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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Review: Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne



Title: Sugar and Spice: Bold, Flavorful Recipes for Desserts with a Twist
Author: Samantha Seneviratne
Format: egalley
Pub. Date: September 8th 2015
Source: Ten Speed Press


Book Description:



A wonderfully unique and unexpected collection of desserts that showcase spice over sugar, with 80 recipes that both reinvent classic sweets and introduce more unusual spice-infused desserts.

In Sugar and Spice, veteran food editor and recipe developer Samantha Seneviratne invites readers to explore a bold new world of spice-centric desserts. Each chapter centers on a different spice--some familiar, like vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger; others less expected (especially in sweet preparations), such as peppercorns, chiles, and cardamom. With fascinating histories, origin stories, and innovative uses for each spice, this book will inspire readers to rediscover and re-stock their spice drawers, and raise their desserts up to a whole new level of flavor.






Review:


★★★★

I'm a big fan of finding new twists on old classics, so I knew I had to read Sugar and Spice. I love the idea of incorporating different spices into desserts (even unexpected ones) in order to create new, bolder flavors. This book definitely didn't disappoint.

This is a good example of a book being a labor of love. There's a really sweet and personal introduction that expands on the author's reason for creating such a book. It makes the book that much better, because you can clearly see the recipes are really cared about. There's also a list of tips, ingredients you should have on hand, and helpful equipment to prepare you for baking.

The recipes are sorted by spice, which I think is smart because it makes it easy if you have one particular spice in your pantry, you can find a recipe in which to utilize it. Each chapter has an introduction, a history of the spice, descriptions of the spice, and how to store and buy them. This is really useful and informative information. The directions and descriptions are clear and concise, making this a book that will appeal to the more seasoned cooks as well as beginners.

There's a really great variety of desserts in Sugar and Spice, spanning from baked goods to candies and frozen treats. What I really liked about these recipes is that everything (like crusts, fillings and the like) are done from scratch, as opposed to using pre-made ingredients. I prefer to do everything myself, so I appreciated this. The pictures within this cookbook are nice, but I wish that there had been less of the pretty, artsy photographs and more pictures of the finished recipes so I could see how my dish should ideally look. There's also lots of nice, varied international flair in this book, which is a nice touch.

There are a lot of recipes in this cookbook that I'd like to try, but the ones that I'm most excited for include Black Lavender Clafloutis, Pavlova with Lime Custard and Basil Pineapple, Blackberry Cuatro Leches, and Sweet Fig and Black Pepper Scones.

I think this is a good cookbook for anyone who loves to bake, from beginners and beyond and to anyone who likes new twists on old favorites.

I received a copy of this in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Stacking the Shelves [98]



Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews where we get to show off the books we've won, bought, or otherwise received in the past week. If a book catches your eye, *click* the picture to go to the Goodreads page of that book.

Sorry for the slow moving on the blog lately guys. I had to move back into my university for another wonderful year of book learning. But now I'm back!

New from Netgalley:

Nikki Blue: Source of Trouble by Jack Chaucer
The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst
I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius by Stacey Matson
Into My Arms by Lia Riley




In My Mailbox

Perfect Touch by Elizabeth Lowell
The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson
Black Ice by Stephen Tesher

Friday, August 28, 2015

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway: Confessions of a Fat Girl by Holly Dae



Title: Confessions of a Fat Girl

Author: Holly Dae

Release date: August 4th 2015

Source: IFB Tours



About the Book:


Smart and ambitious Season Minett was homeschooled, got accepted into college at 16, graduated with a B.A. in English at 20, got a job at a prestigious magazine at 21, and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. Twenty-two-year-old Season has it made and everyone knows it. Except Season herself.

People can gush over her all day long, but Season knows they’re just being nice. In reality, she’s accomplished nothing. She doesn’t work hard enough, can’t get her book published, and worst of all at 5’6, 180 pounds with a thirty-two inch waist, a forty-four inch hip, and arms too big for her body, she’s fat and ugly. She's such a disappointment that after her mother divorced Season's dad, she went to live with her new, younger boyfriend and left Season to mother the rest of her siblings. So Season is quite bewildered when the guy she sees every weekend at the bookstore shows serious interest in her. And she ends up liking him. A lot.

