Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bananas for Bananas!

I am nuts about fruit this summer. I cannot get enough of it--so much so that I've started having to limit my fruit intake slightly, since I think I'm actually eating too much sugar from it! I mean it, bowls of cherries, fresh apples, peaches, plums...I even started to like kiwi. And bananas, oh bananas. The sweet, meaty fruit that's so good for baking. I'm an addict, I can't help it. 

Yesterday, I had a delicious, banana food-filled day, starting with these single serve banana pancakes. 

I combined:

1/3 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 a banana (of course, I ate the other half)
1/4 c. almond milk
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
A dash of vanilla extract
A dash of cinnamon

I mixed it all up, and got two large, sweet, delicious pancakes from the mix. I enjoyed them with a small pad of butter and some cool whip free. 

After that, I made this healthy, vegan twist on banana bread. I adapted the recipe I found on one of my new favorite blogs, Rabbit Food for my Bunny Teeth. It was my first attempt at cooking with ground flaxseed, and I'm calling it a successful one!

2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. very ripe mashed bananas
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (I was very generous with this)
2 tbsp. ground flaxseed meal + 6 tbsp. water
1/4 c. almond milk

In a small bowl, combine the flaxseed and water, mixing occasionally until it has formed a thick, gooey substance.

In another small bowl, mash bananas and almond milk together. Here, I added a packet of Splenda, because my bananas were not as ripe as they should have been, and therefore not as sweet. You could eliminate this step if your bananas are a nice ripe brown.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and then pour in the wet. Mix everything together, and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 300* for 45 minutes to an hour, cool, and enjoy!

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

I was thoroughly creeped out by this book. Don't worry--I'm pretty sure that was the intention.

I've been hearing rumblings about this book for a while (in the slightly moving walls of my mysterious old mansion--no, no, wait, thought I was in the Cavendish home...) and was waiting to get my hands on it. So imagine my excitement when I pawed through the Where's Waldo tote I landed at BEA and found an ARC in it. Wooo for a job that supports my habits!*

This middle-grade novel somehow combined all my favorite parts of stories like Matilda and The Stepford Wives with almost every creepy movie and scary story I watched or heard as a kid. It was excellent. It was extremely fast-paced, and really really scary, but still appropriately middle grade. I loved it. 

*In case I haven't mentioned it, I'm a firm believer that you should get a job that supports your habits, thus negating extra expenses. In high school, I got a job that got me free french fries. In college, free coffee. In my post-grad life, free books. And free coffee, and sometimes even free french fries, come to think of it. Mission accomplished.

Disney Cupcakes

Sometimes, things that actually make me really sad give me a good excuse to make some really cute cupcakes. One of my favorite people at work is leaving to go work for Disney. While obviously I'm really upset that she won't be working with us anymore, I of course took this as an excuse to make these adorable Mickey Mouse cupcakes.

I made vanilla bean cupcakes and topped them with a thin layer of oreo buttercream frosting (I had to do something with the center of all those oreo-turned-ears, so I combined it all with some butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder, and voila!). Then, I dipped each frosted cupcake into a bowl of oreo crumbs, and topped it with two oreos, trimmed down a bit to be proportional with the cupcake to look like Mickey Mouse's ears.

Here's the recipe for my fluffy vanilla bean cupcakes:

Ingredients :
1 1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. flour
1 1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk (I used vanilla almond milk, but any kind you like will do)
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (scraped vanilla bean would also work, although the paste is obviously much easier to work with)
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*
Mix wet and dry ingredients separately, combine.
Fill cupcake liners, or greased cupcake sheet, 2/3 full with batter.
Bake 18-20 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.

Vacation Reads

I picked up these lovely ARCs at BEA and was lucky enough to have them signed. I took them both with me on my vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina next weekend. Okay, okay, I finished The Diviners on my way down there. But Liar & Spy made for some excellent, light, middle grade beach reading.

I'd never read anything by Libba Bray before, which is a little hard to believe since I work in the YA world. I definitely plan to read more of her work, especially since I've been told The Diviners is a much different type of story from her usual. However, I loved this. It was a little long and drawn out in parts, but for the most part incredibly intriguing and very unique. I was very impressed with her ability to write convincingly about life for young adults in 1920's New York City, and even more impressed that she seamlessly combined that with a powerful supernatural tale. Did I mention this book was scary? It was creepy as all hell. And trust me, Hell there was--a convincing depiction of the closest I can imagine to Hell on earth.

