Saturday, March 17, 2018

One Hundred Spaghetti Strings

One Hundred Spaghetti Strings by Jen Nails

This book has a younger narrator than what I normally read (fifth grader) but it's such a fantastic, cute, and wholesome story told with such relentless honesty.

Plus it involved cooking and shared the recipes discussed throughout the story. YES PLEASE.

An amazon summary, "This brave and heartwarming middle grade novel will leave your belly rumbling and your heart full. Because when life hands you lemons, it’s time to get cooking! Perfect for fans of Sarah Weeks, Leslie Connor, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
Since Steffy was little, she and her older sister, Nina, have lived with their beloved Auntie Gina. But when the girls’ dad comes home to live with them, everything changes. So Steffy does what she does best: She cooks her way through the hardest year of her life.
Sometimes it feels like everything but the kitchen sink is being thrown at her—too many ingredients that don't quite work. And all Steffy wants is for her family to be whole again. Can her recipes help bring them back together?
One Hundred Spaghetti Strings also includes over twenty recipes—which Steffy cooks throughout the book—so aspiring young chefs can try them out when they’re done reading!" AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

Steffy and her sister Nina have lived with their beloved Auntie Gina since their Mom was in an accident. Their father took off around the same time, so Auntie Gina has been taking care of them ever since. As their father comes home, Auntie Gina moves out, and both Steffy and Nina are struggling to understand who their Dad and how to establish a new normal for them. Steffy is also a cook. She may have a hard time with finding the right words to say to people, but she often puts her best foot forward in trying to understand what kind of food they might like, and to serve them that.

Steffy also has an autobiography project to do where she needs to write about herself, but also have the people in her life write letters describing who she is as well. As her whole life has changed so drastically, she starts to struggle with who she is; is she defined by family?

There's also her mom. Her mom lives in "The Place" where every time Steffy and Nina visit, they have to remind their mom of who they are. Her mom had a traumatic brain injury in the car accident, and seems to be a fully functional human being in most senses except she cannot establish memories easily.

That's enough summary.

So what I really, really appreciated about this book was as the situations unfolded, Steffy was a brilliant narrator as she found her own way through her now tumultuous life. The biggest aspect that appealed to me was how much she tried to understand everybody else so she could talk (or cook) for them better. She just wanted to get to know you. There was also a good sense of the struggle a lot of fifth graders face going through their transition into a more independent place.

Steffy also seemed to fight a lot for what she thought a family should be; have meals together, talk to each other, hang out together, etc; basically just be part of each other's lives (like how it was when Auntie Gina lived with them). To get to that place with their father who they very rarely had contact with up until this point.

The more Steffy learns about her father, just how she processes everything as she learns, is so well done. Her character development, frustrations, and how she tries to cope with situations feels very authentic.

This book felt like a friend telling you a story. Just pull up a chair, grab a warm beverage, and settle in; you're in for a good story.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

I loveeeee books that have women as spies running around in high society. Gail Carriger and Sarah Zettel are authors who have fun series in this genre (which I've reviewed some of their books on this blog). I get pretty geeked out whenever I stumble across another one, so good.

Complete sidenote on the cover. One day, I hope the young adult genre can move beyond putting headless women on the cover. Or headless people in general. It's freaking unnerving, please stop.

An amazon summary without all of the weird intro/review stuff, "The year is 1818, the city is London, and 16-year-old Annis Whitworth has just learned that her father is dead and all his money is missing. And so, of course, she decides to become a spy.
 Annis always suspected that her father was himself a spy, and following in his footsteps to unmask his killer makes perfect sense. Alas, it does not make sense to England’s current spymasters—not even when Annis reveals that she has the rare magical ability to sew glamours: garments that can disguise the wearer completely. Well, if the spies are too pigheaded to take on a young woman of quality, then Annis will take them on. And so she crafts a new double life for herself. Miss Annis Whitworth will appear to live a quiet life in a country cottage with her aunt, and Annis-in-disguise as Madame Martine, glamour artist, will open a magical dressmaking shop. That way she can earn a living, maintain her social standing, and, in her spare time, follow the coded clues her father left behind and unmask his killer.  It can’t be any harder than navigating the London social season, can it?" AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

Annis lives in London with her Aunt Cassia while her father constantly travels for work. Her mother died when she was quite young, which is why her Aunt lives with them (to look after Annis). Her father is due to return home soon-ish, but they receive word that he's died in a carriage accident. Annis and Aunt Cassia are thrown into the struggles of trying not to become destitute. Growing up, Annis figured out that her father was a spy, and she wishes to pursue his career path somehow. Annis contacts the war office and tries to launch her career as a spy, only to find that they are not wanting of her services. She also discovers that she may sew glamours and enchant certain qualities into clothing. She and her Aunt Cassia move out to the nearby country with their maid Millie, and Annis spends her time disguising herself as Madame Martine.