Season's not naive enough to think love will solve all her problems though. In fact, love seems to be making everything worse because her food obsession is growing more and more out of her control. But that's impossible. There's nothing wrong with counting calories and wanting to be thin. There's nothing wrong with trying to be as perfect as everyone thinks she is. A fat girl can't develop an eating disorder, let alone have one. Right?


Review:


★★★


I admit, the reason why I signed on to read this book is largely the title, no pun intended. I'm a bigger girl, so I figured I would relate to the characters and the premise. Overall, this was a fairly enjoyable read.

There's a growing concern and focus on appearance and health, and I think this story gives a pretty realistic look on the issues that come with having a low view of yourself. Season is moody and closed off. She's self-destructive as she battles with her calorie count and tries to keep in control of her body and her life, with a lot of drama and consequences surrounding her as she tries to get through it all.

Season was a really complicated character for me. I related to her at times, I'll be the first to admit that. I think we all go through a little self-loathing and self-pity at times, and I'm surely no exception. But similarly, I think she represented everything that I hate in myself. She bugged me. She was hard to sympathize with, and hell, maybe I'm hard to sympathize with too. This didn't put me off of the book or her story or anything, but made me think harder about myself whenever Season did something that particularly annoyed me.

The writing was pretty solid. I was engaged throughout the text, and I rarely felt bored. It was well paced and you learned to feel for the characters, whether you loved or hated them. It was a fairly quick book to get through, but it's not a subject to be taken lightly.

In short, I think this book does a decent job of covering an important topic. Eating disorders are a serious problem, and I think that people who have experienced problems with their weight or their self-image can take something away from Season's story. Fat or thin, we can all I think relate to Season on some level.

I was provided a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Get it Here:



Amazon


About the Author:


Stuck in the transition between graduating from college and starting a life called no job, Holly Dae spends most of her free time writing raw and edgy Young Adult and New Adult contemporary novels that deal with rape, drugs, sex, and general psychological ills. When she isn't doing that, she's writing fanfiction for fun and obsessively playing Mario Kart Eight and Pokemon Games.

Website | Twitter



Follow the rest of the tour here!

Giveaway:


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Secrets in the Cellar by John Glatt



Title: Secrets in the Cellar

Author: John Glatt

Format: Hardcover, 248 pages

Pub. Date: January 1st 2009

Source: Purchased from Goodwill.



Book Description via Goodreads:



Josef Fritzl was a 73-year-old retired engineer in Austria. He seemed to be living a normal life with his wife, Rosemarie, and their family--though one daughter, Elisabeth, had decades earlier been "lost" to a religious cult. Throughout the years, three of Elisabeth's children mysteriously appeared on the Fritzls' doorstep; Josef and Rosemarie raised them as their own. But only Josef knew the truth about Elisabeth's disappearance…

For twenty-seven years, Josef had imprisoned and molested Elisabeth in his man-made basement dungeon, complete with sound-proof paneling and code-protected electric locks. There, she would eventually give birth to a total of seven of Josef's children. One died in infancy--and the other three were raised alongside Elisabeth, never to see the light of day.

Then, in 2008, one of Elisabeth's children became seriously ill, and was taken to the hospital. It was the first time the nineteen-year-old girl had ever gone outside--and soon, the truth about her background, her family's captivity, and Josef's unspeakable crimes would come to light.

John Glatt's Secrets in the Cellar is the true story of a crime that shocked the world.






Review:


★★

So, I'll be the first to confess that I was swept up in this case when it was first brought to the public eye. It's morbid, yes, but it's also fascinating. I had done research online to find out all that had happened, and learned that there were some books on the subject. Coincidentally, I stumbled upon this one at a thrift store and I couldn't resist picking it up. Unfortunately, it wasn't that great of a book.

This is a part of the True Crime book series, that is, a series of factual books that examine real life crime cases. True crime. So it really bothered me that the author used fictionalizations on the people in this book who are real people, and not characters. More than once, things like this were said: "He must have known he was evil" or "she must have been scared". The author doesn't know that. Stick to the facts, and quit trying to make an already horrible story more dramatic. This extends to the passages about Josef's personal life, where the prostitutes talked about how rough and violent he was, so that only a few of them would let him be a client anymore. He makes himself look evil- we don't need to look at his BDSM lifestyle to make him even more villainous. The prostitutes did take him as a client, and did their job. While it might be morally wrong since he had a wife, this seemed like an unnecessary add on to a guy who could already be a Batman villain. He doesn't need puffing up, he's horrid on his own.

