Posts filed under Book Reviews

Tiny Food Par-tay

I usually don't care for blogger swag and review copies because it's usually dumb crap like cheetos. There is no world in which I'm going to write a blog post in exchange for cheetos. I have morals and standards people! What I will do is beg, plead and otherwise prostrate myself for a book written by bloggers whom I read regularly. Today I'm psyched to bring you a review of the new cookbook from one of my favorite food blogs Spoon Fork Bacon. Spoiler alert: I love it.

Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park's new book is my favorite kind of cookbook, one written for a specific situation. I like that if I'm looking for something to bring to a party that I not only have a whole book of go-to recipes, I have a book of all super-cute tiny recipes.

I also like this book because it lists food the way I eat it, all fusioned-up. I didn't grow up eating exclusively Filipino food or "american" food for that matter. My family ate everything, chinese, mexican etc and I've always liked mixing it up foodwise.  The first recipe I tested were kimchi deviled eggs with candied bacon. They were delicious and bi-cultural just like me. I felt very emotionally in sync with the deviled eggs. Second bonus? Despite our deep meaningful connection they were still very simple to make. I got all the ingredients at Trader Joes. I had very good intentions of showing you pictures but my egg peeling skills made for some unappetizing looking appetizers. My son and husband were not emotionally in sync with the eggs but this did not prevent them from gobbling them greedily.

Next up I tried out the arepas with guasaca (avocadao sauce). Since I'm currently outnumbered by Colombians in my household arepas were a no-brainer. These were super-easy to make and ready to go in about 30 minutes. Our households chief Colombian/arepa maker was duly impressed by the creation and I could imagine making these in huge quantities for a party and letting people build their own with mixed fillings. Look out for your invite to the Tiny Arepa Party. Wha-what?!

I think the last thing to mention about this book is that it has pictures of every recipe. Some people are very serious cooks who do not need pictures. I am not one of those people. I want a big fat, beautiful picture of each dish to inspire me to get off my duff and make a recipe. Tiny Food Party will inspire you. I want to make it all: caprese skewers, tiny lemon meringue drinks, mini-chicken and waffles. It's all on the to-eat list and my crew and I are scheming about possible tiny-food parties. If you like party food, you will dig this book. It's on bookshelves now, so get to it!

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book but was not compensated or required to write this post. All opinions about the books quality and possible emotional projections of ethnic identity upon deviled eggs are my own.

Posted on October 8, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Awhile back a friend watched me discipline my son. The most delicate way to describe my attitude towards him in that moment might be "exasperated". She looked at us amusedly, him whining, me exhausted and said "Thank you so much for not making it look easy. I really appreciate that you don't pretend it's easy." I think some people might've taken the comment as a backhanded compliment. The kind of snipe that's emblematic of the so-called Mommy wars. I didn't. I knew my friend was sincere. I've treasured that compliment deep in my heart because it brought me comfort to remember that our imperfections can have the same redeeming qualities as our strengths. After reading Dr. Brene Brown's book I think she would agree. Her book Daring Greatly discusses the power of vulnerability, arguing that our avoidance of vulnerability does not help us to avoid disappointment and pain but rather to miss out on opportunities for love, connection, creativity and triumph. At the risk of sounding melodramatic I'd like to state for the record that I would recommend this book unreservedly to anyone and everyone. It is changing the way I see myself, my loved ones and the people who populate my world. It will be a classic that changes the way we understand vulnerability, fear and shame.

Dr. Brown is a reasearch professor in Social Work and has investigated shame and vulnerability over the past decade. Her book balances academic rigor, practical advice and compelling personal stories. While reading this book I wanted to cry and take notes at the same time. It was a very inspiring and unique reading experience.

I could tell you more specifics about the book but I think the following story will tell you all you need to know. Almost immediately after finishing this book I experienced a very difficult and charged conversation that left me dazed. The details of the conversation are not important but vulnerable seems to soft a word to describe how I felt afterwards. I was so upset with myself that I took a walk to collect my thoughts. I ended up jaywalking across two streets directly towards a policeman on a bike. Understandably upset by my blatant disregard for safety/the law/common sense the policeman proceeded to rip me a new one at the stoplight (there were a ton of people around to watch. Bonus!) "What were you thinking? The way you jaywalked is so dangerous AND it doesn't even save any time. What is WRONG WITH YOU?" As he sat there berating me publicly all I could think was "Man, if you only knew. Everything is wrong with me today."

