It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 21.0

Happy Monday everyone! This week, I’m participating in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this two weeks in a row…we’ll see if I can keep it up!

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

robinson crusoe

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Who has not dreamed of life on an exotic isle, far away from civilization? Here is the novel which has inspired countless imitations by lesser writers, none of which equal the power and originality of Defoe’s famous book. Robinson Crusoe, set ashore on an island after a terrible storm at sea, is forced to make do with only a knife, some tobacco, and a pipe. He learns how to build a canoe, make bread, and endure endless solitude. That is, until, twenty-four years later, when he confronts another human being. First published in 1719, Robinson Crusoe has been praised by such writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Johnson as one of the greatest novels in the English language.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) trained for the ministry, became a political journalist, and finally, to many, became “the father of the English novel.” He is also the author of ‘Moll Flanders’.

Does anyone else remember the Accelerated Reader (i.e. AR) program? My middle school used this program to encourage us to read, and we had designated number of “AR points” we had to get every quarter. The number of points a book was worth depended on the difficulty of the book, and being a bookworm I always exceeded the number of points I needed, usually by a very large margin. During one quarter in 7th grade I tried to read Robinson Crusoe because it was worth a lot of points (27 to be exact…I just looked). I knew it was a classic book and I put in an honest effort, but I just couldn’t get past the first chapter. It’s bugged me for years that I was never able to finish it, so I finally decided to give it another chance.

From the first sentence I could see why I had a hard time reading it all those years ago–the prose is wordy and written in a form not easily decipherable for (younger) modern readers. Of course being a more mature reader now, I was able to get past this and even enjoy it a little bit since I knew I was reading one of the first novels written in the English language. The book is also slowwwwwww, which might have hindered my enjoyment of it 15 years ago. Sometimes I enjoyed the leisurely pace, such as when Crusoe was describing how he set up his dwelling and tamed a flock of goats. Other times I thought the book was redundant and didactic to a fault, like during the diary sequence. Honestly, the first half of the book was pretty boring at times, but thankfully the pace really picked up once he found the footprint in the sand. If not for the last third of the book, this review might be much different.

*Be warned, some spoilers ahead*

My feeling about Robinson Crusoe the man is ambivalent at best. To my modern eyes, he seems sort of like an imperialistic jerk who kind of deserves all that happens to him. His actions in the first half of the book frequently defy reason–seriously how many shipwrecks/other disasters do you need to convince you to just stay home?!?! Also, his quick disposal of the boy who helped him escape slavery was pretty upsetting and infuriating to me. On the other hand, he is a very self-aware jerk who readily admits that he has made a lot of mistakes along the way. I also found it really interesting that looking back on it all, he realizes the best times of his life (mentally, morally, and spiritually) were spent alone on the island.

Overall, I’m glad I finally read this book. Not only is it a classic adventure novel, but it also has some good points on how youthful haste can lead to later regrets. Admittedly, I found it to be very slow at times and I’m not sure I can say I actually liked it, but I do think it is worth reading at least once. 2.5/5 stars (rounded up to 3 stars on Goodreads).

Books I recently read:

tellthewolvesI'mhome

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

This Week I am reading:

middlemarch bn

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.

Despite the fact that it has some comical characters (Mr. Brooke, the “tiny aunt” Miss Noble) and comically named characters (Mrs. Dollop), Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the voices and opinions of different characters we become aware of various broad issues of the day: the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV). We learn something of the state of contemporary medical science. We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community facing the prospect of what to many is unwelcome change.

This Week I am listening to:

dangerous women cover

Synopsis adapted from Amazon.com:

All new and original to this volume, the 21 stories in Dangerous Women include work by twelve New York Times bestsellers, and seven stories set in the authors’ bestselling continuities—including a new “Outlander” story by Diana Gabaldon, a  tale of Harry Dresden’s world by Jim Butcher, a story from Lev Grossman set in the world of The Magicians, and a 35,000-word novella by George R. R. Martin about the Dance of the Dragons, the vast civil war that tore Westeros apart nearly two centuries before the events of A Game of Thrones.

Also included are original stories of dangerous women–heroines and villains alike–by Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Sherilynn Kenyon, Lawrence Block, Carrie Vaughn,  S. M. Stirling, Sharon Kay Penman, and many others.