The book as a whole also wasn't written very well. It was really repetitive. You could tell when the author was really proud of a phrase or a thought, because it would show up multiple times throughout the book. There were sentences that were awkward and ended with prepositions. There's also misuse of the word "irony". It feels rushed and it probably was, as everyone was quick to make a buck off of someone else's tragedy.

Personally, I also didn't really learn that much more from this book. I knew most of this from previously reading articles online. If you've never heard of this case or only know the rough story of what happened, I'm sure that you'd find it more interesting and engrossing than I did.

That said, the case is fascinating, so the book isn't a total loss. I appreciated the fact that in the middle of the hardcover edition, there's a few pages of photographs. I did think it weird though that the author vividly describes some photographs that are not included in these pages. I thought for sure it would be included, since he was so detailed, but nope.

I'm not sorry I read this book, but I'm not holding onto it either. It's the kind of book you only need once. If you're interested in crimes, nonfiction, or this case in particular, I'd recommend at least flipping through it, but maybe get it from a library instead of running out to the store to buy it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What I Really, Really Want in My Throwback Man Crate (Zigazig AH!)



Hello my lovely followers. I have a different sort of post for you today! When I was contacted by Man Crates, I was asked a seemingly easy question: what would I put in my nostalgic time capsule? The more I thought about it, the more my mind raced. I'm 23 years old, which really just means that I'm not quite stuck in the 90s, but not a true millennial either. I had a great time thinking about what would go in my perfect crate, and I'm happy to share that list with you today!

But first, what is Man Crates? It's a website that specializes in kick ass gift crates for the man (or whoever) in your life! They're all themed, which is my favorite part. Some are for your favorite sports teams. Some are for video game enthusiasts. Others are for people who love a good drink. They're all pretty awesome. Here's Man Crates in their own words:

About Man Crates:



We say 'no' to ugly neckties, cologne samplers and executive trinkets. We don't save wrapping paper, we don't do ribbons.

We ship bragworthy gifts for guys. Gifts that you can't wait to arrive because you know the recipient will love opening them.

Gifts that people gather round at the office, people following the sounds of wood being torn from wood by the included, laser-engraved crowbar.

We are Man Crates, and we deliver awesome gifts for men.




So what would be in my perfect crate after I tear into it with my crowbar? Let's find out! I've got a list of a dirty dozen.


1] Chupa Chups Spice Girl Lollipops:


Photo Source

These suckers were the best thing ever. Why? Because if you had these, you were the coolest girl in the class room. I remember I could only ever find them at Limited Too. Not only did the actual lollies taste delicious, but printed on them were the FACES of the Spice Girls. Plus, each one came with a sticker. At my school, every girl's notebook was littered with these. I still love the Spice Girls, and I miss these whenever I have to buy suckers that are not adorned with Victoria Beckham's face.


2] Orbitz:


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This one I miss purely for aesthetics. I have absolutely no memory of what these taste like. Apparently they came in a bunch of colors, but I only remember getting red and orange. These were the perfect drink for the easily amused kid, and I'm no exception. I remember getting excited passing them on the grocery shelves and begging my mom for it. It was like drinking a lava lamp and for whatever reason, that makes it appealing to me.


3] Pokemon Cards:


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Time for me to put on my bifocals and get my walker. But back in my day, there were only 150 Pokemon, do you hear me? And you memorized them ALL. What type did what damage, who evolved at what level. How do you do math? No idea. But how do you evolve Pikachu? With a thunderstone. I clearly took away important things from elementary school. These cards were addictive, and if you had the hologram cards? You owned the playground and could name your price. I still have some of mine, but I miss my sleeves full of them.


4] Gel Pens:


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Okay, so gel pens (or milky pens) were the nine year old equivalency of having cigarettes in a jail. You traded them for things. Sometimes you traded for other pens, if they were prettier or swirled or something. Sometimes you stacked six gel pens in order to get something better than a pen, like pudding or a homework pass. The bigger your pen case, the bigger a stud you were in the class room. And if they had glitter in the ink and had the corresponding black paper? Fugettabout it. You were the queen, and Beyonce would have NOTHING on you, girl.


