Saturday, December 17, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - December 2016 Edition

It's no secret that I've been seriously slacking when it comes to blogging. Clearly. I mean, I'm several days late to the link-up party with Steph and Jana. This is also the only thing I've posted since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up. Whomp whomp.

At this point I'm planning to just take it easy and hopefully get back into the swing of things at the start of the new year. Everything seems to die down a bit at that point, and I think I'll have more time and energy to focus not only on my own blog, but also on reading and commenting on other blogs. I hope so, anyway.

For now, though, I'll just stick with a subject you all know I love: books. I feel like I've been reading like crazy lately, so this is going to be kind of a long post. (#sorrynotsorry) I've actually read a couple more that I was planning to review here as well, but I wanted to just go ahead and get this posted now. I'll talk about the other books in a future post.

I'll admit that I wasn't great about writing reviews right after I finished these books, though, so a lot of these reviews will probably be a little shorter than what I'd normally write. (Though that's probably not a bad thing since I had quite a few to discuss!)

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The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly - 353 pages - 4 stars

Completed on 11/10/2016

The Bullet was a very strange book. It was one of those stories that, for me, raised more questions than it answered. The plot is a little odd to begin with (I mean, can you imagine going to the doctor and discovering that there's a bullet lodged in your neck? I can't.), but the story took a lot of unusual twists and turns.

While twists and turns are generally appreciated in a suspense/thriller/mystery novel, they were both a good and bad thing in The Bullet. Obviously a book that keeps me intrigued has to be, at the very least, a pretty good book. (I read most of this while I was on vacation, and I kept making time to squeeze a couple of chapters in before Eric and I left our hotel to explore.). It kept me guessing, and I really liked the very end of the book.

As for the bad ... Unfortunately, the last portion of this book was just completely over-the-top. As I said, I liked the very end ... But a lot of the stuff leading up to it? Not so much. Here's the thing: I don't mind being asked to suspend my disbelief when I'm reading a book or watching a movie. I do, however, get annoyed when a book or movie seems at least somewhat realistic and then suddenly it takes on a completely different tone. I don't mean that things should be predictable (they shouldn't), but they should make sense.

Despite the fact that some parts of the book annoyed the shit out of me, I still gave it 4 stars. I liked that the plot wasn't something I'd seen a hundred times before, and I liked that I wanted to know what happened so much that I hated to put it down. I'd say that makes it worthy of a 4 star rating.

Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt - 337 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 11/13/2016

I absolutely loved this book when I first started reading it, flying through much of it in a single day. (I read most of it on the plane home from Rhode Island.) The story of a new mother struggling with severe postpartum depression/postpartum psychosis was both disturbing and heartbreaking. And once her baby goes missing and she can't remember many of the events surrounding the disappearance, I was glued to the book, searching for clues and answers.

Although the book started off strong, it really fell apart for me as it went on. There were plenty of WTF moments (and not the good kind), and, honestly, some parts were so boring that I found myself wondering if I was reading the same book.

And the ending? Come on. I like closure as much as the next person, but I get so pissed off when an author decides to tie everything in a neat little package. Life isn't always like that. And, yes, I realize that we all read to escape life, but this kind of goes along with my review for The Bullet ... Don't set me up with something at least somewhat realistic and then make everything batshit crazy by the end.

I debated giving Remember Mia a 2 star rating because I was so disappointed with the direction the book took, but settled on a 3 star rating because I couldn't ignore how much I enjoyed the beginning. Estelle's wild, chilling train of thought cut to my core ... I just wish the author had kept that page turning momentum throughout the book and avoided the whole "everything will conveniently fall into place" thing. (Especially when some of those things didn't really make a lot of sense or seem remotely believable when considering the story as a whole.)

Among Others by Jo Walton - 302 pages - 1 star

Completed on 11/18/2016

I had so many conflicting feelings about this book. First of all, the main character is obsessed with books and reading (something I'm sure most of us can relate to!), and there are a lot of lovely book-related quotes throughout the novel. That alone made me feel like I should probably love this book.

If you couldn't tell from my 1 star rating, I didn't. It's safe to say that I actually hated this book and almost quit it several times. (And I never quit books!)

At first I thought that maybe I just didn't like it because it was out of my comfort zone. I really don't read or enjoy many fantasy novels, but the plot summary intrigued me ... So I decided to give it a try. The thing is, I'm not really sure this was a fantasy novel. Yes, it had a few magical elements (including fairies), but I think classifying it as "fantasy" is a little misleading.

Among Others is basically just a teenage girl's diary. That's it. Apparently some life altering event occurs that kills her twin sister, leaves her crippled, and forces her to run away from her mother's house, but other than several mostly vague mentions, this doesn't really play much of a role in the story even though it's the main part of the book summary.

No, this book is mostly really boring ramblings about what books she's reading, her obsession with magic and fairies, her grades and life at boarding school (which is, quite honestly, not at all interesting), and a detailed family history that really has almost nothing to do with the rest of the story. Seriously.

There were also some really bizarre things that made absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever. She becomes convinced that her aunts are witches that want to control her mind because they offer to get her ears pierced as a Christmas gift. Apparently it's common knowledge that piercings allow others to control you. I wish I'd known that before I got my piercings!

If that's not bad enough, there's also a quick mention of her drunken father attempting to climb in bed with her. She stops anything from happening, but then later regrets not having sex with him. Her father, people! And, to make matters worse, this incident is treated as "no big deal" and never mentioned again. Seriously, what the fuck?

The ending was probably one of the most anticlimactic endings ever. I just sat there thinking, "Really? I read this entire fucking book for this?" I was actually pissed because I felt like I'd just completely wasted my time. If it didn't belong to the library, it would have gone in the trash.

Swerve by Vicki Pettersson - 335 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 11/23/2016

If I'm being completely honest, I didn't have very high hopes for this book. Yes, it was on my "To Read" list, but I mostly just picked it up because it happened to be on the shelves at my library. It's one of those "been there/read that" kind of books about a crazy killer abducting one half of a couple at a deserted rest stop. The only difference here was that the guy was kidnapped, while the girl was left to follow the killer's bizarre clues in order to find her fiance.

Overall, I thought this book was a decent read. There were many things I didn't like, including the killer's motives (lame) and the fact that I had figured out the "twist" long before the main character. If I'm reading a suspenseful thriller, I want to be shocked by the twist. In this case, I clearly wasn't.

I was also a little disappointed in Kristine's weird backstory. When she first starts thinking back to her past, I imagined a completely different story than what I was later given. It made sense to share this part of her life, but it was just so fucking weird.

I did, however, like the fact that Kristine was a strong female character. She isn't perfect (not by a long shot), but she's pretty badass.

But, as I said, this book was an okay way to pass the time. (And, hey, I liked it enough to give it a 3 star rating!) The action really propels the story, so it's a pretty quick read. (I probably would have finished it in a day or two if I'd had the time.) It's definitely gory and violent, though, so if horror books and movies aren't your thing, I'd suggest skipping this one.

Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel - 292 pages - 4 stars

Completed on 11/27/2016

This book easily could have fallen into after school special territory, but thankfully it didn't. It's a story about the delicate friendships that exist between young girls, and it's also a story about bullying.

While a part of me feels far removed from the drama that often exists among teenage girls, another part of me remembers very clearly what it felt like to be a young teen: the insecurity, the need to discover yourself, the feeling of "in between" (not a child but definitely not an adult). Hyacinth Girls touches on all of these things (and more), and it does so in an effective way.

I liked that the story is told from two points of view: the parent (well, in this case, a guardian standing in for the deceased parents) and the teen. It did, however, get a little tedious at the end when the point of view shifted back to Rebecca (the guardian) and then back again to Callie (the teen). I honestly wished the story would have ended at the end of Callie's first section ... It would have been, in my opinion, much more powerful.

This book sheds light on the cruelties that kids (especially girls) are capable of. Unfortunately, some things near the end were overly dramatic and reminiscent of a Lifetime Original movie. The author eventually reeled it in a bit, but the ending still really couldn't be saved for me. It was disappointing, especially since the first two sections were so strong. (And these are the main reasons I gave it 4 stars instead of 5.)

Cam Girl by Leah Raeder - 415 pages - 5 stars

Completed on 12/04/2016

I surprised myself with the 5 star rating on this one. It was solid throughout, but I didn't think I'd end up loving it as much as I did.

As you can probably guess by the title, this book talks a lot about sex (and in graphic detail). Cam Girl very easily could have been just another "dirty" book, but it wasn't. Yes, sex plays a major role in the story, but it went so much deeper than that. This book raises some important questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, and how these things influence relationships with others and the way we see ourselves.

There are a couple of mystery elements in this book, but I wouldn't really classify it as "mystery." Those things kept me guessing, though! I did sort of figure out some of it, but not entirely. (And that's a win in my book!) The clues were there, but some things were harder to see. This quote from the book says it all: "You looked right at me. Through me."

The narrator, Vada, felt very real. She was flawed, she was confused, she was angry. She was, in some ways, a lot like me in my early 20s. There was a point in the book where I literally gasped because her words were my words: I had, no joke, said the exact same thing to someone I loved very deeply in my early 20s. It was one of those weird moments when you feel like an author somehow knew that you would read this book, so they added something they knew would pierce your heart and stir up memories.

I absolutely fell in love with Leah Raeder's writing while reading Cam Girl. It's lyrical and beautiful, but also raw and gritty. She created a story that brought up some very real emotions, and characters I truly cared about. I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - November 2016 Edition

I managed to get through quite a few books since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up with Steph and Jana. (I guess I had a lot of extra time on my hands since I wasn't working on blog stuff.) And, even though I'm ridiculously late to the link-up party, I wanted to make sure I didn't miss out completely.

I haven't been working on blog stuff recently, and there's a reason for that. To put it simply, things have been pretty stressful lately. It hasn't all been bad, of course ... Sometimes I've just been busy. There have definitely been some darker moments over the past few months, though, and I've just found it difficult to even want to share my thoughts and feelings on this blog when I'm still processing them internally.

When I'm stressed and overwhelmed, I tend to withdraw. And if I need to unwind, few things are better than curling up with a book for a few hours and losing myself in a completely different world. 

So that's what I've been doing. Reading. A lot. And, while I probably should have spent more time on more productive things, it's helped me relieve some tension and forget, even for a little while, about things I don't want to dwell on and things I can't control.

So, now that that's out of the way, it's time to take a look at what I've been reading lately (minus anything I've finished since leaving for my anniversary trip last Saturday):

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What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes - 309 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 10/15/2016

I allowed myself to do some library wandering (always a dangerous thing!), and came away with several books I happened to find on the shelves that were on my ever growing "To Read" list. One of those books was What You Left Behind.

I don't know what prompted me to push this book ahead of all the others I checked out, but something about it made me feel like I just had to read it. 

Unfortunately for me, it was a bit of a letdown. 

I wouldn't say I didn't like it at all (I mean, I gave it 3 stars), but it definitely wasn't what I expected. There were times when I couldn't put it down, desperate to find out what was going on. Other times, though, I had a hard time getting into it. Nearly every time Hayes built up the suspense, she'd pull away and focus on some other, more trivial aspect of the story. Or, if she didn't do that, the "big reveal" felt like a big "whomp whomp" for me.

One of the biggest problems with this book was that there was just so much going on. Hayes was trying to tie things together that really didn't fit, so the resolution felt a little contrived and clunky. Additionally, I wish she'd spent more time on the bullying that one of the main characters, Freddie, was experiencing. It started off strong enough, but then it seemed like she thought, "Actually, I want to take this story in a different direction ..." and completely changed her focus. But, instead of moving on from the bullying entirely, she peppered the rest of the novel with random, unbelievable things that were semi-related to the bullying. It was as weird and jumbled as it sounds.

I felt this book was worthy of a 3 star rating for two reasons: some parts were suspenseful enough to keep me guessing and turning the pages and I thought the main plot of a small town shaken by a cluster of teen suicides was interesting. I don't know how unique that storyline is, but I've never read anything about that topic ... So it was different enough to pique my interest. Obviously I felt like the ending was less than satisfying, but it was a decent way to pass the time.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott - 340 pages - 5 stars

Completed on 10/20/2016

I'll start this review by saying that I don't think Abbott's writing style is for everyone. I can imagine that some people would get annoyed with the repetition and/or with the way she chooses to describe things (particularly in this book). I can also imagine that other people might find it too slow, as her books seem to be more "slow burn" than "heart pounding thriller."

But me? I fucking love her writing style. I read The End of Everything last year (and it was one of my favorite reads of 2015!), and I can say with confidence that You Will Know Me will be on my list of favorite reads of 2016. 

In You Will Know Me, Abbott effectively creates a creeping sense of dread, scattering small glimpses of what's to come throughout the novel. I know I've only read two of her books, but, from what I have read, I can say that Abbott does a great job creating complex characters and chilling, realistic situations. 

She also has a way of making you (or maybe it's just me?) think you might have things figured out and then introducing new information to make you question what you think you know. In both The End of Everything and You Will Know Me, I had at least three theories about what really happened ... But I wasn't sure of any of them until the end. And, even then, there are always at least one or two things that I'm still thinking about, forced to draw my own conclusions about a character's motivations. 

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Read - 210 pages - 5 stars

Completed on 10/22/2016

As I was reading I'm Thinking of Ending Things, I just kept thinking over and over: "Holy shit!" Seriously, though ... Holy shit.

I went in knowing very little about this book, and, if you haven't read it and plan to, I'd highly suggest doing the same. (But don't worry, I won't include any spoilers in my review ... So feel free to read on!)