Writes Gardner Dozois in his Introduction, “Here you’ll find no hapless victims who stand by whimpering in dread while the male hero fights the monster or clashes swords with the villain, and if you want to tie these women to the railroad tracks, you’ll find you have a real fight on your hands.  Instead, you will find sword-wielding women warriors, intrepid women fighter pilots and far-ranging spacewomen, deadly female serial killers, formidable female superheroes, sly and seductive femmes fatale, female wizards, hard-living Bad Girls, female bandits and rebels, embattled survivors in Post-Apocalyptic futures, female Private Investigators, stern female hanging judges, haughty queens who rule nations and whose jealousies and ambitions send thousands to grisly deaths, daring dragonriders, and many more.”

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What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

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Easy Brown Bread

Happy belated Saint Patrick’s Day! This year, I decided to try making a few new Irish-themed recipes and will be posting them over the next week or so. The first I’ll post is this delicious and super easy brown soda bread recipe. I like this recipe because it is a) easy for non-experienced bread bakers to make and b) doesn’t call for raisins (sorry neither me nor the boyfriend are big on these). My first attempt turned out pretty good–it was delicious actually! However, next time I will take the advice given by commenters of the original recipe and will not over-knead the dough (which I think I did this time). Enjoy!

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Easy Brown Bread

Adapted from: Chow.com

Brown Bread

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon fine salt

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), melted

Instructions:

Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Lightly dust a baking sheet with all-purpose flour and set aside.

Place both flours, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine, breaking up any lumps. Then, add buttermilk and melted butter and mix with your hands until almost all of the flour is moistened and the dough holds together, about 1 minute.

Lightly flour a clean work surface and turn out the dough. Knead until it forms a fairly smooth ball with no visible pockets of flour, about 1 minute. Don’t over-knead!

Work the dough into a flat round about 7 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick. Place on the prepared baking sheet and, using a sharp knife, slice an “X” across the top, edge to edge and about 1/2 inch deep.

Bake until the internal temperature registers 190°F to 200°F on an instant-read thermometer and the bread makes a hollow sound when tapped, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before slicing, about 2 hours. If you slice the bread before it has completely cooled, it will be crumbly or fall apart.

Notes:

This is great with or without butter/jam!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 20.0 (on a Tuesday)

Happy Tuesday everyone! Despite all appearances to the contrary, I do still read and post about books sometimes. These posts have gotten fewer and farther between, but with the increasing pressures and demands of graduate school as I enter into the last 1.5 years (*fingers crossed*) this is frankly the best I can do. Really at this point, any post is a small victory. 🙂

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

My thoughts on books I recently finished:

Enemies

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

We think of the FBI as America’s police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau’s first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI as the most formidable intelligence force in American history.

Here is the hidden history of America’s hundred-year war on terror. The FBI has fought against terrorists, spies, anyone it deemed subversive—and sometimes American presidents. The FBI’s secret intelligence and surveillance techniques have created a tug-of-war between protecting national security and infringing upon civil liberties. It is a tension that strains the very fabric of a free republic.

As a child of the 90’s, I’m well aware that there are large gaps in my 20th century history knowledge. I’m not sure if my high school American history experience is typical of others from my generation, but I remember spending entire quarters on the Revolutionary War and The Civil War, but barely two or three weeks on 20th century history (and by the time I was actually in high school the 21st century had begun). So I knew there were very large gaps in my knowledge, but I was surprised to find out how much I REALLY didn’t know when I read this book. While I can’t say this work was particularly uplifting, it was one of the most interesting, disturbing, and informative non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time.

This book charts the 100 year history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but focuses mostly on its secret intelligence operations. From the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920 to the denial of a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer in August of 2001, Weiner details how the bureau fails time and time again to nab actual spies or stop crimes before they happen. It’s not that this should be an easy task to accomplish by any stretch of the imagination, it would just be reasonable to assume that we might get better at it over time…which it doesn’t seem that we really have. I found this especially disheartening in light of the time, money, and questionable suspension of civil liberties the FBI has used over the years to achieve these uncertain ends.

Despite this somewhat grim portrait of the FBI, Weiner’s book is clearly thoroughly researched and full of interesting facts and historical tidbits. For instance, did you know that to this day the FBI still lacks formal charter? Or that a German-led terrorist group set fire to the Black Tom munitions depot in 1916 which led to an explosion that damaged the Statue of Liberty? I also found it interesting to learn about more recent events that I knew of only by name, such as the Iran-Contra affair and the first World Trade Center bombing.

Overall, I found this book to be both fascinating and disturbing. Weiner does an excellent job of both telling the story of an agency with a notoriously shadowy past, and giving a fair criticism of a system in which national security and civil liberties are often in conflict. It is a bit on the long side, but reads more like a thriller than a non-fiction history. If you have any interest in the history of the FBI (or of the 20th century really), I definitely recommend this one. 4.5/5 stars.

