Friday, December 13, 2019

Freeform Friday: What's in Ashley's Stack?

Hey book reading friends! If you're like me, you're plowing through these holiday events/obligations/choir concerts/treat making (and treat eating)/gift buying/etc/etc/etc because it's crazy that it's December 13th! Seriously. Every year I swear to you the holiday season goes faster and faster. It's okay, though. We still have plenty of time for Prime shipping. That's what I'm telling myself, at least.

Once things slow down (ha) and the kids are out of school and I stop having to stand in the kitchen at 5 PM wondering what the heck we're going to have for dinner because apparently I forgot ALL DAY that we had to eat dinner and now we don't have time for extra special dinner making before the next upcoming activity, I'm planning to read. We'll have a good dose of holiday festivities of course, but by and large I'd like to spend a lot of time reading and whittling down on this huge stack of books I have going on.

Some of these books are ones I've accepted/requested for review, so there's some amount of obligation involved, some are books that I've been given for gifts or am borrowing, some are ones that I've just put in the stack as next in line, and then of course there are the library books that I keep putting on hold even though I have a ton of books waiting in the queue. What can I say? I'm a compulsive reader. And I'm reading for sanity. So. There ya go. Whatever your holiday may include this year, I'm hoping it can include a lot of reading. Should you need some ideas, especially ones that may not be on your radar, check out my list below. Happy holidays, friends!

Books I'm currently reading and plan to finish before the year is out (all pics and summaries come from goodreads.com):

A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Baranbaum
Summary: In Russia, in the summer of 1914, as war with Germany looms and the Czar's army tightens its grip on the local Jewish community, Miri Abramov and her brilliant physicist brother, Vanya, are facing an impossible decision. Since their parents drowned fleeing to America, Miri and Vanya have been raised by their babushka, a famous matchmaker who has taught them to protect themselves at all costs: to fight, to kill if necessary, and always to have an escape plan. But now, with fierce, headstrong Miri on the verge of becoming one of Russia's only female surgeons, and Vanya hoping to solve the final puzzles of Einstein's elusive theory of relativity, can they bear to leave the homeland that has given them so much?

Before they have time to make their choice, war is declared and Vanya goes missing, along with Miri's fiancé. Miri braves the firing squad to go looking for them both. As the eclipse that will change history darkens skies across Russia, not only the safety of Miri's own family but the future of science itself hangs in the balance.

Grounded in real history -- and inspired by the solar eclipse of 1914 -- A Bend in the Stars offers a heartstopping account of modern science's greatest race amidst the chaos of World War I, and a love story as epic as the railways crossing Russia.

Summary: In every corner of this earth there are secrets. They are hidden in the dark edge of the woods, nestled in the cold stars, and staring out from a stranger's eyes. And whether they be demonic possession or an unsolved murder, the unknown has always haunted our dreams.

From the hit podcast Unexplained comes a volume perfectly crafted for the curious, the cynical, and the not-easily-frightened. Richard Maclean Smith is the expert in the unknown, and humbly offers up ten tales of real-life events that continue to evade explanation. With these chilling stories comes the missing key: a connection to our own beliefs in science, superstition, and perception.

What can a case of demonic possession teach us about free will? What can a cursed box show us about the act of storytelling? What can a supposed instance of reincarnation tell us about developing a concept of the self?

Perhaps some things are just better left unexplained...
 


Books that are staring at me longingly from their places on the to-read shelf (pics from goodreads.com):


The Winter Sisters by Tim Westover









And one library book that is due soon enough it will probably be moved up above all these very worthy lovelies:


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Wrath & the Dawn - Renée Ahdieh

Summary: In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family.  Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster.  Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning.  When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride.  Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the Caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last.  But something she never expected begins to happen:  Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be.  This monster is a boy with a tormented heart.  Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love.  How is this possible?  It's an unforgivable betrayal.  Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone.  She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen.  Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?(Summary from book flap - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I started listening to The Wrath & The Dawn while walking at my local high school track.  I was hooked fairly quickly by the opening chapters, the narrator's voice, Shahrzad's fiery nature, and the lavish middle eastern setting.  It was all so captivating that even as I kept listening I knew I would eventually start reading it so I could catch every nuance and soak it all in.  And so that's what I did.  I threw in the proverbial earbuds, picked up a hard copy, and started over.

The Wrath & The Dawn is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabic folk tales better known in English as Arabian Nights.  If I'm not mistaken, it had a touch of Beauty & the Beast woven in, as well.  It was delightfully romantic and mysterious, but also full of assassins, intrigue, and hints of magic.  One of my favorite aspects of the book was Shahrzad herself -- a fiercely determined young woman with a sharp mind, an even sharper tongue, and lethal skills of her own.  Shazi isn't about to be intimidated by anyone, not even the homicidal prince who just happens to be her new husband.  Of course, it isn't long before she realizes the prince isn't all that he seems, and that seriously complicates things for a girl whose sole purpose for marrying was to avenge the death of a beloved friend by murdering the man responsible.  The story takes some interesting turns from there, and has several subplots and supporting characters that enhance and amuse...but I'll let you discover those yourself.  Suffice it to say, I was never bored.

