for a (mostly) fluffy, quick read, Everything, Everything would be a great choice. If, however, you want to read something with a little more substance, I'd suggest looking elsewhere.

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The One That Got Away by Simon Wood - 289 pages

Completed on 10/04/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I actually requested that my library purchase The One That Got Away after seeing it pop up as a recommendation on Goodreads multiple times. They don't purchase every book I request, but so far they've purchased 4 of them (including The Sea of Tranquility). Obviously since I requested it, I was pretty excited to start reading it.

The novel begins with a bang: Zoe Sutton wakes up naked and alone in an unfamiliar toolshed in the desert. Her hands and feet are bound, and she feels pretty out of sorts, as though she's been drugged. She also realizes that two letters have been carved into her hip: I and V. Although she doesn't have all her wits about her, she manages to find and use some tools in the shed to cut apart her ties so she can escape.

As she's leaving, she sees light coming from another building nearby and she decides to check it out to see if she can find her friend. (The two girls were driving home from Vegas together, and Zoe hasn't seen any sign of Holli since she woke up.) When she looks inside, she sees her friend hanging by her bound wrists from a hook in the ceiling. She wants to help her friend, but knows they'll both be dead if she attempts to save her from their attacker. So she does the only thing she can: she hops in her car and drives away in search of help.

Fifteen months later, Zoe hasn't shaken her survivor's guilt. She's changed everything about her life and cut herself off from everyone she loves. She's also begun taking self defense classes. But what she doesn't realize is that she's going to need that training. Her abductor hasn't forgotten about her ... To him, she's the one that got away.

Reading this book was kind of like watching an episode of Criminal Minds or something similar on TV. Simon Wood tells readers who the abductor/murderer is pretty early on, but he more slowly reveals his motivations and history. Wood also focuses on the detectives investigating a new murder that quickly becomes linked to Zoe's abduction, as well as on Zoe and her struggle to come to terms with what happened to her.

Unfortunately, the book wasn't without its flaws. For one, I wished that Wood had developed the friendship between Zoe and Holli a little more. While it's easy to imagine that someone would be wracked with guilt if they had to leave their friend in a dangerous situation in order to survive, it's difficult to care much about Holli because Wood doesn't tell his readers much about her or her relationship with Zoe.

Additionally, a lot of things seemed to just conveniently fall into place. I know it's fiction and some suspension of disbelief is required, but it's more difficult to do that when the author has written a book that's supposed to be a little more realistic. I mean, this wasn't a story where supernatural forces were at work ... This was a story about a woman who is struggling to move on after escaping a violent death and the abductor/murderer who has not forgotten about her.

I also got a little annoyed with the abductor/murderer. It kind of felt like Simon Wood had watched one too many episodes of Dexter and wanted to create a similar kind of character. Dexter Morgan is a much better character, though, and I feel like his motives actually make sense. In The One That Got Away, the abductor/murderer's motives kind of make sense after readers are given more insight into his history, but they still seem kind of silly.

Despite its problems, The One That Got Away was an okay way to pass the time. I felt like it took a surprisingly long time for me to get through it, though, despite the fact that it was under 300 pages. While some parts grabbed my attention, other parts were just kind of "meh." I couldn't decide if I wanted to give it 2 or 3 stars on Goodreads, but it was probably more like a 2.5 or 2.75, so I rounded up. It's definitely not the best book I've read recently, but it also definitely wasn't the worst.

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The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty - 394 pages

Completed on 10/10/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I'm going to begin this review by saying that I was a little disappointed in this book at first. After reading (and loving!) Big Little Lies earlier this year (my review can be found here, if you're interested), I expected to once again be sucked in immediately. I pictured at least a couple of long nights spent tearing through the novel, too engrossed to be bothered with going to bed at a reasonable hour.

But ... That didn't happen. Well, it didn't happen immediately, anyway.

After several days of managing to only get through a few chapters, I wondered if I would ever possibly make it through this book. It felt like it was taking forever, and it really wasn't holding my interest.