I felt a similar creeping sense of dread while reading I'm Thinking of Ending Things as I did while reading You Will Know Me. This is another "slow burn" kind of book, though I felt that because the things shared throughout the book felt a little darker and a little less based in reality, it seemed like it could go in almost any direction, making it a little scarier (for me, at least).

This book reminded me of a David Lynch movie. To be perfectly honest, his movies are very hit or miss for me. Luckily, I'm Thinking of Ending Things was much more Lost Highway (my absolute favorite Lynch film) than Wild at Heart (which I hated with a passion). In fact, I kept picturing Robert Blake as "The Caller" in this novel.

This book is dark, surreal, and unsettling, and I loved every moment of it! It's a short book, so it's a quick read anyway, but I tore through it in about a day and a half. In fact, I was so eager to find out how it ended that I took it with me to read in the car on the way to my in-laws' house on a Saturday afternoon ... And then sat in the car in the driveway to finish it before coming in. The first thing everyone said when I came in was, "So, was it a really good book?" Yes, it definitely was.

Real Happy Family by Caeli Wolfson Widger - 357 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 10/29/2016

Book hangovers are real. After reading two five star books that felt like they were written just for me (yes, I loved them that much!), it was hard to pick my next read. I wanted to try for at least one more book for Book Challenge by Erin 5.0 (and, yes, I know that I'm way behind and still need to post my results!), and I wanted something that would be completely different from the books I'd just read. And Real Happy Family was about as far away from those chilling books as I could get!

When I first chose this book for the challenge, I thought it would be a pretty light, fluffy, chick-lit kind of book. But, while it was definitely written with a female audience in mind, it was hardly the light and fluffy book I imagined.

I wouldn't classify this book as "dark" either (not by a long shot), but Wolfson Widger touches on some major issues (drug abuse/addiction, body image issues, and infertility, among others) throughout the novel. Despite the often heavy subject matter, Wolfson Widger managed to insert some humor, creating an almost satirical look at Hollywood and the desperate search for fame.

As a fan of stories centering around dysfunctional families, Real Happy Family was a good pick. My biggest issue with it was the fact that, like What You Left Behind, it felt like it had too much going on at times. One character could, in my opinion, have been cut completely from the book. While this would have eliminated two subplots, I think the book would have been better for it. (One of those subplots in particular really just pissed me off.)

That being said, this book was an overall enjoyable read and helped me get through the book hangover I experienced after those last two amazing books.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris - 293 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 10/30/2016

After reading Steph's review of this book, my expectations were pretty low. But, since I was already on the waiting list at the library, I figured I'd go ahead and check it out for myself. 

Okay, here's the thing: Behind Closed Doors isn't particularly well-written. It isn't very suspenseful, and it isn't very original. Somehow, though, it managed to suck me in and not let go until I'd finished. (I stopped reading only to sleep, finishing around 234 pages in a single day. And, if you're wondering, that's a lot for me.)

I can see why Behind Closed Doors has become a pretty popular book. It's an incredibly easy read, and there's a considerable amount of action propelling the story forward. And, while it's also very unbelievable in many ways, it managed keep me engaged and entertained. (If nothing else, I wanted to see how everything played out in the end.) 

I struggled with rating this book because it had so many flaws, but I couldn't honestly say I didn't enjoy it at all. I think if I'd read it prior to reading Steph's review, my expectations would have been much higher and I probably would have hated it. But, since I wasn't expecting an amazing, original thriller, I was pleasantly surprised when I didn't want to hurl it across the room. This isn't a "must read" kind of book, but I've definitely read much worse. High praise, I know, but it's honest.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty - 415 pages - 4 stars

Completed on 11/01/2016

I kind of feel like I'm in the minority when it comes to this book. While I don't think I've seen any awful reviews, it seems like a lot of bloggers have been at least a little disappointed with Truly Madly Guilty. (It seems like I've read a lot of reviews that start with something like "I had a hard time getting into this one," anyway.)

I, on the other hand, was completely sucked in from page one. I finished this book in just a couple of days (which is, in my opinion, pretty impressive since it's a little over 400 pages long!), and found myself getting annoyed when I had to put it down to do other things. (You know, like work.) While part of this frantic reading was due to a looming library due date (and a waiting list of 95 people), I mostly tore through this book because I had to know what happened at that barbeque!

I've now read three books by Moriarty, and I've enjoyed them all. While she does seem to follow a general formula with her plots, I always find myself captivated by her flawed characters and realistic "ordinary things go terribly wrong" situations. And, while there is generally a lot going on in each of her books, it never feels jumbled or overwhelming because, in the end, everything had a purpose.

Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles - 215 pages - 3 stars

Completed on 11/02/2016

Lessons From a Dead Girl was a very strange, very fucked up book. One of the main characters, Leah, seemed almost like a crazier, more sinister version of Alison DiLaurentis from Pretty Little Liars. Leah is clearly the "queen bee" of the group, using the power in her popularity to make sure none of her friends ever betray her by spilling her darkest secrets.

While I enjoyed this book enough to finish it quickly (though, to be fair, it was a very short book), I didn't really like the way it was written. Yes, this is a YA book, but the writing seemed to suggest it was for a very young audience. The subject matter, on the other hand, wasn't. (And this is a perfect example of why YA books are so hit or miss for me.)

In addition to the simplistic writing, I found it difficult to really care about Leah or the other main character, Laine. The story is told from Laine's point of view, and it seemed as though Knowles wanted readers to really feel for her (with good reason) ... But I just felt like the character development was lacking, so I could never feel any real emotion for her.

I also felt the same about Leah. Although she's painted as a horrible, abusive bitch at least 90% of the time, readers are probably supposed to care about her (at least a little). However, even though Knowles shed light on the main cause of Leah's appalling behavior, I still couldn't bring myself to really feel anything for her. (Except maybe anger and disgust.)

Lessons From a Dead Girl wasn't terrible by any means, but I think it had the potential to be so much better. Like some of the other books I've reviewed in this post, it's not a "must read." It is, however, a quick read that didn't feel like a complete waste of time. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - October 2016 Edition

Lately it seems like it's taking me forever to finish books. Sometimes that happens when I don't really like a book ... I mean, if it's not really that interesting, there's nothing really pushing me to pick it up and finish it. But these days it doesn't seem to matter whether I like it or not. (Though, to be fair, two of the three books in this post were very mediocre.) I just seem to either be busy, tired, or focused on something else. (I've been rewatching the entire Gilmore Girls series, so that really eats into my reading time.)

I still managed to read a few books since the last link-up with Steph and Jana, though. (And thank goodness ... I definitely didn't want to miss out on this month's link-up since it's the two year anniversary of Show Us Your Books!)

My mom is visiting (yay!), so I'm just going to post short reviews this time around. And, even though I'll be spending most of my time hanging out with my mom for the next week, I swear it won't take me three weeks or more to respond to comments this time around!

