Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Orange Beef Noodle Bowls

I've been really behind on blog-related stuff lately (which is why this post is going up much later than I initially planned). I was hoping to get caught up last weekend, but I spent most of my time reading, hanging out with Eric, and running errands. Oh well ... It happens.

Luckily for me, today's post practically wrote itself. The recipe I'm sharing is so simple that I almost feel silly for sharing it.  Almost.

This is what I like to call a "shortcut" recipe: the sauce is not homemade, and it barely requires any effort. Once you've soaked your rice noodles, sliced your meat and red bell pepper, and diced some green onions, all you have to do is throw everything in a skillet. It's one of the easiest things I've made recently, but it was too delicious not to share.

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Orange Beef Noodle Bowls

Adapted from a recipe on Taste and Tell.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 lb boneless beef sirloin steak, sliced into thin strips 
  • 8 oz. rice noodles
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 cups orange stir fry sauce (I used La Choy Orange Ginger sauce. I love this sauce, but I usually like to use quite a bit because I think the flavor is pretty subtle. I used the full 2 cups of sauce for this recipe, but I'd suggest starting with less and adjusting if necessary.)
  • 1 lb frozen broccoli florets
  • 1 large red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips (I also cut the strips in half so there would be more pepper scattered throughout the dish, but that's completely optional.)
  • 2-3 green onions, diced (optional)


1.  Soak the rice noodles according to the package directions for stir fry. My noodles needed to be soaked in a bowl of hot water for 30 minutes, so make sure you check your package before getting started. The rest of the meal comes together very quickly, so you don't want to be waiting around for your noodles to finish soaking if everything else is already done!

2. Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil has warmed up, add the sliced steak. Cook the meat to desired doneness, turning occasionally to cook evenly. Once the beef has finished cooking, remove to a plate and set aside.

3.  Add the red bell pepper, broccoli, and orange stir fry sauce to the skillet. Stir fry the vegetables in the sauce until they're just beginning to soften (about 3-5 minutes).  

4.  After the vegetables have begun to soften, add the beef back to the skillet and give everything a good stir. Cook the meat and vegetables together for about 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5.  Drain the rice noodles and add them to the skillet.  Stir everything several times to ensure the noodles are evenly coated. (You can also taste here and add more stir fry sauce if you think you need it.) Cook until the noodles are firm but tender (al dente). Top with diced green onions, if desired.

The best thing about this recipe (besides the fact that it's delicious, quick, and ridiculously easy!) is that you can easily change it up. The orange sauce I used would taste great with chicken, pork, or maybe even tofu (though I'm not personally a fan of tofu, so maybe you shouldn't take my word on that). And, if you're not a fan of orange sauce, you could easily substitute your favorite stir fry sauce. You could also change up the vegetables or use rice instead of noodles. While I wouldn't say the possibilities are endless, you definitely have a lot of options if you think you'd want to change up some of the ingredients!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Seasonal Goals: Summer 2016

Instead of my usual Tasty Tuesday post, I'm linking up with Steph and Sara to share my summer goals.
Life According to Steph
If you've already seen my spring goals results, you know that I didn't do a great job sticking with them. So, in an effort to actually complete more than 30% of my list, I'm only listing 5 goals for summer.

I'm also not going to try to force myself to do anything I really don't want to do. Yes, there are some things that need to be done around the apartment that aren't my idea of a good time, but I'm not going to add them to my list this time around.

To be perfectly honest, summer is my least favorite season. I don't like the heat, I don't like feeling like I have to wear less clothing because of the heat (give me sweaters and hoodies and boots any day!), I don't like bugs, and humidity can go to hell. I'm sure I sound like a total buzzkill, but when I can't leave my apartment for 5 minutes without immediately getting drenched in sweat and feasted upon by mosquitos, I can't exactly enjoy myself.

It's fine, though. Over the years I've come to terms with the fact that I'm going to be mostly miserable for a few hot months. I'm always rewarded at the end with lovely, cool autumn weather, changing leaves, and plenty of opportunities to snuggle with a warm blanket and great book in front of a fire.

That being said, I do want to try to enjoy myself this summer. That doesn't mean I'm going to start hopping in the pool every day or anything, though. (I've lived at my apartment complex for a little over 5 years now, and I've been to the pool a grand total of zero times.) What it does mean is that I'm going to try to make the most of the next few months ... And I'm starting here, with a list of fun things I'd like to accomplish this summer.

Summer 2016 Goals

1. Finish the Semi-Charmed Summer 2016 Book Challenge.

I know book challenges aren't everyone's thing, but I love them. My reading has kind of slowed down a bit, but I'm determined to pick things back up and finish this challenge. I was so frustrated when I didn't finish the last Semi-Charmed challenge because I only had one book to go. I just ran out of time. Not this season! (My picks for this challenge can be found here.)

2. Get Bloody Marys at Krug Park and try the Localmotive food truck in Benson.

Benson has become a pretty cool area over the past few years, but I don't go there that much because parking can be a fucking nightmare. (At least in my opinion.) I've been dying to try the Bloody Marys at Krug Park for at least a year, though, so this is the perfect excuse to do it. I just recently heard about the Localmotive food truck, and, since they do an "express" version of their menu in Benson, I figured I could just tack that on to this goal. Oh, and I'm definitely taking an Uber there and back because 1.) I clearly hate parking in Benson and 2.) I fully intend to try at least three of the Bloody Mary varieties offered at the bar.

3. Go to the zoo at least once.

I haven't been to the zoo in several years, and that's kind of crazy. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo is really awesome, and it's just a short drive away. I know it will require a day out in the heat, but I can always wait until it cools down a bit in September.

