Monday, June 29, 2015

6 Foodie Books You Should Definitely NOT Read While Hungry

Portions of this post originally appeared on Book Riot. I received copies of All For You and Mastering the Art of French Cooking for review consideration. For more on my review policies, please see my Full Disclosure page.

what did you eat yesterday fumi yoshinaga
What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga

Shiro Kakei is a lawyer, but he's not one of these lawyers who work sixty hours a week and spend their lives at their desks. No, Shiro happily takes the most boring cases so he can put in his eight hours and go home, where he throws himself into his true passion: cooking!

I was expecting a light, entertaining slice-of-life story with What Did You Eat Yesterday?, but it was much better and more powerful than I thought it would be. First of all, for being printed in black and white, the food looked and sounded crazy delicious. This was my face the entire time I was reading:

yum gif

Also, the recipes are kind of inspiring. As soon as I finished this manga, I started making side dishes for breakfast and dinner, trying to use up what we had in the fridge. I didn't consciously decide to start doing this, incidentally, it just seemed to happen naturally as an extension of reading the book. I have to agree with Shiro's boyfriend, Kenji, that adding side dishes makes the meal more satisfying. I began to feel so much healthier. Add to that Yoshinaga's beautiful, delicate drawings, awesome characters, and vignettes on how food can express love, carry memories, and is more than just following a recipe but also about using what you have and shopping for the best ingredients, and there really is nothing not to like about this manga.

Verdict: Definitely buy. In fact, after I returned What Did You Eat Yesterday? to the library, I bought a copy for myself, I loved it soooo much.

mystery writers of america cookbook
The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, ed. by Kate White

Death and food go together like sun and shade. Why? No one knows, except maybe Hannibal Lecter. In this cookbook, some of the greatest mystery writers in America (Scott Turow, Louise Penny, Mary Higgins Clark, Charlaine Harris, James Patterson, etc.) share their favorite recipes, from family standards to food straight out of their books.

For some crazy reason I decided to start reading this while I was waiting for dinner. Bad decision, or worst decision? The recipes were so good I started ROTFDMAO (rolling on the floor drooling my ass off). But even if you don't like to cook, this book is filled with entertaining stories and essays from mystery authors. I cried at Richard Castle's "pancakes are love," declaration, laughed at Nelson DeMille's Male Chauvinist Pigs in the Blanket recipe, and loved Lorenzo Carcaterra's story about Grandma Maria's Pasta Puttanesca. Lee Child closes the book out admirably with an essay on The Right Way to make coffee. The chapter on side dishes is pretty weak, but this is America we're talking about.

Verdict: Buy. Actually, this is another book I bought after borrowing from the library. Good ol library!

all for you laura florand
All For You by Laura Florand

Sassy and cute Célie is chef to one of the best chocolatiers in Paris, but her life wasn't always truffles and ganache. She grew up in the banlieue dreaming of marrying her brother's bestie, Joss, until he abandoned her to join the Foreign Legion. Now he's back, acting like nothing ever changed, and Célie has all the feels.

I've never been one of those people who get hungry or crave chocolate while reading a Laura Florand novel, although I do find her food descriptions to be fascinating and on fleek. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I can't eat chocolate, who knows. But with this book, I not only started craving chocolate, I had an entire dream about drinking hot chocolate, the one chocolate treat I really, really miss indulging in. It's kind of strange, considering that All For You is probably one of Florand's less food-centric novels. But then again, it did give me all the warm fuzzies. It's sweet and comforting and just what you need to lift your spirits, kind of like a cup of hot chocolate in book format.

Verdict: Buy.

The following books were ones I wanted to include in the above Buy, Borrow, Bypass, but life and work got in the way and I wasn't able to finish them before the deadline. However, I do still want to review them, so here they are!

taste test kelly fiore
Taste Test by Kelly Fiore

Nora is a small-town girl who grew up working in her dad's barbeque joint, but her dreams are much bigger than that. When she gets the chance to be on Taste Test, her favorite cooking competition show, she leaves District 11 her dad and BFF, Billy, to compete in an arena against kids from across the country. Only one can survive win the chance to study cooking in Paris. The problem is, can Nora trust the other contestants, particularly the infuriating and arrogant Christian Van Lorten?

In case you can't tell by the summary, this book reminded me a bit of The Hunger Games. Too bad that title was already taken, it would have been much better than Taste Test. Anywho, this was a really fun, quick read. I loooooooooove books where the two main characters fight all the time. Nora had a few moments where I thought her behavior was unreasonable or annoying, and the ending left almost everything completely unresolved, but the bottom line is this is the kind of book you can kick back and read in an afternoon when you're after some lighthearted entertainment. As for the food, all but one of the recipes were dumped in at the end, and none of them sounded particularly appetizing or easy to make. I wouldn't call this a book NOT to read while hungry.

