Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1)

I've never been a huge fan of "faerie" books, and in fact, avoided them for the most part as a teen. Now, they have gone through a sort of renaissance in the YA readership - with S J Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses series serving as a particular point in the journey - and while I'm happy to try out some of the newer and buzzier titles, they're not something I take particular stock in as a genre. 

After a significant amount of disappointment experienced when reading the much-hyped An Enchantment of Ravens, I wasn't feeling particularly interested. However, another book came out at the same time, from an author I trust to write compelling and non-cliched "faerie" tales: Holly Black.

The Cruel Prince - the premiere title in the forthcoming "The Folk of the Air" series, by NYT Best-selling Author Holly Black - follows the story of a young woman named Jude, who, along with her two sisters, was kidnapped and forced into the world of the Fae as a child. Contending daily with a society that resents her humanity and finds her unworthy, she is determined to find her own fate in their midst, no matter the cost. However, when it comes to spying for one of the Court's menacing princes on the eve of  a Coronation, she might give up more than she bargained for... but she could gain more than she ever thought possible.

Here's why I was so confident going in that I was going to like this book: I love Holly Black. I was a fan of her work as a kid, reading the Spiderwick Chronicles in the school library, and was pleasantly surprised in college, when I read The Darkest Part of the Forest, to find that I still loved her voice. When I heard she was coming out with a new novel - especially with one that has a cover as beautiful as The Cruel Prince - I decided to read it, despite my misgivings about the faerie genre on the whole.

Spoiler alert: It was so good. So good. And I'm so excited for the rest of the series.

Every once in a while you check out a book from the library, read it, and then are overcome with a sudden sense of remorse that you hadn't bought it for yourself, instead. That's this book. In fact, I haven't completely ruled out purchasing it yet entirely, because apparently the Barnes and Noble edition has an extra short story in it.

The main characters to the plot were dynamic and interesting, without sacrificing their relatable nature or plausibility. Even negative or harmful actions still had empathetic origins. The faerie characters were not written with the tropes of their mythology strictly for the sake of maintaining it: their tendencies toward brutality and cruelty were explained, and never taken for granted. When killed, their destruction was made more violent and shocking by the fact that they were immortal, and not less.

And it's not like some of the other paranormal-contemporary-romance books found in the YA category that rely on secret civilizations of fantasy creatures, where you could easily swap them out for a different creature and the story would still make sense, like replacing vampires with werewolves with mermaids, etc. The Cruel Prince's plot and characterizations are very much rooted in the idea of the fae, and the knowledge of parts of their folkloric background.

The plotline was one I don't think we've seen taken on quite as successfully in YA: while there's no shortage of orphans in the genre, I can't think of many where the teen actively works to not only remain in the world of their parent's murderer, but acts specifically to seek their approval and status within the civilization. There are layers to the status of Jude and Taryn (her sister) as outsiders, and the various parts they are asked to play in their otherworldly surroundings, and one of the key ones is that they want to stay, by their own individual means.

And of course, they also include some characters from The Darkest Part of the Forest in a brief set of cameos, which I was overjoyed to see.

Final Verdict: It doesn't surprise me at all that as soon as I turned this book back into the library, there were several ready in the hold line to take it. The hype is well-matched with the follow through.

Are there any YA genres that make you wary? Are you a fan of Holly Black? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I originally started reading this book because it had been chosen by my national sorority organization as a book club pick.... for the month of January. 

The idea that Sigma Kappas all over the world would be reading this book at the same time as me made it an alluring choice, which is probably why there were holds placed on it so heavily at my local library, that I wasn't able to pick it up until long after everyone else had finished reading it, on February 1st. Darn it!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman, starts out with an assertion that is quickly proven to be anything but true. Eleanor Oliphant has been at the same desk job since she was 21, but does not feel the need to interact with her peers or move upwards on the company ladder at all. She abides by a strict schedule, which includes thrifty and solitary lunches, drinking vodka alone on weekends, and dreading the Wednesday night contact from her distant and controlling mother. And Eleanor would be more than content to lead that life for a long time... until an unexpected encounter involving a man from work, and an elderly man collapsing on a crosswalk, shows that life can be just as fine when lived with other people.

