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HAPPY THURSDAY!

We’re almost there!!!

The meat of today’s post is a review for the May Peanut Butter Fingers Book club book, hosted by the blog’s mastermind Julie!

I absolutely adore Peanut Butter Fingers—Julie has a positive, balanced outlook on life that is rare to come by these days, and her site is truly a wealth of food/fitness/mental health knowledge!

Fair warning: This is a wordy review. If that’s not your thang, go ahead and scroll on down to the gem at bottom :).

Synopsis: on the day she was abducted, Annie O’Sullivan, a thirty-two-year-old Realtor, had three goals: sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever-patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she’s about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all. Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent captive in a remote mountain cabin — which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist — is a second narrative recounting the nightmare that follows her escape: her struggle to piece her shattered life back together, the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor, and the disturbing sense that things are far from over. The truth doesn’t always set you free. Still Missing is a shocking, visceral, brutal, and beautifully crafted debut novel about surviving the unsurvivable — and living to bear witness. (Source)

 I hate to be a Negative Nancy two reviews back to back, but the above description, though technically accurate, makes this book out to be way more glamorous than it actually is.  Like Sarah’s Key, there are two stories running in Still Missing, and I felt differently towards but equally disappointed by both.

The primary narrative takes place through a hokey construction of conversations with her anonymous therapist. I assume that the author intended this as a way to follow Annie’s recovery from a uniquely personal point of view. Unfortunately, it did nothing for me, except to add another character with an ill-defined role into the mix.

Annie’s pre-abduction boyfriend Luke and best friend Christina begin as promising antidotes to her relentless negativity. But the undercurrent of competitiveness between Annie and Christina isn’t convincingly absolved by their cheap declarations of friendship in the last chapter. Luke is promoted as her “rock” throughout the novel, and then she ditches him at the end to pursue a sickly Freudian relationship with the silver-haired officer that solves her case?!

And her mother—oh, her mother—is such a painful caricature from the very beginning, that I could barely muster an eye-roll when she is eventually pegged as the mastermind behind her daughter’s abduction.

Stevens tries to make Annie’s struggle to regain her life poignant, with moments such as the following:

 “There are all these books that say we create our own destiny and what we believe is what we manifest. You’re supposed to walk around with this perpetual bubble over your head thinking happy thoughts and then everything is going to be sunshine and roses. Nope, sorry, don’t think so. You can be as happy as you’ve ever been in your life, and shit is still going to happen.”

Suspending my personal opinions on the matter, I might have found this credible, if Annie were presented to us as ever having been a positive person. You get the sense that she’s, well, always been a sourpuss! Even before the death of her father and sister, Annie admits that she was the shadow behind her happy-go-lucky sister.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but the bottom line is, I wasn’t on Annie’s side from page one. And I happen to believe very strongly that positivity begets positivity, which isn’t to say that terrible things don’t happen to good people—they sure do. However, I am convinced that maintaining a hopeful mindset through the tough times does, in fact, make them easier and help to breed happiness out of them.

Now, regarding the other narrative that takes place in this book—the grotesquely exhaustive account of Annie’s abduction…

Honestly, as a curious human being, I was riveted by the dirty details in a car-crash-can’t-close-my-eyes sort of way. But, other than to quicken my commute for several days, the dark, meticulous narrative did not help me to understand Annie’s “deeper” struggles.  In fact, I think the extensive detail takes away from the (intended) seriousness of her recovery, as the reader can only focus on what act is next in the “Freak’s” carnival show.

Perhaps I need not say it, but I would not recommend this book. Even for the thriller aspects of it. This is simply because I cannot promote  a book that calls to and indulges our basest instincts without some sort of redeeming quality.

Now, to quickly lighten things before you vow never to return to my blog—may I share with you the INCREDIBLE recipe that I whipped up last night?!

I had a ton of basil leftover from my Basil-Peach Chicken Breasts, and pesto immediately sprung to mind as a way to use it. However, I reaaally didn’t want to have to buy anything else! Using the magic that is Tastespotting.com, I found the perfect solution:

Almond-Basil Pesto:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup ground almonds
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • scant 1/4 tsp salt
  • plain unsalted almond butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • juice of 1/4 – 1/2 a lemon

Instructions: Skin and squash the garlic. Add everything except the oil into a food processor and process until a green mush forms. Scrape down once and add your olive oil. Blitz again until oil is fully incorporated. I like my pesto chunky and not super-oily, but feel free to continue to add oil and run machine until you reach your desired consistency.

Voila!

I had a feeling that this stuff would be good, but nothing could have prepared me for just how absurdly delicious it is! The almonds/almond butter provide a creaminess that I worried might be missing without Parmesan cheese. I am a pesto-fanatic in general, but I think this combination might be my favorite yet.

I couldn’t resist adding a blob to my basil-peach chicken last night, but it would also be fabulous on fish, vegetables, crackers, or mixed with a bit of extra olive oil and tossed into couscous or salad greens. Frankly—it’s tasty enough to have been be eaten by the spoonful!

I hope this recipe has redeemed me every so slightly from my scathing review above. Trust me though, just as you KNOW when I like a food, you will hear equally lavish praise when I adore a book.

Have a lovely night, all!

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Happy What I Ate Wednesday!

[Click on the WIAW logo to read more about it!]