4. Get ice cream, a sundae, and/or a milkshake at Zesto.

I've lived in Omaha since 2009 and I've never been to Zesto. It's supposedly an Omaha staple, so I'm surprised that Eric has never taken me there. As I was writing this, I asked him about it, and his response was, "Oh yeah, it was like tradition to go there during the College World Series!" I definitely need this in my life.

5. Finalize planning and booking our 3 year wedding anniversary trip for November.

Yes, I know this was one of my spring goals, but, like the majority of the things on that list, it didn't get done. I'd ideally like to get this figured out by August.

I'm giving myself until the official start of autumn (September 22) to complete all of these things. I think I can do it, especially since two of these goals involve food.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Seasonal Goals: Spring 2016 Results

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I don't really like to combine my results and future goals in a single post, so I'll finally link up with Steph and Sara tomorrow when I post my summer goals. I'm already late to the link-up, so what's one more day? That means no Tasty Tuesday post this week. Some people can publish two posts in a single day, but I am not one of those people.

I thought about sharing my results on Friday when the link-up went live, but I kept pushing this post back because some silly, naive part of myself kept saying, "It's okay, you've got a few more days to do everything. You're sticking with the calendar, remember?"

You know what I did with those extra days? Nothing. Okay, that's a lie ... I did things. I just didn't do any of the things on my list of goals for spring.

I don't typically do seasonal goals, but I was excited to try it out. I thought having three months to work on things would make me much more productive. Man, was I wrong.

The thing is, sometimes I like to procrastinate. I don't do it all the time because it would literally drive me insane, but sometimes I just find that I'm not really in the mood to do certain things and I put them off as long as possible. (Or, as you'll see in this post, I don't do them at all).

Unfortunately, I tend to procrastinate if I feel like I have a long time to finish something. Instead of jumping in immediately, I mostly ignore it until I can't ignore it anymore ... And then I have to decide if it's worth my time and energy or if I just want to say "fuck it" and move on.

Clearly I chose the "fuck it" attitude for the majority of my spring goals. Whomp whomp.

Spring 2016 Goals Results

1. Purge and reorganize my closet (including shoes, underwear, etc.).

FAIL. I didn't even take five minutes to glance through my closet. I hate doing this shit. And, even though I know it needs to be done eventually, I'll probably put it off for as long as possible.

2. Buy a few new things to update my spring/summer wardrobe.

FAIL. I thought this one would be easy to complete. I mean, I'm the kind of person who enjoys shopping for clothes. I even spent an entire Saturday at one of the local malls with a friend and bought nothing (well, I bought food but that doesn't count). I didn't see anything that really stood out, and I didn't want to buy something I didn't really even want. That just makes #1 even harder because I'm adding more shit I don't need to my closet.

3. Pay off 25% of the remaining balance on my auto loan.

PASS. At least I completed one of my more important goals! I usually try to prioritize any financial goals because they're generally not too time consuming and they also allow me to form good habits. I actually paid off a little more than 25% of the remaining balance (just under 31%), and I'm on track to pay off my car by the end of the year!

4. Finalize planning and booking our 3 year wedding anniversary trip for November.

FAIL. We still have plenty of time to get this figured out, but I'm kind of surprised we haven't done it yet. The main issue is that our original plan (an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean) isn't exactly my ideal vacation. So when we started casually discussing some other places we'd want to go, I started obsessing over the best way to combine a beach vacation with something that matches my interests a little more. And, instead of figuring anything out, we kind of came to a grinding halt. Eric still really wants to stick with the original idea, and I'm kind of on the fence. We'll see what happens, but that's where we're at right now.

5. Spend more time outside.

PASS. I'm giving myself a pass on this one because I took a few walks outside, had dinner with Eric and my in-laws outside on their patio on a nice evening, and even sweated my ass off last night at the College World Series. I didn't do outdoor activities every week or anything, but I spent more time outside than I normally do. (That's not really saying much, but still ... It's something I can actually cross off this list!)

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6. Plan Eric's birthday dinner.

PASS. We went to the Flatiron Cafe on Saturday, and it was fabulous! In the pictures below you can see our appetizer (potato encrusted sea scallops), entrées (I had the veal chop with jalapeño bacon potato salad and brussels sprouts and Eric had the filet and lobster special with potato au gratin and steamed vegetables), and dessert (crème brûlée with berries). Also pictured: Eric blowing out the candle on the dessert. Not pictured: the two bottles of wine we drank. Don't worry, we took an Uber there and back because we were planning to order plenty of wine!

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7. Go to the eye doctor.

FAIL. This is something I really shouldn't keep putting off, but it's so easy to forget to call and make an appointment until they've already closed for the evening. Why can't they just offer a way to schedule appointments online?  It would make things so much easier!

8. Update my recipe index on the blog.

FAIL. I really wanted to do this, but I didn't have the motivation. It's important to me that I update it soon, but I've been putting it off for so long that it's going to take a while to get caught up.

9. Update the look of my blog.

FAIL. Again, this was something that I really wanted to do, but I opted to spend my "fun" money on other things (mostly eating out and a dress from Rent the Runway for my dinner out with Eric). I also know I have some expensive car maintenance things coming up (it's nothing major, just several things that unfortunately need to be replaced all at once), and my mom is planning to visit in August (so that means we'll probably be going out to eat a little more often and/or doing other fun things in town that may cost money). So basically this is getting pushed further down on my priority list.

10. Read at least 4 books I own (not rereads).

FAIL. I really thought I could do this since June has been all about the Read My Books challenge. As of right now, I've almost finished 3 books I own. I haven't had as much free time to read lately, and I'm not loving the book I'm currently reading ... So that explains that.

