Mini-Reviews: Recent Nonfiction Reads

Bad Feminist: EssaysBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Published by Harper Perennial

I wish I had the energy or motivation to write an entire post about this incredibly smart, challenging, and at times witty book of essays but I’m struggling to find the right words to gush about it. I loved Gay’s style of writing – it’s intensely personal but in a way that made me feel like I was chatting with a girlfriend (a highly intelligent girlfriend who motivated me to think more deeply about things). The essays here are about all sorts of things, almost all relating in some way to feminism, but some more loosely than others, and many having to do with racism and sexism and how the two intersect in ways that most people don’t realize or even care to consider. My favorite essay in the book, hands down, is one where Gay lists rules for how women should be while in friendships with other women. It’s brilliant and so true that I want to share it with every woman I know. If you’re at all interested in feminism, read this book. If you think feminism is not necessary, read this book. If you think racism and sexism are not things that happen anymore, read this book. Or if you just happen to be interested in good writing, read this book. Bad Feminist is great and I’m looking forward to more from Roxane Gay.

Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It MattersUnchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Published by Baker Books

The authors of this book did an extensive study on young people’s attitudes and beliefs about Christians. Not about Christianity itself, but Christians as people. The implications for what they learned – mainly that young people perceive Christians to be judgmental, hypocritical, homophobic, obsessed with politics and politicians that reflect their conservative beliefs – can have huge implications for the future of Christianity. IF the right people read this book, learn from it, and make changes. I agree with a lot of what Kinnaman and Lyons said here, and although I am a Christian I personally see a lot of what was reflected in the book and it doesn’t always make me feel good about calling myself a Christian. While I enjoyed reading this book, mostly because it confirmed for me a lot of things I already felt, I don’t see how it will make a difference because I just don’t anticipate that the people who need to read the book will actually read it. Church leaders who want to actively change the way Christians are perceived in the world should be reading Unchristian and doing something with the knowledge gleaned from it, but I just don’t see that happening. That being said, I think it’s a valuable read for those of us who try to represent Christ in the world while holding tight to a church that isn’t perceived to consistently do a great job of being Christ-like in its actions.

I Suck at Relationships So You Don't Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever AfterI Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever After by Bethenny Frankel
Published by Touchstone

The ONLY reason I read this book is because Bethenny Frankel wrote it. I have a slight obsession with her – I think she’s hilarious and smart, witty and incredibly tough, a person who doesn’t take shit from anyone but isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and have her heart broken (on TV, no less), and ultimately is the most genuinely real reality TV star out there (and I watch too much reality TV, so I have formed quite an opinion). Honestly this book was really silly and nothing that I could ever use or need in real life. But I appreciated her snark throughout and her attitude always puts a smile on my face. I can’t imagine anyone that would actually use this advice, but she’s sold tons of copies already so obviously those people are out there. I can’t say I really liked this one, but if you are a fan of Bethenny you’ll probably want to pick it up.

Where I’ve been in May (and holy crap it’s basically mid-June already?!)

Whew, haven’t checked in here for quite some time. May was busy and stressful for a few reasons, and it appears that so far June has been much the same way, which is why you haven’t seen me too much around here.

For starters, my grandmother passed away mid-May. She had been sick with dementia for many years and my father and stepmother had been taking care of her for the past two or three of those years. She ended up getting up in the middle of the night unassisted, falling, and needing surgery on her hip. Due to her age (90) and overall health, she never fully came out of surgery in any way that would suggest she could go on to live a normal life (unresponsive, open eyes and that’s it, etc.). My father had to make the extremely difficult decision to put her on hospice care, and she passed away after I think it was eight or nine days at the hospice facility.

Needless to say, it was an incredibly difficult time for my family. There are many issues within my father’s family and the level of drama and ugliness that occurred during this time was just really difficult for everyone to handle, myself included. I did travel home to Chicago a few days after she passed, and even with the difficulties within the family, I was able to see everyone I wanted to spend time with while there. The bonus was that although I had to travel for a shitty reason, I got to see my nieces and nephew on what I considered an “extra” occasion. I don’t know. It was hard and emotional and nothing about the time I was there was “fun” exactly but I was also so incredibly grateful to have that additional time with family. Does that make sense?

