The Slap by Chris Tsiolkas

The Slap by Chris Tsiolkas
Published by Penguin

This is a novel that revolves around a single incident: a man slaps another couple’s child at a barbecue. The book is told from the perspective of eight individuals who were present that day, and it is an examination of how one event can have far-reaching consequences.

The fact that I read The Slap is a perfect example of how awesome book blogs are. I wouldn’t have even heard of the book, except for the fact that Raych’s review intrigued me so much that I requested it from the library. And before I say anything else, I highly encourage you to read what Raych has to say on this one, because she is clever and hysterical and eloquent and completely right on every single thing she says about The Slap.

As for my own two cents, I was beyond impressed with this novel. The way that Tsiolkas forces the reader to get inside the minds of so many different people with differing perspectives on what happened and why it happened is amazing. I found myself agreeing with one person, and then the chapter would be over and five minutes later I was nodding in agreement with someone else completely.

These characters are so well-written that they are real people, or at least they were to me. I loved some and hated others. But even the ones that I hated, I still felt a measure of sympathy for them. And the beauty of the novel is, like Raych said, not every reader will love and hate the same characters – it depends on who you are. And the book made me think, in the way that I couldn’t stop turning it over in my brain for days after I finished it. Tsiolkas is extremely talented, and clever to a serious degree. He is just good.

Highly recommended! Read it. And then come back and tell me what you think so we can discuss.

Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany

Outside the LinesOutside the Lines by Amy Hatvany
Published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Eden had always worshiped her father, even though his bouts of mania and depression scared and confused her as a child. But when she was ten years old, he attempted suicide which prompted her mother to finally file for divorce. Eden’s mother got remarried to a wonderful man, and Eden only heard from her father (David) a few more times in the twenty years since. Now Eden is in her early thirties, and decides to search for her father so she can forgive him and move on with her life. But Eden’s search for David reveals many painful truths, secrets her mother kept from her as well as the reality of the life David is living now. Eden must decide how far she’s willing to go in order to find the man who abandoned her so many years before.

I read and loved Hatvany’s Best Kept Secret [my review] so it was pretty much a no-brainer that I’d be interested in reading whatever she wrote next. Outside the Lines definitely had to live up to some high expectations that I’d set for it, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this novel almost as much as I expected to.

Although I think Best Kept Secret is the better of the two books, Outside the Lines has a lot going for it as well. Eden is a compelling and believable main character and I really felt for her. Her father’s bipolar disorder made for a very traumatic childhood for Eden, and while she grew up into an incredibly intelligent, talented, and driven young woman, the memories from her younger years were never far away in her mind. And although her father failed her on so many levels, she still loved him and wanted him in her life. I sympathized with her a great deal and wanted things to work out well for her – I kept hoping that she would reunite with her father and he would be miraculously cured and they could live happily ever after.

Of course, Outside the Lines is too realistic for such a sappy, implausible ending such as the one I described above, but I do think that Hatvany did a good job balancing the reality of the situation Eden was in with the best possible outcome for her. While I didn’t love everything about the events toward the end of the novel, I think Hatvany wrapped things up in the most realistic, yet still hopeful, way she could have.

What is interesting about this novel is that Hatvany chose to tell it from the perspectives of both Eden and her father, David. David’s point of view was especially intriguing because the reader absolutely wants to shake him for the way he behaves and the things he says around his young daughter, yet there’s a huge element of sympathy for him as well. Mental illness is not a pretty thing, and for a young child to have to experience it is horrible, but what David was going through was just as terrifying and scary for him. It was fascinating to read about how this disorder really broke David down and turned him into a shell of his former self, and to read it firsthand from David’s perspective was even more fascinating.

I really liked Outside the Lines. Hatvany did an excellent job following up the fabulous Best Kept Secret with this novel. This isn’t the easiest of reads emotionally, just because bipolar disorder is not the most pleasant of subjects to read about, but the novel is worth the emotional roller coaster it takes the reader on. Recommended.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Every morning Christine wakes up and has no memories of her life whatsoever. She doesn’t even know her own name. The one person she can count on is her husband Ben, who every morning reminds her of who she is and gives her details of their life together. But when she begins seeing a therapist who recommends that she keep a journal, she begins to see inconsistencies in what Ben tells her on a daily basis. The one person who she can rely on may in fact be lying to her, and the only way to find out is to investigate this on her own.

