Card Catalog: May 2016

May was riddled with abandoned books, and it made me sad. However, toward the end of the month I acknolwedged my reading slump and asked for help in the good ole Twitterverse, and my fans, er, my friends came through! I read one suggestion and really enjoyed it and am in the middle of a second. So perhaps I have broken the unfortunate streak.

What I abandoned (for now, at least):

The intro was fun but then I couldn’t quite get into the writing style of the body of the book.

Maybe I should watch the movie?

(Sorry, Kimmie!)

What I read:

I liked this better than I liked Sea Swept and will probably work my way through the trilogy. Partly, I mean, who doesn’t like to imagine a life in the beautiful Irish countryside?!

At the height of my slump I re-read a favorite from my adolescent years, after whose main character my cat is named! I read the whole Giver quartet a couple of summers ago, having not previously realized there was more than the original. Messenger might be my favorite of them, but I happened to have Gathering Blue on my bookshelf. It stands up, though I think Kira in the third book is the characterization that really inspired my cat’s name.

Finally, a winner! This novel had stories within stories within stories, and overlapping characters, and a fluid timeline, and I loved it. It galloped through the last few pages tying everything up in a really interesting and satisfying way. I felt like I was racing toward a finish line, and the triumphant click of my Kindle as I snapped it shut at the end was a good finale.

Any recommendations to keep me on the upward slope of my reading slump?

Card Catalog: April 2016

April saw me plowing through a mixture of you-should-absolutely-go-read-this-right-now books and do-yourself-a-favor-and-never-bothers.

After I finished Matched, you damn well know I feverishly needed to get my hands on Crossed, the second book in the trilogy, but alas, it was not to be immediately, because I had to wait on the library e-book. (I wasn’t about to spend good money on the darn thing.) Much to my delight it appeared mere days after I finished the first one! I ranked it at a 3 out of 5, high enough that I then sought out the third and final book.

April’s book club pick, inspired by an anecdote about it in our March pick, Big Magic. This was a really enjoyably meaty novel. It had one of the more gruesome scenes I can remember reading, so you know that means the writing is pretty good. We all agreed it wasn’t perfect–some of the characters were not fully fleshed out, not all of the relationships were believable–but I think on the whole we were glad to have read it.

It’s come to this, the final installment in the Matched series. As often seems to happen with these YA series, it was not as good as the others. In fact, I almost wished I hadn’t wasted my time on it, except that it satisfied my burning need to know how it ended.

On the other end of the spectrum, this book was well worth reading. In some ways I enjoyed Americanah, by the same author, better, but I learned about a piece of modern history that I literally had never even heard of before from this book, which I think is important. Adichie deserves to be on every lists she’s made it onto, and not just ones that are designed to “diversify” your book shelf or whatever. I look forward to reading more by her. (Although I’m currently somewhere in the abandoned phase of her short book We Should All Be Feminists. More fiction, I should maybe specify.)

Do not read this book. It was utter, absolute drivel, and that is coming from a lady who loves Nicholas Sparks et al. The Devil Wears Prada was okay. I evidently (according to Goodreads) read the sequel, but it was so terribly that I’ve expunged it from my memory. So goodness knows why I gave this one a shot, but I did, and now you don’t have to.

Again on the flip side, go read this book right now. It’s a middle-grade novel, so it’s a pretty quick read. If you have ever felt that you didn’t understand what it means to be transgender, let George explain it! Gino handly a touchy subject with a deft, sensitive hand. Imagining a generation of kids reading this at age 8 gives me a little bit of hope for humanity.

I can’t remember if I finished this in April or in May, but it was close, so we’ll stick it here. Amazingly enough, this first book in a Nora Roberts trilogy didn’t leave me rushing out to get the next one! I do not have strong feelings about it one way or the other–it was simply fine.