Anyway, the rest of May was busy too. We took my mother-in-law and hubby’s grandmother out for Mother’s day, which was really nice but also a long day – driving to Tampa and back from Orlando pretty much eats up an entire day. Work was basically a juggling act between myself and my assistant manager with taking time off – me for Chicago and her because she got some surprise news about her own family, and had to make a spur-of-the-moment trip out of the country the day after I got back from my trip. Lots of changes have been happening at work, too, which just leads to everyone feeling this undercurrent of stress that never really goes away and has been leaving me with an unsettled feeling for several months now. (Nothing bad, just things are changing. It’s different for us, and stuff we just need to grow up about and get used to.)

Let’s see, what else? June 4th was my 8-year anniversary being married to the best husband ever. He so very sweetly drove to my work and brought me flowers and a card in the middle of the day, and we celebrated the following Saturday with dinner at a nice steakhouse here in town (I had the most delicious sea bass EVER). Also, a friend who moved to New York about a year ago was visiting for the weekend and was at a bar very near where we had dinner that night, so we got to stop by and see him for a couple of hours before our dinner. That was a nice surprise.

This week has been full of stuff, too. Monday I had dinner with girlfriends, Tuesday I had dinner with other girlfriends, Wednesday after work was a chill staying at home night, and Thursday I had a five-hour doctor visit that I had to take off work to do (stress test, so not fun) and then a going away party for a co-worker who is moving to Seattle at night. Today I have a full day of work and book club at night. Saturday we’re going to Lakeridge Winery for the day for their Harvest Festival – something I’ve never been to but am excited to check out – and to Universal Studios at night for a concert (Huey Lewis and the News). Sunday my plan is to do NOTHING besides lay by the pool, read, and maybe throw a load of laundry in. Maybe.

I’ve been reading but not really writing. I’m reading Misery for #MiseryRAL and am already pretty creeped out. I just finished Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler, a memoir by a Viennese hatmaker who escaped Vienna when the Nazis took over (recommended to me by one of my employees, and I liked it a lot), and am working my way through Americanah too (so good!). I just picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library along with a few others and am looking forward to diving into those soon. If I could just get my butt in gear to write reviews. I sense a bunch of mini-reviews coming your way soon. :)

Whew! Well I think that about catches things up. I’m looking forward to a more calm and happier June than what May ended up to be, and mid-July I have another trip planned to Chicago, this time for my nephew’s 2nd birthday.

I hope things are going well in your neck of the woods! I haven’t been reading blogs as much as I should be, so please tell me if I’ve missed anything important!

Monday Minis

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Feiwel & Friends

This is a pretty adorable fantasy featuring twelve-year-old September, who has been whisked away by a man called Green Wind to Fairyland, where she is tasked with finding a talisman and presenting it to the Marquess of Fairyland, and of course the fate of everyone in Fairyland rests in her completion of this one task. I liked this book and can totally see its appeal for adults and children. September is rather intuitive and mature for twelve, but she’s also believable for her age, as she’s pretty naive too. Valente is very smart with her prose, she’s not just taking the reader on a journey, she’s looking to draw out emotions too, and she definitely accomplishes that. I am not certain that fantasy is really my thing, though, because I had difficulty keeping track of all the characters and even connecting with them. I don’t know. I might read the next book, to see if that enhances the story for me, I might not.

Vanishing GirlsVanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins

You guys know I’ll read anything Lauren Oliver writes, but I’ve been mildly disappointed with her most recent few novels. Vanishing Girls is my favorite of her books since Before I Fall – I thought it was pretty great, and brought me back to the Lauren Oliver I love – fantastic writing, characters that break your heart, and a story that you can’t put down. Vanishing Girls has it all.

In a nutshell, Nick and Dara are sisters and used to be best friends, until there was an accident that changed their relationship and scarred Dara’s beautiful face. On Dara’s birthday, she vanishes at the same time that a nine-year-old from their town disappears too, and Nick becomes determined to find them both. Oliver spends time inside the heads of both Nick and Dara, giving the reader a full picture of both girls and how their relationship was damaged so horribly after this accident. There’s plenty of twists and turns in this novel, tons of character development, really I couldn’t have asked for more. If you liked Before I Fall but haven’t been as enamored with Oliver’s recent novels, please pick up Vanishing Girls. It’s really, fantastically good.

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home RemediesLike Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Published by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group

This is a magical novel about a Mexican family, the De la Garza’s, focusing mostly on the youngest daughter, Tita. Tita’s mother, Mama Elena, decides to stick with Mexican tradition and force Tita to stay home and take care of her into her old age – despite the fact that Tita has fallen in love and wants to get married. Mama Elena fixes Tita’s love interest up with Tita’s oldest sister, propelling this entire family into dramatics for years to come.