That's enough summary. The one thing that is unusual about this book within this genre, is that it lacks the humor that other books relish in, especially in this time period. The book is still very engaging, but I find Annis is rather vexing with how slowly she puts together clues. She's slightly an unreliable narrator with her lack of being able to put together some clear clues about the circumstances of her own life.

That being said, the story had great world building, great character growth, and a great sense to build relationships between characters. It also had the great sense to fill in the social expectations/norms of the time as they went along, rather than a one lump sum of world building in the beginning.

Most surprising to me, I really enjoyed Millie's character the most. She had the most surprising and quirky aspects about her, but it also kind of helped to break of Annis' very self-centered narrations (which got better over the course of the book - yay character growth).

All in all, I thought this was a pretty fun book. I wish more of the magic had been explained, but I suspect if there's a book 2 (which there should??? be), we'll probably get to see more of it there. I'm also kind of hoping this will be a series told from multiple narrators over the course of the books. So book 1 is Annis, maybe book 2 will be Millie, maybe book 3 will be Aunt Cassia. I don't know, but I have hopes for this to be a series.

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Before I Let Go

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Warning: This book has themes of suicide and bipolar disorder. If those topics do not interest you or you do not want to read about them, I would not read any further.

This book is also kind of creepy in general. I'm not a fan of books that are out to terrify me, but this read more along the vibe, "I always feel like someone is watching me. HELLO???" which I was mostly okay with.

An amazon summary, "Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.
Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.
Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter..." AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

Before I Let Go follows the journey of Corey returning to her hometown of Lost Creek, Alaska to mourn the death of her best friend, Kyra. Upon her return, the townspeople of Lost Creek start treating Corey like a stranger, and no one is really giving Corey any clear answers on Kyra's death.

....which is really enough explanation.

So the whole book is weird mash up of trying to figure out the circumstances surrounding Kyra's death, exploring the relationship between Corey and Kyra, and also dealing with the absolute weirdness of the townspeople of Lost Creek. It doesn't really do any of that well at all.

This also didn't feel like Lost Creek, Alaska. This felt like it could be any little town, practically anywhere. There were a few points made about the snow, cold, isolation, can be reached by plane, but they were so minor, I often forgot this was supposed to take place in Alaska.

The book was also broken up into small chapters, which helped build tension and suspense. It was an easy read...but I only made it to the end because I wanted to know what the twist was.

So we're just going to go into SPOILER LAND.


I'm pretty disappointed in the mild LGBT+ theme. There's a moment between Kyra and Corey where Kyra is admitting she likes Corey, and Corey isn't interested in that way. But it's this little blip of a moment that felt more like asking a semi-friendly acquaintance, "how are you?". It felt very tacked in, like a desperate attempt to add more themes to this book, which really just led to diluting anything good about the themes already at play. Kyra and Corey very rarely fight, so there's no tension there either. But also, Corey is asexual or aromantic; it's not really crystal clear in the book. They're called asexual on the page, but it reads as an aromantic response/mindset.

I also found Kyra's bipolar disorder problematic. The other characters in the story know Kyra is more than her bipolar disorder (BPD), however, it also seems to be a crutch to explain any eccentric behavior Kyra exhibited. Almost like it's suddenly an ABNORMAL thing to enjoy painting, when painting is a pretty common behavior (wine and paint, anyone?). There was also a lack of balance between showcasing character development from Kyra (there was none) and how that played with her BPD. Kyra had more unique circumstances, personality traits, and conversation than Corey, but I still felt Kyra's character was woefully underdeveloped.

Corey is also bland as hell. It reminded me a lot of Bella from Twilight. The narrator is just kind of there, reacting to the situations, not making any unique choices or offering a different perspective, and the story just kind of drifts on.

There was also no suspense. The townspeople almost immediately started telling Corey it was Kyra's time, or Kyra's natural end from the moment Corey landed in the town. So when you find out towards the end of the book the townspeople literally stood around the frozen lake and watched Kyra go out too far and fall through the ice, killing her self, and the townspeople did nothing to stop her, it's not really that much of a twist. I find it very unnerving that Kyra's suicide has no intervention and also comes across as widely accepted by the townspeople (except for Corey). An entire town of people was fine with a young teenage woman, killing herself. By drowning in a lake. EXCUSE ME?! What exactly are you trying to say book???? Whatever lesson you're trying to teach or accomplish in that moment feels entirely misguided.