And that was spring. I'm still thinking about some of my summer goals, but I'll probably try to make a slightly shorter list this time around. Maybe I'll actually stick with my goals if there are fewer to deal with!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Recently Read: In-Depth Reviews - June 2016 Edition

I wanted to get this post up earlier today, but this has been a busy weekend and that means I kind of dropped the ball on blog related stuff. I usually try to schedule things in advance (especially during the week), but I needed to put the finishing touches on a couple of these reviews, edit the post, and finish my graphics. And, of course, I waited until the last minute to do these things.

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Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes - 448 pages

Completed on 05/12/2016

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I'm one of those people who really enjoyed You. (My review can be found here, if you're interested.) I love when an author can make me like an unlikable character, and Caroline Kepnes did just that.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the same feeling with Hidden Bodies.

I partially blame this on the fact that so much time had passed since I read You that sometimes I had trouble remembering some of the events referenced. I generally think I have a pretty good memory, but I read a lot of books ... So it's not that surprising that I wouldn't remember every detail from a book I read last August. (And, since I keep crazy records of my reading, I can tell you that I read 48 books between You and Hidden Bodies. Looking at it that way, I'm impressed that I actually remembered as much as I did about the first book!)

I also didn't feel like I ever really connected with Hidden Bodies the way I connected with You. There were a lot of laugh out loud moments for me in You (though maybe I shouldn't admit to that since that might make me sound like a fucked up psycho). The humor in Hidden Bodies felt much more forced. And, to be honest, I just didn't find Joe as likable this time around.

I discussed this book a bit with Erin, and I think that helped me pinpoint why I didn't like Hidden Bodies as much as I liked You. Although it took me a little while to get used to reading something written in second person (I've only read a handful of books written this way), I thought Kepnes did a great job opening up Joe's twisted mind. The pacing was excellent, I loved the dark humor, and the story intrigued me.

Joe's voice in Hidden Bodies, on the other hand, didn't seem as interesting or original. It felt a little flat ... Like he was trying a little too hard to be the next Patrick Bateman. (And, if he was, he failed.) I also felt like the plot of Hidden Bodies fell into the same tired category that many TV shows fall into: they do a "location" shoot and it just doesn't really work. (At least not for me. Those are my absolute least favorite episodes of any show.) I understand why he moved to California, but it became a "Joe Goes to Hollywood" kind of thing and I just didn't get much out of it.

I realize that all of this makes it sound like I didn't like this book at all, but that's not the case. I'd say that I mostly enjoyed it (enough to give it a 3 star rating), and I liked that it was a really easy, quick read. I think my problem was that I was comparing it to You a little too much. Yes, it's a sequel written by the same author, but they're still different books.

Basically, my verdict is this: Hidden Bodies was a decent way to pass the time. I liked some parts of the book, but I didn't think it was as good as You. I was a little disappointed that I didn't enjoy it more than I did, though, especially after waiting for several months to get it from the library.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen - 327 pages

Completed on 05/17/2016

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My library has been very awesome lately, ordering several of the books I've recently requested they purchase. I requested The Light of the Fireflies in April, and it was ordered and available within just a couple of weeks!

As you can probably tell from the 3 star rating, I unfortunately wasn't blown away. 3 stars is not a bad rating (and I swear that one of these days I'm going to write a post inspired by Kristen and Steph on my book rating system), but it's also not an "Oh my God, this book was so amazing and I think everyone should read it" kind of rating.

The Light of the Fireflies was translated from Spanish, and I thought the translator (Simon Bruni) did a good job. Sometimes the writing in novels that are translated from another language can feel a little awkward (I've definitely read a few like that!), but that was thankfully not the case here.

I've seen at least a couple of Goodreads reviews mention that this novel is a lot like Room, but, while there are a few similarities, I thought they were very different. (And that's a good thing because I'm one of the very few people out there who absolutely hated Room.) The Light of the Fireflies, like Room, is told through the eyes of a young boy who has never experienced the outside world. But, other than the fact that the mother is also locked in with the boy in both books, that's where the similarities end.

One of the main reasons I hated Room is, oddly enough, one of the main reasons I enjoyed The Light of the Fireflies. While the young narrator in Room got on my nerves, I thought Pen made a smart choice in choosing the young boy to narrate The Light of the Fireflies because he didn't know anything of life "before" ... His mother found out she was pregnant with him after the family was locked in the basement. Seeing their situation through his innocent eyes made me want to keep turning the pages to unravel the secrets his family kept from him.

I also appreciated that readers are given the story of life "before" about halfway through the book. Things began to click into place at that point, including some of the more unusual family dynamics. Their strange situation is also fully explained, but I had some mixed feelings about that.

My biggest problem with this book was the big reveal: I was honestly kind of let down. While it did come as a surprise (which I appreciated), it was just kind of like, "Huh. Um, well, okay then." I'm pretty sure that was exactly what ran through my head as I was reading. Obviously I can't go into it very much without giving away spoilers, but it just wasn't the type of twist I was hoping for, I guess. (Though, like I said, kudos to the author for coming up with something that did completely take me by surprise.)

This book was dark and disturbing (which, as many of you know, is my favorite kind of book!), but it didn't wow me the way I thought it would. Still, it was an interesting story of an extremely dysfunctional family, and I definitely don't feel like I wasted my time on it.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh - 369 pages

Completed on 05/23/2016

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When I started this book, I was worried I wasn't going to enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I had high hopes for it after reading Erin's review, so when it took me a little longer to get into it than I anticipated, I thought it might not work for me.

Just as I was beginning to resign myself to an "okay" book, everything changed. It was like a slap in the face: instead of going along the way I thought it would, things got twisted around and I realized nothing was as it seemed.

Erin's descriptions of this book were spot on. You think you know what's going on, and then, just as suddenly, you realize you're completely wrong about pretty much everything. And, really, that's the way a good thriller should be written.