Verdict: Buy or borrow.

the red notebook antoine laurain
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Laurent Letellier owns Le Cahier Rouge, a Parian bookstore. One day he stumbles upon an abandoned purse in the street and becomes obsessed with finding its owner after reading all the personal secrets she's written down in her little red notebook. She owns a red notebook, he owns a bookstore called The Red Notebook–clearly these two are meant to be together. But will they ever meet?

This is a charming, short novel in a similar vein to the movie Amélie, although not as fantastical and twee. It sounds like it could go into creeper territory but it really doesn't. I loved how there were a bunch of jokes you would probably only get if you spoke French–the name of Laurent's shop, for example; or the name of his daughter's cat, Putin, which can mean everything from damn to fuck depending on intonation (or the name of the Russian president, for that matter). Actually, now that I think about it, double meaning in names is kind of a theme in this book. As for why The Red Notebook is on this list, it's surprisingly chock full of delectable descriptions of food and drinking and eating, from pot-au-feu to hachis Parmentier. And if you don't know what either of those dishes are, don't worry–googling photos of them is half the fun. I started craving French food like whoa.

Verdict: Buy or borrow, but definitely read.

mastering the art of french eating ann mah
Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah

Francophile Ann Mah thought her dreams had come true when her hubby got a job in Paris. But just a few weeks after the big move, he had to go to the Middle East for a year, leaving Mah lonely and bored until this food writer finally had a lightbulb moment: she could write about French food! Using Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a travel guide, Mah set out to discover the stories "behind" the famous regional dishes of France.

Another day, another foodie memoir inspired by Julia Child. I mean, I get that she's a BFD to a whole generation of cooks and foodies, but it's getting to be a bit cliché at this point. I admit I had trouble getting into Mastering the Art of French Eating. I probably should have known better, seeing as how memoirs are not my thing, but I was expecting a lot more food in this book. Instead, it's mainly about Mah's struggles living as an expat–not just in Paris, but in other parts of the world (her hubby's in the diplomatic service). Which is fine, but I'm not super interested. I also thought the choices for and execution of Mah's quest were pretty damn lame. For Paris–the first chapter in the book no less–what dish does she choose? Steak and frites. Really? Out of all the dishes she could have written about? Giant snooze. In another chapter, Mah highlights two famous andouillette recipes of Troyes, but she doesn't even try them! At that point this book lost me. I will say, however, that the recipes at the back of each chapter sound tasty and I totally want to try them.

Verdict: Bypass, or borrow for the recipes.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Snapshot for the Last Sunday of June *sadface*


What I'm reading right now:

Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore: After liking Taste Test, I decided to give this book a try even though the premise is undeniably silly. Slow start so far.

Movies watched this past week:

antarctica a year on ice
Antarctica: A Year On Ice, directed by Anthony Powell

This documentary had me from the get-go with the absolutely gorgeous cinematography capturing Antarctica's landscape. But what kept me engaged were the "winter people," the small group essentially trapped at base over the winter, and the extreme environment they face. Could you spend four months without seeing even a sliver of the sun? I couldn't. Or how about things you take for granted, like smell? In a place where nothing grows except some few very hardy microbes, there's nothing to smell! For some reason this movie made me really emotional–maybe it was the way Antarctica made the people who lived there crazy, yet they always missed it once they returned to civilization. You don't know what you got till it's gone, as Joni Mitchell would say. Fascinating, beautiful, and highly recommended!

bye bye birdie
Bye Bye Birdie, starring Dick van Dyke, Janet Leigh, and Ann-Margaret

Kind of a weird movie. On one hand it felt like the teenage girls had a lot more agency than in most movies and TV shows today; on the other hand it hardly passes the Bechdel Test. But anyway, I fell asleep. At least now I know where my parents' "What's the story, morning glory?" phrase came from.

ICYMI, books reviewed this week:

I posted a review of The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola over at The Project Gutenberg Project. Warning: ranting to be had.