Enrapturing and enigmatic, I adored this book, despite not having any sort of anticipation of enjoying it built up beforehand. It's not that I don't like books chosen for me by other people, it's that I don't have exactly high estimations of book club books, especially when they're titles I've never heard of before, and doubly so when the blurb for it gives no hints as to what kind of story lies inside. In my opinion, neither the cover excerpts nor the front cover illustrations itself are all that indicative of the actual plot... the UK version does fare a little better, but I honestly don't believe you know what you're getting into until you read the first few pages. 

To be clear from the start, this rating is a high-ranking four, that is almost a five, because while I truly enjoyed this book and really found it enrapturing not just for its sense of mystery, but also the sense of empathy the narrative was able to elicit, it was just a little hard for me to read sometimes. That's probably why it took me a little over a week to finish reading it, even though every time I sat down to read it, I had a great time!

The book is fantastic at maintaining a sense of privacy and internality, while also building suspense and an aura of mystery around the main character... it's not easy to spend the whole narrative in the head of the lead, while still discovering things about her throughout the whole novel! While I think it's a bit of a stereotype for English majors to enjoy reading things with unreliable narrators, there's this unique sense about Eleanor that she's not trying to deliberately hide or obscure anything, it's that there's so much she's not willing to accept. You can maintain empathy and a sense of introversion with the narration, while also understanding that you are limited by Eleanor's own lack of understanding.

It's that kind of balance between self-effacing objectivity - from the somewhat silly, like how our main character doesn't know what Spongebob Squarepants or a bikini wax is, to greater patterns of not understanding most normal cues of social interaction - and a deep sense of personal incomprehension that perform a delicate balancing act in keeping the narrative going. Eleanor doesn't know much about the world, but she doesn't know much about herself either, despite carrying on with a self-assured confidence that can't help but serve as an ironic point of humor.

In some ways, that's what made the book difficult to read. Reading people make inappropriate comments or behave improperly in social situations is always a turn-off for me... it's one of the reasons why I hated my family's fixation with The Office when I was younger: that kind of humor just isn't funny. It's painful. However, it wasn't just that it was supposed to be funny that Eleanor found herself in these kinds of situations... it was to demonstrate a significant point of discrepancy between Eleanor's ability to operate as a person in the world, against her perceived ability to occupy it.

The novel deals with depression and PTSD in a frank and open way that I think is not only highly commendable, but incredibly well-informed. The depictions of casual alcoholism hit uncomfortably close for someone who also has a strained relationship with drinking. Both brought me to tears more than once, and by the end, got me actively begging out loud for Eleanor to go get some help. It wasn't just because anyone could recognize that she had problems... it was that you really wanted her to get better. You can't help - despite all of her intensely awkward mannerisms - but really love her by the end of the book.

Side note: I was absolutely terrified it was going to turn into a romance - especially due to the book's packaging - and felt absolutely vindicated when it did not. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but if you're someone like me, maybe it will convince you to give this book a chance.

Especially because I almost didn't! Like I mentioned at the start of the review, I think it has a horrendously ugly cover - if you're buying the US edition - and not the most inspiring blurb on the back. That's not the story's fault, though... you really can't get a sense of the book without peeking inside it. (Just like with Eleanor, herself!) Give it a few pages, and then make up your mind. Though I will tell you, I hope you read it.

Final Verdict: An unexpected favorite, with a unique main character and sense of deep emotional connection. If I had to choose two words to describe it, I would say "humorous" and "heroic"... not only is the book quite light-hearted in most places, but its main character is both endearing beyond her foibles, as well as uniquely strong and resilient in her own right.

Have you ever been a part of a book club? What's been a recent unexpected favorite of yours? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes (and Some Thoughts About Bookish Tattoos!)

When I was a kid, I loved the idea of getting tattoos, specifically, tattoos of quotes from some of my favorite books. It started with Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland - "And she fell down, and down, and down," which I could easily envision spiraling around my left wrist - and by the time I got to high school, I had a list of maybe twelve or so quotes and literary references that I wanted permanently added to my body.

