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 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.)


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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