It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 13.0

Happy Monday everyone! This week I am participating in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Book reviews from last week:

None! It was a busy week and I had/have a cold. 😦

Books I recently read:

i-am-forbidden

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.

Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.

When the two  girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.

A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world long closed to most of us, until now.

This Week I am reading:

jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-calling

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

This Week I am listening to:

The-rook

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Myfanwy Thomas awakes in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, her only hope of survival is to trust the instructions left in her pocket by her former self. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization and this person wants her dead.

As Myfanwy battles to save herself, she encounters a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and an unimaginably vast conspiracy. Suspenseful and hilarious, THE ROOK is an outrageously inventive debut for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.

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What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 12.0

Happy Monday everyone! This week I am participating in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme.

***

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Book reviews from last week:

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

the-500-

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Mike Ford is a former con artist who’s been plucked from his Harvard Law School classroom to be an associate at The Davies Group, Washington’s most high-powered and well-respected strategic consulting firm. Their specialty: pulling strings and peddling influence for the five hundred most powerful people inside the Beltway, the men and women who really run Washington — and by extension the country, and the world.

The namesake of the firm, Henry Davies, knows everyone who matters; more importantly, he knows their secrets. Davies’ experience goes back 40 years — he worked for Lyndon Johnson, jumped shipped to Nixon, then put out his own shingle as the Hill’s most cut-throat and expensive fixer. Now he’s looking for a protégé to tackle his most high-stakes deal yet, and Mike fits the bill.

Quickly pulled into a seductive, dangerous web of power and corruption, Mike struggles to find his way out. But how do you save your soul when you’ve made a deal with the devil?

For the most part, this novel did everything you can ask for from a thriller. It was fast-paced, the protagonist (Mike Ford) was likeable and someone you wanted to root for, and it was gripping enough to make you want to hurry up and finish it. Like most thrillers, the romance between the protagonist and his lady was somewhat boring and predictable, but it was believable enough within the context of the story that I was still rooting for them to be together. There were a few plot twists I didn’t see, but overall  nothing really surprised me that much.

I think the most annoying part of the book for me was Quirk’s characterization of Annie, the female protagonist. Whenever her character had any dialogue it was very clear to me that this was a man’s attempt at writing female dialogue–it was seriously cringe worthy at times. She was also naive to the point of not being not realistic…really no one is THAT clueless. Overall, it seemed like Quirk’s efforts to make her likable and feminine just watered-down her character to the point where she seemed dim and weak.

Overall, this is a good, if not memorable, thriller. It’ll keep you entertained but won’t leave you begging for more. 3/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

Warm-Bodies-Book-Cover

 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

the-house-of-mirth

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

astronaut-wives-club

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

crazy-rich-asians

This Week I am reading:

jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-calling

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

This Week I am listening to:

i-am-forbidden

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.

Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.

When the two  girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.

A beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping story of what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law, and centuries of tradition collide, I Am Forbidden announces the arrival of an extraordinarily gifted new voice and opens a startling window on a world long closed to most of us, until now.

***

What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

Book Review: The Interestings

The Interestings

“You didn’t always need to be the dazzler, the firecracker, the one who cracked everyone up, or made everyone want to sleep with you, or be the one who wrote and starred in the play that got the standing ovation. You could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting.” –Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings

Title: The Interestings
Author: Meg Wolitzer
Format: Audio
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
Source: My local public library

Synopsis:

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

–Adapted from Goodreads

My Thoughts:

In reading the synopsis for this novel, I instantly recalled the glorious, carefree summers of my pre-teen and teenage years. I spent my days lounging around the living room reading novels and dreaming about the future, and my nights indulging my childhood passion: musical theater.  I attended theater camps, participated in community theater shows, and volunteered at the theater whenever I had the chance. I loved being immersed in that wacky and creative atmosphere, and like the main character, Jules, in The Interestings I was certain my future lay within a theater’s comforting walls. Of course, a career in the arts is not the path my life nor most of the characters in The Interestings takes, and the disappointment, envy, and eventual acceptance of this fact comprises much of Wolitzer’s new novel.

The novel opens with the introduction of the group of teenagers who dub themselves “The Interestings” at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970’s. Much of the novel is told through the perspective of Julie (aka Jules) Jacobson, who has recently lost her father and finds solace in theater and the group of privileged teenagers who befriend her. The bond formed between the group that summer changes Julie’s life, and the rest of the novel follows “the interestings” through the years that follow.