And then, suddenly, Liane Moriarty decided to slap me in the face with her story. It was as if she wanted to say, "See, Kristen? This book is worth reading after all! I wouldn't let you down!"

As with Big Little Lies, Moriarty has assembled a rather large cast of characters in The Husband's Secret. She first introduces us to Cecilia, a wife and mother of three beautiful daughters who manages to inspire envy with her perfection. She seems capable of doing anything and everything, and making it look completely effortless.

We next meet Tess, a wife and mother of a young boy. Moriarty begins her introduction of this character with a bang: her husband, Will, and her cousin, Felicity, have just told her they've fallen in love.

Finally, we become acquainted with Rachel, an elderly widow living a life consumed by a tragic event that took her daughter's life nearly 30 years ago. Although she has a son, Rob, (who is married with a young son of his own), she doesn't seem able to give him the love and attention he deserves.

All of these women barely know one another and lead seemingly very different lives. However, after Cecilia discovers a letter her husband had written to her that is meant to be opened only after his death, their stories become intertwined.

Although I had pretty much figured out what John-Paul's secret would be, I really appreciated the twists Moriarty threw in near the end. I was so captivated by what was happening that I couldn't bear to put the book down until I was completely finished. (Luckily, I was reading this on a Saturday afternoon when I had absolutely no plans!)

Through the majority of the novel, I had a feeling I'd be giving it 3 stars on Goodreads. I liked the story and most of the characters, but it wasn't something I looked forward to picking up. But once I got to a certain point in the book ... Wow. I can't give it 5 stars because it wasn't as amazing as Big Little Lies, but it definitely earned a solid 4 (maybe even 4.5) stars by the end.

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng - 292 pages

Completed on 10/12/2015 - Read more reviews on Goodreads

I knew going in that I would probably like this book. The story sounded exactly like something I'd enjoy reading, and it received a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads. But I had no idea that I'd completely fall in love with everything about it.

Everything I Never Told You is the story of a mixed-race family of five living in small town Ohio in the 1970s. The novel begins with the death of the middle (and favorite) daughter, Lydia, but don't be fooled ... This isn't a suspenseful thriller.

From that moment on, Celeste Ng begins to reveal, bit by bit, all of the things that brought the Lee family where they are today. The successes, the failures, the inability to fit in, the expectations, the dreams that were never achieved. It's an incredibly moving portrait of a family coming apart at the seams, seemingly held together only by the fragile thread that is Lydia. And after Lydia's death, everything changes.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I've read in a long time. It's amazing that this is Ng's debut novel! Her characters and so much of what they experienced were so real.

Initially I was drawn in by the beautiful writing and the dramatic opening: "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." As I continued reading, though, I became more and more invested in these characters and how they could possibly move on from the tragic loss of their daughter and sister.

Because Ng chose to tell the story in a nonlinear way, the reader is also given insight into who Lydia was. The novel jumps around in time quite a bit, but I thought it flowed incredibly well. This was probably one of the best nonlinear novels I've ever read, actually. Ng does an amazing job using this device to develop her characters and give readers the background they need to begin really caring about them.

And, man, did I care about them! I sobbed through pretty much the entire last chapter. I haven't cried this much over a book since I read The Sea of Tranquility (and many of you know exactly what a heartbreaking book that is!).

Basically what I'm saying is this: if you haven't read Everything I Never Told You, you need to. I gave it a very enthusiastic 5 stars on Goodreads, and I'm now looking forward to more work from this amazingly talented author!

"TL;DR" Summary:

Despite the large number of books I've read recently, only one of them managed to receive a 5 star rating from me on Goodreads.

Everything I Never Told You is one of the most beautifully written novels I've read in quite a while. It's a family drama, but its brilliance lies in its realism. The characters are dealing with some very heavy issues, but the story never feels over-the-top. If you read only one book from this post, read this one. 