This story takes place in the city of Rey in the kingdom of Khorasan.  I wasn't sure until I finished the book and looked it up, but Khorasan is an actual land that historically encompassed much of what is now eastern Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan (and several other 'stans').  There is even a much smaller province in Iran of the same name today.  I loved that the author chose to give the book a real, rather than fictional location and felt it added a little something extra to the story.  Though the setting is real, the story is laced with mystical undercurrents, dark magic, and bits of fanciful folklore (like flying carpets), which made for a lovely blend of fantasy and reality.

The Wrath & the Dawn's middle eastern setting was exquisitely-rendered, to the extent that I could close my eyes right now and visualize with ease not only the characters but the sumptuous cuisine, elegant clothing, bustling marketplace, and ornate architecture. If pressed, I might even be able to conjure up a smell or two. And, okay...it probably helped that I'd seen the live-action Aladdin recently and so I already had one foot in the door, but still....I. was. in. it.  I just adore that.  All that aside, there is a fine line an author must walk when setting a scene -- too little detail can leave a reader skimming the surface of the story and too much detail can drown the story or slow down its flow.  The author walked that line like she was stone-cold sober most of the time, but every so often she would overstep and the excess detail interfered with the momentum of the story.  It didn't bother me that much, but I did notice it enough times to merit a mention.  Still, I'd rather have too much than too little.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story for what it was -- a lovely little bit of escapism and a great balance of (moderately clean) romance, action, folklore, and adventure.  The book does end on a cliffhanger, so I will definitely be listening to and/or reading the sequel, The Rose & the Dagger, as soon as possible.  I believe Wrath and Rose are a duology and it's actually kind of marvelous to be able to read a series that doesn't take a kabillion years to finish.  Ahdieh has another duology set in feudal Japan (The Flame in the Mist and Smoke in the Sun).  I already have it on order.  I want to wait till I've read the next book to make the call, but I think I've found a new author to love (and binge read)!  HOORAY!

UPDATE:  While this review is posting in December, I wrote the review in August.  Since then I've had time to think about the book a bit more (and read the sequel) and there is one thing that is a little off to me that I feel it is important to mention. I don't want to take away from my original review because those are my actual feelings having just finished the book, but I still want to be honest as I sit here thinking about it.  To talk about it, I have to explain a bit so I have to throw up a warning...(SPOILER STARTS HERE) Shahrzad ends up marrying the Caliph early on in the story and they have a 'wedding night' of sorts.  It isn't graphic.  It's barely even mentioned.  I suppose the consummation of their marriage could be construed as rape from a modern perspective, though it seemed to me that it was more of a sacrifice Shazi was willing to make to exact her revenge.  However, later on in the story it is explained that the Caliph only ever was intimate with Shahrzad.  The big question is WHY?  Why her and none of his previous 'wives'?  I'm sure you could come up with a lot of explanations, but that whole scenario seemed odd to me and worth mentioning for anyone who might feel triggered by the way that relationship plays out.  (SPOILER ENDS HERE)

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  A handful of swearwords, mostly biblical in nature.  Several instances of marital intimacy, though two were only briefly inferred (like one sentence) and another was 'closed-door' but preceded by making out and the loss of some (but not all) clothes.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Place For Us - Fatima Farheen Mirza

Summary: A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia's, wedding - a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son's estrangement - the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.

In a narrative that spans decades and sees family life through the eyes of each member, A Place For Us charts the crucial moments in the family's past, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart. And as siblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar attempt to carve out a life for themselves, they must reconcile their present culture with their parent's faith, to tread a path between the old world and the new, and learn how the smallest decisions can lead to the deepest of betrayals.

A deeply affecting and resonant story, A Place for Us is truly a book for our times: a moving portrait of what it means to be an American family today, a novel of love, identity and belonging that eloquently examines what it means to be both American and Muslim -- and announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)


My Review: You’d have to be completely clueless to not be aware that there is much discussion today about immigrants—immigrants that are coming now, immigrants that have been here for generations, immigrants who want to come…it’s obviously just a huge and pervasive part of American life. I find that it’s hard to hate people close up. Sure, it’s easy to make blanket statements and assume in one “group” is just one way, but it’s harder to maintain that belief when you actually meet the people. Whether they live in your neighborhood, go to work with you, worship with you, or you simply read about them, if you want to understand people and be a more understanding and empathetic person (whether or not this changes your belief in the political hot button of immigration) you need to be up close to them. I feel like this book is a beautiful opportunity to do just that.