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Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter - 394 pages - 4 stars

Completed on 09/20/2016

I think the thing that surprised me most about Pretty Girls is the fact that it seems to be a very popular book despite the incredibly dark and disturbing subject matter. This is very much what my mother-in-law would call a "Kristen book," yet I've seen it pop up on more blogs than I can count (and not just blogs written by people who, like me, love all things twisted).

Obviously I don't think that other people can't enjoy books like this. However, I think graphic descriptions of certain topics (snuff porn, for instance) aren't for everyone. So, like I said, it's at least a little surprising that Pretty Girls is so popular.

This was my first Karin Slaughter book, and it won't be my last. Although I thought a few parts of the story were a little too over-the-top and some things were just a little too convenient/fell into place a little too easily (one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to thrillers), overall I really enjoyed Pretty Girls.

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango - 241 pages - 2 stars

Completed on 09/27/2016

I was really looking forward to reading this book, but I found it really disappointing.

It wasn't that the main character was unlikable. (I mean, he was ... But I actually like unlikable characters sometimes. I know, I'm weird.) The problem with The Truth and Other Lies was that it was just a major letdown.

Several times throughout the novel I was hopeful that Sascha Arango was going to introduce more background information about the main character and his wife. And several times he started to do this ... But then the focus shifted, leaving me with no answers and even more questions. And, while I actually do like some ambiguity in novels because I like drawing my own conclusions, I don't like finishing the last page and feeling like I never really got to know the characters or their motivations.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware - 340 pages - 2 stars

Completed on 10/07/2016

After reading Ruth Ware's debut novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood, earlier this year, I was really looking forward to The Woman in Cabin 10.

Unfortunately, this one didn't really work for me. (Though I decided to substitute this book for the "book with a (mostly) blue cover" category in Erin's book challenge, so at least it wasn't a complete waste of time!)

I didn't hate this book, but I never really felt compelled to pick it up either. I kept hoping for an amazing twist to make it worthwhile, but I felt like the big reveal was just kind of "meh" and I'm pretty sure I actually rolled my eyes a few times over the ending.

I think the most disappointing thing about The Woman in Cabin 10, though, was the fact that it had so much potential that was never fully realized. There were a few interesting moments throughout the book, but it wasn't enough to keep me fully engaged.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Mind Dump Monday: I Just Needed To Write Something

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One of the most difficult things about blogging (for me, at least) is finding the time and motivation for it. That's definitely been the case lately.

Sometimes I can't come up with anything interesting to write about. And, while that's frustrating, I can eventually come up with something. Other times (like now), I have several ideas for posts ... I just can't seem to bring myself to sit down and work on them. Then I start to feel completely overwhelmed because I allow myself to get so far behind on anything even remotely related to blogging. And then I start to hate it.

So ... That explains my absence lately. 

I keep trying to get back into some sort of routine, but things are probably going to be very feast or famine around here for the next couple of months because fall seems to be the busiest time of year for me. Between my mom's upcoming visit, my anniversary trip with Eric (I'll talk about this a little more in a future post, but we finally booked everything!), and any random fall activities, October and November are pretty packed.

I'm going to try to get a few posts written and up this week (but no promises), so I'll go into a little more detail about what's been going on with me lately at that point. For now, I just wanted to post this as kind of a "Hey, I'm still around. I know I've been a shitty blogger lately, but I'll try to eventually get back into some sort of groove." thing.

I had to start somewhere, I guess.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Recently Read: In-Depth Reviews - September 2016 Edition

What a week! I forgot how exhausting it is to sit in conference rooms for hours. I also forgot how exhausting it is to walk around big cities. I got out early on Wednesday, and, according to Eric's Fitbit, we walked over 8 miles that afternoon/evening! I know that's nothing for some people, but we don't typically walk that much. (And, to be perfectly honest, I've been completely blowing off exercise for the last month or so, so it was rough.)

I'll probably post some pictures from the trip next month for Kristen and Gretchen's link-up. I got really behind on blog stuff and didn't even participate this time around, so I definitely don't want to let the link-up slip by again!

I promise I'll get to the in-depth reviews, but, since I was already talking about link-ups, I wanted to say a couple more things before I dive in.

First, I wanted to say thank you to the person who added me to Steph and Jana's link-up this week! I'm not sure which of you guys did this for me, but it was greatly appreciated!

Secondly, I'll be working my way through the other posts in the link-up and responding to comments throughout this week, so you should be hearing from me soon.

Okay, now it's finally time to get to my in-depth book reviews!

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Child of God by Cormac McCarthy - 197 pages

Completed on 08/09/2016

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Sometimes I'll finish the last page of a book, close it, and then think, "I have no idea how I feel about this." That was the case with Child of God.

If you're reading this, you probably already know that I tend to gravitate toward dark books. It may be surprising, then, that this was my first Cormac McCarthy novel. (I've seen the film versions of both The Road and No Country for Old Men, though.)

I don't really know what I was expecting (other than a dark and possibly disturbing story), but this slim little book really packed a punch. Lester Ballard is one of the creepiest, most fucked up characters I've ever had the pleasure (if you can even use a word like "pleasure" there) of reading about. For me, he made this book.

So why did I only give this book 3 stars?

My biggest issue with Child of God was the style in which it was written. This is kind of hard to explain because I'm not saying that I think Cormac McCarthy is a bad writer. (For the record, I don't think that at all.) What I am saying is that it was very difficult for me to read a book in which the characters from rural Tennessee spoke in very thick accents. Again, this is kind of hard to explain because obviously there are no "accents" when you're reading an actual paper book (as opposed to an audiobook). But when things are written like this: "He went and borry'd Squire Helton's tractor and went back over there and thowed a rope over the old cow's head and took off on the tractor hard as he could go," it makes for difficult reading. (At least for me.) I tried to find a better example than that of a sentence that legitimately caused me to pause and wonder what the fuck he was trying to say, but I know the use of a word like "borry'd" gave me at least a moment's pause ... So that example still gets the job done.

I'll admit that choosing to write the story in this way gave it a more authentic feel ... So clearly McCarthy knew what he was doing when he opted to write things like "borry'd" and "would of done" and so on. But, like I said, it made for difficult reading. This book was just under 200 pages, and it took me 3 days to read it. And while I did have other things to do (like go to work, for instance), I made plenty of time to read during those 3 days. It was the language that really slowed me down.

My other main problem with this book was that I felt like it lacked direction. I've read several books like this, in which the author basically just describes the day to day life of a certain character over a period of time. That's not to say that nothing happens during the book (trust me, a lot of things happen in this book), but when I read a book like this, I always find myself disappointed by the end. I guess I'm just expecting something a little more (or even just different) than what I've actually been given. Like I said, I've read a few books like this so I understand that many writers choose to write this way ... But it's not my favorite type of book. I doubt I'd ever give a book like that more than 3 stars, honestly. There's just nothing gripping me, making me want to pick up the book and find out what happens next.