Mackintosh is a former member of the police force, and that really shines through in this story. I loved that she was able to weave in her knowledge of the law and the way investigations are handled. It was also interesting to me to find that the inspiration for this book came from an actual case she had worked on. It made the story feel a little more realistic, even if a few things felt completely unbelievable.

I went in knowing very little about the plot, and I definitely think that's the way to go. I will note, though, that this book deals with some difficult topics. If you're feeling particularly sensitive, it may not be the right book for you. (I may unintentionally spoil some things if I go into more detail here, but if you read this and have concerns, leave a comment and I'll tell you a little more in an email. Just make sure you're not a no-reply blogger!)

So why only 4 stars instead of 5? Mostly because it took me so long to really get into it. Once I did, though, I couldn't put it down!

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas - 363 pages

Completed on 05/29/2016

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Sometimes I'll pick up a book with only a vague sense of what it's about. I mean, I really like looking through summaries and reviews on Goodreads when I'm searching for new things to add to my seemingly endless "To Read" list ... But once in a while, I don't feel like combing through all the shit. Sometimes I just quickly skim the summary, and, if it sounds at least somewhat interesting, I'll add it to my list.

Mother, Mother was one of those books. It got bumped to the top of the list during Erin's last book challenge, but I didn't get to it until after the challenge ended. (I still finished the challenge and read 4 bonus round picks, though, so I'm happy with my results!) It wasn't a book I was dying to read, but I also didn't have super high expectations ... So that was kind of nice.

I'll be completely honest and say that it took a long time for me to become fully invested in this book and its characters. The characters weren't particularly likable, but that wasn't the reason it took me so long to care about what happened to them. I don't know if I could pinpoint what it was exactly that made me feel very "meh" about them (and the book in general) for so long, but I do remember thinking that the beginning of the book felt like it had been written for a YA audience.

I didn't really get into YA books until last summer, but I've grown to like them (many of them, anyway) much more than I thought I would. I can appreciate YA on a different level because I know, going in, that it was intended for a younger audience. That being said, when I'm reading a book (like Mother, Mother) that has been categorized as "adult fiction," I expect it to read that way.

About halfway through the book, things started to turn around. I felt like Zailckas was telling (as opposed to showing) readers just how fucked up the matriarch of the Hurst family was in the beginning, but as the story progressed, she began to back away a bit and allowed Josephine's controlling, manipulative nature to speak for itself.

Zailckas also managed to shock me with a twist that I really wasn't expecting. After thinking about it more, I'm kind of surprised I didn't see it coming ... The clues were there. I think because I was reading it as more of a dysfunctional family drama than a psychological thriller, I wasn't really expecting any kind of twist or big reveal.

Although the ending was just so-so for me, Josephine's craziness and the surprise I felt over the twist was enough to bump my rating up to 3 stars. I wouldn't say I absolutely loved this book, but, when it finally picked up for me, I was both entertained and appalled by the way things played out.

Hurt People by Cote Smith - 321 pages

Completed on 06/01/2016

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I was initially drawn to Hurt People because I thought the cover was interesting. I noticed it when I was searching the "New Release" section of my library's website, and I immediately put a hold on it when I read the summary.

Several reviews on Goodreads refer to this book as a "slow burn," and I think that's 100% accurate. And, while it definitely wasn't a fast-paced thriller, I found myself completely captivated by the story. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. two nights in a row reading it, stopping only because I knew I probably wouldn't be able to drag myself out of bed for work in the morning if I was up any later.

As I read, I often felt this sense of dread building in the pit of my stomach. I knew exactly where at least part of the story was likely to lead, but that did nothing to lessen that sickening feeling. This is a horrifying book, not because it involves tons of gore or the creepiness of something supernatural, but because it tells a story that feels all too real.

Like The Light of the FirefliesHurt People is narrated by a very young boy and, once again, it works well. Readers are only given a glimpse of certain things that don't always make much sense to the young narrator. Loss of innocence is definitely one of the major themes, so seeing the events of the novel through the eyes of a little boy is the perfect way to get that idea across.

I genuinely grew to care about many of the characters in Hurt People. The parents were flawed in very realistic ways, and the anger and confusion the boys felt about their separation felt genuine. It was nearly flawless, and I'm honestly impressed that this is Cote Smith's first novel. I can't wait to see what he comes up with in the future!

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker - 294 pages

Completed on 06/06/2016

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I'm one of the few people who didn't like Lost. I didn't watch it while it was on TV, but I watched the first season and about half of the second season on Netflix before completely giving up on it. It was just too over-the-top for me.

It may be surprising, then, that I was really drawn to Wreckage, a novel that centers around a plane crash that leaves survivors stranded on a remote island. I was so drawn to this book, in fact, that I put in a request at my library to order it. When they didn't, I opted to buy it myself. I just had to read it!

And, while it definitely wasn't what I was expecting, it was well worth the money. (Okay, technically it was free since I used a gift card to buy it ... But I gladly would have paid money for it!)

Like LostWreckage definitely had its over-the-top moments. There were a few times when I felt like rolling my eyes over some of the overly dramatic events and some of the things the two main characters, Lillian and Dave, felt they needed to lie about regarding the plane crash and their time on the island. The book also started off really strong and then sort of fizzled out by the end, which was more than disappointing.

But Wreckage still somehow proved its worth to me. (I did give it 4 stars, after all.) I loved the pacing of the novel ... Bleeker seemed to always know just how much she should reveal as the characters relived their experiences. I know that some people really don't like books told from multiple points of view or books that alternate between the past and present, but it was definitely the right choice to utilize both of these techniques in Wreckage. I liked knowing both versions of the story (the truth and the edited version), as well as what was going on inside the two main characters' heads before and after their time on the island.