This was a beautifully written book written in an interesting style. The book starts out with the present day and launches directly into what is going on at that time—a wedding—with no preamble, no explanation, no background; the reader is just dumped directly into the happenings of an Indian-American Muslim family. From there we are given a lot of back story from the various characters in the story. I’m not going to lie, at times this is confusing, especially at the beginning. As the book goes on, I figured out what was up, but it felt like a really long time before that was. The only delineation between stories is often just an extra space in between a paragraph, although sometimes there are designs to indicate that something different is going on, and then of course there are chapters. I’m sure that if you’ve read my reviews before you’ve heard my little rants about how organization is key for me—I don’t like to be confused about what’s going on or how a book is organized. There is a level of confusion that’s okay for me when it’s related to the story, but I don’t like living in a permanent state of confusion. I felt like this book did that—it was way past halfway, maybe even 2/3 of the way—before I kind of knew what was up. It is possible that my obsession for the need for organization in this manner makes my tolerance low, but still. I read a lot. This is not my first rodeo. Please organize the rodeo.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was reading about the children and how they were assimilating their parents’ culture from their previous country into the American life that they have created, and now the children are living in the present day and assimilating present day culture with the culture they grew up with. This resonated a lot with me, not because my parents are immigrants (although my grandparents are), but because I feel like this is a coming-of-age concept that is applicable to all. We all have to forge our own way—do we do things like our parents do? Do we buck the system? Do we try something different and then come back to the old way of doing things? This issue is beautifully addressed and messily resolved, just like I think happens in real life.

I really enjoyed the story and the writing of this book. Despite my issues of it not being organized how I would like it, it’s beautifully written and poignant. It’s rather long, but if your book club is into tackling those kinds of things, I think this would lead to some great discussion. I really enjoyed it, and felt myself relating to all the different characters in different ways, which doesn’t always happen. I loved that about it.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of drug use. It is mild for the genre.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Freeform Friday: 5 Non-fiction Books in My To-Be-Read Stack

I am a little behind on my To-Be-Read Stack.  We're currently scheduled out to MARCH 2020 which is awesome for us, but bad for books we've been asked to review as it means they have to wait a long time to receive any coverage.  I  hate to make books wait that long for their day in the sun...so here is a sneak peek at some of the books that are nearing the 'top' of my TBR stack.  While I can't give them a full review just yet, I've included a description (from the book sleeve) and some thoughts to help you decide if this book might be for you.


Running to Glory: An Unlikely Team, A Challenging Season, and Chasing the American Dream - Sam McManis. 

The Runners from Eisenhower High School had every possible justification to fail: they were poor, with little time to devote to their passion, and they had problems at home and distractions that would test even Job.  Yet they gave their quests fro the Washington State cross country championship everything they had. ...  Running to Glory [is a] celebration of grit, perseverance and ultimately, the American Dream.  It is the inspired story of an Irish immigrant coach and a group of Hispanic boys and girls as they chase their hopes and a state championship.

This book is a the very top of my pile...because I'm reading it right now.  Cross country isn't a sport that I am super-familiar with (unless you count cheering my little brother on at State), but so far the book makes me want to be a better runner.  This book takes place in the town where I live and I look forward to learning more about our (apparently) famous local running program.  So far, it's very well written.

I Have (Had) Enough: Memoirs of Abundance in Fatherhood, Friendship, and Faith - Jeff Jacobson  

Here's a good place to start... I'm new to marriage the the first Bush is president.  Pretty soon there's a child: my son.  Then there's infertility and I'm supposed to be learning about God's timing.  After five years of this, there are two more boys, at the same time.  People ask us if twins run in our family, and we say they do  now.  Then there's a fourth: a girl.  But right before she's born, my best childhood friend dies when planes fly into the Twin Towers.  I write a lot about all of this.  These are my stories.

Okay, confession time.  When I accepted this book for review I thought it was a book of poetry.  In reviewing the emails, I'm not sure how I got that impression but nary a poem can be seen in his slim book of memoirs.  I love reading about the everyday lives of ordinary people, so this book seems like a good way to do that.  A portion of the proceeds go towards a scholarship that honors Jim White, who died in the World Trade Center attack in 2001.

You're Going to Survive:  True Stories from People Who've Endured Soul-Crushing Moments in their Careers -- Failure, Rejection, Disappointment, Public Humiliation -- and How They Got Through it, and How You Will Too! - Alexandra Franzen

On tough days when you could use a friendly, encouraging voice...open this book. Inside, you'll find inspiring stories from writers, chefs, lawyers, actors, business leaders, and more, each describing one of the worst moments in their career, how they got through it, and what htey learned in the process.  With each story, you'll see that rock-bottom moments can lead to breakthroughs...that not getting your dream job may be a blessing in disguise... that everyone goes through difficult times, and no matter what you're dealing with, you are never alone.

I feel like the title pretty much explains why I want to read it.  Everyone needs to be thrown life preserver now and again.  This book seems like it might be a good one and, if nothing else, maybe my mess won't seem so messy in comparison to some of the stories in this book.  *Fingers Crossed?*

Why Will No One Play with Me?: The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive - Caroline Macguire, PCC, M. Ed. with Teresa Barker

In-demand parenting expert and former Hallowell Center coach Caroline Maguire has helped thousands of families dealing with chronic social challenges, ranging from shyness to aggression to ADHD and more.  She knows how hard it can be to watch a child struggle, which is why she developed a program to coach kids to better understand how to feel comfortable socially and connect with others.  In this breakthrough book, Maguire shares her decade-in-the-making Play Better Plan for teaching kids -- and adults, too -- how to develop the skills they need to find social acceptance.

 I have a kid or two who struggles making friends and I thought this might help.  I will let you  know if it does! I will admit to being a little intimidated by its size (I like my self-helps short, sweet, and to the point) and will likely have to read it with a highlighter in hand, but I'm hopeful I will come away with some good tips.