Before I Go to Sleep isn’t exactly a thriller, but it does have that creepy/things are not what they seem vibe to it. To go into this book expecting a thrill ride would be a mistake, because it’s much quieter than your typical thriller – but to be honest, I was kept at the edge of my seat almost the entire time I was reading this novel. From the first page, I was sucked into Christine’s life and desperate for answers, just as she was. It’s clear from the very beginning of the book that someone is not telling the truth to Christine, and I was absolutely frantic to find out what was really going on – I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

What was strange for me about Before I Go to Sleep is that since the main character doesn’t really know herself, it’s difficult for the reader to get to know her. Despite that, I found myself drawn to Christine. Although I knew very little about her life – only the little she knew, or thought she knew – I felt a deep sympathy for what she was going through and I truly cared about her finding out the truth. I can’t say that I felt a real connection with her character, it was more that I cared for her at arm’s length, but still I did care for her and wanted desperately for things to work out in her favor. I was so hoping that this memory loss thing would be temporary and that one day, she would wake up and suddenly begin remembering things again.

I have to say that the twists in this novel were appropriately placed and I at least did not see most of them coming. When all is said and done, the ending wasn’t exactly perfect – actually, it was a little too perfect, which makes it not my favorite – but I was still very happy with the book overall. I loved the pacing of the novel and I was fully invested in it as I was reading. Before I Go to Sleep was a book that I simply couldn’t put down and one that I would absolutely recommend.

The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

The BungalowThe Bungalow by Sarah Jio
Published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publisher

Anne Calloway is newly engaged but has bigger dreams for herself than being a wife and mother at the age of twenty-one. So with her nursing degree in hand, she sets off to the island of Bora-Bora to serve in the Army Nurse Corps to do her part for the Second World War. Although she loves her fiance back home, she befriends an intriguing soldier named Westry, and quickly their friendship develops into something deeper. In an abandoned bungalow on the beach, they are able to love one another in peace, until Westry is redeployed and Anne is forced to return home to her fiance. Seventy years later, she returns to Bora-Bora to find the love she thought she lost all those years ago.

I highly enjoyed Jio’s debut novel, The Violets of March [my review] so I was thrilled to read The Bungalow as soon as I could get my hands on it. While the two books are very different, The Bungalow definitely stood up to the expectations I had for it, and it was just as enjoyable as Jio’s first novel.

This is a story about a love that stands the test of time. It is a story about the most epic kind of epic love – two people who love each other for decades, even though neither person knows if the other is even alive, let alone still reciprocating that love. Jio did an excellent job making me believe in Anne and Westry’s relationship – it started slowly as a friendship, they began to trust each other at a deeper level, and then once they really showed their love I was right there with them, completely believing what I was reading. It was clear from the beginning that Anne was not in love with the man she had back home, so when someone as gorgeous and sweet as Westry came around, it was bound to happen. But for their love to stand the test of time, that was the really magical part.

The majority of the novel takes place on the beautiful island of Bora-Bora, and Jio truly shows the reader what living on this island is all about. I could see the clear blue sky, smell the salty sea air, feel the sunshine on my face, and hear the sounds of life on an Army base as I was reading this novel. The talent Jio has for creating a sense of place is showcased quite clearly in The Bungalow.

The Bungalow is an incredibly sweet story of the kind of love that most of us only hope for. Anne and Westry are wonderful characters that crept into my heart, and Jio’s descriptions of life on the island of Bora-Bora were the icing on the cake for me. The Bungalow is a beautiful novel that I really and truly enjoyed.

Weekend Cooking: Crockpot Chicken Quesadillas

I don’t typically invent recipes, but this one I did, and I’m exceptionally proud of it because it’s SO easy and absolutely delicious. And very versatile. It’s basically quesadilla filling but you can use it for anything – burritos, enchiladas, tacos, rice bowls, whatever – and the leftovers are just as good as the original version.

Crockpot Chicken Quesadillas

You will need:

2 chicken breasts
About a cup of cooked black beans, or one can if preferred – I actually make dried beans in the crockpot using this recipe from Budget Bytes and store them in ziplock bags in the freezer in about 1-cup servings. But you can totally use canned in this recipe if that is easier.
1 can corn
1 16-oz jar of your favorite salsa – you can use whatever’s handy but most recently I used this Roasted Salsa Verde from Target and it turned out really delicious with the black beans and corn together.

Instructions:

1. Spray a 6-qt slow cooker with non-stick spray. Pat the chicken dry and lightly salt it, then place it in the bottom of the crock pot.
2. Dump the salsa over the chicken and make sure it’s nice and coated.
3. Toss in the beans, drained, and the corn, drained.
4. Cover and cook on low for about 6-8 hours.
5. About half an hour before you want to eat, take the cover off the crock pot and shred the chicken with two forks. It should fall apart very easily and this shouldn’t take long at all. Mix everything together, replace the lid, and cook for another 30 minutes or so on low. At this point, if the mixture seems a little liquid-y just cook for that last 30 minutes with the lid slightly ajar.