If you want a realistic depiction of a fight for survival, you'll be pretty disappointed with Wreckage. It's just not that kind of book. It's also not a true "suspense" novel. I found myself eager to discover what Lillian and Dave were hiding, but, in the end, most of their lies were either unnecessary or just slight revisions of the truth. And, honestly, the only major plot twist was something that was (in my opinion) kind of weird and not something that really tied in with the main plot of the story. It was tied in with a subplot, and, unfortunately, annoyed me when it was revealed near the end of the book. (It was one of a few reasons I thought the ending wasn't that great.)

This is the kind of book that simply offers a great escape from everyday life. While I wouldn't categorize it as "light and fluffy" (it definitely has a few darker moments!), it's not the kind of book that requires a lot of thought. It's a quick and easy read that not only shines a light on what it might be like to be hounded by the media after surviving a horrific event, but also throws in a little action/adventure, intrigue, and even some romance. And, despite all its flaws, I really enjoyed Wreckage.

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter - 200 pages

Completed on 06/09/2016

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To be perfectly honest, I don't really know what to say about this book. While the actual writing was lovely, the story itself wasn't really much of a story at all.

The Magic Toyshop has literally been sitting unread on my bookshelf for at least 5 or 6 years. I ordered it online years ago because it sounded like a really unusual, dark novel filled with surreal events. And, while it definitely had all of those elements, the execution left a lot to be desired.

I didn't enjoy this book because I was never able to really get into it. It was very short, but it probably would have taken me a couple of weeks to finish it if I hadn't forced myself to get through it in order to move on to something else. I didn't really care about any of the characters, and even felt like Melanie's two younger siblings were completely unnecessary additions to the story. I thought some of the imagery was haunting and beautiful, but I kept expecting it to all lead to a satisfying (or, at the very least, interesting) conclusion. It didn't. It just ended abruptly, and I was left thinking, "That's it?"

As I read, I kept thinking, "Maybe it will get better. Maybe something interesting will happen." I should have known better.

Many of you know that I can't bring myself to quit a book. I just can't. It's even worse if it's a book I purchased because then I feel like I have to read it ... After all, I spent hard earned money on it! That was definitely the case this time around. I wanted so badly to like The Magic Toyshop, but I just couldn't. Honestly, the only thing saving it from a 1 star rating was Carter's beautiful, poetic writing. Otherwise, it just felt like a waste of time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

From the Bookshelf: Recently Read - June 2016 Edition

It feels like it's been a lot longer than a month since the last Show Us Your Books! link-up. Maybe it's because I was actually prepared this time around. It always feels like it sneaks up on me when I haven't read many books and/or haven't been writing out my reviews as I go, but time seems to drag on when I have a mostly finished post sitting in my drafts.

Since the last link-up, I've read a lot of books with blue covers. This is somewhat unfortunate since one of the categories for Book Challenge by Erin 5.0 is "Read a book that has a (mostly) blue cover." (I've been slacking, but I should have my list finished and posted sometime next week.)

I read quite a bit this time around, so I tried to keep my reviews short. (The same cannot be said for my introduction, however.) 

I'm trying something a little different this month as well: for the link-up post, I'm giving a brief synopsis and some general thoughts on the book. When I post my more in-depth reviews on Sunday, I'll just be sharing more (spoiler free!) specifics about what I liked/didn't like about each book. 

I will not be including a more in-depth synopsis in that post. If you want that, please visit Goodreads. (Each book I've reviewed is directly linked to its Goodreads page.) Over the past few months I've started to get bored with trying to write a detailed summary of each book I read, and I enjoyed writing my reviews this month much more. Clearly this was a change I needed to make.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, it's time for the good stuff. Linking up with Steph and Jana, obviously.

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Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes - 448 pages - 3 stars

Following his disastrous relationship with Beck, Joe Goldberg is finally ready to move on. Leaving his beloved bookstore in New York behind, he heads west to California for a fresh start. But he lives in constant fear that his dark secrets will reveal themselves. Can he keep them hidden, or will they ruin everything?

I really enjoyed You when I read it last year, so I was really disappointed when Hidden Bodies didn't deliver the way I'd hoped. While I enjoyed parts of the book and got through it quickly, I thought Joe seemed a little less likable and interesting this time around.

I'll discuss my main issues with this book in more detail in my post on Sunday, but for now I'll just say that I didn't really like the whole "Joe Goes to Hollywood" storyline. I understood why he moved there, but I felt like a major part of the plot got buried somewhere under all the other bullshit.

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen - 327 pages - 3 stars

A young boy has spent his entire life living underground with his parents, sister, brother, and grandmother. As he grows a little older, he begins questioning what he knows about their situation and wondering if he'll ever experience life outside the locked basement.

The Light of the Fireflies kept me guessing until about the middle of the book, when the author describes the series of events that ultimately led to the family's current living arrangement. And, while Pen managed to surprise me with their story and I liked the book overall, I was ultimately a little disappointed by the big reveal.

I Let You Go
 by Clare Mackintosh - 369 pages - 4 stars

Jenna Gray moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast in an effort to put a horrific, life-changing car accident behind her. While Jenna tries to move on, two police detectives in Bristol are intent on keeping the hit-and-run case open. But when one dead end leads to another, they begin to wonder if they'll ever find out what really happened that night.

I Let You Go is one of the best thrillers I've read recently.  I'll admit that the pacing was a little slow for me at the beginning, so I initially thought I wasn't going to like the book very much. And then, after slogging through the first third or so of the book, Mackintosh dropped a major bomb and I found myself completely sucked in, desperate to know how everything was going to play out.

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas - 363 pages - 3 stars

Josephine Hurst has always been obsessed with image and having the "perfect" family. When her oldest daughter, Rose, runs away, she tightens her controlling grip on the remaining members of the Hurst clan.