Dressed for a Dance in the Snow: Women's Voices from the Gulag - Monika Zgustova
An unexpectedly uplifting account of women's suffering and resilience in Stalin's forced Labor camps, diligently transcribed in the kitchens and living rooms of nine survivors.  The pain inflicted by the gulags has cast a long shadow over Soviet-era history.  Zgustova's collection of interviews with former female prisoners not only chronicles the hardship of the camps, but also serves as a testament to the power of beauty in the face of adversity. Where one would expect to find only hopelessness and despair, Zgustova has unearthed tales of love, art, and friendship that endured and even flourished in times of tragedy.

I don't know much about the Stalin-era Soviet prison camps, but I am very interested to read what the women interned in these camps have to say about their experience.  It's sure to be emotionally excruciating, but I hope to learn more and honor the experience of these women by reading their stories.  



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I hope that you've found something to interest you here. If you have, don't wait for me to finish!  Read them and give me your thoughts in the comments!


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Geeks Who Drink presents DUH!: 100 Bar Trivia Questions You Should Know (And the Unexpected Stories Behindthe Answers!) - Edited by Christopher D. Short


This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: 100 hilarious essays, based on blindingly obvious questions, from the creators of Geeks Who Drink—led by six-time Jeopardy! champion, Christopher D. Short.

The best trivia questions are usually the ones that are right on the tip of your tongue—so obvious that you may not know the answer offhand, but you should.

In Duh, Americas foremost masters of pub quiz, Geeks Who Drink, will take trivia lovers on a voyage through 100 of our face-palmiest questions. Along the way, well explore the blind hills and corners that make random knowledge so much fun. In hilarious, informative, bite-size essays, well explore such not-really-mysteries as:

-How many stars are on the Texas state flag?
-Odlaw is the nemesis of what kid book character?
-Whats the last word in the King James Bible?

Even if you already know the what”—and you might not!—well fill in the why.” And the when, where, and how. By the end you may feel dumber, but youll be smarter. We almost guarantee it!

By the way, that would be one (lone) star, Waldo, and Amen.” Duh!  
(Summary and image from Simon & Schuster.)

Review: Spoiler: This is a fun book.

If you grew up playing Trivial Pursuit, watching Jeopardy!, collecting weird facts that take too much space in your brain, this is the kind of book you’d like. Second spoiler: I am totally that kind of person.

However difficult it may be as you try to explain trivial to someone, try reviewing it! Topics in this book range all over the place. They’re broken into categories, thankfully, so it’s not an absolute hodge-podge of insanity some trivia books embrace. Further, the essays offering new and exciting tidbits of information are succinct, witty, and full of information. This book accompanied me on a (really long) road trip, but it was an awesome distraction for the whole car.

So, whether you’re boning up on trivia for Trivia Night, you just like collecting random tidbits of knowledge, or you’re just intrigued, check it out.

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: some facts/essays are a little PG-13.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Air Fryer Revolution: 100 All-New Easy and Delicious Recipes - Urvashi Pitre

Summary: Best-selling author Urvashi Pitre is back with Air Fryer Revolution, the follow-up to her hit cookbook, Every Day Easy Air Fryer. In this all-new collection of 100 delicious recipes, Urvashi shows you how the revolutionary air fryer makes home cooking easier than ever. Air fryers are taking the country by storm, thanks to the device's fan-forced heat, so there is no need for pre-heating, and food cooks with a minimal amount of oil. The recipes can all be made in 60 minutes or less, many in as little as 30 minutes, so you cut back on energy bills and avoid heating up the whole kitchen. The air fryer saves space too, making it perfect for tiny city kitchens, dorm rooms, and RVs. With Urvashi's impeccably tested recipes, you start with fresh ingredients and let the cooker do the hard work, and you'll never get bored with Smoky Ham and Cheese Party Biscuits, French Garlic Chicken, Russet and Sweet Potato Gratin, Queso Fundido, Korean Beef Tacos, Bang Bang Shrimp, and more. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: If you've spent any time at all in the stores this holiday season (or the past couple years, actually), then you've heard of the air fryer. Maybe you have one, maybe you don't, maybe you're thinking of getting one (it's Cyber Monday, BTW, today is the day!). Anyway, I'm telling you right now that the air fryer is life changing, and you NEED (yes, in all capitals) to have Urvashi's cookbook to help you out. Actually, all of her cookbooks. But this one for sure.


