Book Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

cover117794-mediumThe summary and promo for The English Wife interested me. The story itself did not. It is a novel occurring at different times, at two different places, with two interwoven stories. It is a murder mystery set from 1894 to 1899, during The Gilded Age. Like The Gilded Age, this book was shiny on the surface but rather lacking underneath. The story moved along at a leisurely pace. Each person was somehow not fully formed yet had an intricate background. The characters are very unlikable, barring a reporter named James Burke. The main character Janie was, we presume, intent on finding out who killed her brother. She simpered and quoted Shakespeare most of the time. Janie was easily and often offended by most actions from every character and was a wisp of a heroine. There were long chapters describing homes, art, plays, and what everyone was wearing.  The anti-climactic ending was the most exciting moment of the book, but you have to work to get there. If you want to read about how important one’s reputation was during that era, it’s spot on. If you want to read a book about intrigue and a murder most foul, this is not the book for you. 

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Book Review: Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

 

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Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos is a smartly written introduction to one of the world’s most celebrated artists. It begins in childhood, where we learn about Frida’s life in the famous La Casa Azul. Frida had a menagerie of animals; a parrot, two monkeys, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a fawn, and a black cat. Frida lived most of her life at La Casa Azul with her family, pets, and eventual husband Diego Rivera. The story tells much about Frida, like when she contracted polio at age six. Though it is never called polio in the book, it does mention that one of her legs was shorter than the other. It also mentions the accident that happened when she was 18 that highly impacted her life. It spares the detail that it was a bus accident.

What this book does best is tell the story of how she persevered through illness and pain to become an amazing artist. We learn that Frida’s mother made her a special easel and hung a mirror over her bed so she could paint. Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos is about how Frida’s animals inspired her paintings. It explains how they often accompanied her in self-portraits. While reading, you get to enjoy a lush, lovely illustrated book with bright colors and beautiful pictures. With the young in mind, the author created a great resource for simplifying a complicated life. I recommend this book for anyone wanting to introduce children to the unforgettable legacy of Frida Kahlo and her work.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own. 

 

Book Review: Sweet Revenge: Passive-Aggressive Desserts for Your Exes & Enemies by Heather Kim

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This is going to be a two-part review. I want to start by saying that I like this cookbook. It’s bright, it’s fun, it has interesting ingredients. The names of the recipes are great. “Kiss My Molasses” “You’re A Piece of Sheetcake” “TBH, You’re A Total D-Bagel” 
 
I laughed when I read, “In a big ‘ol mixing bowl beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy and you’ve expelled all your pent-up rage.”  
 
The part of me that enjoyed reading the cookbook is warring with the part of me that attempted to make two recipes. Part two of the review: Neither one worked. I wouldn’t call myself a “master” baker but I am proficient in the kitchen. I know my way around some good homemade bread, cakes, and cookies. I was up for the challenge this book presented. I made “You’re A Total Monster aka Cap’n Crunch Monster Cookies” and “You’re The Devil Food Cake.” 
 
“You’re A Total Monster aka” Cap’N Crunch Monster Cookies” have 19 ingredients. I had part of the list at home. The things I needed  I bought from Walmart:

Corn Syrup $4.46
Mini M&M’s $2.88
Mini Chocolate Chips $1.98
Butter $3.05 (calls for one cup)
Heavy cream $4.14
Graham crackers $3.00
Milk Powder $2.98
Nacho Cheese Dorito’s $3.98
Cap’n Crunch $2.98

 
I already had: sugar, brown sugar, 1 egg, vanilla extract, flour, baking powder, baking
soda, salt, old-fashioned oats, and cornmeal
 
I spent 29.45 on the ingredients, and I bought store brand as much as possible to save on cost. 
 
So what went wrong? The ratio of wet to dry ingredients is way off. I had a huge bowl of oats and flour and the rest, and I had to mix it with scant wet ingredients of butter/egg/sugar/corn syrup/one tablespoon of cream. I realized after I purchased the milk powder it only called for one tablespoon. (What was the purpose…I still muse) What I ended up with was a dry, crumbly dough that did not want to stick together. At all. I baked the first batch for 18 minutes as recommended and they were dark and hard as rocks. I put more in and shortened the time to 16 minutes and out popped dark hard cookies. The third batch, 14 minutes, super hard cookies. Last batch, 12 minutes, after they cooled they were as hard as the 18-minute cookies. And I don’t mean crisp, I mean bang on the table and they don’t break, hard to bite into cookies. And all you could taste was the chocolate chips. The flavors of cereal and Doritos were missing. Even after a day, you ended up with a mouthful of dry cornmeal and chocolate chips.

 
The idea of this recipe is super fun. Cap’n Crunch, Doritos, M&M’s, oh my! But the result was not great. But forging on I said, eh, I’m going to make this cake, it sounds and looks amazing! “You’re The Devil Food Cake With Chocolate Frosting & Brownie-Streusel Crunch” 
 
This recipe is in three parts: cake, frosting, streusel. I had most of the ingredients for this recipe but still had to buy:

Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips $1.98
2 packs butter $6.10 (24 Tablespoons for the whole recipe)
Dark Chocolate Chips $2.73
Brownie Mix $.99
Cocoa Powder $3.18

 
I had: coffee, flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, eggs, milk, (the heavy cream from the cookies) more sugar, and oil. 
 
I spent 14.98 on the ingredients for this cake, and I bought store brand as much as possible to save on cost. 
 