The upside was that the wretched day became a useful pop quiz for practicing the tools in the book, which is exactly what I did after I extracted myself from the policeman's fury. And I don't mean that I did some mumbo-jumbo "affirmation" exercise and then watched TV. I mean that I literally went home after my disaster of a day, sat down with my book and started following the precise instructions of how to deal with the fallout. I struggle with perfectionism and I've often found that the kind of mistakes that led to my no good, very, bad, terrible day land me in a state of paralyzing fear. Not this time. This time I'm doing my best to remember that growth is often uncomfortable and not to fear the discomfort. I'm trying to remember how terrible it is to be the one in the wrong and to remember to be more generous and kind when I'm disciplining my child. I'm trying to be corageous and not run away or obesses about the valuable criticism I've received. Most of all though, I'm remembering that there is a very important action item for each of you:  read this book

This is a paid review for the BlogHer Book Club. All opinions expressed are my own. To join in on the group discussion on Daring Greatly click here.

Posted on September 19, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

This book is devastating. I started reading it a few days into our stay in Santander and after the first few chapters I was overcome with anxiety that someone was following me in order to kidnap my child. You'll be pleased to know that I shared this "suspicion" with my husband who instead of talking me down like a regular person instead joined me in the crazy. The joys of marriage.

This is an epistolary novel written from the point of view of a working class British woman whose husband and young son are killed in a terrorist attack. I am not a working class British woman but I thought the author was spot on. This picture of a woman whose life and mental health are clearly falling apart felt incredibly real so much so that I'm not sure if I would really recommend this book. For me, it was very upsetting, probably more so because it felt a little close to present reality to ignore. If you are looking for something incredibly well-written in a unique voice I suggest this to you, but be forewarned, its intense.

Posted on July 31, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.

Taft 2012

Ludicrous and lovely, this is a great summer beach read. It's short, fun and about a president so you can pretend to look down on everybody reading "fluffier" stuff. This book presents an alternative world where President Taft wakes up from some kind of suprise coma in 2012. No time is wasted on the mechanics of why Taft is undead which is great. Who cares? He's back and lumbering his way through a changed world. I found this book to be both funny and thoughtful. Read it now. It's what Taft would want.

Posted on July 30, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Some time ago (actual date admitted to protect me from embarrassment) my friend Elaine and I read a book together to do a joint book review. Elaine runs an incredibly prolific book review blog called El Estante para libros. I've read many books upon her recommendation. Our joint review is up today. Go check it out here!

Posted on July 11, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews.

My Artist's Way Toolkit-A little bit everyday

This review is part of the BlogHer Book Club Review Program. I was compensated for this review but all opinions are my own.

My Artist's Way toolkit is web-based applications centered on the principles in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist's Way. I used the application for a few weeks and I think it could be helpful for people looking to push themselves or get out of a creative rut. Each week the app provides writing prompts and activiites. Examples of prompts included “Visit a part of town that you’ve never been to before” or “If you had five lives to live how would you lead them?” In addition the app provides daily quotes from Julia’s book and space for daily writings.

I enjoy writing and in another life where my day was not focused on my family and full-time job I think I might’ve really enjoyed the discipline of using the app but in the real life I live right now I found it’s function duplicative to the creative push I get from blogging. I also felt the daily quotes were too abstract, but this could be attributed to the lack of context (I have not read the original book). Not everyone enjoys the public nature of blogging and I think that this app could be quite useful for someone looking for a disciplined way to practice writing or break out of a creative rut. I enjoyed using the app in bit and pieces on my phone during breaks in my workday. It was a nice way to fit in some creative thinking during the moments that present themselves! You can learn more about the My Artist’s Way toolkit and the BlogHer Book Club here.

Posted on June 13, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Magically Delicious

If I was a video blogger this post would be five minutes of me sighing contentedly and fondly clutching this book to my chest. There are lots of reasons to read: for information, to explore ideas, to learn about history, to laugh but my number one favorite reason will always be to get lost. I was hopelessly, wonderfully lost in Erin’s magical world about a circus that opens only at night. A place where the magic is real, rooted in love and threatened by hate. Like Jerry Maguire, Morgenstern had me at hello, after the first page I knew I was in for something different. I wanted to go to the circus! I could taste the hot chocolate, and hear the black and white tents billowing in the still night air. The book is not perfect. I found the end somewhat confusing and the time leaps problematic, but it is absolutely one of my favorite books I have read this year. Read it, and if you don’t like it don’t tell me because I’ll take out my magic wand to fix you.

Posted on June 7, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.

The First Husband by Laura Dave-A Beach Read to Burn Through

People have different requirements for summer reading. Some like to keep it light, only chick lit and cheap romance novels need apply. Others need adventure; a certain series of dystopian young adult novels could fit that bill. Those among us with more “elevated’ tastes might devour a good historical biography. Personally I have a need for speed. I want a book that’s pacing makes me want to dig in the way the Orange Chicken at Panda Express brings you sniffing through the door, that is to say happily/against your better judgment. The way I see it the best part of reading on vacation are the long luxurious stretches of uninterrupted time. Summer is the time to pick up a book and then put it down finished and devoured four hours later with a smile on your face and a twitch in your eyelid.