Basically, since I couldn't crack my rib cage open like a cabinet and stuff books into my chest cavity to carry around with me all the time, I wanted them typed out where I could see them everyday. I wanted to be a living library, with words scrawled out across my skin in ink that I would never have to worry about washing off. Furthermore, I thought this was all a really, really good idea.

Then, once I turned 17 and some of my friends started actually getting tattoos, I realized that there was no way this plan was going to work out in my favor. Between abrasive parental controls that are still in place as a 24 year old, to my only semi-functional fear of needles, and the very legitimate question of financial worthiness, I've decided to forgo the tattoos, for now.

But that doesn't mean my love for those words have gone away, at all. Which is why I was so intrigued by today's Top Ten prompt, "Favorite Book Quotes." A worthy category, to be sure, which is why it took me several days to narrow down to some of my favorites. Whether it's for an Instagram caption or a tattoo of your own, I hope you take inspiration in some of my faves!

1."If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." from Emma, Jane Austen
Out of all of the quotes on this list, this is the one I reference the most frequently in daily life, mainly because I think the idea of being too emotionally overwhelmed by love to speak about it eloquently is a pretty relatable concept.

2. The "Cool Girl" monologue from Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Obviously I can't transcribe the whole thing here, but it's more than worth a quick Google search and a few minutes' reading. If I was anywhere near as stagelight-oriented as I was when I was much younger, this would be my audition monologue.

3.“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between.” from The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
There are a litany of reasons I love The Phantom Tollbooth, the virtues of which I have extolled on the blog for many a post, but one of the best parts of the novel is its universality. The book is relatable across age, background, decade, and more, and the lessons contained within are, as well. This one, delivered by the Princesses Rhyme and Reason, is one of the best. 

4.“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” from Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
This might be a silly choice, but it's one of my favorites particularly because of how frequently it's misquoted or misinterpreted. In the context of the book, the character speaking these lines is Miss Caroline Bingley, and she's doing it strictly to impress Mr. Darcy, and not at all in an earnest reflection of the importance of books, being that she abandons her reading material shortly thereafter. Still, you can find it on plenty a bookmark and tote bag! (I, myself, have a different quote from the same material elsewhere: "What are men compared to rocks and mountains," on a sticker on top of my journal.) 

5."Ah, if only he could die temporarily!" from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain 
Thus setting in motion one of the greatest sequences in children's fiction, as Tom does just that. Like The Phantom Tollbooth, I've spoken on my lifelong obsession with Tom Sawyer on the blog before, so it only makes sense that a quote would make the list of potential tattoos.

6.“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” from Frankenstein, Mary Shelley 
You don't see this quote many places, which is a shame, because it's a great one. I read Frankenstein for the first time when I was15, and have returned to it regularly ever since, easily becoming one of my favorite great works of literature. While I'd have to grow into the idea a little bit - as is probably obvious, I am not fearless by any stretch - having it as a tattoo would probably help prompt me to do so. 

7. Okay, so I don't know the exact wording of it, I can't track it down anywhere, and I don't know where my copy's gotten off to, but there's this one quote in Scott Westerfeld's So Yesterday, where he says something stands out "like a black spider on a slice of Wonderbread." Or something... like I said, I can't be sure. All I know, is that it stood out to me the first time I read it, and is one of my favorite parts of the book. (Besides, how cute would a little doodle of a piece of bread with a spider on the middle of it be as a tattoo?)

8."[W]e have some history together that hasn't happened yet." from A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
The postmodern perfection of this book helped define my collegiate career, and cemented Egan as one of my forever favorite and auto-buy authors. Like the first quote on this list, the feeling is relatable: when you meet someone for the first time, and immediately recognize that they'll have significance in your own life.

9."Maybe feeling like an empty room is what inspires you to fill it." from Everyone's an Aliebn When You're an Aliebn Too, Jomny Sun 
The most recent release on this list, and not even something found within the contents of the graphic novel itself, but instead, within its endpages. When I read it for the first time, I gasped out loud, because it was such a simple, but still moving, statement of hope.

