Review: The Nightingale

The Nightingale
The Nightingale by Jerry Pinkney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #57 for 2016
Stina’s Personal Challenge Prompts:
– A book about a royal personage
– A book set in Africa

I’ve never read the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, so it is a little hard to rate this adaptation. I’m not even sure what was “adapted,” since there is no specific mention of Africa or Morocco in this version. I gather the original was set in China, so perhaps that location was more obvious in the original story. The illustrations are clearly not depictions of China, but had the notes not named the setting as Morocco, I never would have known that was Pinkney’s intention.

Pinkney’s illustrations are beautiful, so the book is definitely worth checking out just for that. I also liked the story, which came as a relief, because I’m not always a big fan of HCA’s work. I am not sure what age range this book is intended for, but I think this is a good book for starting a kid on early, enjoying the colorful and exotic illustrations at first and then re-reading later to develop an understanding of the story.

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Review: Matilda

Matilda
Matilda by Roald Dahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #56 for 2016
Read Harder Challenge Task: Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award.

Kate Winslet did a phenomenal job of reading this book, carefully voicing the various characters, and she totally deserves that Audie! I also enjoyed the story, which was fun and unpredictable, yet really quite grim. Matilda’s family put me in mind of the Dursleys, and the Trunchbull was sort of a Dolores Umbridge on steroids. If British literature is anything to go by, I am glad in the extreme that I never attended school there as a child. It always sounds absolutely dreadful, and I would be surprised if anybody ever survived it without being psychologically scarred for life.

I am amazed that the twist was never spoilered for me. I will pay it forward and say only that I liked how carefully Dahl handled it. Throughout the story, he made it clear that Matilda knew what was what and was perfectly capable of making up her own mind about things. I’ve never seen the film, but the casting of Mara Wilson was simply perfect for the role of Matilda. I will probably seek out the film.

I have to admit that I’m not Dahl’s biggest fan, but this book was a winner. I have to think most Matilda-aged children would enjoy it even more than I did.

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Fancy Chicken Salad Sandwiches

One of the book clubs I belong to occasionally meets for afternoon tea, and over the years, we’ve each developed a specialty of sorts. Mine is chicken salad croissants. (Though I don’t make the actual croissants myself.)

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I will not be finishing the book. I lasted all of seven paragraphs before giving up.

This time I somewhat unintentionally got a little fancy. Okay, okay, the croissants were from the grocery store (which I doubt I will be doing anymore, as their quality has really declined, and it’s not like this town doesn’t have any decent bakeries), and the chicken was from a can (which I will always do because I simply will not handle raw poultry). But I think nearly everything else I used was organic.

My recipe, if you want to call it that, is not difficult or even all that unusual, if you ask me, but I get a lot of compliments on it, so here it is.

 

I drain the canned chicken, plunk it into a bowl, and fluff it with a fork. For this, I used two of the largish (I think 12.5 ounces, but I wouldn’t swear to it) cans. Then I chop up an apple and put most of that in. (I usually end up eating a wedge or two of the apple in the process.) Then I add some chopped sweet onion, chopped nuts (in this case, pecans, but it’s often walnuts), and some sort of fruit. I prefer to use halved grapes, but this time all I had was dried cherries. I really should have chopped those cherries up, but I was in a bit of a rush. Ah, well, I’ll remember that next time.

I empty an entire 16-ounce container of sour cream (this time I used Wallaby Organic) into a separate bowl, then spoon in some mayonnaise. I never measure it. You’ll just have to engage in some trial and error to find what ratio you like best. (My advice is to start small; you can always add more.) I then season it to my liking, which is different every time I make it, but some of my favorites are garlic salt, ginger powder, herbes de Provence, and paprika. Then I do some taste testing and adjust the mayo content and the seasonings.

Then I spoon some of the goo into the chicken bowl and mix it up. Again, start small, then add more until you reach a consistency you like. Once you have it all mixed up to your liking, you can scoop some onto your croissants or rolls or whatever and enjoy!