Admittedly, a little part of me wishes that this wasn't a series. It's not that I didn't love it, or that I won't read the next book--it's that I will. And this is no small novel, folks, it's a BIG book. Almost 600 pages. I read fast, I read a lot, but if each book in the series is this large, that's a big chunk of my life to devote to one series. Not a bad gripe, though, right?

Can't wait to see this as a hardcover when it comes out. In case you didn't know, eyes really freak me out. But I still found this cover fascinating.

Then there was this touching, light-hearted little book by Newbery winner Rebecca Stead. I don't read a ton of middle grade--it's just not my preference, but when I do, this is what I want: the sorts of books that are reminiscent of Ramona Quimby: Age 8. This book was cute, funny, and realistic. At times, it was so real that it was even slightly sad, but at the end, the book was overwhelmingly...well, heartwarming.

Plus, the biggest bonus of this book, is that it actually hit the age it's aimed for right on the mark. I'd definitely hand this book to a nine year old (or a ten or eleven year old), and despite it being less than 200 pages, I wouldn't feel as if I were handing them anything dumbed down.

Oh yeah, and the vacation rocked, too. I only got a litttttle sunburned in my distraction with these wonderful books. ;)

Between the Lines

Jodi Picoult goes YA! I've been excited about this one for quite a while, since my YA-loving self has been reading Jodi Picoult since I actually was a young adult.

For this novel, Jodi teams up with her daughter, Samantha van Leer, for their take on the classic fairy tale. 

This book read a little young to me for the age group it was aimed toward (12 and up). It was a very quick, light read, and altogether enjoyable but by no means my favorite. The idea--what happens inside our favorite books after we close them--was creative, and the story well told, but the main characters fell a bit flat. The illustrations (not to be confused with the little clip arty silhouettes, which I found to make the book even more childish) were gorgeous and nicely paired with the colored text.*

Mostly, I hope Sammy keeps writing. Any novel at her age (she's a high school junior)--or at any age for that matter--is impressive, and I hope to see her storytelling grow and mature as she continues. Actually, I'd love to see her try her hand at screenwriting.

*How is it possible that this incredibly commercial YA novel is able to have multi-colored text and sell for roughly $15 and Hemingway's The Sound and the Fury--released now in color as he originally intended it--is going for $345? Grr. It's not that I don't see the value of one over the other, I'm just so sad that I can't afford the colored Hemingway.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Finally, I baked!

Guess what?

I’ve been baking.

Not one thing, not two…three things lately!

First, I went home last weekend for Colin’s graduation party. He’s getting old too fast. Or wait, that’s what he said about me. But he really is! I was so glad I got to go home and spend some time celebrating with him and the rest of my family.

The day before the party, my mom panicked a little (of course) that she wouldn’t have enough food. That’s happened to her exactly once in my recollection, but now I think it’s always in her head and she can’t relax until she knows she’ll have more than enough (or in the case of this party, way more than enough). Anyway, she asked if I would make some cookies to go along with the huge cake, so I made a batch of oatmeal peanut butter cookies. The result: super moist and super delicious.

When I returned to the city, I knew there was much more baking in store for me, since last week was birthday week! My roommate and two of my coworkers were celebrating, and I had promised baked goods all around.

First, Snicker’s inspired cheesecake for my roommate:

The cheesecake had a graham cracker crust (which admittedly I slacked on and bought instead of making—but you know I usually do!), and then a lightly caramel-flavored and very creamy cake. I topped it off with a layer of walnuts covered in chocolate fudge. Seeing as it’s almost gone, I think she liked it!

My third creation was also by request, chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting:

I jump at the chance to make chocolate cake whenever anyone asks me, which is funny because I don’t really love chocolate cake. You can find my recipe (or at least the one I use as my base, usually with minor adjustments depending on my mood) here. But what I was really excited for was the frosting on these puppies. And it turned out deeeeelicious. Too delicious. I ate way too much of it whilst baking (and I’ve been so good lately!).

Here’s how I made that:
½ c. butter, just barely softened
4(ish) c. powdered sugar
1 c. creamy peanut butter (but even as I type this I think crunchy may have been an interesting texture idea)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. milk (I used almond, because that’s what I keep on hand, but any kind will do)
Cream together, and voila! Tastes just like peanut butter…but so. much. naughtier.