Card Catalog: March 2016

H is for hawk, and also for heavy. This book was not a walk in the park! I started reading it on the plane on the way to Austin to visit some friends, and the writing was definitely beautiful in places. However, I had trouble turning off my concern for the author. For some reason moreso than in other books with messed up protagonists, I just really couldn’t get over how much she absolutely needed some help. (I mean, also, she wasn’t really a protagonist; she is a real person.) I’m a bit amazed that this book got as much of the popular reception that it did given its obscure subject matter and good writing!

This was March’s book club read, and I lurved it. I have a love/hate relationship with Eat, Pray, Love (also by Gilbert), in that I loved it the first time I read it and hated it the second. I also read her book about marriage, Committed, in which I discovered that I pretty much disagreed with every opinion she had about marriage. However, she’s an engaging writer, and while this book had some odd hippy-dippy ideas, I really related to most of it. In fact, it’s helped me being trying to embrace creativity for creativity’s sake!

Spell check underlined “Anne” when I typed it into the Amazon search box, so clearly the bots have not read the novel! My college roommate loves the Anne books like I love Little House on the Prairie, so when I saw the entire collection for sale for $0.99 on Kindle recently I bought them. I figure they would be good comfort reading for in between other books. I enjoyed it okay, but for me Anne is no Laura Ingalls.

Wherein I once again go down the rabbit hole of a young adult dystopian fiction series. I’ve known of this series for quite some time but never read it. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed this book as per usual. I can definitely see merit to all of the comparisons to The Giver. Many aspects of the Society seem yanked straight from Lois Lowry! But this is definitely a different book. I appreciate that there were moments when Condie tapped into the poetic. The plot was far from perfect–there were some holes–but it was a readable YA love story in the vein that I enjoy.

I enjoyed this book somewhat more than I expected to, given how I felt about Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling’s books! I was glad that I had watched the show Master of None on Netflix before reading it, because it enhanced my experience to be able to hear it in Ansari’s voice. (Plus I had some context for his kooky sense of humor.) In fact, I’ve had the audiobook recommended to me because he reads it. I love that I love in a world where a random standup comic can have a sociological question and can find a researcher to embark upon a study of it with him and can then write a delightful, digestible book of their findings.

Card Catalog: February 2016

I finally finished Lonesome Dove in February!

If Goodreads is to be believed, it took me a solid month to read. It’s been quite some time since a book took me that long, even given that I work full time. I have GREAT reading time on my train rides to and from work, which is how I usually manage still to fly through books. Some part of it is that I read a trade paperback copy that was so thick and hard to hold. (I know, first world problems.) So I found myself not wanting to pick it up. It was a relief to get back to my Kindle after that one.

I can sort of see why it won a Pulitzer Prize, but it won’t be making the short list of my favorite books. Upon reflection, I like some of the characters better than I did when I was in the trenches.

Lizzy and Jane was February’s book club pick. Reviews were quite mixed! It was decidedly fluff-y, which usually doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I poked some holes in this one. We had one member who agreed with me and had some harsh criticisms, but another who pretty much loved it (although we all admitted there was nothing life-changing about it). I don’t think any of us are rushing out to read Reay’s other novel, Dear Mr Knightly.

The Paying Guests was a recommendation by my pal Meredith, and my hold on the ebook came in sooner than I expected. One thing about aut0-checkout on library holds is that sometimes you end up with a book at a less-than-ideal time! I put it off until I finished Lonesome Dove, out of fear that if I paused on it I’d never come back. This book was NOT what I expected! Definitely a bit darker. Dealt with some very interesting themes. I won’t say more so as not to give anything away.

I heard Austin Kleon speak at a conference back in September and relly enjoyed his talk, which is what prompted me to ask for Steal Like an Artist for Christmas. It’s a quick read, as it’s essentially a listical but written out in book form with some fun embellishment. I read the entire thing on a plane ride to Austin, TX (which, oddly enough is where Austin Kleon lives). If you think of yourself as creative at all, or if you want to, I’d definitely recommend it. There’s a journal that corresponds to the book, and, now that I know the premise, I’d really like to try it out. My main takeaway is that creativity, in whatever form you choose, is acceptable just for its own sake! I’d love the journal prompts to help me get/keep those juices flowing.