 

Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #54 for 2016

This is one of those books that is so well written that anything I could write in a review would not do it justice. It is insightful and accessible, and Gawande balances anecdotes and hard research beautifully. In doing so, he brings data to life and gives the reader a greater understanding of the issues faced by the elderly and the terminally ill as well as just how terribly society is failing them. This is a sorely neglected topic in modern social discourse, and I have a feeling things are just going to get worse.

Everybody should read this book. Everybody.

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Review: Black-Eyed Susans

Black-Eyed Susans
Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #53 for 2016
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge Task: A book recommended by someone you just met.

This is a book that had a lot of ambition and a lot of interesting things going for it. And it almost delivered on its promises. I feel like it could have been an amazing novel with a little more editing. At the nit-picky end of things, there were some odd word choices, like “widow’s peak” for an architectural element. (I’m guessing she meant “widow’s walk.”) And there were things that were later explained away, so I can’t really call them plot holes, but the explanations felt like afterthoughts of the “oops, guess I’d better do something about that real quick” variety, not carefully crafted red herrings. I mean, really, the first coroner didn’t notice an extra femur?

But there was a lot that didn’t make sense in the structure of the story. So much was made of how unique Tessa’s childhood home was, but nothing ever really came of that. (Is that an anti-spoiler?) And I totally could have done without the whole physical relationship between Tessa and Bill. It felt forced, like maybe an editor demanded a sex scene, and I feel like it detracted from the story and even muddled the purpose of Tessa as a character. For the other stuff, I don’t want to give the ending away, but unrealistic details kept pulling me out of the story and there were too many threads left hanging with nothing but a dismissive shrug from the author.

I also think Heaberlin could have done so much more with the whole death penalty angle and made this a much meatier story. This was simply not anywhere near the book it could have been, so I am left with a feeling of regret. Still, I found the story and the characters engaging, so this is more like a 3.5-star book. I wouldn’t recommend this to everybody, but in some ways it reminds me of The Lovely Bones and What the Dead Know, so if either of those appeals to you, you might like this as well.

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Review: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #52 for 2016
Read Harder Challenge Task:
– Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years.
– Read a food memoir.
PopSugar Challenge Category: A graphic novel.

The next time somebody asks me what authors I would invite to a dinner party, Lucy Knisley will be at the top of my list. Especially if it’s a potluck! But seriously, anybody who has ever traveled with me (or been subjected to my vacation photos) knows that food is paramount in my life. Lucy strikes me as the kind of person who totally gets that, yet isn’t a snob about food, either. She would fully comprehend my disappointment in myself for missing out on Belgian delicacies during my Brussels layover (because sleep!), but she would also understand my occasional craving for a green chile cheeseburger from Sonic.

The recipes all look great, and I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to try at least one of them before returning the book to the library. There are also lots of great info nuggets scattered throughout. I mean, I thought I knew a lot about cheese, but wow!

I don’t normally do well with the graphic novel format, but Knisley’s illustrations were cleanly rendered and fun, and the narrative flowed smoothly. It was relaxing to hitch a ride with her on this trip down her foodie memory lane. This book is a delight and precisely what I needed in the second week of this November. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anybody who loves food.

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Review: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #51 for 2016

I didn’t love this book, but I did like it quite a bit. Which is pretty much how I feel about Amy Schumer herself. Some parts of the book were really interesting and insightful, some parts were pretty funny, and some parts were passionate and heartfelt. I was surprised by how much real shit (at times literally) she went into, and those were some of the best parts of the book. I also appreciated how unapologetically feminist she was, even when she was describing how naive she has been. I know where she’s coming from with a lot of that, so perhaps that’s why her experiences in that regard resonated so strongly with me.

I’m not sure how I feel about all of Amy’s family dramas. They were, well, yes, interesting. But on another level they were really quite disturbing. Still, I have to give the woman some respect for how forthright she was about it all.

Probably my least favorite thing about the book is how much she talks about smoking pot. While I do think marijuana should be legal (as legal as alcohol is, anyway), I think that more from a theoretical standpoint. From a practical standpoint, I think pot is kind of disgusting in general and feel sorry for anybody who actually needs it for medical purposes, and I think smoking anything is a filthy, nasty habit. So her constant mentions of it dampened my enthusiasm to the point that I’m wavering on that fourth star.