The Shack

For the longest time, The Shack has been sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. Practically begging to be read, in fact.

My mom read this book a couple of years ago and strongly recommended it to me (no better way to put me off reading it, a trait I have in common with an amazing professor I once had). She’s even asked me a few times what I thought of it. My brother read it, too, and I’m pretty sure he got a lot out of it as well.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I picked up The Shack and read it. It was a quick read, just a couple of days of subway rides.

If you haven’t heard of The Shack…well, I’m not sure where you’ve been for much of the early two thousands. No, I’m totally kidding.  But really, here’s just a short snipit of background: After his young daughter is brutally murdered on a family camping trip (it’s a true story, and it’s my worst fear in so many ways. Needless to say, I didn’t handle this part of the book so well). Some time later, Mack receives a note in his mailbox summoning him back to the shack near the scene of the crime, and he returns, unsure of his exact intentions. While he is there, he meets God.  Most of the book commences from here, as do my thoughts on it:

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much I actually got out of the book, which surprised me given how many hold it in such high regard. I don’t know—something about reading about others’ reflections on their lives (like Mack’s, in the book) makes it tough for me to reflect on my own, or something like that. I guess I tend to get more out of books that don’t almost beg a personal reflection, as I felt this one did. For some reason, I felt like I was better able to connect with myself and my own beliefs and personal thoughts and things when reading a fictional piece than I was during my reading of this book. Weird? You decide.

Mack’s story was, however, touching. One thing I cannot say is whether I did or did not believe it. I can say with great certainty that whether or not the events within it are completely factual is in no way the point. Strangely, though, I also cannot say with any certainty whether I want the story to be factual. Of course, without question, I would want this story to be true for the sake of Mack and his emotional growth and well-being, and it obviously was true for him within his mind. But at least for me, stories giving any clear indication of what God is, or looks like, or feels like, or sounds like, or anything else, make me all the more uncertain of what might actually be true. I know, I know—the God in Mack’s story took several different shapes and felt several different ways, etc. etc. depending on what was being conveyed at any given moment.  Essentially, though, I suppose, I want my own story. One day, I have to believe that I’ll know what’s true one way or another (even if that something is, well, nothing). It’s not that I don’t think this story comes close, or is false, or anything at all about it actually. It’s just that it’s not mine—and until it is, I’m not sure how much I can take from it. Until then, I’ll continue questioning my own faith through the characters I often connect with best—the fictional ones.

Apologies for the ramble! 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

2-Minute Cake

Consider this what I plan to live on for the next several months. I have found it--the perfect summer dessert. Or snack. Tomato, tom-ah-toe. This mug cake is by far the most delicious thing I've eaten this past week, and it's not for lack of other yummy treats. It is also by far the easiest--and almost definitely the healthiest--thing I have baked in quite some time.  Oh, took me less than two minutes to make this. Literally.

Curious yet? I sprayed a mug with nonstick spray, then measured in 1/4 cup boxed angel food cake mix. Added 3 tablespoons of water, stirred, and popped this in the microwave for about a minute till my kitchen smelled of angel foody goodness.

That's it--really! Two minute cake. I added some Cool Whip Free (my other new favorite discovery of late), and some blueberries, and my gosh--delicious. Best of all, I used blueberries this time, but you can bet I'll be eating it with strawberries, blackberries, cherries...etc. for the rest of the summer.

I've made several other versions of mug cake in the past--coffee cake, chocolate and mocha cakes, vanilla pound cake, and more, but this one takes the cake (ha!) on ease, and quite possibly on deliciousness...although I can't say that with complete certainty (that pesky coffee cake memory just won't go away...).

In other news, I also got this adorable new print for over my stove, with this very fitting quote:

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." 
--C.S. Lewis


Even though, as I mentioned in a previous post, I missed the signing, I did get my hand on the follow up to Delirium, and finished it last weekend. 

I actually don't have a ton to say about this book. What was most interesting is that while the concept for the first book--love treated as a disease--was still semi-present in this novel, it was not nearly focused on as much. Moreover, I'm not entirely sure what I'd say was focused on in its place. In fact, not much happened in this book at all, despite the clear dramatic tone. I had my ups and downs with this book.