As I said at the beginning of this review, I really don't know how I feel about Child of God. I didn't love it, but even still I didn't feel like I wasted my time reading it. If nothing else, I was introduced to quite possibly one of the most depraved characters ever. If, like me, you're open to dark and disturbing novels with creepy, horrific characters, this might be worth a read. If that's not your thing, I'd definitely recommend skipping it.

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan - 467 pages

Completed on 08/20/2016

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I was really excited about finally getting around to reading this book. I was on the waiting list at the library for a while, then I paused all of my holds for the Read My Books challenge (though I'd already paused a few previously since I didn't want to get overwhelmed with a bunch of books I couldn't renew and didn't have time to read in the allotted time), and then the stars aligned (or something less dramatic) and I realized I could use this book for a category in Erin's latest book challenge ... So I took advantage and resumed my place in "line" for What She Knew at the library.

As you've probably already guessed from my 3 star rating, this book didn't exactly live up to my expectations. It was most certainly not a bad book, and I definitely don't feel like I wasted my time on it ... But I also didn't love it the way I thought I would.

Before I get into my review any further, I feel like I should say that maybe I just chose the wrong time to try to read this book. I got really caught up in the Olympics this year, and Eric and I spent the majority of our evenings glued to the TV. I tried to read a little on commercials or if they were showing something I didn't care about as much, but a book like this really deserves more undivided attention than I was willing to give. And, as a result, I had a really hard time getting into it.

I don't think my issues with getting into this book were 100% related to the Olympics, though. Yes, that was definitely a factor ... I mean, there were some evenings when I didn't bother picking the book up at all because I was too busy watching the events on TV. However, I do think that if the book had really grabbed me, I could have made reading it more of a priority. (Unless gymnastics was on, of course. That's one of the only sports I genuinely care a lot about!) If I'm desperate to find out what happens next in a story, I'll stay up way too late to finish "just one more chapter" or find a way to sneak a few pages in while I'm cooking dinner or getting ready in the morning. And I didn't do that with this book.

It started off really strong. I read the first couple of chapters and thought, "I think I'm going to love this book." Unfortunately, my excitement sort of died down after that.

While I wouldn't say this book is at all boring, there were a few things that felt unnecessary, some of which dragged the pace of the story down to a slow crawl. And, while I appreciate that Gilly Macmillan didn't create superhuman detectives who could easily solve the crime, I feel like a thriller/suspense novel like this should never be moving at a snail's pace. There were several times when I found myself wondering if anything would ever be resolved, or if the detectives would just keep circling around the same few suspects.

As for the unnecessary additions, one of my biggest pet peeves in a novel is when an author throws in a subplot or even just a small bit of information that's supposed to be shocking or, at the very least, add to the story in some way ... And then it's either not really relevant to the rest of the story, not brought up again (except maybe in passing), and/or just sort of a "whomp whomp" moment. There were at least two instances of this in What She Knew. It's hard to really get into this too much without spoilers, but I'll say this: one of these things was very much a "whomp whomp" moment for me (not to mention really bizarre) and the other had me thinking, "This really isn't going to get more than a brief mention in the rest of the novel?" Both of these things annoyed me at least a little.

I enjoyed the book overall, though. It would fall under what Steph might call the "Passed the Time Just Fine" category. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it, I would consider reading more books by this author in the future, and I actually loved the fact that everything didn't just magically fall into place ... But it never truly captivated me.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach - 303 pages

Completed on 08/23/2016

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I don't read a lot of nonfiction. I wouldn't say I really dislike it, but I definitely prefer fiction. That being said, I've previously read and enjoyed two other books by Mary Roach (Stiff and Spook), and I was looking forward to reading her take on the science of sex.

I really like the way Roach approaches her subject matter. She somehow manages to explain things in a way that anyone can understand without completely dumbing it down. That's a rare feat. She also injects humor into her writing, which makes her books enjoyable and fun to read as opposed to dry and dull. (I work in the scientific field, but let's be honest here ... Scientific papers, journals, etc. are usually dry as fuck.)

Bonk isn't straight science, though. Roach discusses the history of sexual discovery as well as some current sex-based research. She even goes as far as volunteering for some of these studies herself! (And, really, how else could she be expected to know what goes on during these studies? Even people willing to volunteer for sex-based studies probably wouldn't want a random stranger in the room, asking invasive questions and jotting down notes that will later be used in a published book.)

I gave this book a 3 star rating because, to be honest, it's really tough for me to love a nonfiction book. I enjoy learning, and I enjoy reading about topics that interest me ... But, for me, simply enjoying a book warrants a 3 star rating. If I couldn't put it down or was just completely blown away by the information, it may have been worthy of 4 stars. That wasn't the case here. (Though, as I said, I did enjoy reading it.)

I did know a few of the things she discussed prior to reading this book, but I still felt like I learned a lot. This definitely isn't a book to get you in the mood (seriously, there are discussions of penises being cut off and the artificial insemination of pigs, among other things), but if you've ever been at least a little curious about sexual physiology, sexual disorders, the history of sexual discovery, and/or modern sexual research, Bonk is worth checking out.

Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley - 272 pages

Completed on 08/29/2016

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This is satire at its best.

With Nick Naylor, Christopher Buckley has created the kind of character I love to hate. He's a quick-witted, arrogant tobacco lobbyist with an answer for everything. He's a member of the self-proclaimed MOD (Merchants of Death) Squad, along with his friends Bobby Jay, a spokesperson for the firearms industry, and Polly, a spokesperson for alcohol. He's sleazy. He doesn't mind "lying for a living." And still I was completely captivated by Nick and his story, even cheering for him in the end.

Thank You for Smoking is set in the early 90s. Reading it in 2016, it's almost as though it's set in a completely different world. Remember when cigarettes were regularly advertised? Remember when people could smoke in pretty much any restaurant? I do. But, honestly, that seems like a million years ago. (And thank goodness for that! I'm somewhat allergic to cigarette smoke, so I prefer to avoid it if at all possible.)

The humor in this book is dry and biting. If you like that sort of thing (and I do), you'll probably find it pretty hilarious. It's about as un-PC as you can get, so it's a little surprising that I enjoyed it as much as I did. (Especially since they take more than a few stabs at "bleeding heart liberals.") I wouldn't say that I'm easily offended, but some things do get under my skin. That being said, this style of writing/book sort of lends itself to being offensive ... And somehow it works.

I gave this book 4 stars because while it's not perfect, it was pretty damn enjoyable. It's over-the-top and zany and I loved (almost) every second.

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life by Roald Dahl - 179 pages

Completed on 08/30/2016

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This was my final book for The Semi-Charmed Summer Book Challenge, and I finished it with one day to spare!