I’m happy to report that Laura Dave’s new novel “The First Husband” perfectly fits the burn-pace beach read bill. Out of necessity (poor planning regarding the book launch date) I ended up reading this in an enjoyable four-hour frenzy. The pacing of this book is perfect with a mini-cliff hanger/shocker that propels you forward to the next chapter. Just when I would lose interest in the protagonists’ predicament Laura’s excellent pacing would pull me back in and propel me to the next chapter, eager to find out what happens next. This book reminded me of a romantic comedy; as I read it I could already see the trailer in my head. Whether you are a fan of that genre would probably be a strong indicator of whether you’d enjoy this novel. Bridget Jones’ Diary is one of my all-time favorite book/movies so I’m a solid recommend on this book. To learn more about “The First Husband” by Laura Dave, visit the BlogHer Book Club’s discussion here.

The BlogHer Book Club sponsors this review but all opinions are my own.

Posted on May 30, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.

BlogHer Book Review: You have No Idea by Vanessa and Helen Williams

Celebrity memoirs are a favorite indulgence so when I got the chance to review You Have No Idea by Vanessa and Helen Williams I signed up with a big happy smile on my face. Not just a celebrity memoir, but a celebrity I like! I totally dug Vanessa on Ugly Betty. Disclosure: I was compensated for this review but all opinions are my own.

Overall I enjoyed this book a lot for the candor that Vanessa and Helen show in describing their relationship and the insider peek on what it’s like to be a public performer over the long haul. The book was co-written by Vanessa and her tough as nails mother. They alternate chapters sharing their perspectives on key moments in her life. Helen Williams is a great personality and including her perspective adds a lot to the story.

A lot of attention is paid to the Miss America scandal. She describes the events that led up to her nude photo shoot, how she ended up (pretty much accidentally) becoming the first African-American Miss America and the challenges that she encountered during her "reign". It was honestly heart-breaking to hear about the ugliness she endured in her quest to be a good representative of the pageant: multiple death threats being sent to her parents’ house, incessant racism and criticism from the black community over her perceived lack of “appropriate” blackness. To know that she and her family persevered through those events only to be abandoned abruptly when the pictures came out was a depressing commentary of the disloyalty common in show business. It’s a testament to her talent and durability that she made it in the end. She was marked for years by the scandal. In the book she describes how she was cast in a Broadway show only to lose the role after the producer said, “I don’t want that whore bringing in the wrong kind of people”. I can only imagine the challenge of having to continually confront a mistake made at age 19 well into your 30s. Strangely, her experiences seem ironically antiquated in light of today’s current trend of starlets releasing risque pictures for the purpose of self-promotion.

Like many celebrity memoirs this wasn't the best-written book. It's not cohesive in it's overall editing. There were many underdeveloped stories and unnecessary tangents but despite these shortcomings there was a ton to enjoy about this book! I would recommend it to any fan of celebrity memoirs or Vanessa Williams.

This book is a BlogHer book club pick. To learn more and join in the discussion click here!

Posted on May 2, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews.

Project Nerds Unite!: The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs

Random projects and biographies are like peanut-butter and chocolate: I just need them in my life. Enter AJ Jacobs who has my dream job. He makes up projects, such as reading the encyclopedia, or getting super-duper healthy and then writes books about them. Awhile ago I read his book "The Year of Biblical Living" in which he spends a year trying to comply with every single rule in the bible. I'm not sure if you've ever seen the bible, but following through with even one book of the Torah is a terrifying prospect. He is at a level of advanced craziness that I have not yet reached.  I was raised as an evangelical christian and AJ was raised as a non-religious Jew so it was riveting for me to see the bible through his eyes. During the course of the books Jacobs meets with people ranging from the most Orthodox of Jews to the most liberal, pentecostal Christians. His kind portrayals of very different people and hysterical prose had me laughing for days and I couldn't help longing for the opportunity to read the bible like he did, with fresh eyes.

Reading the bible has been on my life list for a long time but it was mostly conceptual, kind of like the way you think "I'd like to be more fit' and then sit down to watch Modern Family. Let's get real. I wasn't going to be like "Ooh, after my long day at work, I'll just sit down and read some Deturonomy" except that now I am. Never in my life did I think I'd be ripping through the book of Leviticus like it was a vampire novel but somehow Jacobs observations breathed new life into the Old Testament books I love to ignore.