We all know it's easy to jump on a bandwagon of kitchen gadgets and gizmos (I mean, you've got an Instapot, right?). But then you get them and you're not sure what to do and it's all confusing and then you wonder if you shouldn't have bought it and then all of a sudden you're questioning your life choices...it's an unnecessary rabbit hole, people. No need to question your life decisions. All you need to do is 1) Get an air fryer and 2) #trusturvashi

Now. I'm getting ahead of myself. If you've been involved at all in the Instapot world, you’ve probably heard of Urvashi. She’s the Queen of the Instapot and her butter chicken is known everywhere—it’s been featured many places online and on TV, and on tons of different food lists. You basically can’t type “butter chicken” into anywhere and not have her name pop up. I’ll save you the trouble and say you can just get it right here. Not only that, but she’s kind of a big deal on Facebook. She has several groups she runs (International Instant Pot, Air Fryer & More Recipes: TwoSleevers, Keto Low Carb Instant Pot Air Fryer Recipes & Support—Two Sleevers are two that I am a part of) and she is always posting delicious recipes and ideas and everyone loves her. So basically if you’re not a part of this yet, you should join right away. She’s kind, she’s funny, she’s smart, and there are a large group of people on there that know if Urvashi has created the recipe, then we should all just #trusturvashi. I’m not making this up—there is a member there who makes the cool plaques that say that (for all your food posting needs) and I kind of wish I had one. Urvashi also runs a website with a plethora of extremely delicious recipes that are easy to make and will change your taste buds forever. Here it is. You can go on there right now and plan dinner for a week and thank me later.

So here’s the deal. Urvashi knows her stuff. Her recipes are freaking delicious. They really are. My family and I love ethnic food of all varieties, and Urvashi has not only made that more accessible to us, but we have been able to create some seriously amazing and authentic dishes. I have kids of all ages, and we all #trusturvashi. Many of them will normally be very picky, and yet the Urvashi recipes have them converted with their delicious flavors and quick-cooking times. A couple of her recipes are staples that I go to all the time when I don’t have the mental capacity or time to think of something creative—I just go to an Urvashi recipe that is tried and true. I have several of them, but in fact, our very favorite recipe of all time (and the one I use when I’m making food for anyone, including my pickiest friends who won't eat any spices) is Persian Chicken Kebabs (Joojeh Kabab) from her first air fryer cookbook, Every Day Easy Air Fryer: 100 Recipes Bursting with Flavor.

I know what you’re saying—“Oh, I don’t do keto” or maybe “I don’t really want to buy an air fryer.” Stop with that negativity right now! First off, you don’t have to be keto to enjoy her recipes. They’re fantastic no matter what diet you are on (or not on). They’re just really yummy and tasty. I don’t follow a keto diet, and we have enjoyed so many, many of Urvashi’s lovely dishes. I love that her recipes are healthy—they rely on delicious combinations of spices and interesting flavors to create food that doesn’t make you miss  those bad-for-you foods that are so addictive. This is better! The air fryer is a miracle maker in this area. Questions? They’re all answered in Urvashi’s books. The recipes are authentic, they’re healthy, and they’re fantastic. The flavors of her recipes are so vibrant and delicious. Even if you’re not big into ethnic food, I would say Urvashi will change your opinions. She has something for everyone—big, bold flavor that is spicy and full-on amazing, or even delicately flavored food that even your pickiest eaters will love. If you’ve been considering an air fryer, you should get this cookbook with your air fryer. Seriously. It’s a game changer. Do you want to just have mediocre food and doubt your life choices? No! Urvashi can help you make things that will change your life and let you know that you’ve made a great choice.

There are lots of great cookbooks out there on air fryers. However, I’m telling you right now that Urvashi is your gal. I have both her air fryer cookbooks (I also LOOOOOVVVEE the first one, which I mentioned before with our favorite recipe of Persian Chicken Kababs) and I’m telling you I’m so glad I have both.  You don’t even need an air fryer to use them. She gives instructions on how to do it in a conventional oven. However, you will be super happy if you do make the air fryer investment. Don't just trust me on this--go see for yourself what All the People in the Land are saying about the fabulous and diverse air fryer. So now that you're getting an air fryer (hint hint) you need to get Urvashi's book to go with it.
Here are a few things that set Urvashi’s books apart from others:
1.        The woman knows her stuff. She’s not the kind of person who just writes a random cookbook with a few recipes she likes. No. She will tell you what to do, how to do it, where to get it, how you can sub it if necessary, and will basically make your life so simple with an air fryer that you’ll wonder why you didn’t get one sooner. She takes all the guesswork out of it because she has tested it so many times and tweaked it so many ways that by the time it gets to the reader, it’s freaking fantastic and you don’t have to worry a bit.
2.        There is a great community of support online and on her website to answer questions and give ideas. Urvashi herself is very involved and if one of the thousands upon thousands of other really nice people on there can’t help you right away, Urvashi will also help. I have yet to see someone who hasn’t had a problem fixed and a question answered.
3.       She loves to take the guesswork out and simplifies recipes. Many of her recipes are dump and cook kind of recipes that come together quickly. She’ll let you know when you can’t cut corners on something because you know that she has gotten the recipe down to the point where it’s perfect the way it is. She doesn’t have unnecessary steps or frivolous things just for the sake of it. She makes delish food and she makes it accessible for us to do it at home. I would like to consider myself an adventurous eater, and yet she has opened my eyes even more to cuisines I never knew and I am so glad for it.

I was so excited for this cookbook that I purchased it on pre-order months ago, and when it came out, I was cooking from it right away! It was just as fantastic as promised, and it’s hard for me to choose between her first one and this one. Here are a few of my favorites I’ve tried so far (and there are many, many more I am still working my way through). I have to admit that sometimes they’re so good I’ll make them several times instead of moving along to a new recipe (which is something I never do). I mean, what are ya gonna do?