Some of the downs:
- The [at times] turtle's pace
- The protagonist's whininess (although sometimes I suppose that's somewhat necessary if YA is striving for any sense of realism)
- The inconsistency of section lengths. While I didn't realize this till I was dont reading, the last section or two was really long in comparison to the first sections, which made it tough to hold my attention

A few ups:
- The depictions of certain scenes. One scene in particular threatened to give me nightmares.
- Foreshadowing of key points

Nevertheless, the last page left me wanting more...but I suppose the whole book left me wanting just that...a little more.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Bachelection

I know the baking half of this blog has been sorely lacking these past couple of weeks, and I apologize. But the good news is, it's finally the season for fresh fruit, and I just can't get enough. I've been cooking up many many recipes in my head this week, and I can't wait to try them out. Be on the lookout--the plan is grocery shopping ASAP and all kinds of breads, cookies, and crumbles to come.

In the meantime, I've obviously been reading. Lately, my reading list works something like this: finish last page of one book, deep breath, brief time for reflection, look around, grab nearest book in sight and begin reading. It's may not be the most scientific of processes, nor is it helping me to work my way through my long long "to read" list, but it's given me some interesting titles.

Most recently, that process led me to The Selection.

I loved the concept of this quick YA read. Basically, it's The Bachelor version of a futuristic dystopian world (or, in other words, the genre YA lit today can't seem to get enough of, mixed with a new unique concept). I actually watched the most recent finale of The Bachelor. Yep, I sat for an hour (or was it two? Oh, God.), and stewed in what a strange concept it is for these women to drop everything to surround an attractive guy as everyone searches for love. Ideally, the lucky bachelor falls in love with one--or, as the ratings will have it, many!--of these women, and chooses one to whom he proposes in the finale, and the two live happily ever after, so long as they both should...remain in the spotlight, it seems. And then they may or may not get a divorce. Actually, the kicker to me is that while the guy hopes to fall in love with at least one of the woman, the women are all expected to be in love with him. But, I digress. Obviously, The Bachelor itself is a really disturbing concept to me on many levels, so I knew this would be an interesting read since, ideally, it would bring many of the issues with these sorts of forced courtships to the surface.

In The Selection, America Singer and thirty four other women are given the opportunity to head off to the royal palace from their homes (be they rich or for poor) to compete for the heart of Prince Maxon and, ultimately, his hand in marriage. For even the richest of the girls, this means a huge step up the social ladder, but America doesn't want any of it--her heart is already taken, and she knows a life of royalty with Maxon isn't the life for her. Or so she thinks...

For me, the best part of this book was sadly, as I find it to be in so many of these types of novels, the concept. That being said, it was a very quick read, and I stayed wrapped up in the concept throughout. Worth a read, if you're still looking for interesting takes on the dystopian genre.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pretty Please (With Frosting On Top)

I'm terribly sorry, forgive me please. Pretty please? With sugar on top? What about with frosting on top?

A couple of weeks ago, I made 70+ cupcakes and 60+ cookies for my boss's baby showers (personal and at-work showers). She chose the cupcake flavors, of course: vanilla bean pound cake with pink vanilla buttercream icing (the ones pictured above) and maraschino cherry with white vanilla buttercream. I baked them all in these adorable animal print liners to go along with her safari themed shower, and although I don't have a picture of it, she added super cute animal toppers, much like (if not exactly) the ones pictured here.

For the work shower, I made chocolate chip cookies, using my old faithful recipe but swapping in pink M&M's in two different shades for a little pizzaz. Gotta love that M&M's World, complete with their separated-by-color collection, is on my way home(ish) from work...even if it means braving Times Square at rush hour.

Obviously I haven't blogged in a while, but in that time I was able to read Insurgent, the much awaited (okay, okay, I didn't actually have to wait all that long, but I was late to the party!) sequel to Divergent.