Some people should probably never become parents. Josephine Hurst is one of those people. She wasn't just controlling and manipulative: she was fucking psychotic and scary.

Although it took me a while to really get into this book and I found the ending to be just "okay," there was enough dysfunction and craziness to make this an overall entertaining read.

Hurt People by Cote Smith - 321 pages - 4 stars

It's the start of summer in 1988, and a small Kansas town is rocked by the recent escape of a dangerous criminal. A murderer on the loose isn't enough to stop two young brothers from spending their days lounging by the pool at their apartment, though, even though their mother forbids them from going while she's at work. There they meet Chris, a mysterious stranger who quickly takes an interest in the oldest boy. As his brother becomes more intrigued by Chris and his promises to help him escape his broken home, the younger boy desperately tries to hold on to his best friend.

Although I didn't give it 5 stars, I'm still convinced that Hurt People is a contender for my future Best Books of 2016 list. It wasn't perfect, but it was really really fucking good.

While it's not the kind of fast-paced thriller that usually keeps me up at night, tearing through the pages to see what happens next, I still found myself glued to this book until 2:00 a.m. for two consecutive nights. I was torn between wanting to see how everything played out and never wanting the book to end. This one will definitely stick with me for a long time.

 by Emily Bleeker - 294 pages - 4 stars

After a plane crash leaves them stranded on a deserted island in the South Pacific, Lillian Linden and Dave Hall are finally rescued nearly two years later. Thrust into the spotlight, their fascinating story captures the interest of the public ... And journalist Genevieve Randall. Genevieve is convinced they're both hiding something, and she's determined to uncover the truth about what really happened on that island.

This is not a perfect novel by any stretch of the imagination. There were a few things that were over-the-top ridiculous, and I thought some of the things Lillian and Dave lied about were kind of trivial and silly. And the ending? Well, it honestly kind of sucked.

It may be surprising that I gave the book I just described 4 stars, but, in this case, I was able to look past many of its flaws. In the end, the story of the plane crash and life on the island kept me entertained. And, while a lot of the lies/secrets seemed completely unnecessary, Bleeker did a great job holding my interest throughout most of the novel, revealing just enough to make me think, "Okay, I'll just read one more chapter!" each time I thought I was ready to put it down.

If you're looking for a fun beach read with a little bit of romance and mystery, this is a great pick ... Just don't read the first few chapters while you're on a plane!

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter - 200 pages - 2 stars

After their parents die in an accident, Melanie and her two younger siblings are sent to live with relatives they've never met: mute Aunt Margaret, her brothers Francie and Finn, and their strange and controlling Uncle Philip.

I can't really say much more about the plot of this book because, well, that pretty much sums it up. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but nothing ever did. (Okay, I take that back. The last 8-10 pages or so had a bit of drama, but it was too little, too late.)

I was so disappointed that I didn't like this book. It had some promising moments, and I did like the way Carter handled Melanie's loss of childhood/innocence in the novel. However, for a short novel of only 200 pages, it dragged. Even the lovely, almost poetic writing couldn't save this one for me. (Though it did manage to save the book from a 1 star rating, so I guess that's something.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

May 2016 Goals and Results

I wasn't really looking forward to posting my goals and workouts from May because I really crapped out. I guess I did okay with my goals (for the most part), but I just sort of gave up on working out about halfway through the month.

So far I've been doing much better this month. Hopefully I can keep it up!

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May 2016 Goals and Results

1. Finish all of the library books I have at home.

PASS. I technically finished the last one on June 1st, but I only had around 60 or 70 pages left ... So that definitely counts!

2. Pause all library holds in preparation for Erin and Dani's Read My Books challenge.

PASS. This was obviously a really easy goal, but I wrote it down just so I wouldn't forget to do it.

3. Work out at least 3 times each week.

FAIL. I really prefer to work out 4-5 times each week, but I wasn't very consistent the last couple of months. I thought if I made an easier workout goal for myself, I'd be more likely to stick with it. I was clearly wrong.

4. Finish at least 4 things on my spring goals list.

FAIL. I had good intentions when I made that list, but I really haven't done much with it. As of right now, I can maybe cross off two items (and one of them is kind of a stretch). I'm sure I'll be able to cross off at least a couple more things before the results link-up rolls around, but I'm honestly just not that motivated to do some of that shit right now. Even some of the "easy" things (like planning and booking our trip) have gotten a little more complicated. We thought we knew where we wanted to go, but lately we've been talking about a few other options. We may stick with our original plan, but who knows at this point? We booked our last two anniversary trips a little later in the summer, though, so I guess we'll be fine as long as we figure it out by August.

I tried to keep it simple last month with just a few goals (though I guess the last one was technically four goals in one), but I still didn't do very well. Oh well. We all have shitty months, I guess.

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And that brings me to my May workouts. This was by far the worst month for me this year when it came to working out. I keep track of my workouts, blog posts, and some other stuff in a notebook, and when I added everything up from May, I was shocked to see that I had exactly the same number of workouts as blog posts. For bloggers who regularly post 3-5 times each week, that would be a really good thing. For bloggers who post sporadically and sometimes not at all (like me), that's a really bad thing. 

But whatever. It is what it is. I was feeling really depressed for the majority of the month, so maybe I should look at it as a positive: at least I was able to do something good for myself a few times. It's a little weird, though, because in the past I've always worked out a lot more when I've been really depressed ... But last month I just couldn't seem to do it. I don't know why. All I know is that I've been very focused on doing something active each day this month (even if it's just 15-20 minutes of stretching), and I've been feeling a little better emotionally and mentally.