Subscription boxes:

wantable box

I tried out a new box service called Wantable, and so far I'm really pleased with it! They have different monthly subscriptions focusing on fashion accessories, makeup, intimates, fitness clothing, and style edits (which are basically the same as Stitch Fix). I went with the intimates collection because since I KonMari'd my closet, I don't have enough pajamas, and the ones I do have are on their last legs. So to speak. There was a quiz about my size, style preferences, and what sorts of items I wanted, and then I got my box lickety-split. I absolutely loved the items they sent and the price was very reasonable–$40 per box, less than $20 per item. Plus a $4 credit on the next box if I keep everything. I can't wait to get my next box! Definitely recommend this service.

Theme of the week:

This week did not make me feel like the hills were alive with the sound of music. Aside from the Wantable box, of course, it seemed like my wants and needs and that of the universe were not aligned. We took the dogs for a walk and something happened to Thor's paw. Now he's limping around everywhere. It's really pathetic. I've started calling him Limpy McLimperson. My brother said we should get him a doggy wheelchair. The vet can't see him until Monday, natch.

Then I had a phone interview, which seeeeems like a good thing, but the interviewer asked some questions that really pissed me the fuck off. It was pretty obvious the interviewer had never read my resume or my cover letter and was not into the interview at all. A complete waste of time and kind of an insult to me as a professional.

Oh, and I got a letter from Obamacare that some mysterious money I made during the last three months of 2014 (?)–yes, the year that was–apparently puts me over the income limit for medical assistance. Which is crazy because it's a very small amount. So next week I'll probably have to go down there and spend all day trying to sort that mess out, if it can even be sorted.


book riot chillin quarterly box

Not to harp on subscription boxes (I totally am), but two of Book Riot's Quarterly boxes are currently on sale for half off! One of them has a flask with Books + Booze printed on it! Or, if you don't drink, you can order the one with the books beanie (I kinda want that one, too, but I wanted the flask more).

Have a great week! Next week's the Fourth of July. Party party!

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Snapshot and Happy Dad's Day

double rainbow at sunset
A double sunset rainbow

What I'm reading right now:

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain: Andi recommended this in a Book Riot Round-Up and it sounded completely up my alley.

The Rain-Girl by Herbert George Jenkins: By the author of Patricia Brent, Spinster. So far I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

I also finished the second volume of Alex + Ada last night. Who was that guy at the very end? Am I supposed to recognize him? Can't wait for the last volume!

Reviews posted this week:

I wrote a very nit-picky, grumpy review of Hearts of Fire, as well as a Buy Borrow Bypass on books you should definitely NOT read while you're hungry.

I also posted a Reading Pathways on Tanith Lee, one of the most underappreciated sci-fi/fantasy writers of our generation (my personal opinion, obviously).

Subscription boxes received this week:

After getting no boxes for the past few weeks, on Monday I got three!

scent trunk

The one I was most excited about was Scent Trunk, which sends four sample-sized fragrances every three months, chosen based on a personality quiz. Y'all knows I love me some personality quizzes. I've never been the type of person who wears perfume, but I always wished I was, so this seemed like a great opportunity to try out different perfumes and see what worked for me.

Unfortunately, all the perfumes Scent Trunk sent me contained scents I specifically said I did NOT like in the quiz. All but one were completely awful; one even made me sneeze. Add to that a snafu with the shipping (they said I'd receive the package by Friday, by Wednesday I was still waiting and then they sent me the wrong tracking number after I emailed them), and I think this box is a cancel.

On the plus side, these awful perfumes–which aren't cheap, by the way; check out how much this one retails for–provided an opportunity for my dad to give hilarious reviews of them. They ranged from, "You smell like you've been rolling around in old lady clothes," to "What's that smell?" to, "I don't smell anything. Five stars."

rocks box

After that and the lovely Japan-themed package Anachronist sent me (thank you!), the rest of the subscription boxes were kind of anticlimactic. The Rocks Box I received has an okay sparkly floral necklace and a very small, delicate necklace that I like, but feel is a little too small. I do really love the earrings, though. They're badass.

ipsy glam bag

As for Ipsy, the Smashbox primer and nail polish are both winners. I like the shade of the eyeshadow crayon, but I do not like the application. I'd rather just use a brush or my fingers. As for the eyebrow pencil, I apparently have a mental block when it comes to applying those things, so.

Honestly I'm getting a bit bored with Ipsy. Even though I still like it and think it's a great deal, it's been almost a year. I might try out another makeup service, as long as I can find one that's also $10/month.

Theme of the week:

Kind of a strange week. I had to switch my days around at the gun store so I could do an interview, and it completely threw me off. I've spent the past three days thinking it's Saturday.