10.“We all create stories to protect ourselves.” from House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
This book is one of those that you'll never understand the hype for, until you really set about trying to read the novel. Well, more like deconstruct. The best way I can explain it, is that the book is filled with secrets, and you really need to set aside a month to puzzle it out... if you even actually manage to escape the labyrinth yourself. This quote is one that resonated with me, but there are plenty more where that came from: the dedication in the book simply reads, "This is not for you," and I can't think of a more supremely kick-butt nerd tattoo than that.

What's in your Top Ten? Do you have any bookish tattoos? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

My Year with Harry: Rereading Chamber of Secrets

My new year started off with a bang - not unlike the ones heard during a game of Exploding Snap in the Gryffindor common room - when I decided to make it one of my 2018 resolutions to reread every book in the Harry Potter series. After a very successful return to the first novel, I took a brief reading break before embarking on the second in the series, and was surprised to find that I enjoyed it even more than the first one... and even made a party out of finishing it! 

personal history

Published on July 2nd, 1998, and with a movie adaptation that premiered on November 14th, 2002, the second novel in the Harry Potter series has never exactly been one of my faves. With a fairly dark plot, uncomfortable social dynamics for Harry, and its status as a sophomore effort, I was never drawn to it over the more alluring installments within the collection.

This probably says a lot about me as a kid - and as an adult - but I used to get incredibly anxious reading this book, especially with how quickly everyone would turn on Harry once things started to connect him to the legend of the Heir of Slytherin. The idea that a school full of people who had been so excited to get to know him only a short time before, would openly shun and be afraid of him such a short time after, was disconcerting to me. Maybe it's a symptom of being an older child, or someone who was bullied when they were younger, but being publicly shamed and blamed for something I had no hand in and did not do, and having people hate me for it, was absolutely one of my biggest fears.

And for those who've visited Universal Studios Hollywood in recent years, one of my least favorite sequences from the "Unexpected Journey" ride - aka, the part of it we got stuck in front of for at least two minutes in the dark - also comes from this book (And for those who haven't been subjected to the experience, I'll give you a hint: it involves characters with more than two legs).

So, in a nutshell, I didn't exactly enter into this rereading with the highest hopes.

the reread

In fact, I loved this book a whole lot more than I did as a kid. I believe this was mainly due to my ability to reread it not just as an adult, but someone who's been able to watch how the rest of the series plays out: not only does Harry's second book include a lot of the classic Potter elements that made the books a phenomenon, continuing to successfully build out the world and occupy it with intriguing and unexpected characters, but it lays significant groundwork for other important plot pieces that come along in later books. 

This deliberate sewing of seeds for what would be integral to later installments - including the ideas of parts of Voldemort being present in Harry, and the Death Eaters' possession of the Dark Lord's belongings - was done so masterfully, that spotting various forms of it throughout the book almost felt like ferreting out Easter eggs. Even other intra-novel plot devices, like Ron's broken wand, are constructed so confidently, the whole thing is practically a masterclass in foreshadowing. 

Some of the other parts of the novel I loved:
  • How quickly passages and quotes I hadn't read in years could spark debates between family members. Discussing everything from why Percy wasn't in Slytherin, to whether Harry and Ginny's status as imprints and conduits for Voldemort's power were part of why they ended up together, abounded across frantically-typed texts. These kinds of discussions are absolutely a testament to the staying power of the world Rowling created with this series. 
  • The discovery that Gilderoy Lockhart was a Ravenclaw... but then again, so was Quirinus Quirrell! My brother and I launched deep into the Hogwarts back-history available online to figure out which houses each of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers belonged to, and I was surprised - but not shocked - that these two belonged to mine. 
  • Like I mentioned before, the book contains many classic themes, but also happens to be very deliberately scary. From parties with ghosts and rotting food, to hearing a voice no one else can talking about murdering children, and then having the actual bodies start piling up (though only petrified), is very intense for young readers. Particularly due to the middle-grade-esque writing style of the first two books, this seemed notable, just because it's a little difficult to match a voice selected for young readers, with so many dark elements. 
  • Before embarking upon this reread, I definitely remembered Quidditch as being a fundamental aspect of Hogwarts life, but didn't recall it factoring in quite as heavily as it actually does. Funny how one of the nerdiest book series in the history of fandom, centers around an unabashed jock! 

favorite quotes

“What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?” 