Books I recently read:

moonisaharshmistress

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

It is the year 2076, and the Moon is a penal colony for the rebellious and the unwanted of Earth. The exiles have created a libertarian society in order to survive in their harsh and unforgiving environment, their motto being TANSTAAFL: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. Looming over them is the Luna Authority, the heavy-handed Earth administration, who trades life necessities to the “Loonies” in exchange for grain shipments to the starving populations of Earth.

As the situation steadily deteriorates the inhabitants of Luna come to realize that they have little choice but to revolt against Luna Authority in order to save themselves from resource exhaustion and a subsequent environmental apocalypse.

A small band of dissidents emerges to lead the revolution. This consists of a one-armed computer jock, a radical young woman, a past-his-prime academic, and a nearly omnipotent computer named Mike. These people ignite the fires of revolution, despite the near certainty of failure.

littlebee

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

British couple Andrew and Sarah O’Rourke, vacationing on a Nigerian beach in a last-ditch effort to save their faltering marriage, come across Little Bee and her sister, Nigerian refugees fleeing from machete-wielding soldiers intent on clearing the beach. The horrific confrontation that follows changes the lives of everyone involved in unimaginable ways.

Two years later, Little Bee appears in London on the day of Andrew’s funeral and reconnects with Sarah. Sarah is struggling to come to terms with her husband’s recent suicide and the stubborn behavior of her four-year-old son, who is convinced that he really is Batman. The tenuous friendship between Sarah and Little Bee that grows, is challenged, and ultimately endures is the heart of this emotional, tense, and often hilarious novel.

Considered by some to be the next Kite Runner, Little Bee is an achingly human story set against the inhuman realities of war-torn Africa. Wrenching tests of friendship and terrible moral dilemmas fuel this irresistible novel.

behindthebeautifulforevers

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting“ in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl“—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget

stellabain

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.

This Week I am reading:

middlemarch bn

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.

Despite the fact that it has some comical characters (Mr. Brooke, the “tiny aunt” Miss Noble) and comically named characters (Mrs. Dollop), Middlemarch is a work of realism. Through the voices and opinions of different characters we become aware of various broad issues of the day: the Great Reform Bill, the beginnings of the railways, the death of King George IV and the succession of his brother, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV). We learn something of the state of contemporary medical science. We also encounter the deeply reactionary mindset within a settled community facing the prospect of what to many is unwelcome change.

This Week I am listening to:

tellthewolvesI'mhome

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

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What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

Thursday Thoughts (on a Friday) 33.0: February Recap

Why hello there! Yes, I am indeed still alive, but the last few weeks have been a disaster (work-wise). Things are sort of returning to a normal-crazy instead of the crazy-crazy I’ve been dealing with so I should be posting more regularly again. But only time will tell if this actually happens. Anyway…I know we are already well into March, but I still want to re-cap my February (and besides it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want 😛 ).

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[1]

First of all, this:

photo(1)

In addition to all the work-crazy, I slipped on some ice and messed up my wrist and hand. Luckily, nothing was broken and it is “merely” a bone-bruise. I have merely in quotes there because it hurt WAY worse than any other bruise I’ve ever had. Needless to say it really halted progress toward any personal or professional goals for a few weeks which was super frustrating. I’m out of the brace now and on the mend, and overall am VERY grateful that nothing was broken (this time).

[2]

I read three books in February…not my best month but certainly not the worst. I started reading Middlemarch in the middle of the month (which I’m loving by the way), so that has slowed my reading progress considerably.

Books read:

1.  Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

2.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

3.  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Books Reviewed:

1. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

[3]

As I hinted at above, the wrist injury significantly slowed progress toward my fitness goals, especially since it happened on February 3 (I think I had like a whole 3 miles for the month before that happened). However, as I started to heal I really made a real effort to get to the gym. So, although 43 miles is far from ideal I am still satisfied with this number. Here’s to hoping I hit much higher numbers in March!

February

[4]

February Nail Art:

IMG_1221

Base/Top Coat: Sally Hansen Flawless

Nail Polish: Revlon Cherries in the Snow

Glitter Polish: Revlon Sparkling

[5]

Recipes Posted:

Beef Stew in the Slow Cooker

Cajun Chicken and Rice

[6]

Fun things I did in February:

1) Good times with friends at a karaoke bar

IMG_1225-edited

2) Awesome dinner at Devon Seafood and then concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

IMG_1226-edited

Mmmm scallops!

IMG_1229

3) Celebrated a lovely friend’s birthday (with a really bad picture of me)

IMG_1238-edited

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Hope you had a good week and have a great weekend!