Magical realism isn’t quite something I always get, but I did like what Esquivel did with it here. What I loved most was how the emotions of the characters came out in the food Tita cooked – food was a metaphor for every crazy dramatic thing that happened in this family over the years. While I can’t say I fell in love with Like Water for Chocolate, I was definitely charmed by it and can recommend it for something a little different than what I typically read.

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Black BoyBlack Boy by Richard Wright
Published by HarperCollins

From the publisher:

Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a “drunkard,” hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot.

Black Boy is Richard Wright’s powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment—a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.

I’ve had this book on my shelves for way too long, it’s one that I kept looking at, month after month and year after year, and telling myself how important of a book it is and that I HAVE to read it. Well, now I finally have, and of course I’m having that feeling of “why did I wait so long?”

To say that Black Boy is inspiring and powerful would be a huge understatement. Richard Wright grew up in the Jim Crow south, in a time and place when a black person simply looking at a white person the wrong way could cause them to be beaten or even killed. He grew up with parents who taught him that he wasn’t worthy of an education because of his race. He grew up being taught that reading was a waste of time, that learning wasn’t useful, and that to expect any more of himself than the poverty his family lived in would lead to disappointment.

Somehow, even with all of these forces against him, Wright decided from a young age that he would become more than his family believed he could be. He decided that, no matter what the cost, he would move out of the south, he would become successful, and he would never let someone tell him he was worthless again.

A lot of Black Boy is incredibly difficult to read. The suffering Wright and his family endured is beyond what most people can imagine. The cruelty and hatred that Wright and his family, and every other black person in that part of the country at that time, had to experience is beyond comprehension. It was certainly beyond my understanding before I read this book – it’s one thing to intellectually understand what Jim Crow meant to people, it’s a whole other thing to see it through the eyes of a child who experienced it first-hand. There’s not enough words to express what Wright went through: devastating, horrifying, soul-crushing, and many others come to mind.

But this is why Black Boy is an important book. There are people in the world, in this country, who don’t think racism is a problem. IT IS A PROBLEM. It is a thing, and continues to be a thing, and it’s systematic and has roots back to slavery (obviously) and Jim Crow laws and guys, it’s not over. Just because we elect a black president does not mean that racism has magically disappeared. Reading this book helped me gain a more clear understanding of just how deep-seated and entrenched in our foundation as a country and a society racism truly is. For this reason alone, everyone should read this book.

It’s also such an inspirational story. Wright made a decision that he was going to change his life, and he did that. It’s a testament to how powerful reading and education can be – because Wright could read, and was educated, he was able to do things with his life that many others in his situation could not have dreamed possible.

There’s so much to discuss about Black Boy, but really I would just highly encourage you to read it for yourself. This is an incredible memoir, one of the best I’ve read in a very long time, and such an important historical and cultural book. Highly, highly recommended.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Published by Random House

From the publisher:

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband Bruno and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Though she leads a comfortable, well-appointed life, Anna is falling apart inside. Adrift and increasingly unable to connect with the emotionally unavailable Bruno or even with her own thoughts and feelings, Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters into with an ease that surprises even her. Tensions escalate, and her lies start to spin out of control. Having crossed a moral threshold, Anna will discover where a woman goes when there’s no going back.

This book has been really polarizing among readers, and now that I’ve finished it myself, I can absolutely see why that has been the case. Let’s face it, Anna is not the kind of heroine most people root for. She loves her children, but she isn’t incredibly loving toward them – in fact, she can be distant at times, and at other times leaves them for long stretches of time with her mother-in-law. She keeps busy by taking German classes she doesn’t really enjoy and seeing a therapist several times a week. Oh, and let’s not sugarcoat the affairs. Anna has sex – LOTS of sex – with different men, on a regular basis. Some of her affairs are long-lasting, and others are short and sweet. This is obviously the thing about Anna most readers love to hate, because it’s of course disgraceful that a married woman would conduct herself in such a manner. (Let’s not even discuss the fact that if this was a married MAN we were talking about, it’d just be business as usual. But whatever.)

