Cooking and Composition

adventures in discourse and dinner

Review: Hidden by Catherine McKenzie — April 23, 2014

Review: Hidden by Catherine McKenzie

When Amazon started e-mailing me a book about picking out a free book every month before anyone else could buy it on Kindle, I figured “why not?” But I still didn’t get in a hurry to read any of the books I’ve been selecting.

Last week, I decided to give Hidden by Catherine McKenzie a try. I probably read a description of the book when I chose it, but I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. The prologue, which ends with the perspective character’s death, totally hooked me in.

The Goodreads summary says:

While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son as well as contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members, and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother, who was her ex-boyfriend. Tish volunteers to attend the funeral on her company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life.

Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish, and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, the repercussions of our personal choices, and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.

So, there’s death, a couple of different love affairs, and an interesting set of shifting perspectives between a dead man, his wife, and his girlfriend. It took me a few minutes to get used to the shifting points of view, especially when Jeff’s perspective starting coming through. Where was he speaking from? How was he able to share his story?

To say that shift was a bit jarring is an understatement, but after I got about halfway through the book, it seemed to feel right. However, his perspective is also kind of what ruined the book for me.

I was all set up to love this book until the very last chapter. I could sympathize with both Tish and Claire. While the book was often sad, I enjoyed (doesn’t that sound sick?) watching both of their stories unfold, overlap, and then go their separate ways. Tish and Claire were so realistic, like I could walk out my front door and meet either one of them for dinner or drinks. It’s not often that I feel that way about characters, so these two really worked for me.

But the final chapter ruined it for me, and I won’t explain why here because, in the words of River Song, *spoilers.*

In short, this was a good book. It was great to read and I really enjoyed it, but I was ultimately dissatisfied by the end. I’m glad I didn’t pay anything for this, but I definitely would not be disappointed if I had!


Review: Bellman and Black — March 5, 2014

Review: Bellman and Black

Bellman & Black
I won a free copy from Atria Books on Goodreads, so that’s a silver lining here.

I was really, really excited to start Bellman & Black, the second novel by Diane Setterfield. I adored her first book, The Thirteenth Tale.

I had been warned that Bellman & Black was nothing like The Thirteenth Tale. And I wanted to believe that that was okay, that it would be fine, that Setterfield’s academic-y prose and excellent use of suspense would win out.

It didn’t. Continue reading

Review: Milton Blackwell’s Ultramarine — February 28, 2014

Review: Milton Blackwell’s Ultramarine

Ultramarine: A Blake Casull Story. By Milton BlackwellFirst of all, just let me tell you how excited I am to be writing this post. A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine started tossing around the idea of self-publishing a serial. After a few conversations about his ideas and reading some drafts, I’m so thrilled to announce that Milton Blackwell’s first novella, Ultramarine, will be available on Amazon tomorrow, March 1 is now available on! (Buy it here!)

Milt (sh! he doesn’t like to be called that, really, but I do it anyway) gave me the go-ahead to review his book before it’s available to buy. I’ll preface this by saying that, sure, my review might be a little skewed because I adore the author, but I really am being honest.

Ultramarine is the first in a series about Blake Casull, a gun-for-hire living in Purgatory. He falls for a girl, Mara, and things seem great, but, as Blackwell writes “Heaven doesn’t end.” And Blake and Mara aren’t in Heaven.

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Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury — January 27, 2014

Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I have finally gotten around to checking off a book I’ve been excited to read: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

I’ve loved Bradbury since I read “The Pedestrian” in high school and was the only person in class who got “the point.” And just from reading that short story, Bradbury made my list of favorite authors.

The only other thing I have read by since (also in high school) was “There Will Come Soft Rains”—a great short story about an automated house living on after all of its inhabitants have died.

The only thing I’ve read by Bradbury that I didn’t love was “A Sound of Thunder,” about a time traveler who changes everything by stepping on a butterfly. I might like it better if I read it now, but when it was assigned in school, I just couldn’t get through it. I had to read it out loud to my dad.

Anyway, I’ve had Fahrenheit 451 on my “to-be-read” list for something like four years, at least. But I always manage to not read it: there’s another book in a series I love, there’s something I’ve found that I just have to read right now, or sometimes I just don’t feel like reading and I want to do anything else.

In a moment of impulse, I bought the book on my Kindle app. I can be a shopaholic, and when that hits, instant-gratification is the best thing for me. I just didn’t want to wait for my two-day shipping to get the book here.

Naturally, I just let it sit there. For like two weeks.