“Do you think we should go and ask Hagrid about it all?”
“That’d be a cheerful visit,” said Ron, “ ‘Hello, Hagrid. Tell us, have you been setting anything mad and hairy loose in the castle lately?”

What does she understand?” said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from.
“Loads more than I do,” said Ron, shaking his head.
“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.” 

the party! (part one)

When I originally commenced with rereading this latest Harry Potter novel, I asked my younger brother - who is undertaking the challenge at the same time as me - if he felt like re-watching all of the movies, as well. Together, we decided to have a little fun with finishing the first two books, by having a Potter Party double feature of the first two movies (while the rest of the family was otherwise occupied, because we're not that annoying). 

We picked up Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer from local standby store Crescent Moon, and dug out the Chocolate Frogs we'd purchased in Universal Studios Hollywood late last August. We also made a feast of our own, with main meals of Beef Pot Pie and a green salad, to go with Deviled Dragon's Eggs, Cauldron Cakes, and Pumpkin Pasties (with a vegan batch whipped up for our sister Maddie to enjoy, too!). 

The spread was grand, and even our parents said that they were impressed with the lengths we'd gone through for the celebration. I think for our next, when we finish up the third and fourth books, we'll let them join us. (Maybe.) I've already got a few recipes and craft ideas lined up, and I can't wait to get reading again! 

the end

 Like I said before, this was a genuinely enjoyable reread that actually surprised me, something I didn't think was possible with a series I've been reading and rereading for most of my life. I can't wait to get out of the middle grade reading style of these early novels, but it's still fun to revisit the early installments.

How are your own reading resolutions coming along? What do you think of the first two Harry Potter movies? Do you have any great wizarding world recipes you think I should try? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic

Science was never my favorite subject in school: too many numbers, and way too many safety warnings to ever be much fun. However, I've always enjoyed reading about science... especially when it's presented in a format like this! 

The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, is a comprehensive look at the Broad Street cholera epidemic, one of the most intense and deadly diseases to sweep London. The story of where the epidemic originated, and how the impact of its mapping and documentation changed not just what we know now about the disease, but modern day city management, provides a complex and intensive look at how civilization puts its civilians at risk, especially for the poor and poor of hygiene of the 1800s.

If you asked me to write a sentence about the outcome of reading this book, it would be this: I now know more than I ever thought I would about mid-1800s waste disposal, epidemic mapping, and the biological effects of one of history's deadliest diseases.

The disease is already notable in the historical and medical fields - it literally decimated an entire London district during its developmental stages, killing one in ten people on the block - but also in the sociocultural sphere, as this book clearly demonstrates, as it helped revolutionize not just the ways we cope with widespread sickness, but the ways city infrastructure bolsters and protects their high populations. This outcome is only possible, due to the significant amount of data afforded by the extensive notes and documentation taken during the time period, which in itself was a remarkable achievement, and a testament to those in the field at the time a routine sickness was wrenching apart an entire neighborhood.

The deliberately story-centered narrative turned noted anesthesiologist and physician John Snow and his friend and fellow documenter, Henry Whitehead, into a sort of dynamic Holmes-and-Watson type duo. By charting their previously separate investigations, and exploring their original odds against each other - which eventually grew into a lifelong friendship - the book finds two compelling protagonists to face off against the formidable enemy disease.

The act of focusing the plot line - the spread of the disease - through the narrative design of charting the investigations by both Snow and Whitehead, not only does what is primarily a statistical account gain a sense of individuality and character, but also provides a better source of clarity for understanding the actual scope of those affected. Whereas the victims of these epidemics might be reduced to numbers and marks on a map, by displaying their relationship with Whitehead and Snow, they are shown to be fully-fleshed and complex people... a fate not granted when simply analyzing the disease for numerical data and quantifiable severity.