Here are just a few recipes I’ve already tried and loved, just to give you an idea and wet your palate. There are so many, many more that were really yummy and others I can’t wait to try that aren't even on this list:
·         Harissa Shakshuka
·         Ras al Hanout—Roasted Carrots with Harissa Sour Cream
·         Roasted Cauliflower with Cilantro-Jalapeno sauce
·         Chicken Cordon Bleu
·         Brazilian Tempero Baiano Chicken Drumsticks
·         Chicken Jalfrezi
·         Cilantro Chicken Kebabs (Hariyali Kebab)
·         Ginger Chicken
·         Peanut Chicken
·         Bang Bang Shrimp
·         Tandoori Shrimp
·         Scallops Gratine with Parmesan
·         Bulgogi Beef
·         Chipotle Steak Tacos
·         Korean Beef Tacos

I literally use this cookbook at least every other day, or several times a week, and it is in regular rotation with her first air fryer book that I love. I’m telling you about this one today because Christmas is a-coming and this is a great gift to give or get! I like cookbooks, I have quite a few of them, but I don’t use all of them very often. I just have a few that I use a lot. This is one of those cookbooks. It's even a great price on Amazon right now, plus if you spend $20 on participating books (I mean, that's easy, right?) you get $5 off. It's like they're paying you to read. And cook with Urvashi, since all of her cookbooks are part of the deal. Here is the link.

And here’s a happy surprise—being Cyber Monday and all, one of Urvashi’s hit books, Keto Fat Bombs, Sweets & Treats: Over 100 Recipes and Ideas for Low-Carb Breads, Cakes, Cookies & More is on a super sweet Cyber Monday deal. Get that hereThis won’t last long and I’m telling you, you won’t be sorry. Also, her newest book, Easy Keto in 30 Minutes: More than 100 Ketogenic Recipes from Around the World, is ready for pre-order! Get it here! Remember how I said that you should just #trusturvashi and buy all her cookbooks? Now is a good time to start!

So... (and I'm being serious here, this is my "You should do this face"), if you’re looking for a way to cook healthier, and looking for a way to start it, I’m telling you, Air Fryer Revolution: 100 All-New Easy and Delicious Recipes is your answer.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Freeform Friday - Interview with a Librarian: Resources for Reluctant Readers Part 4

Welcome to Free Form Friday! Today we have an interview with a children's elementary school librarian. Join me for Part 4 of a great discussion with my good friend Olivia on how to get reluctant readers reading, including LOTS of really great recommendations. I promise you'll find some books you hadn't heard of before and some excellent suggestions to get those reluctant readers in your life reading (and loving it!). You'll definitely find something you'll enjoy as well. We've broken this interview up into bite-sized chunks for you, beloved readers, and although they don't need to be watched in order, you can catch Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. Part 4 is the conclusion to this interview and promises to have more great recommendations and ideas so please watch and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

War Storm - Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen Series #4)

This is the fourth book in the Red Queen series.  We do not recommend reading this summary or review unless you have read Red Queen (#1), Glass Sword (#2), and King's Cage (#3).  

Summary: Victory comes at a price.  Mare Barrow learned this all too well when Cal's betrayal nearly destroyed her.  Now determined to protect her heart -- and secure freedom for Reds and newbloods like her -- Mare resolves to destroy the kingdom of Norta once and for all...starting with the crown on Maven's head.

But no battle is won alone, and before the Reds may rise as one, Mare must side with the boy who broke her heart in order to destory the boy who almost broke her.  Cal's powerful Silver allies, alongside Mare and the Scarlet Guard, prove a formidably force.  But Maven is driven by an obsession so deep, he will stop at nothing to have Mare as his own again, even if it means destroying everything -- and everyone -- in his path.

War is coming, and all Mare has fought for hangs in the balance. Will victory be enough to topple the Silver kingdoms?  Or will the little lightning girl be forever silenced?

In the epic conclusion to Victoria Aveyard's stunning series, Mare must embrace her fate and summon all her power...for all will be tested, but not all will survive.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review: War Storm marks the fourth and final book in the Red Queen dystopian series that has taken up a good chunk of my time the last few months. Here we are at the end of it all and it's been quite the ride.  The story begins after the rebels' success in the battle at Corvium.  Not long after, Cal is faced with a difficult decision that creates a rift between he and Mare. Both refuse to budge and put the cause above all else, even especially each other.  Honestly, how often do you see that in YA anymore?  Two people who aren't willing to compromise on their convictions and give up anything and everything to be together.  It was kind of refreshing (in a completely frustrating way).  

Where the first two books were told from a single perspective, the fourth book had five different 'narrators': Mare, Evangeline, Iris, Cal, and Maven.  I loved getting into the head space of three strong women, even if they frequently operated at odds with each other.  While Evangeline's romantic inclinations might provoke a more sensitive reader, I really liked her evolution as a character and watching her loyalties shift throughout the series.  There were a few rare occasions where Cal and Maven piped up too, which offered a fascinating peek behind those iron curtains.  In one of those moments it became clear that Maven has deep-seated psychological issues and is broken in a way that likely can't be fixed. It felt wrong to feel sorry for him, but at the same point, I loved that the story could spin me around like that.   