I really enjoyed this novel and many of the questions it raised, such as “am I who I thought I would be when I was child?” Most of us grow up with big childhood dreams or at least have a vision of the interesting life we will have when we are grown. A select few actually accomplish these lofty goals, while most of us end up pursuing more ordinary life roles. In The Interestings, Jules aspires to be an actress as a young adult, but eventually gives up on this dream and becomes a social worker instead. While watching her friends succeed, she gets envious and bitter which causes her to overlook the beauty in her “ordinary” life.

Although I found Julie’s malcontent to be kind of annoying at times, I did think it was so true. There are so many people in the world focused on what they don’t have that they miss out on what is right in front of them. In fact, I think my favorite character in the book is Julie’s Husband, Dennis, who is wonderfully grounded in the ordinary. Dennis is someone who is comfortable with himself and his “ordinary” life. He has a great line in the book when he announces to Jules during an argument that “the interesting aren’t all that interesting,” which causes Jules to sort of let go of her fixed (and frankly warped) idea of specialness.

At its core, I think this is a book about self-reinvention. Throughout the novel, each character confronts many situations where the expectations for their lives don’t match up to the reality they are living. Whether its Julie working as a social worker, Dennis battling chronic depression, or Ethan’s inability to connect with his autistic son, each character finds a way to accept and in some cases even embrace life’s curve balls. As in real life, no character is immutable and each has the ability to change their situation or at least their perspective of it.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and have found myself thinking back on it time and again. The characters are beautifully written, and I enjoyed seeing how they evolved over time.

What Others Had To Say:

The Relentless Reader

Literary Lindsey

My Review In Three Lines:

  1. Rating: 4/5 stars
  2. What I liked: The theme of self-reinvention and learning to be happy with (and love) the life you have
  3. What I didn’t enjoy as much: I thought the ending was a bit abrupt

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Linking up with Blonde…Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review.

Spiced Beef Ragu Shells

Hey-o! I realized a few weeks ago that 1) it has been a while since I’ve done a recipe post, and 2) I actually use my blog’s recipe index frequently since I continue to cook the things I post. Thus, I decided it was time to get back to posting my favorite recipes!

I found this recipe in Good Housekeeping last year and only got around to making it last week. It was delicious and I will definitely be making it again!

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Spiced Beef Ragu Shells

Adapted from: Good Housekeeping

Spiced Beef Ragu

Ingredients:

1 pound pasta shells

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

Salt to taste

1 pounds ground beef

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper

1 can(s) (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes

Instructions:

Heat large covered saucepot of water to boiling on high. Cook pasta as label directs (“al dente” was nice for this recipe).

Meanwhile, in large skillet, heat oil on medium-high. Add onion, garlic, and 1/8 teaspoon salt (optional I didn’t do this). Cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring.

Stir in beef, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, red pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional–I didn’t do this). Cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring. Drain fat.

Stir in tomatoes; simmer 5 minutes or until ready to drain shells.

Drain shells; return to pot. Stir in beef sauce. Serve and enjoy!

Notes:

The original recipe called for ground lamb instead of ground beef (which I think would have been delicious) but I didn’t have any on hand. Additionally, 5 sprigs of mint (which should be added to the beef sauce after adding tomatoes) were called for, but again I didn’t have them in my pantry.

This recipe makes more than enough for one meal and the the leftovers reheat great!

Thursday Thoughts 23.0: Michael Buble Concert Edition

Happy Thursday everyone! After coming back from my DC work trip, I left three days later for a quick trip home. I had a fabulous time at home and am now trying to establish some sense of normalcy after about a month and a half of non-stop work and travel. Thus, my “thoughts” list will be shorter this week…

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[1]

Last Saturday my cousin Keith married his beautiful bride Felicity. They had a beautiful ceremony and reception, but being the bad blogger that I am the only picture I snapped was this gem of my parents dancing:

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Mom has already indicated that she isn’t crazy about this picture, but I like it because they look happy 🙂

It was so nice to be there for the ceremony and great to see family again!

[2]

On Sunday evening, Mom and I attended the Michael Buble (MB) concert. We have both been fans for a long time, and had been waiting for him to go on another US tour. I was so excited when I heard he was going to perform in Kansas City, and that Mom and I had scored 18th row seats!