So what went wrong? Everything, everything went wrong. The mix overflowed in this unexpectedly wild cake-explosion, the middles never cooked, the icing never set. I threw in the towel and didn’t make the brownie-streusel so I have no opinion on that. It took me a long time to assemble this cake, or I should say: the attempt to make this cake took up a huge chunk of Christmas cookie baking time with my family. Once again, the ratios seemed off as I was mixing and pouring (and praying). The icing was pure liquid, it looked like a ganache. The picture shows an iced cake and mentions nothing of ganache. What went wrongI asked as I shook my sticky fist at the sky. I stuck the icing in the fridge after it cooled and it hardened into a delicious, soft chocolate. One could use it to dip fruit, but not as icing on a cake. I had no cake to ice.

 
When I was buying the goods for the two recipes I also picked up:
Cake Flour $3.98
Cool Ranch Dorito’s $3.98
(to use with other recipes in the book)
 
I was (and maybe still will) going to make a couple more recipes. In total, I spent $52.39 on recipes that bombed so hard.

That’s the problem with this cookbook. It’s so cool, it looks like my teen and I would have the time of our lives whipping up these crazy cakes and cookies. The pictures in the book are great. The author is fun and engaging, there are “helpful tips” scattered throughout it. But I spent a ton of money trying to make TWO of the recipes in the book. I wanted this cookbook to be amazing, but the recipes need to be revised, they are not usable. Revenge is almost sweet.

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own

 

Book Review: The Girl Who Said Sorry by Hayoung Yim

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I sat down with my 8-year-old daughter and read The Girl Who Said Sorry.  At her requestEllie and I read it over and over. The more we read it, the more she would yell “sorry!” at the prompt. Her yells became more aggressive and confident as we went on. This book tells her what we should already know but are often not taught. No one should apologize for being themselves. I’ve tried to instill this in all three of my children, and her spunk came through while we read. No, she’s not sorry for dressing a certain way, or for eating something she enjoys. She is Ellie, and she roars.
 
The author has written a very important book for the young, old, and all gender identities. Stop being sorry for everything and start embracing who you are. Love yourself. A simple but powerful message written in a beautiful book. The Girl Who Said Sorry is a must read for our budding feminists. It’s also a must-read for ourselves, who continue to apologize for no reason. I’m not sorry I read this book with my daughter!

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Book Review: Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav

 

 

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Something magical happens everytime I read a book by Lang Leav. Her words conjure sensations and memories long past or make current feelings that much deeper. Lang Leav knows love, it is her specialty. There is a wonderful harmony in her words. As I was reading there were moments when I found myself deep in reflection.

My favorite poem in Sea of Strangers is “Whole Again.” I found the wording of this beautiful poem calling out to me as I read it. Lang Leav writes “There is a word that hurts my heart-one I don’t ever say out loud. Like the shadow that lingers in the light, I can’t separate myself from your memory. But there are some nights when I look up at the sky and the moon is whole again.”

What the passage means to me could affect someone in a different way. This is where the author’s skills lie, in evoking a rainbow of responsiveness. I enjoy this side of her writing, how small poems can bring forth a slew of emotions, each unique. I would recommend adding Sea of Strangers to your collection. If you are a first-time reader, enjoy a book full of words that take you on a passionate journey from your past to your present.

*I recieved a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Harry Potter – The Unofficial Guide to the Collectibles of Our Favorite Wizard by Eric Bradley

cover122318-medium  The most beloved wizard in the world’s story turned 20 this year. Another fun fact: “The first printing of the first edition of the British version of the initial Harry Potter novel was the result of an extremely small press run on June 26, 1997, by Bloomsbury in England.” (pg. 7) A mere 500 books are what it took to create an empire and make J.K. Rowling a household name. If you are lucky (wildly lucky?) and own a copy of the very first edition, you are in possession of something worth around 40,000 dollars at auction. This entry is the beginning of a well thought out and meticulously researched book. Inside are snippets and fun facts about the editions, author, and its characters. This book is set apart from competitors because of all the fun and engaging backstories. They are almost more interesting than the curated value of the object is. Eric Bradley has put together more than a simple collectibles book for us muggles to peruse. He had me more interested in the facts than the prices, but the value of some objects are mind-blowing. Collectible books can be as dry as day-old toast, but this book was fun from beginning to end. If I were you I’d grab a first edition copy, someday this book is going to be worth some coin!

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
– J.K. Rowling (pg. 6)

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Welcome To Sortilege Falls (Grape Merriweather Book One) by Libby Heily

cover126351-mediumsorNo one has ever met a girl named Grape, and Grape has never met anyone like The Models. She is a confident, self-assured teenager who gets a verbal sucker-punch on her first day of school. Already reeling from the recent death of her father and a move to a new town, it was the last thing she expected.  The Models are also the last thing she was expecting. They are ethereal to the point of suspicion and they dominate the town. Pie-eyed adults and kids alike give The Models anything they want. One of them, Mandy, decides she likes Grape, and thus the story begins. Garden gnomes litter the town and something isn’t right in the woods behind Grape’s house. The Models are getting sick and dying at an alarming rate. The adults know something but no one is talking. Why does Grape’s brother spend so much time in the woods? Is that a really dorky man trying to befriend her, or is he a vampire? Why can The Models say and do anything they want without repercussions? Wait, did that garden gnome move? It’s up to Grape and a cast of eccentric, oddball characters to right the wrongs before anyone else dies. I enjoyed every minute of this book. In the sci-fi/paranormal world of teen novels, it can get repetitive and dull. There is nothing dull in the world of Sortilege Falls! This tale is so outrageous and fun it’s like nothing I’ve read before. I’m off to buy the second book and see what Grape and her friends get into next.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.