5] Beanie Babies:


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I collected them. Like everyone else on the globe. Hell, I still buy them now and again. We all thought we would pay for our college tuitions with them, though my Sallie Mae account balances determines that that is a lie. I was obsessed with the bears, like The Beginning and The End. Charge $5 and nobody panics. Give them away for free with a Happy Meal and everyone loses their minds! I remember driving to Mickey D's in other states to find them all. They were also great tools of bribery. If my mom bribed me to go shopping with a Beanie Baby, my ass was in that car SO FAST.


6] Mini Poptarts:


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I don't mean these 100 calorie pack of Poptart crisps nonsense where you have to eat a whole box to feel like you ate a snack. I mean the mini, full fat, full frosting Poptarts, just smaller. Breakfast, snack, lunch. It did not and does not matter. They were bite size and frosted and delicious and honestly not a grocery trip goes by where I am not really, really bitter that they're discontinued. Poptart, if you see this, please bring them back, in Wild Berry.


7] 3D Doritos:


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Same boat as the Poptarts listed above. These snacks were heavily flavored, inflated, and hollowed Doritos and they were glorious. You could even get them in these neat little plastic Thermos-like containers that protected the delicate crisps on road trips or when you were out camping. We used to get these at gas stations when we went on vacation, and the only acceptable way to eat them was to gently "pop" them against the roof of your mouth with your tongue. Doritos, please, bring these back in a flavor that isn't spicy. Xoxo.


8] Wonderballs:


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These were the best things ever, until stupid children started choking and ruined the fun for everyone. I am envious that Europe is able to have Kindereggs. These were hollow milk chocolate orbs that were filled with a toy or small candies. They usually had a Nickelodeon or a Disney prize in them, and if I'm not mistaken they came with a sticker too. (God, we really did love stickers...) I still have a tiny little plastic Pegasus from Disney's Hercules on my desk from one of these babies. We can have guns, but not plastic ponies. Priorities, y'all.


9] Nano Baby:


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I didn't have a Tomagatchi. I had the slightly bootleg equivalent, the Nano Baby- a digital pet you had to keep alive. They cried. They pooped. They begged. They died, and it played really, really depressing funeral music when they did so. These taught us responsibility and showed my generation just how not ready for parenthood we will ever be because life is fragile and I am a monster, because I killed so many pixels. These were the in-class distraction before cell phones and texting, and if you didn't cry the first time you killed your pet, you're lying.


10] Game Boy Color:


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Yessssss Game Boy Color. I had a pink one and it was awesome. Whether you played Super Mario Brothers, Conker, or Pokemon Red or Blue, these were the best things ever. I regret giving mine away and as an adult of 23, I STILL have this (and a N64) on my Christmas list. Some things never change, eh? The worst was trying to play it at night in the car on the way home from a trip or a holiday by the light of passing streetlamps. These babies weren't back lit, and if you were in the middle of nowhere? No digital battles for you.


11] Lisa Frank:


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NEON ALL OF THE THINGS. Pencils, notebooks, folders, birthday parties, erasers, posters, stuffies, backpacks. I STILL have an obsession. No, seriously. I have Lisa Frank spirals, folders, erasers, and nail polishes in my room as we speak. By the way lovely readers, they still sell merchandise and now even offer them in ADULT SIZES so you never have to grow up again. They're in the process of making adult size bed sheets and stuff, but their flip flops are available now in your size. The cutest picture? Casey and Candy sharing an ice cream sundae. Obviously.


12] Hit Clips:


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The original mp3 player. These were little chips that played about a minute of song. You had to buy them all separate, and they didn't play full songs, so you got to learn ONE verse really, really well. You couldn't control the volume, it blasted in your ear hole at only one level: apocalypse loud. Eventually they came out with the boombox, so you could play them out loud and not just through the earbud attached to the player. This was one of those "what a time to be alive!" type moments. How did a tiny chip play MUSIC? NSYNC, Britney Spears, and Sugar Ray all blessed my collection. Humblebrag- I had the best collection of these in my class.



Runners up: Harry Potter books, Warheads, plastic choker necklaces, green ketchup, press on earring stickers and crispy M&M's (they're back, bitches!)

So that's what would be in my nostalgic crate. What about you? Are you a 90s ish kid like me who misses the glory days of Oreo O's cereal? And 80s kid who misses Razzles and Popples? Comment below.