May 2016 Workouts

Week 05/01 - 05/08:

05/02: Yoga video (45 minutes)
05/03: Yoga video (30 minutes)
05/04: Light walking outside (53 minutes; 2.51 miles)
05/08: Yoga video (30 minutes)

Total Time: 158 minutes (2 hours, 38 minutes)

Week 05/09 - 05/16:

05/09: Yoga video (30 minutes)
05/11: Yoga video (60 minutes)
05/16: Yoga video (45 minutes)

Total Time: 135 minutes (2 hours, 15 minutes)

Week 05/17 - 05/24:

05/17: Yoga video (35 minutes)
05/18: Yoga video (35 minutes)

Total Time: 70 minutes (1 hour, 10 minutes)

Week 05/25 - 05/31:

No workouts during this time.

Total Time: 0 minutes

I didn't go to the gym at all in May. Not once. It's frustrating to think that I let an entire month pass without going because it's like throwing money away. Yes, we get a discount through Eric's employer and the money is just automatically deducted from one of his paychecks (so we don't even notice it's gone), but we're still paying for something I'm not using. That makes me feel shitty, and I don't like it.

I definitely need to change this. I don't expect to suddenly start going 4-5 times a week again, but I need to supplement any at home workouts with gym classes, cardio equipment, and/or weight training. If we're paying for it, I need to use it. (I'll admit that I haven't gone to the gym at all yet this month, though. It's just something I know I need to start working into my schedule again.)

So yeah ... May wasn't a great month for me in a lot of ways. I've already decided I'm not going to dwell on it, though, and that this post would be my way of venting my frustrations about where I fell short and why. I don't want or need to obsess over a shitty month. It's over, I can't change anything now, it's time to move on.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Sloppy Joe Pasta

I'm sure I've probably mentioned this before, but when I first moved out completely on my own (no roommates, no significant other, no nothing) I couldn't cook anything. I ate a lot of prepackaged shit and boiled a lot of pasta noodles (but miraculously didn't gain 75 lbs!).

I brought that up because today's recipe reminded me of an "elevated" Hamburger Helper. I used to eat that shit all the time (more than I'd like to admit). But trust me when I say that this is much much better.

I won't claim I make everything from scratch these days because, seriously, ain't nobody got time for that. But, when I can, I like to make my own sauces. It makes me feel a little more accomplished when I put something together myself (as opposed to dumping it out of a can or jar). 

This Sloppy Joe Pasta is exactly what it sounds like: all the flavors of a sloppy joe combined with pasta. I like sloppy joes, but I don't really like eating them because I always seem to squish a lot of the sauce and meat out of the bun (and usually onto myself). This meal at least allows me to enjoy those flavors without so much mess. And, as an added bonus, I made the sauce myself! 

If you don't cook very much and feel intimidated by making your own sauces, please know that all of the things I post here are relatively easy. This sauce was especially easy ... The most difficult/time consuming part was chopping the vegetables. Once that's out of the way, it's smooth sailing.

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Sloppy Joe Pasta

Adapted ever so slightly from a recipe on Taste and Tell.

Ingredient List:
  • 1 package rotini 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced (about 1-1 1/4 cup)
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic (or, if you're lazy like me, the equivalent of jarred, pre-minced garlic)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika (You can also use regular paprika if you don't keep smoked paprika on hand.)
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Diced green onions for serving, if desired


1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the rotini according to the package directions. Drain the pasta when it has finished cooking.

2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, black pepper, and sea salt. Set aside.

3.  Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Add the diced white onion and green bell pepper, cooking until the vegetables have softened slightly (about 5-7 minutes).

4.  Add the garlic, cooking until just fragrant (about 30 seconds to 1 minute).

5.  Add the ground beef, cumin, smoked paprika, and ground mustard to the skillet. Cook the meat until no pink remains, breaking it up as it cooks and stirring occasionally to mix it with the vegetables, garlic, and spices.

6.  Once the beef is completely cooked through, turn the heat to low and add the drained pasta. Stir several times to coat the pasta with the meat sauce.

7.  Add the shredded sharp cheddar cheese a little at a time (I added about 1/2 cup at a time or so), stirring well with each addition to melt the cheese in with the pasta and sauce. After the cheese has melted throughout, top with diced green onions (if desired).

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Time Flies ...

Do couples still celebrate their dating anniversary once they've gotten married? 

I ask because we don't really celebrate our dating anniversary anymore ... But I still like to acknowledge it. It's another year together, after all. And, if someone were to ask me how long I've been with Eric, I would obviously include the years we were together before we got married. 

I bring this up today because June 2nd happens to be the day we made things "official" ... Nine years ago.

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I look at old pictures (like the one above) and find it hard to believe that so much time has passed. 

When we met in 2007, I had no idea if things would work out between us. I'd done the long distance thing before, but we lived over 1,000 miles apart ... It wasn't like we could just drive a couple of hours to spend weekends together. 

Back in 2007, I had no idea I'd eventually pack everything up and move to Omaha to be with him. And I definitely didn't realize that I had just met my future husband!
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Even in the beginning, though, I knew there was something special about him. The more we got to know each other and the more time we spent together, the more I realized the only visions I had of my future included him.

So, in honor of the last nine years together, I'll share part of one of my old entries about Eric in my LiveJournal. (Did anyone else have one of these, or am I just really old?) 

I wrote this the day he flew back home after visiting me for a week. We'd just taken our first trip together as an official couple, and I felt really good about our relationship. (After all, if you can survive an 8 hour road trip with your significant other, you can survive anything!)

Overall, this was one of the best times of my life. I feel so carefree and special and happy around him. Life seems magical ... Like anything is possible. That may sound silly, but I don't care. He's the greatest man I've ever known, and I really hope that all of the things we've talked about doing together (traveling the world together, living together, getting married, etc.) happen one day.