Anyway. While I was reading Hausfrau, and immediately upon finishing it, I didn’t like Anna much myself. She’s incredibly prickly and difficult for the reader to get to know. On the surface, it seems as though she doesn’t have much of a personality – it seems that her entire life’s purpose is to have as much sex, with men she’s not married to, as she can. But this book was one of those novels that crawled into my brain and wouldn’t go away until I spent more time thinking about it. So I did, I turned it over and over in my head until I could feel okay about what I read and my feelings about it. And that time I spent mulling it over led me to this – this book is actually kind of incredible in the way that the author manages to show the reader exactly what depression looks like, at least for this particular character, Anna.

You see, Anna suffers from chronic depression, the kind of debilitating depression that leads people to crawl in bed for days and weeks at a time, to neglect family and friends and self-care, to turn to drugs or alcohol or to hurt oneself or others. Anna did none of those things; instead, she had lots of sex. And each time, it made her feel a tiny bit better, and also a tiny bit worse, and just like someone addicted to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate depression, Anna’s addiction to sex as medication for her depression helped her at times but deeply hurt her in the long run.

I don’t believe I’ve ever read a novel that deals with depression to this degree. And I don’t know if all readers will even recognize what Anna is going through as depression – many readers just see her as an awful person who makes awful choices and therefore write her off as someone they might be able to understand, sympathize with, even have empathy for. But after spending a lot of time thinking about the book and about Anna, I get it. And I think what Essbaum did was kind of brilliant.

The ending was really tricky for me, and I am of two minds about it, but rather than include spoilers here, I’ll invite anyone who wants to discuss it to email me (please!). Also, the writing – Essbaum is an incredibly talented writer whose prose is gorgeous, almost too gorgeous for the tale she’s telling here. It was a bit much for me, honestly, but I can see the care she took in her writing and it’s definitely an important aspect of the novel overall.

So basically what I want to say is this – immediately after I finished the book I gave it 3 stars, and at this point I’m going with 4.5 or even 5 stars. The time I took to reflect upon Hausfrau really enhanced my appreciation for it, and I’m pretty impressed with what Essbaum did here. Do yourself a favor and pick it up so you can draw your own conclusions. But for me, this is fiction at it’s finest – the kind that makes you question your own initial reactions, the kind that makes you examine your own prejudices and beliefs, and the kind that does not let go long after you finish the novel. In a word, excellent.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Published by Bond Street Books
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.” This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family–their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog–is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red’s father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler’s hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.

When I received an unsolicited, surprise copy of A Spool of Blue Thread in the mail, I almost tossed it aside without a second glance. After all, I’m not officially accepting books for review anymore, and I didn’t have my eye on this one before its publication date – it was completely off my radar. I chose to take another look at it, and eventually read it, because I realized that I had never read any of this prolific author’s work before. I thought, everyone raves about Anne Tyler and I don’t even know what the fuss is about, I might as well give her a try. So I did.

And now I don’t know what to think. Because, on the surface, this is a wonderful novel, one I should have fallen in love with. I love these family stories. I love getting inside the seemingly insignificant details of characters’ and families’ lives and truly getting to know a fictionalized set of characters. Anne Tyler gave that to me here, so I should have loved it. But I didn’t love it, which makes me sad, so let me at least try to explain why I gave this book three stars instead of four or five.

Some things I didn’t love: There were several plot points that I thought were going to mean something and they ended up fizzing out to nothing (including one big one that I particularly hated). There was a Big Event in the middle of the book that I wasn’t prepared for and am not sure I like where it took the direction of the novel. The characters felt a little fake to me – and by that I mean, several of them were “good” and one was “bad” but when it came down to it the good guys were really superficially good and actually kind of crappy, and the bad one ended up being the most normal, most genuinely good person of the bunch. But you really don’t see that until towards the end of the book, which was marginally annoying. I’m not sure I liked how nonlinear the story was, although it wasn’t horrible. And there was one particular plot line, involving a young girl and a much older man, that was just inappropriate, I felt it was entirely unnecessary and added nothing to the story.

BUT. Anne Tyler can write. Holy crap can she write, and wow can she create characters that are interesting and complicated and raw and people who many of us know in our real lives. So overall, I didn’t love A Spool of Blue Thread but I do see the merits of it. And I think there’s going to be a lot of people who love it. I just don’t have to be one of them.

Question – for those of you who have read more of Tyler’s work, is there another book of hers that I might enjoy more? Or perhaps one of her short story collections? I’m open to whatever suggestions you have, because I did like her writing.