I found the book to be just as fast-paced as it's predecessor, incredibly well thought-out, exciting and well written. I still identified (maybe a little too much) with Tris, and I once again turned the pages as quickly as I could as I tried to find out how her story would turn out. I cried (you caught me). And best of all, it turns out I wasn't just infatuated with this book as a concept...or maybe I was, but I was still in love with it when I put the second book down (and that's saying something). My only true gripe is probably one of the best complaints a book can receive from me: "But what happens neeeext?1"

Ms. Roth herself, much as her talent at only a few years older than myself both (self-loathingly) saddens me and intimidates me, was also wonderful. Hearing her speak and read a passage from the book was a great opportunity, both in the way that meeting authors I love always is and also in how genuine she was. I have mentioned many times how much I love the idea of becoming obsessed with one idea and letting it take root* until it grows into that sort of all-consuming story that those of us who love books wait for: that's Harry Potter in a nutshell. Divergent and Insurgent were sort of like that for me, and so meeting their creator I was kind of in awe.

I had been meaning to read this next book for some time for two reasons:

1. It is contemporary. Well, if not set exactly contemporary, it is at the very least not set in the dystopian future that is surely coming our way, if the YA authors of this generation have anything to say about it.
2. It is this year's Newbery Medal winner.

In one scene within the book, Jack is smelling books. To his friend Bunny, he comes off a little bit crazy, but call me crazy for agreeing with him...

"'I love to sniff the insides of books,' I said in a whisper. 'Because each book has its own special perfume.'" (Gantos 238)

Congratulations, Jack Gantos on the Newbery win!

*I'd also like to mention that the cover of Insurgent, on top of being absolutely gorgeous, represents this idea stunningly. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

World Book Night

April 23 is World Book Night in the U.S., the UK and Ireland. Essentially, it is a celebration and a promotion of literature that encourages people to go out into their communities and give out one of thirty designated World Book Night titles.

After applying to be a giver a couple of months ago, I picked up my box at Barnes and Noble last week. The application process allows givers to rank their top three title choices, and I ended up with my first choice (woohoo!) The Book Thief. Each giver box contained twenty copies of the giver's chosen book, to pass out ideally to people who are not big readers already.

I planned to pass out my copies at the train station in my neighborhood. It's always super busy, but I am always surprised by the few people reading.

This morning, admittedly, I started to panic a little. To do this, I would have to approach people I did not know and try to convince them that I'm not crazy quickly enough for them to take a book from me. It involved a serious level of commitment and courage that I hadn't thought through completely. The morning...was rough. On my way to work, I passed out exactly seven books on the train platform.

In all honesty, I probably only tried to pass out about twelve books during the morning. After work, I got serious. With a little more confidence, I was able to pass out twelve books with relative ease. Here are my favorite moments:

1. When I finally convinced an older woman on the train to take a book from me, at which point she opened it and started reading immediately, not taking her eyes off it until sometime after I got off the train later. "It's free? Really? Thank you!"

2. When I walked off the platform armed with only a few more books, and a woman tried to hand me this coupon for a salon. One thing that I think made it so difficult to pass out books in NY is that everyone's always handing you things you don't want--why would people think this book was any different? But today, when this girl tried to hand me a coupon, I smiled right back at her and said, "I'll trade you!" And we did.

3. To give away my last few books, I stopped at the bus stop near my apartment and said, "Excuse me, would anyone like a free book to read on the bus? It's a good book!" The very first person to answer, immediately and without hesitation, was a boy who looked somewhere around eleven or twelve. Who says kids these days don't want to read?

After my very successful afternoon of playing Santa, I had just one book left, and I knew just what to do with it.  Laundry was at the top of my to-do list this evening, and I decided I wanted to leave my last copy at my Laundromat for someone to pick up and enjoy. Rather than seek out one person in particular to give it to, I hope whoever finds it picks it up and starts reading and maybe even leaves it there when they finish, or passes it on to another person.

What a wonderfully unique and strangely rewarding experience. See you next year, World Book Night!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Land of Decoration

I love love love children's books. I love picture books, and a large chunk of my heart went out long ago to young adult fiction. It's a large part of what makes my job so wonderful. But every once in a while, I need to break up the children's books with something "for people my age," (although that sounds pretty silly, since I think I usually learn just as much reading the titles meant for a younger demographic). My most recent pick for adult novel was this lovely book:

Recently, I believe on, I saw a poll wondering how important blurbs were in a person's desire to read a book. I thought a lot about that question, and I suppose I tend to take them to be of about as high importance as the opinions of my peers. That being said, some people's opinions carry more weight than others. The blurb on the front of The Land of Decoration, from Emma Donoghue, carried a lot of weight for me and definitely influenced how quickly the book made it to the top of my to-read list.*

"This extraordinary tale...grabbed me by the throat." --Emma Donoghue, author of Room

I've blogged about my love for Room, which itself was an extraordinary tale, and I believe that post mentioned that I've read some of Emma Donoghue's other writing and also loved it. I hoped The Land of Decoration would be somehow reminiscent of Room, and I got my wish.