This is the time of year I think of as "Summertime Christmas": everyone's running around doing a bunch of stuff, stressed out, and acting crazy.

slow down crazy


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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: HEARTS OF FIRE by LH Cosway

hearts of fire

Lille has spent her entire life living under her mother's thumb, friendless and craving adventure in Nowheresville, Ireland. So naturally when she gets the chance to run away with the circus, she takes it. But all is not quirky characters and crazy balloon animals in the Circus of Spectacularly Awkward Social Situations–the fire breather, Jack McCabe, keeps staring at her; one of the psycho trapeze artists has Lille in her jealous sights; and the circus itself is haunted by a murrrrrrrrderrrrrrrr. Will the sparks between Lille and Jack turn into a fire of passion? Will the murder no one really cares about be solved? Questions!

So, this book is basically Twilight. Jack stares at Lille constantly in the first quarter of the novel, follows her around and won't leave her alone, yet tells her she should stay away from him. Why? She doesn't want to know, she's too sweet and innocent. But while he manages not to lose control with other women, he just knows that with her, he will! And then she'll realize his horrifying secret (hint you don't need: burning people gets him off. He's a fire breather, for god's sake).

But then of course he does tell her, and Lille's like, "Oh, that's a little scary but I twust woo," and then she decides she likes getting hot wax poured on her, so. Hashtag tru luv.

In case you couldn't tell, I had some problems with Hearts of Fire. I actually almost DNF'd it in the beginning, but I forced myself to continue and was lured into a sense of complacency when the book picked up slightly after Lille joined the circus. By the end, though, I was wishing I'd listened to my instincts and moved on to something else before I'd wasted a good two weeks of my life on it.

The Twilight thing actually didn't bother me that much–I enjoy Twilight. What bothered me was the tons of telling-not-showing, the weirdo Captain Obvious statements, and the lack of plausibility and character development.

Let's take one example. After Lille joins the circus, she watches Jack feed the lions (why is he feeding them? Who knows) and thinks to herself, "The sight of such a strong, vital man feeding a strong, vital animal was kind of arousing in a strange way."


Uhg, Lille. First of all, everything seems to arouse you. It's kind of ridiculous. Secondly, I get the fact that this scene underscores Jack's masculinity without being hit over the head with it. JACK/LION=STRONG, VITAL. There's no need to be repetitive repetitive.

Thirdly, um what?

The entire book is filled with statements like that. "It was like masturbation for artists: draw the thing that turns you on." Pretty sure that's not how it works, but okay. Perhaps sentences like this were meant to be sexy but I'm not sure.

The point is, the writing was pretty damn shaky, but I was liking the story okay and Jack had his moments. Then around the 60% mark, Lille started really annoying me with her illogical reactions to deus-ex-machina plot developments. The book limped along for a while after that, until Jay Fields (hero of Six of Hearts and Jack's long-lost brother) showed up, at which point it completely stopped. The scene where Jay gathered the entire Circus Awkwardis together to reveal the killer was probably one of the most patience-trying scenes I've ever read in my life. It took me three days to force myself through it. And don't even get me started on the obvious setting up of King as Cosway's next romantic hero.

I still think Cosway's an excellent writer, but it feels like she's churning out books too fast to really consider her characters, work on the plot of each book, and polish up her writing. Like with Six of Hearts, Hearts of Fire is a story that seems like it had potential (although a lot less potential than Six of Hearts), but it was just slap-dashed together. And is it just me, or does it feel like Cosway's writing the same book over and over lately? Wasn't the hero of The Hooker and the Hermit also a closet BDSM-er? (Kidding, that wasn't a question. I know he was.)

I probably won't read Cosway's next book in this series, King of Hearts, unless by some miracle it happens to be better than Hearts of Fire. Maybe once Cosway finishes up this series she'll get back into her groove.

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Snapshot and Too Many Dinosaur Movies

The dogs got groomed this week!

What I'm reading right this second:

Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah: Another day, another foodie book based on Julia Child.

And that's it! I finished Taste Test by Kelly Fiore last night and really enjoyed it, but I haven't decided what to read next.

Movies watched this past week:

There's a lot!

good ol freda
Good Ol' Freda, directed by Ryan White

The story of the Beatles told through the eyes of Freda Kelly, their secretary and fan club manager for eleven years. I found this documentary disappointing, although I did enjoy seeing the photographs from when the Beatles first started playing in The Cavern in Liverpool, and the anecdotes about John and George. Basically, everything is glossed over to the point where I got the feeling Freda didn't really know that much about the Beatles at all. I wish the filmmakers had done their due diligence and interrogated and investigated Freda's story more. It may be her history, but she's as unreliable as any other witness–she forgets things, she lies, and she refuses to share information, with the end result being that the movie was kinda boring. The only interesting thing I learned was that Brian Epstein's death was the real catalyst for the Beatles' breakup. The fact that the surviving members of the band weren't interviewed about Freda didn't lend the film much credibility, either.