If I could go back in time and tell the two people in the picture below one thing, it would be this: the things you both want to experience together will happen.

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Linking up with Kristen and Gretchen today.

What's New With You

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Book Challenge Picks: Read My Books and Semi-Charmed Summer 2016 Book Challenge

It's the first of June, which also means it's the start of two of the three book challenges I'm participating in this summer!

The first challenge is co-hosted by Erin and Dani. This is a very simple, straightforward challenge: no point system, no categories, no minimum number of books to read. The only real requirement is that you stick to reading only books you already own during the month of June. No library books, no books borrowed from friends.

This is perfect for people who aren't usually into book challenges or for people (like me!) who get distracted by all the amazing books at the library and neglect the books that have been sitting unread on their shelves. (You can read Erin's latest post about it here, if you haven't already checked it out.)

In honor of this challenge, I had Eric take some pictures of me a couple of weeks ago (when I actually had makeup on!) with just a few of my unread books:

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After taking those pictures, I realized I'd forgotten a couple that I really wanted to try to get through. So I made him take another one:

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And yes, I realize these are silly and I'm a huge dork for taking them.

There are a few other unread books on my shelves, but these are the books I'm going to try to get through in June. (And, quite honestly, I'm not sure I'll be able to read all of them in a single month ... But I'll definitely try!)

The second challenge kicking off this month is hosted by Megan. (The official rules for this challenge can be found here.) I missed out on completing the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge by only one book, so I'm really hoping I can finish this time around!

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1. Freebie! Any Book That Is At Least 150 Pages Long - 5 pts

This is clearly the broadest category in the challenge, so I knew I'd be picking a book I already own. Since I actually want to finish this challenge and get through as many of my own books as possible, I tried to overlap as much as I could. These broad categories are usually difficult for me because there are just so many books I want to read, but the need to overlap really helped me narrow it down. (And, at 326 pages, my pick definitely satisfies the 150 page requirement!)

My pick: The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

2. A Collection Of Short Stories Or Essays (Either By The Same Author Or Different Writers)  - 10 pts

I have to be in the right sort of mood to read short stories/essays, so I'm glad this category will actually force me to pick up at least one of the collections on my "To Read" list. I was torn between a couple of books, but, since I loved White is for Witching when I read it last year, I decided to go with Helen Oyeyemi's most recent work.

My pick: What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

3. An Adult Fiction Book Written By An Author Who Normally Writes Books For Children - 10 pts

I had a difficult time with this category because I initially thought books that fell under the "YA" category would be considered "children's" books for the purpose of this challenge. After I saw Megan's response to a question about this, though, I realized I was mistaken ... So I had to scrap my original pick. I wound up choosing another short story collection for this category, though that was mostly because I wanted something that was readily available at my library.

My pick: Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life by Roald Dahl

4. A Book Set In Appalachia - 15 pts

Cormac McCarthy has been on my radar for several years, but, for whatever reason, none of his books have ever made it to the top of my "To Read" list. After reading Erin's review of this book, I knew I had to read it eventually. And when I realized it was set in eastern Tennessee, this category became the perfect excuse to finally check out one of McCarthy's novels.

My pick: Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

5. A Book With A Cover I Personally Find Unappealing - 15 pts

I'll admit it: lately I've been adding a lot of books to my "To Read" list based solely on their covers. Thankfully, I own at least a couple of books with less than beautiful covers so I was able to overlap books for this category! I chose a book I'm really excited to read (despite the terrible cover) ... Hopefully it doesn't disappoint!

My pick: Hillary: Tail of the Dog by Angel Gelique

6. A Book I've Previously Only Seen The Movie Of - 20 pts

This was a tough category for me, but only because I was having a really hard time choosing only one book! I prefer to read the book before watching the film adaptation, but that doesn't always happen. When I was thinking about possible picks, I realized I've seen a lot of movies that made me want to check out the books that inspired them. I finally decided to go with the book that inspired a movie I absolutely loved (and I'm referring to the original, not the American remake ... I haven't seen that version) by an author I've previously read and enjoyed.

My pick: Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

7. A Book With A Punny Title - 25 pts

There are a lot of books that would work for this category. Unfortunately, I have no desire to read at least 95% of them. I finally settled on this book when I was searching for a book for the previous category. (And, if you were wondering, I have seen the movie but haven't read the book.)

My pick: Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley

8. A Microhistory - 30 pts

I hadn't heard the term "microhistory" prior to this challenge, so I was a little intimidated by this category at first. Once I looked it up, I realized I've read a couple of books that fall under this category. Although I'm not a huge fan of nonfiction, I actually enjoyed those books ... So I decided to go with yet another book by the same author.

My pick: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

9. A Book With A "Good" Word In The Title And A Book With A "Bad" Word In The Title  - 30 pts

I liked that this category was so open-ended because I was able to work in two more books I already own! I went with more general "good" and "bad" words here ... Not necessarily something I enjoy (or dislike), but words that simply seemed positive and negative.

My picks: The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (good) & Wreckage by Emily Bleeker (bad)

10. Two Books Containing The Same Word In The Title, One Singular And One Plural - 40 pts

I considered just going with two books with "girl/girls" in the title because it would be ridiculously easy to come up with multiple options from my "To Read" list. (Seriously, why do so many books I want to read have "girl/girls" in the title?) After looking through my list, though, I realized I could actually use a more unique word for this category. Both books have been on my list for at least a couple of years, and I almost used one of them for the movie category until I realized I could use it here.

My picks: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides & The Virgins by Pamela Erens

I'm really excited to get started with both of these challenges! I'll be posting yet another book list in a few weeks when I figure out what I want to read for Erin's next challenge. (If you're interested in participating, it starts July 1 and the rules/categories can be found here.)

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Here's to a great book-filled summer!