That’s it! After it was done, I stuck a flour tortilla on a cookie sheet, spread some shredded cheese (whatever you like – I have used cheddar, colby jack, mexican blend, whatever, they are all fine) on half the tortilla, spread some of the chicken mixture on top of that, add more cheese if you like it really cheesy, fold the other half of the tortilla over to make a quesadilla, and pop it in the oven for a few minutes. I used a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or so, just keep an eye on it and take it out when the tortilla starts to feel firm and the cheese is all melty inside.

Like I said, you can use this mixture for anything else you like! I used it the next night for taco bowls – put some rice in a bowl, throw this mixture on top, add some cheese, sour cream, and guacamole, and it was delicious! And when I say guacamole, I really mean a cut-up avocado with a little lime and salt. So easy!

As far as servings are concerned, this recipe makes 4-6 quesadillas, depending on how full you stuff them. It can easily be doubled or tripled to feed a larger group.

Interested in more posts about all things cooking? Check out Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads every Saturday.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

ChopsticksChopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
Published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin

Glory, a young piano prodigy, quickly falls in love with Frank when he moves in next door to the home she shares with her father. But their love develops into something more serious, even desperate, as Glory’s eccentricities and quirks slowly turn into madness. She becomes obsessed with the song “Chopsticks.” Will their love survive Glory’s ever-worsening instability?

Chopsticks is told in a very interesting and unique way. It is a story told mostly in pictures, drawings, text messages, and even YouTube videos. Even with this nontraditional format, it’s very clear how quickly and deeply Glory and Frank fall in love, and their feelings for one another come across just as loudly as if the words were explicitly written.

I enjoyed experiencing Chopsticks - the unique format captivated me and I couldn’t put it down. Since there’s not a lot here to actually read, the book is a quick read and I easily got lost in the story and finished it in one sitting.

The thing is, though, that there’s a pretty big twist in the story. I tell you that because, even though I knew to expect it, I still missed it. Pay attention – things are not exactly what they seem here and if you figure it out, you will be blown away by the end. But seriously – pay attention or you won’t get it!

Chopsticks is a highly enjoyable “reading” experience that is truly more than meets the eye. I would definitely recommend this one.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

Girls in America are being marketed to at younger and younger ages, the message being that looks are everything and becoming a princess should be the ultimate goal. With a young daughter of her own, Peggy Orenstein grew very concerned about this princess phenomena and set out to understand and analyze it. Orenstein digs deep into this subject, exploring the Disney Princess empire, the Pageant circuit, the American Girl store, and she even attends a Miley Cyrus concert. What she finds might not surprise you, but will definitely empower you to make better decisions regarding your own daughters, nieces, sisters, and other young girls in your life.

I was very impressed by Orenstein’s Schoolgirls when I read it years ago, so Cinderella Ate My Daughter went on my TBR list as soon as it was published last year. With this book, I continued to appreciate Orenstein’s ability to get to the heart of an issue, to really involve herself in what she’s studying, and to write about these issues in a conversational tone that is the complete opposite or dry or boring.

One thing I loved about Cinderella Ate My Daughter is how Orenstein presents what she finds in such a balanced way. For example, when she attends a beauty pageant for young girls (babies through elementary school girls), she expects to be repulsed by the way the mothers tart up their daughters in caked-on makeup and inappropriate outfits and coach them to flirt with the judges, which, don’t get me wrong, she definitely is. However, she sees another side to these pageants, she sees the humanity in these mothers and in the young girls competing, and she is not afraid to show that side to the reader too. Instead of sensationalizing how horrific these pageants are, she makes it clear that these are real people participating and encouraging their daughters to participate, and they are not evil people or bad parents because of it. This is one example of how Orenstein illustrates that there are no easy answers to these issues.

While it is disappointing that Orenstein can’t wave a magic wand and come up with the perfect antidote to princess culture, it is reassuring to learn that there are things all parents can do and say to give their daughters a better way of understanding and interpreting the messages that they are inundated with on a daily basis. While Cinderella Ate My Daughter doesn’t come up with many answers, it is a fascinating book and at the very least, gives parents a very clear understanding of what they are up against in the attempt to raise intelligent, independent, forward-thinking, clear-headed daughters. Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone with a young daughter, niece, granddaughter, sister, etc. Highly recommended.