THERE WAS ALSO NO TWIST. GRAHHHHHHHH. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to work through the entire book, only to turn the last page and have the, "That's it?" reaction. It felt like there was a lot of lead up to a whole lot of nothing. Booo, booo!!!

Happy reading!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Seafood Udon Soup

Seafood Udon Soup

Surprise! It's a recipe!

This is something I've had at restaurants from time to time, and I had a craving for it the other day.


Most of the recipes I was able to find online were an odd assortment of things (or perhaps I just suck at google, always a possibility). So I decided to do a combination of compare a ton of recipes, and analyze the common components before I arrived at this.

I also went kind of less is more as far as ingredient variations, but you could also easily add vegetables like carrots, cabbage, or whatever you want to this recipe too.

  • 1 lb of raw (and thawed) shrimp
  • 16 oz of scallops
  • 16 oz of imitation crab, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 8 oz diced portabella mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup (approximately) diced scallions (aka green onions)
  • 1/2 cup of low sodium soy sauce
  • 8 cups of less sodium chicken broth
  • 14 oz udon noodles
  1. Prepare udon noodles per package instructions. Set aside.
  2. In a 8 qt soup pot (or a very large pot that can contain a lot of soup), add chicken broth and soy sauce. Cook on low.
  3. Add portabella mushrooms and scallions to soup pot. Stir.
  4. Add shrimp, scallops, and imitation crab.
  5. Cover pot. Continue to cook on low for 15-20 minutes or until shrimp is cooked (turns pink), stirring occasionally.
  6. Add udon noodles.
  7. Simmer soup for about 10-15 minutes, stir occasionally.
  8. Serve warm.
That's it! Pretty easy, right? Like I said before, different kinds of vegetables could be easily added to this, and add them at step 3. I also prefer less crazy amounts of salts, hence the low sodium soy sauce & chicken broth. If you love salt, just use the regular soy sauce and chicken broth.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Our Lady of the Streets

Our Lady of the Streets by Tom Pollock

This is the third book in the Skyscraper Throne trilogy; I reviewed the first two here:

Undoubtedly, this review will contain spoilers for the previous two books in the series. If you do not want anything spoiled, do not read this review. Dun dun dunnnnnn

An amazon summary, "Ever since Beth Bradley found her way into a hidden London, the presence of its ruthless goddess, Mater Viae, has lurked in the background. Now Mater Viae has returned with deadly consequences. 

Streets are wrecked by convulsions as muscles of wire and pipe go into spasm, bunching the city into a crippled new geography; pavements flare to thousand-degree fevers, incinerating pedestrians; and towers fall, their foundations decayed. 
As the city sickens, so does Beth--her essence now part of this secret London. But when it is revealed that Mater Viae's plans for dominion stretch far beyond the borders of the city, Beth must make a choice: flee, or sacrifice her city in order to save it." AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

To recap the end of The Glass Republic, in a super brief way... So it turns out, Senator Cane was helping the reflected Mater Viae enjoy memories of the other side, by removing the essential essence of people who had just reflected over, and feeding it to Mater Viae. That's what happened to Pen's reflected sister, Parva. After a series of more events, Pen has returned from the mirror world, and the reflected Mater Viae has come back as well.

Onto Our Lady of the Streets...

London is sick. Some of the streets are plagued with street fever reading a thousand degrees to incinerate unsuspecting pedestrians, the reflected Mater Viae is kidnapping people with her masonry men, her sewermanders are making rescue efforts from the outside world useless, and Beth has started to sicken from the reduced state of the city. They've rounded up as many allies as they can to keep them safe, but Beth, Pen, and Beth's father are struggling to find ways to save the city.

To increase their strength, Pen rejoins with the wire mistress. Beth's father volunteers himself for a deadly mission, and Beth is trying to hide from Mater Viae who wants to kill her.

I enjoyed this book just as much as the other book, but I have a confession; I'm kind of at a loss with how the book ends. I'm not crystal clear on what happens to a few characters and I'm a little vexed. Perhaps it's trying to go for a more ambiguous ending to kind of let the reader choose? But I want to know what happened to them, but maybe that's a commentary on war where you don't always know where each person (or body) wound up. Or something less.... intense.... eh???

I don't know.

It still had great characterizations, I didn't find any issues with the pacing, but in some of the action sequences, I did get a little lost, but I thought I found my way back, but maybe with my perplexed state over the ending I didn't find my way anywhere??

I still liked it.

Happy reading!