As with the last book, one of my favorite aspects of the story was watching barriers break down between different 'classes' of people.  Many Red, Silver, and Newblood characters began too see each other's value and learn to work together. I also appreciated the complexity of a conflict that couldn't be settled in a day and for which there were no easy answers.  With each new situation, alliances were uncertain which made things deliciously unpredictable. YUM!

For the most part, I was caught up in the absolute whirlwind of characters, locations, and plot twists, but towards the end of this 662-page book I will admit, I was ready for the storm to abate.  Parts of it seemed drawn out for effect and in the slightly altered but still immortal words of one Mrs. Bennett (from Jane Austen's P&P): Have a little compassion on my POOR NERVES, Victoria Aveyard!!!  Sheesh.  The last 80 pages or so are a doozy. Don't worry, I won't be spoiling it for you. All I will say is that even though the ending wasn't all floofy unicorns and rainbows or tied up in a neat little bow, it just felt right.  I recommend this series to anyone who doesn't find any hurdles in the sensitive reader section.  

My Rating:  3.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Violence and a handful of swear words (including one F-bomb).  Those sensitive to same-gender relationships should know that there are several characters with same-sex significant others in this book.  Most of these relationships are only mentioned in passing, and those that receive more attention are not portrayed in a sexually graphic way.  

Monday, November 25, 2019

Dragonwatch: Master of the Phantom Isle - Brandon Mull


Summary: Cursed by the Key of Forgetting, Seth has lost all memory of his past—his relationships, his experiences, and who he really is. For now he will align with his new mentor, Ronodin, the dark unicorn, who takes him to the Phantom Isle, the secret gateway to the Under Realm. Though Seth is not formally a prisoner, Ronodin wants to use him and his shadow charmer powers for his own dark ends.

Kendra is frantic to find her missing brother, but the quest will take her and her companions, including Warren, Tanu, and Vanessa, far from Wyrmroost to Crescent Lagoon—a recently fallen dragon sanctuary made up of many islands and underwater domains. Its caretaker has regained a foothold on one of the islands. If Kendra and her friends can save that sanctuary, they might uncover the answers they need to rescue Seth.

With each sanctuary the dragons overthrow, Celebrant, the Dragon King, comes closer to the dawn of a new Age of Dragons. With the forces of darkness on the march, can Kendra and her allies gather enough power to win the epic dragon war? 
(Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review: Sometimes when you’re a few books into a series (or a group of series), you start to notice the formula of the author. It’s always a bit tricky when that happens - if the author is good, it’s inconsequential. But, more often than not, those formulas can start to dampen a reader’s enjoyment for a series.  The older I get, the easier it is to spot the formulas, and the more discerning I get with what I want to read.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been in a massive reading rut the last few months. This book arrived, and I was reticent to pick it up. I don’t want to burn out of this series, I miss reading for fun, the excuses started to pile up, but I forced myself to try. It didn’t disappoint.

The formula is there. There’s a world-ending problem on the horizon, there’s a temple they need to descend into to stop it temporarily, there’s some confusion, and things don’t resolve because there are still a few books left in the series. But. BUT. Instead of formulaic mumbo-jumbo, we’re treated to some serious philosophical questions. Is anyone inherently good? Inherently evil? Is redemption possible for even the most fallen people?And once decisions are made, mistakes and triumphs are there, are they there to stay?

See?! Are these the kinds of questions you’d expect from a kids’ book!?

If there’s a formula for winning me over, it’s assuming the intelligence of the audience. Brandon Mull has always been good about that, but this book highlights his ability. His character development is uncanny here - and having a completely blank slate with a character that we already know and love introduces all new ways to push his audience. Finally, he executes it well. There’s enough in this book to make a casual reader happy, but also enough substance to engage your more critical reader. Win-Win.

My Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Pretty clean. There’s some death, and the questions Mull asks are difficult, but they’re well-handled.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Freeform Friday: Spreading the Book Love

Time to let you guys in on a book site I discovered recently...

But first -- the set up....

We've all been there.  You've been waiting and waiting and WAITING for the next book in a series to come out.  It finally does, and you snap it up and run home, ready to dive in with great anticipation, only to find yourself a little lost, not quite remembering everything that happened in the last book.

What's a girl (or guy) to do?

I ended up in this exact situation several months ago when reading in the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown-- desperately in need of a refresher.  That's when I found out about Book Series Recaps & Reviews.  


Honestly, I'm a little worried I'll never see any of you again because this site is pretty darn cool, but still, we book geeks gotta stick together. 

 

Book Series Recaps & Reviews is a great place to look for rapid reviews and recaps of that book you read last year and can't quite remember.  It even has a list of YA "clean reads" (which feel like a rare commodity these days). Thankfully, the site's recap helped jog my memory of the previous book I had read so that I could move on in the series.  It was great!  I highly recommend you check them out!


Have a fabulous Freeform Friday and feel free to comment with any of your favorite book sites (you know, besides this one)!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I'm Sorry....Love, Your Husband: Honest, Hilarious Stories From a Father of Three Who Made All the Mistakes (And Made Up For Them) - Clint Edwards

This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: He may not win Father of the Year, but Clint Edwards has won the hearts of thousands -- including the New York Times, Scarry Mommy and Good Morning America-- thanks to his candor and irreverence when it comes to raising kids, being married and learning from his mistakes.