I need that record
I Need That Record!, directed by Brendan Toller

About the "death" of record stores. Felt amateurish and was kinda boring. I fell asleep.

jurassic park
Jurassic Park, starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum

Prepping for Jurassic World. This movie feels a bit dated now, but it's still good entertainment.

the lost world jurassic park
The Lost World: Jurassic Park, starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, and Vince Vaughn

For some reason I thought that 1. I'd seen this movie before; and 2. it sucked. Neither are were true! The Lost World was actually really good. And whereas Jurassic Park had some hints of Godzilla-esque movie making, The Lost World was even more similar. Basically T-Rex=Godzilla in–was it Los Angeles? I also loved that Dr. Malcolm was the main character in this film. Steven Spielberg knows what's truly important in these movies.

jurassic park 3
Jurassic Park III, starring Sam Neill, Téa Leoni, William H. Macy

No Dr. Malcolm. Fell asleep.

jurassic world
Jurassic World, starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard

Better than I'd thought it'd be and pretty enjoyable, although it gave me a massive headache. Was it sexist? Mayyyybeeee a tad. I just have to say I'm glad dinosaurs are still extinct in real life because I would NOT survive. Also, how many times is this park going to go into chapter eleven before they give up?

Reviews in the queue:

I need to complain about Hearts of Fire IN GREAT DETAIL soon.

Theme of the week:

I was pleasantly busy this week, with three deadlines and lots to do setting up the website for the gun store (we're almost live). I'm also getting started on setting up my theme month for July at Book Bloggers International. The working title is "Blogging Without Words," about blogging on non-traditional platforms like Instagram and Tumblr. If interested, let me know!

Bonus: The Perfect Summer Cocktail of Your (My) Dreams

dreamy summer tonic

I had a dream this week where I spent a lot of time sorting through vintage glassware, and then I made this cocktail. It's gin, tonic water, and grapefruit juice.

Then I was watching The Best Bars In America, and one of the bartenders made a drink where he paired grapefruit with basil, so I decided to give that a try by muddling basil into the cocktail. Pretty damn good and refreshing! It needs a little something extra to give it bite (maybe lemon or jalapeño syrup?), but I'd say this is pretty much the perfect summer cocktail. Enjoy!

Have a great week, everyone!

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Snapshot for June 7th

In Sunday Snapshot, I try to remember what I did during the past week. Easier done some weeks than others! Let me know how your week's gone in the comments.


What I'm reading ATM:

A Strange Business: Making Art and Money in Nineteenth Century Britain by James Hamilton: Just what I want to read about, 200-year-old economics! Said no one ever.

The Lure of the Dim Trails by BM Bower: I finally finished that rather forgettable E. Phillips Oppenheim book (Stolen Idols), and this was the only other audiobook I had downloaded that wasn't annoying.

I'm still reading Hearts of Fire. I have less than 10% to go and I just... can't. I wish I'd DNF'd it when I was first thinking about it.

Movies watched in the last seven days:

20 feet from stardom
20 Feet from Stardom, directed by Morgan Neville

A doc about backup singers that won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2014. The highlight of the movie is when Merry Clayton tells the story of how she ended up singing the hook ("rape, murder") for The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter in the middle of the night wearing satin pajamas, a fur coat, and hair curlers; but the whole movie is a fascinating glimpse into the music business and how capricious fame can be. It also raises a lot of questions about the definition of success, the purpose of talent, following your dreams, and the balance of power on stage. One thing I found interesting was how many stars talked about the ego required to take center stage. Really excellent! I hope the follow-up TV series that Mick Jagger's producing based on this movie finds an audience.

Reviews posted:

You can read my review of Capture by Penny Reid at May's Book Riot Round Up.

Theme of the week:

The website snafu I mentioned last week got ironed out, or at least it looks like it will be, so my five months of work aren't going to go down the drain. Yay!

I also went to my first writing critique group ever this week. I don't know if it's for me. One of the members had some good advice, but another one didn't really seem to understand where I was coming from. Maybe I should just focus my energies on getting new stuff written for now.


My mom told me about this artist named Michael Grab who balances rocks to create sculptures. Unfortunately, the city of Boulder wants to make it illegal for him to "destroy public property." Guys, I think we've discovered the Colorado version of street art.

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