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So Much Grazing, So Little Time — December 27, 2013

So Much Grazing, So Little Time

I have received four GRAZE boxes already, but I have not been keeping up with sharing my reviews of them. I think I did maybe two.

I have eaten a lot more Graze than that.

So here’s a little rundown/synopsis. If you are at all interested in Graze. . .or mail-order snacking. . .or my (probably very strange and particular) opinions on snacking, read on!

Box 1: Cracking Black Peppercorn, Honeycomb Crunch, Super Berry Detox, and Fruit and Seed Flapjacks.

Box 2: Dark Rocky Road, Fruity Mango Chutney, Chili and Lime Pistachios, and Pomodoro Rustichella.

Box 3: Raspberry and Coconut Muffin, Jalapeno Fiesta, My Thai, and Tropical Daiquiris

Box 4: Summer Berry Flapjack, Bonnie Wee Oatbakes, Graze’s Chocolate Orange, and Coco Paradise

Some I love, some I like, some I could definitely do without, and some I am saving or avoiding eating.. As you will see.

Must Have Them All Right Now:

  • Honeycomb Crunch. Easily one of my favorites. Chocolaty, crunchy, yummy.
  • Pomodoro Rustichella. I’m surprised how much I liked this because it’s tomato-y and I don’t really like tomatoes. At all. But it was wonderful.
  • Chili and Lime Pistachios. Love pistachios, and these had the right amount of kick.
  • Summer Berry Flapjacks. A chewy, rolled-oat bar with berry-infused cranberries. Yum!

Eat-It-Again Worthy:

  • Fruit and Seed Flapjacks. Like the Summer Berry ones but with seeds and dried fruit.
  • Super Berry Detox. A nice mix of berries with those delicious white raisins!
  • Dark Rocky Road. You can never go wrong with chocolate. The chocolate drops are a little big, which makes it hard to eat a bit of everything at once, but the flavors themselves are nice.

Still Not Sure How I Feel:

  • My Thai. Soy puffs with a sweet chili sauce. I think the dipping sauce was pretty good, but it does have a fairly intense flavor. It reminded me a big of an egg roll dipping sauce from a local restaurant.

No Thank You, I Will Do Without These:

  • Cracking Black Peppercorn. I wanted to like these. But I just didn’t like the taste of the puffed rice. It was almost chemically to me.
  • Fruity Mango Chutney. Black pepper dippers and mango chutney dipping sauce. Not a big mango person (don’t eat it much because a few times I’ve had allergic-like reactions to it). Mostly did not like the black pepper dippers. Probably for the same reasons I didn’t like the cracking black peppercorn.
  • Raspberry and Coconut Muffin. I also wanted to like this, but I’ve never been a big fan of coconut, and it ruined this for me. I tried to pick around the dried coconut pieces, but it was a little hard. The amaretti drops, raspberry-infused cranberries, and almond slices were good. If I could eat coconut, I might like this a little more.
  • Coco Paradise. I didn’t get this “trashed” before it was sent, so I’ve set it on the table in hopes someone in my family will it eat. My mom likes coconut, so we’ll see. I’m sure the cranberries and chocolate drops are delicious, I just don’t feel like digging through it.

Graze has a really wide variety of snacks, and I’m excited to keep getting more (and try the couple I have sitting in my box, waiting to be eaten)!

Another nice thing about Graze is you can influence what comes in your snack box. Don’t like something? Trash it. Don’t like a particular ingredient? Graze makes it easy to search for any snack that includes that ingredient.

In my opinion, Graze is definitely worth the $6/shipment. Even though I haven’t loved all of the snacks, I don’t regret trying them and I have been surprised by a couple!

Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood — December 17, 2013

Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

I was up at 7:30 this morning because my body is not quite accepting that it’s able to sleep in now that we are on Winter Break.

Instead of trying to force myself back to sleep (it rarely works, anyway), I decided to get up and have some tea while reading MaddAddam.

MaddAddam by Margaret AtwwodI have been milking this book, the third in the series of the same name by Margaret Atwood. I read Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood a bit too faced, over a couple of weeks a few summers ago, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of MaddAddam. Even though I got it back in September when it came out, I didn’t get to read it until now.

So I tried to take it slow and really savor the post-Waterless Flood world. That worked, until today.

It wasn’t long before I realized I had read 100 pages just this morning. Then, a bit later I realized I had less than 100 left.

So, five hours and over 200 pages later, I’ve finished MaddAddam.