I almost always enjoy narratives written from a child's perspective, especially those that are done well. Grace McCleen was very successful in writing this simple, unique story from ten-year-old Judith McPherson's point of view. At times, I felt that perhaps the voice was a little old for a ten-year-old, but Grace always justified the voice and tone by reminding me that Judith was old for year years. As she delved deeper and deeper into Judith's troubles at school and in the community thanks to her strict religious upbringing in preparation for Armageddon, entering Judith's world became simultaneously easier and all the more imperative. The book was an elegantly crafted story of a young girl's innocence and naivety, as well as her relationship with her father, alongside her struggle to understand all that comes along with growing up and finding oneself. It's been a long time since I read something like this, and as soon as I was completely absorbed, I could not put it down.

*The arrangement of my to-read list, in case anyone is curious, can range from very structured to incredibly haphazard. Books often jump ahead of one another with no rhyme or reason, while others finally make it to the top after a long battle and daily reminders of the fact that they're classics and demand to be read.

Like Meeting the Queen

I think I can die happy. This past Tuesday, I came face to face -- and even exchanged words with -- the Julie Andrews.

Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton were at Books of Wonder on April 17 to sign their latest Very Fairy Princess book and so of course, it was imperative that I be there. In the last two hours of my work day, I could hardly sit still knowing that Julie Andrews -- Maria von Trapp, Mary Poppins, Grandmère and the Queen of Genovia herself -- was sitting just five blocks away from me. 

My goodness she was wonderful. When I finally got off work, I raced to the bookstore, quickly bought my book and received my number, and anxiously browsed the shelves as I waited for my number to be called. 

Finally, #136 was called, and I got in line with several others, including several women near tears with sheer anticipation of meeting one of the most iconic women in the country (is it safe to say world?). I did not cry, but I did shake for at least an hour following the signing. 

Need I say more? Oh yeah, the book is really cute, too.

Dystopia, Dystopia

I took a trip to Boston last weekend with some friends and spent the entire time realizing over and over again how happy I am with how things are going in my life. In fact, one of the only things that could have made this weekend better would have been the ability to clone myself so as to attend Lauren Oliver's Pandemonium signing at Books of Wonder. The trip was so amazing that it was totally worth it, but I was sad to miss out nonetheless.

Last week, I read my first Lauren Oliver novel, Delirium. The concept intrigued me from the very first page: love is a disease.

I thought this futuristic, dystopian YA novel was well executed, despite some small world-building issues, and I am definitely invested enough to pick up Pandemonium, the second book in the series, sometime soon.

What I really can't wait for is the release of Insurgent, Veronica Roth's followup to Divergent, which I also read last week.

As my roommate set this novel down in my room, she said, "Here. it."

Tough claim. Im not so good with letting things live up to the hype. When Napoleon Dynamite came out in high school, and everyone was walking around quoting it almost daily, I believe it took me until an entire year later to even see it...and even then, I wasn't a fan. I just couldn't find it funny after everyone had made such a big deal out of all the jokes. Divergent spent many many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and if that weren't enough it's also one of my roommate's favorites. But somehow, it still held up to the hype. The characters were very well built, and the world was very well-built (or in this case, more like well-rearranged). I specifically appreciated that the novel was set in Chicago rather than New York as so many dystopian novels are these days. Of course, the novel wasn't flawless, and I thought the ending was a little rushed, but then again, when I'm excited and intrigued by the plot, I tend to rush my reading of the ending as well. 