In all honesty, if I hadn't chosen it for one of the categories in the challenge, I would never have picked this book up. While I was a fan of Roald Dahl's books as a child, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about his adult fiction. And since Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life is a book of short stories, I was even less sure that I'd like it. After all, short story collections aren't really my thing.

When I first started this book, I kept thinking, "Oh God. This is terrible." The first story was about breeding cattle. Breeding cattle. Let me tell you, I'm not even remotely interested in reading a short fictional story about breeding cattle. And, since all of the stories involve the same basic group of characters (and are all set in rural England), I was worried that every story would be just as boring and awful.

As you can probably tell from my 3 star rating, that was thankfully not the case. While I wouldn't say I loved this book (or even really liked it), two of the stories in particular, "Parson's Pleasure" and "The Champion of the World," made it worth the short amount of time it took to finish it. These stories were completely absurd, but they made me laugh. (And that's really what I was hoping for from this story collection. Well, that and the satisfaction of officially completing yet another reading challenge.)

I think the best way to describe Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life is to compare it to listening to stories told by a grandparent about their crazy youthful adventures. It brought back memories of my own grandparents sharing stories from their childhoods and from the early years of their marriage. (Both of my grandparents have passed away, so these memories were a little bittersweet ... But I was glad to be reminded of them.) Many of these stories are silly (and sometimes slightly horrific), and, while this definitely won't be making it onto my list of favorites, it was a fine way to pass the time.

The Merciless by Danielle Vega - 279 pages

Completed on 09/03/2016

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The Merciless is one of those books that I knew I'd have a hard time rating. Writing the review didn't seem too difficult ... It didn't live up to my expectations, and I know I can easily explain the reasons for that. But the rating? I just didn't know how I could (or maybe should) rate this one.

I waivered between 2 and 3 stars (and occasionally even 1 star because some parts of this book were just completely stupid), but, as you can see, I decided to go with the 2 star rating. While the book was a quick read that kept me turning the pages to find out what horrible things these awful girls would do to each other next, it wasn't good.

YA books in general can be kind of hit or miss for me. Some (like The Sea of TranquilityAll the Bright Places, and I'll Give You the Sun) are amazing. Others ... Not so much.

The weird thing about The Merciless is that it's actually kind of dark and twisted, but it's written in a way that suggests it's for a very young audience. Danielle Vega may have been influenced by the works of Stephen King (as it claims in the author blurb in the back of the book), but unfortunately her writing style is more R.L. Stine Goosebumps than The Shining. (And there's really nothing wrong with the Goosebumps books. I loved those as a kid. But ... That's kind of the point. I loved them as a kid. As an adult, I'm pretty sure I'd find them cheesy and silly.)

I was really disappointed in this book. I wasn't expecting it to be a great work of literature or anything, but I was really looking forward to reading it. Instead of thrilling me, though, I found myself rolling my eyes throughout the novel, wondering what ridiculous thing might happen next. While I didn't think this book would be overly realistic, I felt like I was in bad teenage cheesy horror flick territory (with some religious stuff thrown in just for fun). It was what I imagined would happen if you crossed The Secret Life of the American Teenager with Mean GirlsThe Craft, and every exorcism movie ever made. Alone, those things are fine. (Yes, even The Secret Life of the American Teenager. It's a total guilty pleasure, but it's so awful it's almost good. Almost.) Together? Not so much.

My biggest issue with The Merciless, though, was that I can't imagine that any teen girl would behave like the girls in this book. Maybe I'm old and naive (after all, 32 is closer to 40 than 16), but I just can't imagine that even the bitchiest teenager would act like these girls. (Especially Riley, the very popular ringleader of the group.) I believe that teens can be cruel to one another, I believe that teens can (and will) start vicious rumors about one another, and I believe that teen girls can, in fact, be merciless when it comes to their enemies (whether real or imagined). However, I find it hard to believe that any teenage girl would combine religious fanaticism with typical "don't touch my man" bitchiness and kidnap a girl, tie her up in the basement of an abandoned house, and torture her for an entire night in an effort to "exorcise" the demonic forces living inside her.

Yes, I knew the basic premise before I picked up the book, but I was hoping for more of a psychological thriller. (Or, at the very least, horror that was actually scary.) The problem wasn't really the premise, but the execution. The motivations were juvenile at best, and stupid at worst. I think this could have been a really great story about religious fanaticism in a small town or, at the very least, an interesting take on the power of peer pressure. Instead it just felt like a silly B-horror teen slasher flick. And, actually, that's probably not a terrible thing since it's apparently being adapted into a film.

Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield - 219 pages

Completed on 09/05/2016

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Years ago I received this book as a gift from a friend, and, for whatever reason, I never bothered to read it. It could be the fact that this is a memoir (and, as I mentioned before, I'm not always the biggest fan of nonfiction), or it could just be that I've gotten distracted with a bunch of other books over the years (especially once I got my Omaha library card last year!). Either way, it's been sitting on one of my bookshelves for years and, as I said in my summary post earlier this week, Erin's latest challenge inspired me to finally read it.

I shouldn't have waited so long to pick this up! Rob Sheffield writes about love and loss and music in a way that I wish I could. It's heartbreaking and touching and funny. I cried several times while reading, but I also found myself smiling over the musical references and sweet memories he shared.

It's always difficult to write reviews for memoirs. I mean, who am I to judge whether or not someone's life is worth reading about? I guess I always assume that if someone felt compelled to write a book about their life experiences, it's probably not going to read: "Every Friday night I put on my yoga pants, grab a pint of Ben & Jerry's, and have a Netflix movie marathon with my dog." (Or something similar.) There's nothing wrong with a Friday night like that (actually that's pretty close to my typical Friday nights, minus the dog), but I doubt many people would buy a book filled with anecdotes like that. It just wouldn't make sense. For a blog, yes. For a book, no.

That being said, I really enjoyed this book. (Though you may have guessed that from my 4 star rating.) There's something lovely about reading someone's love story, even if it has a sad, tragic ending.

And then there's the music. If you've spent any time at all on my blog, you've probably noticed that I really love music. Rob Sheffield gets music. (And he should, considering he's a music journalist.) I especially love that he has a soft spot for 90's music. (And again, he should. Everyone should! Well, I think so, anyway.)

Everything in his life was coupled with music, and that's something I could really relate to. I can't hear certain songs without instantly being transported back to a different time, a different place. For me, good memories, bad memories, and even the most mundane events are all forever intertwined with music. If I ever write a memoir (and I seriously doubt I will because my life isn't exactly that thrilling, but if I did), it would be filled with musical references. Just like Love is a Mix Tape.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - September 2016 Edition

I know this is probably a really lame thing to say, but I seriously feel like I blinked and half of September had flown by. This is my first post this month, and it's the 13th. The 13th. Where did the time go?

To be perfectly honest, things have been a little hectic in my life lately. And it seems that any time things get kind of crazy, blogging takes a major backseat. I love blogging, and I love connecting with other bloggers ... But sometimes I just don't have the time (or the energy).