I also highly recommend The Kingdom of Childhood, Broken Monsters, and The Husband's Secret (though I'm sure many people have already read this one). 

The Kingdom of Childhood is a little disturbing when you consider the subject matter (a teacher/student relationship), but I thought it was very thought provoking. I was still thinking about it days after I finished it. 

Broken Monsters is an interesting blend of crime thriller, drama, social commentary, and supernatural horror (among other things). I found it difficult to put it down after I hit a certain point in the novel, though I was a little annoyed with a couple of things in the end.

The Husband's Secret started off very slowly for me, but then, suddenly, I was completely captivated. I spent almost an entire Saturday finishing this up because I couldn't stand the idea of not knowing how everything played out in the end. I'm definitely quickly becoming a Liane Moriarty fan!

I also really enjoyed Last Train to Babylon, Disclaimer, and Everything, Everything

Last Train to Babylon is a pretty heavy story, but it's handled beautifully. The only reason it didn't earn a higher rating from me is because I didn't connect with it the way I thought I would (or maybe even should, since I could relate to a lot of the things in the book). It's definitely still worth reading, though.

Disclaimer is iffy for me. I thought a lot of it was kind of slow and very "blah," but then the ending really delivered. If you're the type of person who is likely to quit a book in the middle if it's not holding your attention, this probably isn't the book for you. I'm glad I stuck it out, though.

Everything, Everything is a really cute and unique YA love story. Unfortunately, I found it lacking in substance, but I did enjoy it overall.

I only somewhat enjoyed The One That Got Away. If you're a fan of shows like Criminal Minds, you might like this book. However, if, like me, you have a hard time getting through a book when things just conveniently fall into place, you may find it to just be "okay." It's definitely not a book I'd recommend highly, but I wouldn't tell someone not to read it either.

The only book I really didn't enjoy this time around was Fangirl. I was really disappointed because I wanted to love it ... Instead I found myself constantly rolling my eyes and wondering how quickly I could finish it and move on to something better. I know a lot of people love Rainbow Rowell, so I haven't given up on her completely, but this book just didn't do it for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tasty Tuesday: Cuban Picadillo

As I've mentioned several times, we purchased a ton of beef from Eric's cousins last year. And, since it was such a great deal, we decided to buy the same amount this year.

Since we have about 100 lbs of beef to work with, I'm always searching for new beef recipes. Like most people, I enjoy the classics (spaghetti and meatballs, chili, beef tacos, steak, etc.), but I get really tired of eating the same old things over and over again.

Beef isn't exactly the healthiest meat to work with, though, so in addition to looking for new recipes, I also try to search for "light" recipes. (Or as light as a recipe featuring beef can be, anyway.)

One of my favorite food blogs is Skinnytaste. I love that she features a wide variety of lightened up recipes (including desserts!), and everything I've made so far has turned out wonderfully. (This isn't some sort of sponsored post, by the way. I'm just sharing some blogger love!)

The dish I'm sharing today is no exception. It's such a simple, quick meal, but it's amazing. Each bite was filled with a burst of fresh flavor, and the leftovers are just as delicious! (This is especially important in our house since we often rely on leftovers for work lunches and/or busy nights when we don't have time for/don't feel like cooking.)

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Cuban Picadillo

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Skinnytaste.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1-2 bay leaves (I used 2.)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cilantro
  • 2 tbsp green olives (You can also use capers or alcaparrado, which is basically just a mixture of olives and capers.)
  • 2 tbsp olive brine (Or the brine from capers or alcaparrado, if you use one of those instead.)


1.  Season the ground beef with salt and pepper and brown over medium heat in a large skillet, breaking it up as it cooks. 

2.  Once the meat is fully cooked, drain the grease from the skillet.

3.  Turn the heat down to medium low and add the chopped onion, tomato, red bell pepper, and the cilantro to the meat. 

4.  Add the olives and brine (or capers or alcaparrado, if that's what you're using), cumin, tomato sauce, and water. Stir a few times in order to mix everything thoroughly.