Clint has three children: Tristan (the know it all), Norah (the snarky princess), and Aspen (the worst roommate ever). He describes parenting as "a million different gears turning in a million different directions, all of them covered in sour milk."  In this inspiring and unconventional book of essays, he sheds light on the darker yet hilarious side of domestic life.

Owning up to all his mishaps and dumbassery, Edwards shares essays on just about every topic fellow spouses and parents can appreciate, including: stupid things he's said to his pregnant wife, the trauma of taking a toddler shopping, revelations on buying a minivan and the struggle to not fight the nosy neighbor (who is five years old).

Clint's funny, heartwarming account of the terrifying yet  completely rewarding life of a parent is a breath of fresh air.  Each essay in I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband will have you thinking finally, someone gets it.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I first heard about Clint Edwards through a viral blog post on Facebook.  I can't remember what he had written, but I remember laughing my butt off and binge reading a bunch of his other posts on No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog.  When I discovered he'd written a book (three, actually), I knew I needed to get my hands on at least one of them and thankfully the author was kind enough to send me a copy of I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband: Honest, Hilarious Stories From a Father of Three Who Made All the Mistakes (And Made Up for Them).

Clint Edwards calls parenting "the most difficult thing in the history of ever" (AMEN!) and lends his own brand of wry, often self-deprecating, humor to an insightful collection of essays on life, marriage, and fatherhood.  Whether he is writing about the rigors of trying to shop with a nearly-feral toddler, his unsuccessful adventures in poop avoidance, how to successfully navigate advanced sleep deprivation, or the critical difference between venting and complaining, his essays are a deft mixture of snort-inducing humor and sage advice -- and they are unbelievably spot-on.   Each essay is only a few pages long and can be read by itself or as part of a greater treatise on how to be a better husband and father.  If you're a parent and (like me) and struggle to find the time or energy to read an entire book in one sitting, this book is perfect for you.

In, I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband the author offers himself up as a case study in what not to do or say in essays like: All the Things I Never Should Have Said to My Pregnant Wife, Pregnancy Pro Tips I Learned Through Trial and Error, All the Things I Never Should Have Said After Our First Child, etc. He seems to favor learning life's lessons (like most of us) by making mistakes and immediately recognizing the error of his ways OR by getting his crapped called by his loving, but exasperated, spouse.  He isn't too proud to admit these mistakes either. In fact, he waves them like a giant red flag in an effort to keep others from falling into the same trap.

In an increasingly Instagram-filtered world, Clint Edwards provides an unflinchingly honest, thoroughly amusing, and relatable view of parenthood, filled with hilarious stories and cautionary tales.  I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband is a proverbial fist raised in solidarity for all the parents out there just trying to keep their heads above water and their adorable monsters alive. While reading, there were countless moments where I felt emotionally validated and understood. Take, for example, the chapter on why Clint's wife, Mel, stays up so late.  In it Clint was frustrated with Mel for intentionally staying up late instead of getting some much-needed sleep.  My husband and I have gone the rounds on this same topic, so I could probably have written this chapter myself. Mel explained that after putting the kids to bed and spending quality time with Clint, she craved a little time by herself -- time to not being needed, called, or crawled on, and that she would happily sacrifice sleep if it meant being able to tend to her own needs.  I felt unbelievably relieved when I read the chapter -- like I wasn't crazy or selfish for wanting the same thing for myself from time to time. I imagine other parents out there might feel the same.

Though I laughed a great deal throughout, the experience wasn't entirely composed of snorts and giggles.  The author touches on serious topics too, like how reliance on out-dated gender roles (e.g., the wife being responsible for the entirety of the cleaning or childcare) can negatively affect a marriage.  There are also solemn moments where he talks about his relationship with his own father (who abandoned the family when he was little), surprisingly tender moments where he talks about the singular experience of raising daughters, and even a few regretful ones about missed opportunities to spend time with his son when he was little, because he was so focused on providing for the family financially.  These moments enhanced the overall feel of the book, and proved that the author was not only skilled in comedic writing but equally capable of  sincere reflection and depth.

Overall, I'm Sorry....Love, Your Husband contains the often-entertaining reflections of a well-meaning husband and father, as he looks back on what he has done right, what he could have done better, and shares that insight with the world.  It would make a great gift for new (and perhaps not-so-new) husbands and fathers and I would also recommend it to any mothers or wives who might feel a little overwhelmed or just need to laugh their butts off.   Afterwards, they can passive-aggressively leave it in the bathroom for their significant other to curiously flip through.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some language, generally (but not always) self-deprecating in nature, used by the author to reference himself or his choices.

On a more slightly more personal note: I'd just like to give Clint and Mel mad props -- Mel, for being willing to clearly communicate her feelings and needs and Clint for listening to her concerns and giving them (even more) weight.  They didn't try to pretend that their marriage or family is perfect and I appreciate their willingness to lay things bare so that others might learn from their mistakes and successes.

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