But anyway, I don't want this post to be all about my failures as a blogger. So, in an effort to at least sort of get back on the blogging train, I'm linking up with Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books!

I will say, though, that I won't really be very active with the link-up until this upcoming weekend. I'm in DC for a work conference for the entire week, so I'll be tied up most of the time. It's true that I won't be doing conference stuff all day and all night, but Eric is flying in to spend part of the week with me so we'll be out doing touristy things and eating tons of food when I'm not busy. I'm hoping to learn a lot and enjoy my free time, so that means I probably won't be doing much (if any) blog stuff while I'm away. I'm planning to get caught up when I return, though, so expect lots of comments! (Even if I haven't been commenting, I've been reading ... So I'll probably go back and respond to at least a few of the posts I really enjoyed along with the posts in this link-up.)

Until then, here are my shorter reviews for the books I've read since the last link-up. I finished the Semi-Charmed Summer Book Challenge and started Book Challenge by Erin 5.0, so this month's installment is filled with a wide variety of genres. Something for everyone, I guess! (Maybe.)

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Child of God by Cormac McCarthy - 197 pages - 3 stars

Lester Ballard spends his days and nights roaming the hills of his rural Tennessee home, engaging in violent and depraved acts. In Child of God, readers are given a front row seat to his strange and disturbing lifestyle.

It's so difficult to rate and review a book like this. On the one hand, McCarthy is clearly a talented writer. He managed to create one of the creepiest characters I've ever encountered and make me feel completely disgusted multiple times within a mere 197 pages. However, I also felt like this book was lacking in some ways and had some trouble with the language of the rural South. (I'll talk a little more about both of these things in my more in-depth review on Sunday.)

I would most definitely not recommend this book to just anyone. Make no mistake: Lester Ballard is one fucked up dude. If reading about murder and necrophilia isn't your thing, please do yourself a favor and don't bother with Child of God. If, however, you enjoy disturbing stories that focus on the darker aspects of mankind, it might be worth checking out. Just know that, as Erin said in her review of this book, you might feel like you need a shower after reading this.

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan - 467 pages - 3 stars

It's a mother's worst nightmare: while out walking in the woods with her young son, Rachel allows him to run ahead of her. It's a simple decision she will forever be haunted by because in the couple of minutes it takes her to catch up, Ben has suddenly vanished. As the days go on with no hope in sight, everyone in Ben's life becomes a suspect ... Including Rachel.

I was really hoping for more from this book. While What She Knew isn't a bad book, it didn't deliver the way I'd hoped. When I finally reached the last page of an epilogue that felt painfully long, I just kind of felt "meh" about the whole thing.

There were a few suspenseful moments, but there were also plenty of times that the story just dragged. This is Gilly Macmillan's debut novel, and, while I mostly liked her writing style and the story she created, it sometimes felt a little clunky or fell a little flat. That being said, I didn't feel like I completely wasted my time on it and I'd be open to reading more Gilly Macmillan books in the future.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach - 303 pages - 3 stars

Mary Roach spent two years devoting herself to the study of sexual physiology, the history of sexual discovery, and modern sexual research. The result is Bonk, an often hilarious and always interesting look at what's really going on down there.

If you've never read Mary Roach, I recommend checking out her work ... And I say this as someone who doesn't read a lot of nonfiction. (I've previously read both Stiff and Spook and both were enjoyable, though Stiff was much better than Spook.) She writes about science, but she does it in a way that's humorous and engaging. She also writes for the masses: you don't need to have a degree in a scientific field in order to understand or enjoy her books. (Though as someone who does, I appreciate that she manages to do this without completely dumbing it down.)

Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley - 272 pages - 4 stars

Nick Naylor is the face of the tobacco industry. After numerous appearances on talk shows (during which he lies through his teeth about the "health benefits" of smoking), he finally may have met his match: a direct threat from a caller during his latest appearance on Larry King Live. As Nick becomes the target of both anti-tobacco terrorists and the FBI, he struggles to hold on to his job and the often crazy life that goes along with it.

Thank You for Smoking is filled with absurd situations, wacky (and often unlikable) characters, and dry, dark humor (my favorite kind). Occasionally offensive and often hilarious, this is satire at its best.

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life by Roald Dahl - 179 pages - 3 stars

Roald Dahl, best known for children's classics like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, wrote a collection of oddball, sometimes funny, sometimes horrific tales set in a rural English community (and loosely based on some of his own youthful misadventures), publishing it under the title Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life.

The stories vary from the horribly boring (like the title story, which is about breeding cattle, of all things) to the disgusting (like "The Ratcatcher," which is definitely not the kind of story you will enjoy if you can't stomach reading about cruelty to animals) to over-the-top silly (like one of my personal favorites, "The Champion of the World"). It's a strange little collection that I didn't love but liked a little more than I thought I would.

The Merciless by Danielle Vega - 279 pages - 2 stars

Sofia just wants to fit in at her new school, so when popular girl Riley takes her under her wing, she feels like she just might be able to handle being the new girl (again). But when Riley and her friends involve Sofia in "saving" Brooklyn, a girl they believe to be possessed, she begins to wonder how far she's willing to go to be part of their group.

The Merciless is an odd mix of teen drama, mean girls, religious fanaticism, and B-horror slasher flicks. And, honestly, it really didn't work. The only thing saving it from a 1 star rating was the fact that I was interested enough to keep reading (even if it was only to see what kind of crazy shit might happen next).

I was really excited to read this book, but I was so disappointed once I actually picked it up. Instead of being scared, I found myself rolling my eyes ... A lot. It was ridiculous and over-the-top, and I mostly just felt like I was watching a really bad teen horror movie.

Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield - 219 pages - 4 stars

In this memoir, Rob Sheffield uses music as the backdrop for the love story that changed his life. He and his wife were brought together through music, and it was music that helped him survive her sudden, tragic death. Heartbreaking, funny, and sweet, Love is a Mix Tape is perfect for anyone who understands the power of music.

This book brought me to tears several times, and I absolutely loved all of the musical references (even if I didn't always agree with his choices). It's been sitting on one of my bookshelves for years, but Erin's latest book challenge finally got me to pick it up. I just wish I hadn't waited so long to read it!

Unless something awful and crazy happens (like the last time I flew back to Omaha), I'll be back this weekend to comment, respond to comments, and post my more detailed reviews on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

To say that I've been feeling uninspired in the kitchen lately would be a huge understatement. If it requires more than 20-30 minutes, more than two pots/pans, and more than a handful of ingredients, I don't feel like making it. (Okay, if I'm being totally honest here, I'll admit that the majority of our meals these last couple of weeks have either been from a restaurant or from the freezer/a box/a jar.)