If you aren’t familiar with it, here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

A man-made plague has swept the earth, but a small group survives, along with the green-eyed Crakers – a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. Toby, onetime member of the Gods Gardeners and expert in mushrooms and bees, is still in love with street-smart Zeb, who has an interesting past. The Crakers’ reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is hallucinating; Amanda is in shock from a Painballer attack; and Ivory Bill yearns for the provocative Swift Fox, who is flirting with Zeb. Meanwhile, giant Pigoons and malevolent Painballers threaten to attack.

I’m not sure that this teaser is the best it could be. MaddAddam gives us much of the history behind MaddAddam, the game where Crake got most of the people to help him engineer the Crakers, the somewhat creepy humanoid species that actually grew on me throughout this novel. We get the story mostly through Toby’s eyes, who hears it from Zeb. This story is both his and his brother’s biographies, the actions that really set into motion the waterless flood in which Crake cleared the chaos for the Crakers, and the mythical origins of the Crakers.

Click below to read on, but be aware that there may be *spoilers*

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Review: Joyland by Stephen King — November 27, 2013

Review: Joyland by Stephen King

Joyland by Stephen KingMy dad told me I would love this book, and even though I’ve only read three Stephen King novels (I’m not a fan of the horror genre, really), I decided to give it a try. Because if dad says I’ll love it, I probably will.

He was right.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis: “Set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, Joyland tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and the ways both will change his life forever.”

Short and. . .well, sort of sweet, right? My dad told me it was about a murder at a carnival, but it was a “guy telling a story from his past” and that was why he knew I would like it/be able to read it. That is pretty helpful for me, and even though there is some suspense about the Dev’s fate, it was comforting to remember that he is narrating the novel the whole time, and jumping between his summer at Joyland and other things that have happened since then, either to him or his two colleagues and friends, Erin Cook and Tom Kennedy.

I thought I would like Joyland when I finally got around to it, but I didn’t think I would tear through it as fast as I did and fall so head over heels with the plot and the characters.  They were all just so real. This was one of the reasons I loved The Stand–I liked being with the characters, even through the darkest moments of the plot. While I wouldn’t call Joyland scary by any means, it is definitely a dark book with a lot of suspense. There were moments of concern and worry, of wonder and amusement. There were also a lot of really sad moments, as well as times when I could feel and understand a character’s frustration, like when Erin tells Dev what she’s discovered about The Funhouse Killer.

The best part about Joyland for me, though, was how enthralled I became with it. I like to read in whole pieces, and the organization of the book makes that easy because most of the sections are only a couple of pages long, if that. However, Stephen King definitely knows how to write a cliffhanger, and every time I would reach a little heart to signify the end of a section, I’d find myself thinking “Just one more! One more section!”

When I started reading last night, I was shocked that I had only 80 pages left. Before I knew it, it was 20. Even though I had no plan to finish the book so quickly (which is kind of like rushing through a delicious dinner), I just couldn’t stop. I needed to know how Dev had figured out who the murderer was and what was going to happen.

It was not necessarily a “twist,” but it was definitely a resolution I did not see coming. Maybe if I read it again, I would see the pieces fitting together. But I would probably still be too wrapped up in Dev’s girl problems, the heartbreaking story of Mike Ross, and the bitter ending for Erin and Tom.

I’d like to end this review with a quote from Joyland’s 93-year-old owner:

‘This is a badly broken world, full of wars and cruelty and senseless tragedy. Every human being who inhabits it is served his or her portion of unhappiness and wakeful nights. Those of you who don’t already know that will come to know it. Given such sad but undeniable facts of the human condition, you have been given a priceless gift this summer: you are here to sell fun. In exchange for the hard-earned dollars of your customers, you will parcel out happiness. Children will go home and dream of what they saw and what they did here. I hope you will remember that when the work is hard, as it sometimes will be, or when they people are rude, as they often will be, or when you feel your best efforts have gone unappreciated. This is a different world, one that has its own customs and its own language, which we simply call the Talk. You’ll begin learning it today. As you learn to talk the Talk, you’ll learn to walk the walk. I’m not going to explain that, because it can’t be explained; it can only be learned.'” — Bradley Easterbrook, Joyland, page 59

Isn’t that so very true? I may not be learning to talk the Talk but there are certainly talks and walks that I’m still new to, that I am learning every day. We should all take a few minutes to remember not that our world is full of tragedy, but that sometimes our smile is the only smile someone gets that day. That sometimes our own kindness can  make a huge difference in another person’s life. That sometimes, our own daily tragedies and personal struggles and hardships may be nothing compared to what another person is going through. We may not be here to “parcel out happiness,” but we certainly can contribute to our own and each other’s, whether they be family, friend, colleague, or rube.