5.  Place the bay leaf (or leaves, if you're using more than one) on top.

6.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf (or leaves) before serving.

As you can see from the picture above, I served this over a bed of long grain white rice. We ate our leftovers the same way, but Gina (from Skinnytaste) also recommends making tacos or quesadillas with the leftovers. (I'm planning to use the leftovers to make tacos the next time I make this!)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

10 Reasons Why I Love Dallas Green (And Why You Should Too!)

Since the new City and Colour album, If I Should Go Before You, comes out tomorrow (and I'm ridiculously excited about it!), it seemed like the perfect time to share some reasons why I love Dallas Green.

If you don't know who Dallas Green is (or why you should care), please allow me to introduce you. You can thank me later.

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1. No one can sing better than he can. A bold statement, I know, but his voice literally gives me chills.

2. He sounds just as good (if not better!) live as he does on a studio album. I've seen him live 3 times (once with Alexisonfire and twice under his solo moniker, City and Colour), and I've been consistently blown away. But don't just take my word for it ... You can see and hear him in action in the video below. (I even chose a really stripped down version of this song. This is just Dallas and his guitar, and it's really fucking amazing.)

3. Not only is he an incredible vocalist, he's also an amazing songwriter and guitarist. (And, if that wasn't enough, he also occasionally plays piano.)

4. He doesn't always stick with the same old sound from album to album, and has managed to find success with a couple of very different genres of music. Alexisonfire is a post-hardcore band, while his work as City and Colour has, for the most part, featured acoustic guitar and a more "folksy" sound. He also teamed up with Pink to record Rose Ave., an album of completely new material, under the name You + Me. To further show the contrast in some of his work, below you will find a video of Alexisonfire performing live. (While I didn't take this video, I was at this show. I was 26 and I thought my heart was going to explode the entire time because I was so excited and so happy. It's a great memory.)

5. And, because he's such a versatile artist, I really believe he can appeal to anyone. (Even if it's just one song that really stands out.)

6. He cares less about being a celebrity and more about sharing the music he creates. In past interviews, he's said things like, "... I never wanted it to be about Dallas Green as a person, but about the music." (This was in reference to the focus being solely on him as a singer/songwriter versus as part of a band. If you want to read more, that article can be found here.)

7. And, while he's serious when it comes to his music, he's not always a serious person. Case in point:

 photo c0666c135a98a7c3b64dcc6f5c1cd89f_zps5giowcrs.jpg
Image courtesy of Pinterest (I couldn't find the original source.)

8. He released the song "Nowhere, Texas" in an effort to bring attention to the issue of violence against women. He released the song digitally and donated the profits to the YWCA of Canada's Rose Campaign. You can listen to the song below.

9. Like me, he can be pretty "old school" about certain things. (He's only 4 years older than I am, if you were curious.) For example, at both of the City and Colour shows I attended, he made a request about halfway through the show asking audience members to put away their phones and actually experience the show (instead of watching through a camera lens). Maybe I'm weird, but I agree with that sentiment. I'm not above taking a couple of quick pictures or video clips at a show (I mean, I took the first picture in this post), but, for me, it's all about getting into the music and living in that moment.

10. He genuinely cares about his fans. When I saw him at The Slowdown in Omaha back in 2011, a girl in the audience passed out. He actually stopped everything to ask if she was okay, and when he didn't get much of an answer, he came down into the crowd to check on her. I probably would have passed out again if I awoke to see Dallas Green standing over me. I mean, I freaked out when I realized he'd touched me in his rush to check on the girl. (I had turned to my friend, and I felt someone touch my back and say, "Excuse me." When I turned around to see who had walked by and to check on what was happening, I saw Dallas disappearing into the crowd. I turned back to Ashley and proceeded to freak out and fangirl all over the place. #noshame)

I hope I've convinced you to at least check out some of his music. If you want specific recommendations, feel free to ask ... I love talking about the music I love!