If I do have a primary criticism of the book, it is that the story went a little awry during the final chapter: "Broad Street Revisited," where our author discusses today's modern cities and the terrors that plague them, such as terrorist attacks and modern mutations of the flu. While I do agree it was necessary to help shape what such a disease would look like in a more contemporary setting, in terms of contextualizing what happened and centering the narrative around the importance of urbanization in the past century, the way it was constructed came off as a sort of almost fear-mongering, or a doomsday prediction.

All in all, however, The Ghost Map is one of the more interesting science non-fiction books I've ever read, and written in a style that is exceptionally engaging and keeps the plot moving along at a bright clip, explaining advanced biology, epidemiology, and even sociology in an accessible way, without ever letting it bog down the story. Though the genres are a little different, fans of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, which also features a deadly killer in a 1800s city setting, might also enjoy this book.

Final Verdict: Accessible and interesting, while covering a complex and comprehensive host of topics, The Ghost Map is a detailed and data-backed exploration of a deadly epidemic and those who not only helped put an end to it, but successfully changed the realm of science for the better. 

What's your favorite science nonfiction read? What kind of science would you like to read more about? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Tastee-Reads Cookbook Recommendations: Cravings, Real Food Real Simple, Rise & Shine

Anyone else just really love reading through cookbooks? Maybe it's from spending all my formative years getting under my mom's feet in the kitchen, but there's nothing quite as meditative and relaxing as cracking open an old cookbook, and finding something new inside.

While I don't get the chance to purchase new cookbooks often, something I really love doing is checking them out of the library. When my own culinary collection gets a little too recognizable for my liking, getting cookbooks from the library helps me break out of my rut, find new food ideas, and experiment in the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I love Pinterest for planning out great menu ideas or paring down exactly how long carrots need to roast in the oven... but there's nothing like carefully turning the pages of a hefty cooking tome to really get you in the mind to create.

That's why I started reviewing cookbooks on the blog before, in the hopes that others like me might find a little inspiration in these choices, as well, and maybe try out a few new recipes of their own. Three cheers for the local library!

Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat, Chrissy Teigen

I didn't originally get the hype about Chrissy Teigen, but after following her on Twitter, I quickly realized that this model mama and wife of crooner John Legend was just as hilarious as she is gorgeous. Now, after reading this cookbook, I understand that I have to add another credit to Chrissy's name: she certainly knows how to make cooking entertaining.

Her sense of humor glows throughout this collection of her favorite snacks, treats, sweets, and more, for any time of day, and her signature candor and eye for aesthetics make sure that the unique recipes have just as much story and style as they have substance. With menus that reference a wide range of cooking styles and genres, and ingredients lists that remain accessible while still stretching outside typical culinary comfort zones, this pick is perfect for those looking to up their gourmand game, without straying too far from the box (or their bank account).

However, what you might want to mind is the belt: Chrissy is upfront about the food's sometimes not-so-healthy status... the book is called Cravings, after all, and no one has a craving for iceberg lettuce.

29939404Real Food, Real Simple: 80 Delicious Paleo-Friendly, Gluten-Free Recipes in 5 Steps or Less, Taylor Riggs, RDN

At the start of the new year, I - like many - set the intention to start eating better food in my life. That doesn't necessarily mean going vegan, but it does mean incorporating more fresh produce, and less processed food. When I saw this book was recommended by one of my favorite bloggers, I immediately placed a hold at the library.

When this book promises less steps, they mean it: the recipes included in this involve less instructions, less ingredients, and less clean-up. However, they lean so far in the direction of minimalism, they almost seem to skimp out on one of the reasons I enjoy eating food in the first place: flavor.

While I'm sure the austere edibles included in this pristine and brief selection are perfect for those of us looking to significantly reduce their meat and dairy intake, they're just not to my particular taste. However, if you're interested in an easy-start entrance to plant-based eating, this might be just the selection for you!

27876518Rise and Shine: Better Breakfasts for Easy Mornings, Katie Sutherland Morford

Breakfast is hands-down my favorite meal, but something I rarely get to take my time with on a regular basis. Rise and Shine brings together some of the favorite morning meals of cookbook author and nutritionist Morford, and her three daughters, for a unique and comprehensive take on delicious - but still quick - ways to start the day.