But then I remember my favorite thing about the book. Shcumer’s brand of feminism is what my ex-husband would refer to as “gaping vagina.” As an MRA and faux feminist ally, of course, he loved to expound at length on how it wasn’t “real” feminism. So even though I’m not a gaping vagina feminist myself, it felt like an act of rebellion just to read this and occasionally shout, “Fuck, yeah!”

So, is Amy’s story kind of trashy and unpolished? Sure. But as you might expect from the book’s title, she totally owns it, and I think she is all the stronger for it. This isn’t your typical comedy memoir, and I would say it has more unfunny moments than funny ones, but it’s still a worthwhile read. Just be prepared for her to challenge your ideas about who she is and what she is all about.

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My 2017 Personal Reading Challenge

As I mentioned in a recent post, this year I started a Personal Reading Challenge based on 2015 reads that didn’t fit into that year’s challenges. My 2016 challenge consisted of 30 categories, and I have only five left to complete. Time is running short, but it is do-able. Fortunately for 2017-me, next year’s list is considerably shorter:

  1. A self-published book
  2. A book about a haunted building
  3. An illustrated children’s book
  4. A book with a key on the cover
  5. A book with the word “Girl” in the title
  6. A story told from a non-human POV
  7. An award-winning book
  8. A book with a woman on the cover
  9. A book by a medical doctor
  10. A book about a sheriff
  11. A book with a cat on the cover

And I fell short on two 2016 challenges (this one and PopSugar’s) so I’m adding those prompts to this one:

  1. A book featuring a bookstore
  2. A book set in a retirement community
  3. A book set on another planet
  4. A book you haven’t read since high school
  5. A political memoir
  6. A book at least 100 years older than you
  7. A book from Oprah’s Book Club
  8. A book recommended by a family member
  9. A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
  10. The first book you see in a bookstore
  11. A book about a road trip

As before, feel free to join in! You can comment on this post and/or on your own blog or Twitter or whatever. I’m also starting a Goodreads group for this and other challenges I pose. I’d love to hear your suggestions for books for these categories.

Review: Pope Joan

Pope Joan
Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #35 for 2016
OFB Summer Reading Bingo Square: A book recommended by your barista
Read Harder Tasks:
– Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction).
– Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better.

This book was not quite what I was expecting. I think I expected a weightier, more academic story. Not that this was light fluff. Despite having studied a fair amount of medieval civ at Drury back in the day, I found myself looking up a lot of vocabulary and history while reading this book. But it read a bit like a Middle Ages Downton Abbey, which itself is just a gussied-up soap opera. And for all the research that obviously went into bringing Joan’s story, however fictional, to life, the fact that Cross had no qualms about tinkering with the timeline in some spots makes me feel that she was not that dedicated to presenting a story that really could have happened.

But I suppose she wasn’t. She openly acknowledges that Pope Joan’s existence will probably remain a questioned legend, even if she did really exist. And really, there is no good reason for such a lack of commitment to Pope Joan’s reality to bother me. It is disturbing to think of the Church expunging her thus, of course, but being disturbed by the Church is nothing new for me.

All in all, I really liked this book and its highly detailed look at life in 9th-century Europe. I have only one major gripe: the faire scene with the fortune-teller. The predictions and the woman’s mysterious disappearance were the pinnacle of cliché, and this book did not deserve it. I’m glad that this was not included in the movie version.

I liked the movie version okay, but as with any film treatment of a novel of any complexity, there was a lot missing. If the book felt like a soap opera, the movie felt like musical theatre. Not bad, certainly, but focused more on hitting the highlights than on exploring any depths to the story. As much as I like David Wenham and Iain Glen, I’m not sure I would recommend the movie to anybody who has not already read the book.

And I would exercise some care in recommending the book. I think it would appeal to many with an interest in historical fiction or womens’ religious issues, but their enjoyment of the book would depend a lot on what they expect to get out of it and how invested they are in that expectation.

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