We arrived at the Sprint Center early since we had to get our tickets at the box office. Unfortunately last weekend was one of the hottest of the year–it was around 100 when we were getting the tickets. So, we decided to cool off at a nearby bar in the Power and Light district while waiting for the doors to open:

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Excited to go to the concert!

Finally, it was time for the doors to open:

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Man it was soooo hot outside

After the doors opened (and we experienced the blessed A/C) we had to wait in the lobby for about another 20 minutes. This gave me a perfect opportunity to snap a few photos with “Michael”:

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Eventually we were able to get into the arena and down to the floor to our seats. We had a great view of the stage:

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The warm-up group for Michael was Naturally 7, and they were AWESOME. This amazing group performs what they call “vocal play” which means they not only sing their own songs but also provide their own accompaniment via their voices. I couldn’t believe how much their voices could sound like instruments–especially the “guitarist”. You should definitely check them out if they are ever in your area.

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Finally it was time for MB to perform. He opened with the Little John Wille hit “Fever”, which began with an awesome (and somewhat startling) burst of flames. Immediately after that he played one of my favorites, “Haven’t Met You Yet.”

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He also played some of my other favorites like “It’s a Beautiful Day” and “Feeling Good”:

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In the middle of the concert he left the main stage and performed a few songs on a smaller stage at the back of the floor section with Naturally 7. On his way back to the main stage he covered The Beatles “All You Need is Love” and a TON of heart shaped confetti was dropped on the audience (which was kind of fun):

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Overall I had a really great time and Michael put on a great show! Thanks so much for being my concert buddy mom!!!!!

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Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday Thoughts 22.0

Whoops took another blogging break! Now that the craziness of the summer research trips is over I should be blogging more frequently (I hope).

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[1]

Work updates:

My, my my it has been a BUSY month of work for me. I spent most of the month of August preparing samples for a research trip. No really, I worked 20 out of the first 21 days of August…so when I say I spent “most of the month” I really mean it. It was definitely a roller coaster of a month. Some interesting things that happened:

1) During a Saturday session in the lab, I flushed my student identification card down the toilet. Yes, you read that correctly. It was one of those horrifying, slow motion moments that happen in life where you find yourself screaming “NOOOOO” but are powerless to stop the inevitable. What made the loss of the ID card particularly tragic (other than the $25 replacement fee) was the fact that I needed the card to get back to the instrument I was using in a user facility, which was locked since it was not core business hours. Also, since it was a Saturday (and who in their right mind works on a Saturday) the place was completely deserted. To make a long story short, I did eventually find a random passerby to let me in and was able to complete the work…but it sure was interesting there for a bit.

2) 3 days before I was set to leave on the research trip some of my samples were completely destroyed due to a really bad miscommunication between me and a collaborator. This forced me to push back my trip a few days AND re-make the samples. It was neither fun nor easy, but I did it.

I did eventually get to go on the research trip, and think we got some good data from it. Now begins the long process of analyzing and hopefully writing something up. I’ve been working on this project for a longggg time and I would REALLY like to finish it.

[2]

Some recent nail art:

August

Base/Top Coat: Sally Hansen Flawless

Nail Polish: Sally Hansen Back to the Fushia

Accent Nail: Sally Hansen Sun Kissed

[3]

Despite being pretty busy this month I managed to get in a decent amount of miles:

August

Obviously 58 miles is not the 84 I was hoping for…but considering how busy I was I think that’s pretty good! Listed also is my total for the year–nearly 645 miles! I’m pretty proud of that considering I have always been an infrequent exerciser. Clearly, documenting my miles and attempting to reach a 1000 miles for the year has been a successful way to achieve my “staying active” goal.

[4]

My trip to D.C. for work wasn’t all work this time (thank goodness). I took a bit of time off over the weekend to explore:

Old Town Alexandria, VA

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O.k. this isn’t Old Town but is taken along the Waterfront Walk which is accessible via Old Town

Mount Vernon

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Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

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[5]

Other random fun things I did while I wasn’t working in August:

1) Attended a fun game night at my friend Mark and Stacey’s:

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Kayla and I

2) Tapas at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba

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Sangria (and ‘cuse the poor quality photo)!

3) Attended another fantastic BBQ at my friend Dan’s (sadly no pictures were taken).

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Have a great weekend everyone!