With chapters divided by categories like "Eggs," "Toast," "Pancakes," and more, there are plenty of offerings for whatever flavor craving you have, and whatever your choice is, they're sure to be short on ingredients, but long on flavor (as the longest lists I could find were only about nine!).

With plenty of out-of-the-box ideas, from savory morning fried rice, cottage cheese and radish toast, and even pimento and cheddar egg pie, to the sweetness of breakfast baked apples, ginger apricot granola, and applesauce molasses donuts, your morning meals are set for the week. Along with plenty of tips and tricks on what to prepare ahead of time, and how to make the best use of those precious AM hours, this collection is sure to infuse your mornings with a little more sunshine.

Do you like reading cookbooks? Which of these books would you want to check out of your local library? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life

34220606Exciting news: guess who's going to see Hamilton in Seattle this Thursday??? 

Let's just say it's put me in a political state of mind... so I'm throwing it back to review a book I originally read about a month ago, about politically-adjacent sisters who grew up in front of a nation. From playing on the carpet floors of the White House to giving the young Obama sisters a tour upon their father's election, Jenna and Barbara have spent plenty of time around some of the country's greatest influencers of  the millennium's first decade... not necessarily in "The Room Where It Happens," but still, pretty close! 

In Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush - aka, the Bush twins, daughters of President #43 and granddaughters to #41 - give their own account of what it was like, living behind the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and in front of the eyes of a nation. From their presence on election tours with their grandfather, to treading unsteady ground during their education on liberal college campuses, their reflections on everything from a childhood spent in matching outfits, to having youthful indiscretions documented on a global scale, paint a portrait of a sisterhood closely held, and a family legacy they had to grow to understand. 

When they called this book "Sisters First," they weren't kidding: even in the acknowledgements section, they clarify that this book was not necessarily a memoir, but instead, love stories they told to each other, and I believe it. Every page of this book is filled to the brim with adoration, something that's easy for me to understand, having two younger sisters (and a little brother!) of my own.

Naturally, the bond between these two is a little more important, being that their sisterhood played into the cultural history surrounding one of the most impactful positions in our national governance. As the granddaughters of George H. W. Bush, and daughters George W. Bush, their lives have reflected a unique perspective on growing up in not just the public eye, but the epicenter of national and worldwide politics, and it makes sense that they'd want to share that with others... especially when the perspectives that have been shared about them before have been less than kind.

Which, it may surprise you, I did not go into this book knowing! President Obama was elected into office when I was only in the eighth grade, which meant that my political consciousness hadn't been developed all that much during the time Jenna and Barbara's dad was in office. Hearing their tepid acknowledgements of tabloid-documented discretions of years past was a little disconcerting, when I wasn't all that familiar with what they had been doing wrong in the first place.

Still, despite the fact that their college years were less than straight-laced, it is clear that these women are intelligent and well-educated. Their story-telling is descriptive and packed with emotion, and punctuated with letters, emails, and other missives flying between members of their famous family to give it credence. I absolutely believe that these women love each other, and their family.

For the record, I am a Democrat, and a liberal, and all of those other things that don't necessarily align with the Bush family doctrine. However, that didn't stop me at all from enjoying this book. Not only did the sisters put forth their stories with apology, and without judgement, but they acknowledged the places where their lines of thinking, as they grew up, deviated from those of their parents, whether in terms of supporting gay marriage, being pro-choice, or mediating a more friendly relationship with news media. They discussed their friendship with the Obama family. They also made it clear that their support of their own family ran far deeper than any political divide, too.

While I do think the chapters had the tendency to get a little wandering and disorganized, the book's relative lack of structure made it feel very conversational, like they were just telling you these stories over a morning cup of coffee.

Final Verdict: A fun and unique installment in the various political memoirs I've been getting into in the past few years. If you liked Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Obama-era White House official Alyssa Mastromonaco, you would probably like this one, too, for their unique portraits of a presidential term, behind the scenes.

Have you read any great political memoirs recently? Do you also have the song from "My Date with the President's Daughter" stuck in your head? Let me know, in the comments below!