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

The Whole Golden WorldThe Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle
Published by William Morrow

This novel begins in a courtroom as high school teacher TJ Hill stands accused of having an affair with his seventeen-year-old student, Morgan. Morgan’s parents, Dinah and Joe, are shocked when Morgan walks into the courtroom and ignores them in favor of sitting behind TJ in support. Told from the points of view of Morgan, Dinah, and TJ’s wife, Rain, The Whole Golden World handles an extremely delicate and complex issue with maturity and finesse.

Wow. This book is something else. You would think it would be difficult to write a book about a teacher having a sexual relationship with a student and make not only the student, but also the teacher’s wife, be complex characters the reader can really sympathize with and understand. Well, Riggle accomplished that and more with this novel.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no gray area here, what TJ does is wrong: he clearly took advantage of Morgan, despite what Morgan thinks for most of the book, but Riggle paints the picture in such a way that the reader can see, from Morgan’s perspective, how a teenager could believe that this is a real relationship. She made Morgan such a sympathetic and realistic teen and got in her head to such a degree that it becomes perfectly understandable why Morgan would think that what she was doing with her teacher was appropriate and okay (nevermind the legality of it – that was a whole other issue).

I don’t know who I felt more sorry for, Morgan or Rain. In the end I would have to say Morgan’s eventual realization of what TJ was doing to her – and how he was able to manipulate her – was more heartbreaking than Rain’s discovery of the truth about her husband. But this is just one of those books where no one really has it easy; truth has to come out and people have to grow from their awful experiences. Morgan’s mother, Dinah, has an incredibly rough time in the novel too – her daughter was involved with a teacher and she had no idea, imagine how that must tear apart a mother’s conscience. How could this have happened without Dinah’s knowledge or even an idea that something out of the ordinary was happening in her daughter’s life? I think the book is an excellent reflection of how teenagers can be so good at concealing things from their parents and other authority figures when they really want to – it forces parents to question whether they really do know what they think they know about their teens.

The Whole Golden World is just such a great novel. It deals with an issue that you’d think is black-and-white, but treats it with such respect and truthfulness to make it as complicated and messy as life truly can be. Highly recommended.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl AliveLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by Netgalley

On the outside, Ani FaNelli seems to have it all – she’s engaged to a wonderful (rich) man, has an incredible job, good friends, and maintains a perfect size two under her designer clothes. But Ani has a huge secret, something that happened to her as a teenager, and she’s considering airing it out there for all to know about. She’s worried, though, that if she’s honest with herself and others, the revealing of her secret might come at the expense of her perfect life.

The first thing I have to say is, please ignore anyone who tells you that this book is anything like Gone Girl. IT IS NOT. Also, why do books keep having to be “the next Gone Girl?” Why can’t they just stand on their own as the originals they are? Ugh.

Anyway. Luckiest Girl Alive is its own novel with its own story and characters. This book was difficult for me to get into at first. Ani (formerly known as TifAni) had a terrible thing happen to her in high school, after which she completely reinvented herself, became a successful professional, and got engaged to a gorgeous guy, Luke, who comes from a wealthy family. The thing is that Ani is incredibly difficult to even tolerate, much less like. She is marrying a man she doesn’t really like because of his money, she’s obsessed with her appearance to the point that she definitely has an eating disorder, she’s incredibly judgmental of others, and she’s just not a very nice person in general. I couldn’t figure out what I had gotten myself into with this miserable character and considered abandoning the book early on.

Luckily, it gets better. Ani is selfish and annoying and self-obsessed, but she’s also got a rough past and is full of self-loathing and intense guilt because of that past. It takes quite a while to get to what actually happened to her, but once things are revealed, her behavior and personality make a little bit more sense and I almost felt sorry for her. She did experience a traumatic event, she blamed herself, and she lived with the guilt for years. Re-inventing herself didn’t help the self-hatred she experienced on a daily basis because of this horrible thing that happened.

The best thing about Luckiest Girl Alive is that when it gets going, it becomes impossible to put down. I liked it a lot because the structure and pacing were just done so well. And also, when I feel so strongly against a character, it kind of makes me respect the author in a weird way. Like, if she can create this character that pulls out of me such deep negative emotions, good on Knoll for doing that. Does that make sense?

Please don’t compare this book to any other books and you’ll have a great reading experience. Stick with Ani through the beginning and things will clear up towards the middle and end of the novel. Overall I thought Luckiest Girl Alive was a very strong novel and I’m looking forward to more from Jessica Knoll.