On May 1, Veronica Roth is signing her second book, Insurgent, at the Tribeca B&N, and I can't wait to be there. Since I am sometimes the luckiest little reader you ever did meet, I've already got my hands on Insurgent and am flying through it, but you can bet I'll be there with bells on to meet Veronica and see what she has to say about it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


This book has been getting a ton of press and has advertisements everywhere--effective ones, to be honest, since last week I finally couldn't take it anymore and stopped at B&N for it on my way home from work. Wonder by R.J. Palacio reminded me a bit of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper in one major way (and other than in that way, really not at all). It wasn't that exactly the fact that August, the main character, had a disease that made his lifestyle different than others, like Kate's in My Sister's Keeper. It was that while both books did feature a kid with a different lifestyle due to one medical reason or another, neither book was really about that. August was born with a genetic disorder resulting in a craniofacial abnormality--something that in describing this book before reading it I called a deformity but that now I cannot bring myself to (the idea that Auggie wouldn't like it nags at me, although I'm sure he would no less prefer "abnormality"). But the book wasn't about that...or it was about his difference only so much as we the audience noticed it along with everyone else around him. Really, it was about a kid in middle school, and all the drama that always goes along with that. Oh yeah, and some great friends he made along the way.

When I read about this book, I expected it to be young adult (so you can imagine my frustration wandering around the bookstore), but it's actually middle grade. It makes perfect sense that this book about a fifth grader would be aimed at ages eight and up, but I don't think I had quite enough time to process the implications of this being a middle grade novel between finding out and actually starting to read it. That being said, one of the only things I did not love about this book was the neat little package I was left with at the end. It's not that I don't want  my beloved characters to end up happy, but I do love books that mirror reality, no matter how complicated or awful it might be. It's why I love a spot on young adult novel, and it's what I knew this novel couldn't do.

Now a few things I did love about it. The voice, or voices rather, was spot on. Each of the many first person sections was unique and appropriate for the age the author represented in the passage. In fact, one of my favorite parts was a series of emails among parents at August's school, in which the tone drastically, age-appropriately shifted from a young person's voice to an adult's. With that, I also loved that Auggie's fifth grade voice never sounded too childlike, or worse, unintelligent. Often I feel that in attempting to act as a child, adult authors tend not to give them enough credit, but that was certainly not the case here. 

All things considered, I liked this book very much, and since i could not seem to put it down, I finished it in about twenty-four hours but have been thinking about it for several days since. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jeanette Winterson

Living in New York, I now have the opportunity to easily attend hundreds of book signings as authors tour their latest titles. I've always found it amazing to hear authors read their work aloud, so I love attending these types of events and do it as often as possible, especially for authors whose work I particularly enjoy. In fact, last night I made compiled a list of all the readings taking place over the next couple of months so that I don't accidentally miss any more (the night I missed the cast of The Hunger Games less than five minutes from work was particularly painful).

 Anyway, as I said, I love hearing authors read their work aloud, as I feel that often it can give me a better sense of the tone they intended to convey through their writing. For Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, I found this to be particularly important.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to Jeanette Winterson's writing through a course called "Queer Plots" my junior year, where I read her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. When I saw that she had written a memoir and would be doing a reading at McNally Jackson, I was so excited. I went, of course; I laughed, I nearly cried. I didn't faint (although one woman did! It was really hot in there!), I bought the book, braved the line, and nervously thanked Jeanette for reading as she thanked me for coming and signed my book.

Before the reading, an employee came into the children's section a few feet from where I was standing, leading a small, older woman behind her, looking for a stool. Not seeing any stools or chairs in the crowded basement of the store, the woman declared, "We'll take the mushrooms!" and picked up a large wooden mushroom from the children's toy reading house and made her way to the front of the crowd. The woman, Jeanette Winterson, put the mushroom down and stood on top of it, where she began to speak. It was not the last hilarious thing she did, but it was a mark of character. Many other authors might have demanded more of a "celebrity treatment," but Jeanette was more than content to stand atop the mushrooms and read; she said at the end that she wished she'd had them throughout the tour (New York was her last stop). The entire reading was wonderful. As I said, it was very hot, but I really did not want it to end. Luckily, when it eventually did, I bought the book and was able to come home and enjoy it a little longer. It was, without a doubt, the most honest memoir I have ever read. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal has been described as "witty," "fierce," "heartbreaking," "chatty," "moving," and "raw," but the best part of these reviews is that while they are all accurate, still none do it justice. "Powerful," might be the best catch-all, but I recommend you see for yourself.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why We Broke Up

We all have those things that come out of nowhere and affect us deeply: songs, movies, books, even people. When it happens, it's sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful, and often unnerving, but it's almost always life changing.