I wrapped up the month with a dear old Nicholas Sparks. In fact, I started it on the plane ride home from Austin….and then ended up staying up until 12:30 that night after we got home to finish it. Whoops. So technically I finished it on March 1, but I’m calling it February. This was far from my favorite Nicholas Sparks. He occasionally attempts to write romantic thrillers, of which this was one, and I don’t think he does it as well as he does straight romance. I figured out the whodunnit twist pages and pages before the characters did and kept thinking, “DUH!” Yet evidently I enjoyed it well enough to stay up far too late finishing it. We chatted at book club last night that sometimes you can objectively admit that a book is bad (poorly written, stilted dialogue, shallow characters, etc.) while still finding it fun to read. This one fell into that category for me.

Did you read any winners in February?

Low-Carb Comfort Food: Zoodle Ramen

Way back when I posted that I had made a delicious Whole 30 dinner of zoodle ramen and I promised you the recipe. I made it again last night and took better pictures, so if you’re planning this week’s meals and want a low-carb comfort food, you’re in luck!

I used a couple of ingredients that are not Whole 30 compliant, but you can easily make some tweaks from this as it’s written to make it so. In fact, even if you’re not doing a Whole 30, this recipe is super customizable to include your favorite flavors.

INGREDIENTS
Serves 2

  • 3-4 thin, boneless pork chops (sometimes sold as “Breakfast Pork Chops”)
  • 4 cups of broth (any flavor) or 4 cups water + 4 tsp Better Than Bouillon paste
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 8 oz mushrooms (button, baby bella, or whatever strikes your fancy)
  • 2 eggs
  • Black Bean Garlic paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, or other umami flavor of your choice
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • red pepper flakes

Wash your mushrooms and zuchinni and go ahead and do your mise en place: chop the mushrooms and spiralize your zoodles. (Everything cooks up fast once you get started.)

Zoodles Up Close

Zoodle Mise en Place

Start hard-boiling your eggs. I followed this tutorial wherein you actually steam the eggs. I’ve done it twice now and I love it. Make sure you do put them into an ice bath at the end, though. Last night we didn’t have any ice in our ice maker, so I could only do cold water, and they definitely cooked a bit more than I would have liked.

Steamed Eggs

While the eggs are cooking, sprinkle both sides of your pork chops with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a few shakes of crushed red pepper flakes. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a dutch oven and sear the chops.

Searing Pork Chops

Flip them after 2-3 minutes and let cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. The chops should be up to temperature right around when your timer is going off for the eggs (if not even sooner).

Take your eggs out of the steamer basket and place into an ice bath to stop them cooking and to cool them enough for you to peel in a few minutes. Remove the pork from the Dutch oven and set aside.

Add your water or broth to the same Dutch oven. Whisk in two healthy spoonfuls of Black Bean Garlic paste or your flavoring of choice, scraping up the yummy browned bits from the seared pork.

Once it comes to a boil, drop in the mushrooms and set a timer for 5 minutes. With 3 minutes remaining, add the zoodles.

Zoodle Broth

Slice up the pork you set aside earlier into thin slices, against its grain.

Pork Slices

Once the veggies are softened, use tongs to divide the zoodles evenly between two bowls. Ladle broth and mushrooms over them, and layer half of the pork slices on top. Peel your soft-boiled eggs (carefully, so as not to break the yolks!) and drop one into each bowl.

Voila!

Zoodle Ramen

I served with pre-packaged frozen dumplings on the side (yum!), but you could go healthier and serve with steamed edamame, seaweed salad from the grocery store sushi bar, etc. The options here are endless! You could use shrimp instead of the pork chops. You could toss in shredded carrots instead of, or in addition to, the mushrooms. You could spice it up with some srirachi. Whatever you choose, this hearty and healthy bowl is hard to mess up.