I wasn't even sure if I'd have anything to post for Tasty Tuesday this week, but then I realized that I still had a couple of recipes I've made over the last few months that I hadn't gotten around to posting yet. And, luckily, these Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers seemed like the perfect end of summer recipe.

Okay, yes ... You have to bake them. However, this meal is light and delicious and relatively healthy, and the vegetables and bright lemon flavor make me think of summer (or spring too, I guess). And, really, if you don't want to go through with the stuffed pepper portion of this recipe, that's okay too. I had extra filling left over, and it was delicious heated up as a warm lunch salad.

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Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers

Adapted from recipes on Smashed Garlic and The Mediterranean Dish.

Ingredient List (Filling):
  • 7 oz. Israeli couscous (This was about half of the package I purchased.)
  • 18-24 grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 14.5 oz. can quartered artichokes, roughly chopped
  • 1 14.5 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4-1 cup spinach, chopped (Fresh or frozen, it doesn't really matter.)

Instructions (Filling):

1.  Cook the Israeli couscous according to the package instructions.

2.  Once the couscous is cooked, add the grape tomatoes, artichokes, chickpeas, and spinach. Stir several times to thoroughly combine.

Ingredient List (Lemon Dill Vinaigrette):
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried dill weed
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Instructions (Lemon Dill Vinaigrette):

1.  Add the juice of a lemon, olive oil, dill weed, garlic powder, sea salt, and black pepper to a small bowl and whisk together until completely blended.

2.  Once the vinaigrette is well mixed, pour it over the Israeli couscous filling and stir several times to completely coat the filling.

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Ingredient List (Stuffed Peppers):

  • 6 bell peppers (I used a combination of red, yellow, and orange, but any kind of bell pepper is fine.)
  • Crumbled feta cheese for topping

Instructions (Stuffed Peppers):

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Cut off the tops of the peppers and remove the cores and any seeds.

3.  Stuff the peppers with the filling. You don't want to fill them to the brim, but stuff them about 3/4 full. Top with crumbled feta cheese.

4.  Place the peppers in an ungreased 9x13 inch pan, snuggling them as closely together as possible. (There will likely still be some space, depending on the size of your peppers, so please make sure you move the pan gently when you place it in the oven!)

5.  Bake the peppers uncovered for 15-20 minutes. (I baked mine for the full 20 minutes.)

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Olympic Book Tag

I didn't really plan to step away from most blog-related things for the last couple of weeks, but, you know, sometimes that happens. I wish I were a better, more consistent blogger, but I'm just not. I write when I feel like it (and when I have the time).

One of the reasons I haven't been working on this stuff as much lately is because I was completely sucked into the Olympics this year. (Obviously they haven't been on for a while now, but, like I said, it was one of the reasons I wasn't blogging. And, also, I'm not talking about the craziness surrounding Lochte and some of the other swimmers right now. I will say that I'm embarrassed that people like that are representing my country ... But this is supposed to be a fun, happy post. So I'll leave it at that.)

Anyway, my obsession with the Olympics led me to discover a new blog. (Well, new to me.) Shannon at It Starts at Midnight came up with this very fun and creative way to get book lovers (like myself and many of the people reading this!) into the spirit of the Olympics: the Olympic Book Tag.

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So, while the actual Olympics are over, I thought it would be fun to give this a shot. If nothing else, it got me back into blogging mode. Plus I got to use Shannon's adorable graphics!  (Seriously, I love these!)

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This book is centered around a school shooting in England, and it sucked me in from the very first page. There's no real mystery here (the gunman is revealed in the second chapter), but it was a very chilling look at the cruelties that both children and adults can be capable of.

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I know everyone doesn't love Chuck Palahniuk, but he remains one of my favorite authors (even if I haven't loved much of his more recent work). Invisible Monsters is one of my all-time favorite books, and, since I haven't read it in years, I'll likely be rereading it at some point in the near future.

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Trying to come up with a choice for this category was harder than I thought it would be. I guess I don't read a lot of books featuring love triangles. I will say, though, that even though I didn't love the way things played out in the end of Wreckage, it was an enjoyable read with a memorable love triangle (or maybe even love square, if you consider the fact that both main characters were married to other people).

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I wouldn't say that I didn't "get" this book, but it's definitely a complete mindfuck. It's also probably one of the most complex books I've ever read. (It took me around 6 months to get through it!)

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As the title implies, most of the events in this novel take place during the summer. If you've never read a Herman Koch novel, trust me when I say that he creates some of the most horrible, despicable characters ... And somehow it works. Summer House with Swimming Pool is no exception: it's filled with characters you'll love to hate.

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Full disclosure: I actually never finished this book. I rarely leave books unfinished, but, for whatever reason, one day I put this down and never picked it up again. (Well, I picked it up to put it back on my bookshelf.) This isn't a bad book, but I do think you have to be in the right mood for it because it's pretty horrific. I still think about some of the scenes to this day! (And, if you're wondering, I do plan to read the entire thing at some point.)

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It was kind of tough to choose just one book for this category because I've read several with really awesome twists. But The Man From Primrose Lane deserved this honor because it was a complete "didn't see that coming" mindfuck (in the best possible way). It's bizarre, but it's so good.

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This was another tough category because several books have made me ugly cry for ridiculous amounts of time, but The Nightingale managed to break my heart multiple times. And the ending? I was a complete wreck.

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I really liked The Silent Wife, but it definitely was not a fast-paced novel! It eventually sucked me in, but it took a while for me to really get invested.

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There are so many books I could have chosen for this category, but I can remember really falling in love with this one. It's been years since I read it (I was probably somewhere in the 10-13 age range), but I still remember being deeply affected by the story. (Don't judge it by the awful cover!) It was unlike anything I'd ever read at that time. I don't know how I'd feel about it if I read it now, but I did ask my mom to keep the copy I have at her house just in case I ever want to revisit the story.

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This book easily could have been my pick for childhood favorite, but it also definitely works well for this category. If you've never read this book, you really really should. It's just so heartbreaking and beautiful.

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Since I usually push myself to finish a book once I've started it, I've struggled through my fair share of "meh" (or even awful) novels. I felt like Grotesque was probably most deserving of this "award" (if you can call it that), though, because I had such high hopes for it and it was such a disappointment.

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I had a really tough time coming up with a book that didn't center around a friendship turning into a romantic relationship. (And, to be honest, Oscar and Eli's friendship dipped into the romance zone at least a few times.) I chose Let the Right One In, though, because the friendship between Oscar and Eli is strong. (This becomes even more apparent by the end of the book.)

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It may be cheating to include a book I haven't read, but I'm currently on the waiting list at the library for this one ... So it's going to count. I loved Megan Abbott's novel The End of Everything, so I'm looking forward to reading this one (especially since it gives readers a look into the world of elite, competitive gymnastics)!

If anyone decides to steal borrow this idea, please just make sure to credit Shannon at It Starts at Midnight. I hope some of you do write a post like this. I'd be interested to see your picks for each category!