And be sure to check out ManCrates.com. They are seriously the best, and there's something there for everyone.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: A Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets by George Greenstein



Title: The Jewish Baker's Pastry Secrets: The Art of Baking Your Own Babka, Danish, Sticky Buns, Strudels and More

Author: George Greenstein

Format: egalley

Pub. Date: April 1st 2009

Source: Ten Speen Press



Book Description via Goodreads:



Draws out master dough recipes for bundt, babka, strudel, gugelhopf, stollen, pressburger, puff pastry, and Danish into more than 200 recipes and variations for pastries (Napoleons), coffee cakes, sweet buns (Cinnamon Babka, Sticky Buns), and miniature pastries (Triple Chocolate Rugelach). This title features step-by-step line illustrations.






Review:


★★

I was really excited to get this book, because I love baking and I especially love some of the dishes most associated with Jewish cuisine, like babka. Unfortunately, this book let me down and isn't what I look for in a cook book.

It starts off with an introduction, a list of ingredients and tools, and a section for basic pastry components such as different kinds of fillings and doughs. These are pretty well thought out and useful, especially if one isn't a big baker in their usual kitchen.

The book includes sections like bundt, babka, bread, and Danish pastries, making it a bit difficult to navigate at times if a pastry could be listed on more than one section. There is a nice history throughout the text, and the author makes nice personal connections to the recipes that are included, which makes it a bit nicer to read. The recipes leave a lot of room for varieties and substitutions. There are long, detailed paragraph instructions that get muddled and a bit hard to follow, as they could be a bit more concise.

The ultimate downfall for me is that there are no pictures. None. Not even a little bit. For some of these techniques that aren't necessarily common for every day baking, pictures are crucial for me. It brought down the entire ease and tone of the book because without pictures, it seems more like an instruction manual and less like a cookbook. Had I known this fact, I wouldn't have gotten the book at all.

That being said, there are still some recipes from this book that I would like to try in the future. Some of them include Babka with Three Chocolates, Cherry Strudel, and Raspberry Bow Ties.

All in all, I think this isn't for beginners. You need confidence and skill to not depend on pictures in order to try new things. The recipes are pretty standard, and the instructions could be broken down a bit more. It's an okay book, but I don't plan to keep it in my kitchen.

I received a copy in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl



Title: This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl

Author: Esther Earl, Lori Earl, Wayne Earl, John Green

Format: Hardcover, 431 pages

Pub. Date: January 28th 2014

Source: Purchased from Half Price Books



Book Description via Goodreads:



A collection of the journals, fiction, letters, and sketches of the late Esther Grace Earl, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 16. Photographs and essays by family and friends will help to tell Esther’s story along with an introduction by award-winning author John Green who dedicated his #1 bestselling novel The Fault in Our Stars to her.






Review:


★★★

I'm left not really knowing what to say about this book, if I'm being completely honest. I am going to keep this review as simple as I can, while still giving my opinion on the book itself not the topic of the book.

Like a lot of other readers, I picked this up after reading The Fault in Our Stars. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I'm not a part of the Nerdfighter community, so I had little to no information about Esther prior to this book's release. When I realized what the story was about, and saw that it was prefaced by John Green, I knew I wanted to read it.

This hardcover is really, really long. However it's not that much text. There's a lot of pictures and transcripts taken in letter or email format, making it an easier read than it appears to be. I do think it was very poorly organized as a book. This book includes a lot of Esther's writings from her journals, letters, and internet happenings. But there's no real chapters or distinctions, so one minute you're on a diary page, and the next you're reading insight from one of her doctors. I also feel like this book dragged on longer than it needed to. I feel horrible saying that, but it was just kind of boring after awhile. I know how that sounds, and I'm so sorry, but it's true. Esther was also a very religious/spiritual person, and there's heavy doses of God in this book. That's nowhere near a bad thing, but it's not something I anticipated going into the book.

Honestly, Esther seems like she was a great person. She comes off as very kind and optimistic, and everyone certainly seemed to love her right until the end. And I think that's great that, as the title suggests, their star won't go out. I hope she inspires sick kids everywhere to be positive and to keep fighting and keep smiling.

I've read quite a few cancer memoirs, and because of that I can't say this book really taught me anything. That said, it was interesting to see cancer through a kid's perspective. Sad, of course. But interesting nonetheless.

I think that this book (already does) will gain lots of fans who will find inspiration and solace in the words and life of Esther Earl. I think it is worth reading once. However, I don't think I will be rereading it in the future, and I don't know that I will remember this book further down the road.

It's not you, book. It's me.