Weekend Cooking: Cooking from Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Get Real Meals

30-Minute Get Real Meals: Eat Healthy Without Going to ExtremesBack when Trish hosted the Cook It Up Challenge, which focused on using one cookbook each month, I decided to start with 30-Minute Get Real Meals by Rachael Ray. I chose this particular cookbook because it’s the cookbook I’ve had the longest (my mom bought it for me when I moved from a dorm room to an apartment in college and could start cooking in an actual kitchen), and I had only used it once or twice. I also feared I wouldn’t find much to cook since it’s focused on low-carb which I don’t really believe in (pasta, please. All the pasta!).

The book is divided into chapters for snacks, salads, soups, fondue, burgers, main dishes, pastas (I know, right!), and desserts. The first thing I made was the Indian Summer Turkey Chili. This chili was SO GOOD and possibly my favorite chili I’ve ever made (I love chili and have made many kinds). The kicker with this one is it literally tastes like summer, probably because barbecue sauce is a prominent ingredient. The one thing I can tell you about this dish is that if you make it, choose your BBQ sauce wisely – the taste REALLY comes through in the chili. I’ve made it twice since the first time, truly this was delicious and I will make it lots more times. And it makes GREAT leftovers.

The second thing I made was Pumpkin Sage Pasta. Here’s where it gets tricky because this recipe is the closest one I can find online to the one in the cookbook, and it’s slightly different. But it’s close enough that you get the idea. Yes, there’s pasta and cream in a low-carb cookbook, but she uses such a small amount of each that it’s still pretty healthy overall. I liked this okay. The taste was really good but because of the huge proportion of pumpkin puree to cream, the texture was a little off. I made it a second time using about twice the amount of cream, and while it obviously wasn’t as healthy that way, the texture was way more creamy and delicious. I REALLY liked the use of fresh sage, a herb I had never cooked with before.

The third dish I made was a white chicken chili that I can’t find online. Which is fine, because this chili was nothing to write home about. It was okay the night I made it, but it lacked that something special and wasn’t very good reheated the next day for lunch.

In the end, while I liked one thing I made and loved another, I ended up donating this cookbook. There are just too many things in here that don’t interest me – I don’t make fondue, am not a huge fan of burgers, and never make salads at home (my hubby doesn’t eat salad). While I’ll definitely be making the chili again and again, and will experiment more with pumpkin puree in my cooking, overall I’d only recommend 30-Minute Get Real Meals to people looking for fresh and new low-carb options to add into their cooking repertoire.

Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Stop by and check out other posts related to food and cooking!

Thoughts on Re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

It was a sad, sad day when I closed this book and thus ended my re-read of the entire Harry Potter series. It has actually been kind of a while since I finished, but I’ve been having trouble articulating any kind of real thoughts about this final book so I’ve put off talking about it. Here are some brief thoughts that are running through my head at the current moment about the final book in the series.

I remember that the first time I read this book, it seemed that Harry, Ron and Hermione did a LOT of camping and worrying and talking and thinking but very little actually DOING something. I must have felt that way because I was so anxious for them to get to some real action, I wanted to hurry through the slower parts. This time around, I didn’t feel that way at all; instead, I relished the time spent on trying to figure out the Horcruxes and it didn’t seem like overkill to me at all. It felt perfect.

The first time I read this book, I furiously read through the battle scene at the end, and I’m sure I missed a lot, but this time I read slowly and relished every moment – which probably made me enjoy it more. And Neville. Oh, Neville, how I love to see an underdog succeed – and in such a big way here. Made my heart sing.

I remember thinking, the first time I read this book, that when Harry sacrificed himself he was really going to die, and being so pissed off at Rowling for that entire scene. This time, I had so much more peace in my heart because I knew how it all turned out so I was able to relax and enjoy the creativity in the scene, and enjoy how the love that Rowling has for these characters and this story flow through her writing.

A lot of people hate the epilogue but I really love it. In an ordinary book I might not have liked it so much, but in this case, I was SO invested in these characters for such a long time, if I hadn’t gotten some peace over where they ended up in their lives the end of the books would have been a lot more difficult for me to handle. Also, if that epilogue hadn’t been there, I would have hoped and prayed for YEARS that Rowling would keep writing more. So for me, the epilogue is pure perfection.

I’m sad that these are over but I can always read them again another time! I have so much love for this series it’s not even funny. If you are a Harry Potter virgin, please do yourself a favor and check out these books. You won’t be sorry.

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