I am always reading something, and especially since moving to New York, it seems I'm reading everywhere: on the train, in the park, at work, at home, and everywhere in between. For the past couple of days, I've been reading this:

I'm not sure if I can explain how much this beautifully simple, illustrated young adult novel affected me, but I wanted to write about it here and give it a shot. This book has been given a mix of reviews on Amazon and GoodReads, and I suppose many of those giving it negative reviews make valid points. I'm not even here to offer a five star review (although if forced to assign a personal star count to it, I'm not sure I could in good consciousness give it any less), I'd just like to discuss my reading a little.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (perhaps better known as Lemony Snicket), is composed of Min's, a high school girl's, final letter to her ex-boyfriend, Ed, documenting the reasons they broke up as she gives him back the most meaningful keepsakes from their short relationship. Each section is exquisitely illustrated by Maira Kalman, adding further weight and beauty to each otherwise ordinary item Min returns. Really, that's the story in it's entirety. There isn't much else to say about the plot; no completely unforeseen element of the story arises in chapter seventeen, no major unexpected climax occurs in the last few pages. Nevertheless, I was heartbroken from the first moment the characters met. No, this would not, could not, be one of those books that defied expectations and allowed its title to be untrue. I loved this book. Loved it from page five (loved it from the cover, but never judge a...). So this could not be one of those books. It would stay realistic, heart wrenching, true, because the best books mirror real life. It was my story, Min's and Ed's, in so many ways. Their story was "different," as Ed so often told her it was. But it was the same, as all of our love stories are, though we would never admit it.

There isn't much more I can say about this book. I was moved, am moved, by it, in a strange, completely personal way that I haven't been by many other books lately. I have trouble boldly stating that the writing was a ten, because I was never focused on the writing. I didn't need to be, and maybe that's how I know it was wonderful. I can tell you that the illustrations were enough to pull me away from the plot at times, an impressive feat. The pages are glossy...yep, that's about my only complaint.

Cupcake Recap

I've been very bad about posting lately, even after the big redesign when I thought I'd finally start getting better again. Here I go trying promises, but I'll try!

For a recap on what's been baking around here, it's been cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes still. As I sit here typing this, however, I have to be careful not to drool on my keyboard in want of some simple, warm chocolate chip cookies. It's my lenten resolution, though, to eat a vegan diet on Mondays, and as I cannot be trusted to keep vegan within reaching distance of a bowl of cookie dough, alas, those will have to wait until tomorrow.

That being said, it's taking a good amount of willpower to stay away from the bag of frosting in my fridge that's leftover from these, my most favorite cupcakes...

These, though not as near to my heart in flavor, were also a nice St. Patrick's Day treat and a simple vanilla bean cake.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Now that Pages & Cakes is officially back up and running, you'll hopefully see a lot more from me in the coming weeks. While these pink cupcakes (which admittedly, I ate three of--grandma's maraschino cherry with a thick vanilla buttercream) might have to satisfy your sweet tooth for a few weeks while I take a trip to Boston and entertain my wonderful parents in the city, I'll be posting some book reviews soon.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm back [again]!

When I write my return posts on things like this, I'm always tempted to name the entry using some really cheesy song lyric or something. For example, this post could have been titled: "Ohmygod, we're back again!" But that seemed more fitting for a boy band tune (and where were the Backstreet Boys coming back from, exactly? Wasn't "Everybody" their first single?), so I refrained. I almost always do. You're welcome.

But really--I'm back to blogging again after my short hiatus, and I was so happy that so many of you wondered where Pages & Cakes had gone. Just down for some maintenance. I know it might not seem like much has changed, but it was a needed absence. More exciting changes to come in the coming weeks...for the blog that is. Perhaps the most exciting changes for me have already happened. For instance, look:

I've moved. New apartment, new job, it's a whole new life for me. And I'm loving every minute of it.

For the moment, I'm going to leave you with a few pictures of what I've been baking and reading for the last couple of weeks, but you can expect fuller posts from here on out. Bon apetite!

These blueberry scones were delicious--just my basic scone recipe which can be found in earlier posts (or by clicking scones on the side menu).

Un-birthday cupcakes for my new roommate, Nora's, birthday (which were made a few days in advance, hence the "unbirthday" title). Mm, how I love baking with Baileys.

After a couple weeks of reading YA (love, love, love), I snuggled up one morning with another old love...oh, Brontë, how I'd missed you.

And finally, lemon cupcakes with a blueberry puree frosting. So yummy and fresh in the midst of a New York City winter.