For four months now I've been sitting in my car with my "Read the Bible in  Year" book every morning devouring page after page of wave offerings and all manner of boring chronology and somehow it is fascinating. Everyday I read some old testament, some new testament and some Psalms/Proverbs. I read the Psalms out loud and given the drama of the past few months it's been cathartic to read the words of the ancient kings begging God for relief and praising him for being the shelter in the storm. I'm not quite as advanced as AJ so I don't see a year of biblical living in my future, but I'm already into April and the year of biblical reading is going quite well indeed.

Posted on April 22, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Mighty List.

The Moment

Lately life has been intense and it's really passed the stage where Dan Dan Noodles can work their magic. It's hard to grasp but it's really that crazy.

My cousin wrote me the other day and said "Do you think we're being tested?" and somehow the question has really stuck with me. I think it's because I wonder how I'll look back on these days where several of my greatest fears are hanging like anvils in the sky. Am I brave? In denial? Being over-dramatic? Was it a test and did I pass or did I fail? Only time will tell but right now I look at these days and feel a sort of bewildered gratefulness that for once even when everything is coming apart at the seams that somehow it's okay.

I read the book above a little while ago. It's a collection of short stories, perfect for someone like me who likes to read before bed only to collapse after one page. Each short story tells about a critical moment in the authors life. Some were "big moments" like graduations and births, others were smaller moments like the first time a young child realized their parents lives did not revolve around them. Like many people who enjoy writing as a cathartic activity I constantly narrate my own life into a series of moments, so I enjoyed reading about other reflections. I think you would too, I recommend the book.

 

Posted on April 9, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews.

Super Sad True Love Story: Scarier than Reality TV

The minute I finished this book I mentally sketched out this blog post. In the process I found myself suddenly obsessed with the word dystopic. Unfortunately at the time I wasn’t sure what the word dystopic meant so I looked it up.

Dystopia-a hypothetical place, state, or situation in which conditions and quality of life are dreadful

Good to know because it’s an incredibly useful word to describe Super Sad True Love Story. Gary Shteyngart’s novel takes place in Manhattan in the “not so distant future” where our social problems/patterns have been taking to satirical extremes. All people are hyper-connected in a social network that is constantly ranking you in terms of popularity, beauty, financial wealth etc to everyone you walk by. Younger people are no longer able to read books having been taught only to scan texts for information and people’s wealth is ranked not by net worth but by their credit scores. In this world people are highly connected and highly isolated at the same time. It’s clear that Shytengart is probably not a fan of Facebook, or maybe he is? I did just start following him on Twitter.

Super Sad True Love Story is intended to be a dark comedy but I think that I am too softhearted to read it as the comedy it was meant to be. Instead of laughing, I felt myself cringing as the hapless protagonist Lenny Abramov navigates a terrifying world that feels too close to the present day to be funny. I recommend this book for the interesting ideas and unique voice it presents but I can’t say it was a fun read, I felt hopeless when I finished its last page. If any of you have read it I’d be very interested to get your take.

PS-This last week my stomach, my household and my plans for a kick-ass Oscar party were ravished by the stomach flu. The word dystopic came in handy once again for there is nothing as wonderful/pretentious/ridiculous as moaning about the flu creating a dystopic state of being.

Posted on February 26, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.

Nobody's Perfect: The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

Note: This is a sponsored review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own. Sere Prince Halverson’s first novel opens with the sudden death of the protagonists husband. At first glance I thought this novel would be about the journey of grief, but death is just the beginning of a crisis that isn't always what it seems. This book is about the truths that lie beneath the surface.

One of the major themes of the book is the breaking of unhealthy family patterns and Halverson manages it masterfully. The principal plot point is a heart wrenching custody battle in which everybody is right and everybody is wrong. As the novel progresses Halverson uncovers slowly the motivations and anxieties of each character, showing us the tragedies that shaped them and the desperate, dysfunctional and disparate ways they are fighting not to repeat their own histories. Despite its heavy subject matter, this is essentially a hopeful novel. By the end you are cheering the characters on, urging them to be brave enough to trust each other and make things right.

A second principal theme is the question of what it means to be a good mother. As an adoptive mother myself it’s a question I've wrestled with myself quite often and I appreciate that the book brings up topics such as postpartum depression, psychosis, step-parenting and adoption in a way that is evenhanded and fair. There is so much talk about “bad mothers” it is nice to see a work that explores the different ways to be a good mother.

This book is not perfect, I found some of the dialogue to sound a bit unnatural but overall I enjoyed it immensely and I’ve found myself thinking about the themes even after I finished. The sure sign it’s a worthy investment of your reading time.

To learn more about the Underside of Joy and join in on the BlogHer bookclub. Click here.

Posted on January 18, 2012 and filed under Book Reviews, Bossy Pants Recommends.