For the first time since I began participating in WIAW, I was able to complete an entire post ON the appropriate day! Small victories :).

I wish I were presenting a never-before-seen smorgasbord of new and exciting eats, but the truth is I am quite a creature of habit, and I promised myself before beginning this blog that I wouldn’t change anything about my habits for the purpose of entertainment.

So here goes!

Whole wheat English muffin with Justin’s Maple Almond Butter! Plain Chobani with Splenda, cinnamon and bloobs

Anyone else squish their English muffin halves together so you get thicker, doughier bites? Or do you eat yours half by half?

1/2 Coconut Cherry Pie Larabar...again unpictured. These are honestly so flippin’ good. I’m almost done with the batch and can’t wait to try a making a new flavor!

Sandwich Queen strikes again with Tuna Salad on Toasted Rye. Unpictured bowl of Veggies and balsamic!

Square o’ this amazing chocolate bar. Chewy banana bits mmm.

Mixed fruit fix–this is yesterday’s pic, but today was a Fraternal Tweat 🙂

PB and Happy Herberts Oatbran Pretzels. Always does the trick.

Peanut Butter? I don’t hate it.

Absolutely unreal dinner; toasted Great Harvest 9-grain bread, two fried eggs, Healthy Alfredo Sauce used as a spread; Gruyere cheese melted on top. Start me up I’ll never stop.

Wanna catch that melting Gruyere on my tongue like a raindrop.

Sida steamed veggies drizzled in tomato-basil dressing and hot pepper flakes

Leftover Chocolate 1-2-3 Cake with frozen banana chunks and Justin’s Chocolate-Hazelnut butttteerrrr

Phew! Great day of deliciousness.

So, now that you’ve seen what’s in my belly, let’s take a look at what’s goin’ on in my mind!

I recently finished  Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, a book-turned-movie that I picked up upon recommendation from The Book Thief crew.

Synopsis:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.

Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.

[Preface: I recognize that I am somewhat of a harsh critic, and that I am going against the grain with this review. Gotta shoot ya straight though! I would say that I enjoy and am entertained by most books that I read, but I rarely love a book and imagine myself reading it again one day.]

I actually have been fighting myself a bit regarding this review, but I think the plain and simple answer is that have mixed feelings about the book.

Judging this book in the wake of The Book Thief, I can’t help but compare the two. In my opinion, The Book Thief is written with an honesty and a depth of exploration into its characters that I rarely come across in novels. I think this is due in large part to the choice of Death as narrator, which is not only a difficult trope that the author nails, but it allows for a roundness of perspective that I did not find in Sarah’s Key.

Reading  The Book Thief, I was well aware that even the “good” characters struggled with “bad” thoughts and choices–the grayness of their humanity was evident. In Sarah’s Key, the characters are far more one-dimensional. Both Sarah and Julia are true to and essentially unwavering with their goals from beginning to end–they’re fighters, heroines. I accepted this easily enough for Sarah, with her childhood innocence and clear, righteous purpose to return to her brother. Yet with Julia, I’m not sure I even agree with her insistence on informing Sarah’s family of the “truth”–letting them know that the Tezac family never forgot Sarah’s suffering.

I found myself thinking Julia’s efforts a little selfish; a way to absolve some guilt that she had taken on for acts committed by her husband’s family. I kept thinking, “it’s really not your business–how do you know you’re doing them a favor by dredging up a painful past?” I’m embarrassed to admit, I nodded along when Julia’s sister-in-law spoke:

“What Julia did was pathetic. Bringing back the past is never a good idea, especially whatever happened during the war. No one wants to be reminded of that, nobody wants to think about that.”

Ultimately, I just didn’t see enough internal struggle in Julia about her weighty decisions to make her/them credible.

For the most part, I found the rest of the characters predictable and boring.  You know from the first few pages that Bertrand is a rogue–a playboy who doesn’t get her, doesn’t treat her right , and that they will end up splitting before the book is through. Zoe is consistently the elfin, wise-beyond-her-years daughter that parallels Sarah and guides Julia with her youthful clarity. Bertrand is stoic and noble on the surface, a teddy bear beneath.

However; despite my issues with the characters in Julia’s ribbon of the novel, I was impressed by the gut-wrenching story of Sarah’s experience. Many of the questions that Sarah raises are simple but profound.

“Why was this happening to her? What has she done, or her parents done, to deserve this? Why was being Jewish so dreadful? Why were Jews being treated like this?”

I think having characters (especially young ones) ask series’ of hypothetical questions can be a very powerful literary tool, and I found it poignant and effective in this novel.

I also appreciated how graphic De Rosnay is in her description of the round-up and the concentration camp. This is not a topic to sugar coat, and I was gripped by the rawness of her words. The callous truth? It made for a better novel.

Overall, I was engrossed and entertained by Sarah’s Key, but it did not leave a lasting impression. I would recommend it as an easy page-turner, but I wouldn’t suggest trying to look for much below the surface.

Have you read Sarah’s Key? What are your thoughts?

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This month,  I decided to participate in the Peanut Butter Fingers Book Club, created and organized by one of my favorite bloggers, Julie!

April’s choice was The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, and I loved having the incentive to read more carefully than usual, knowing that I would write a review and hopefully discuss with some readers?! [ALWAYS feel free to comment on my posts :)].

While we’re on the topic of Julie’s AWESOME blog, I recently completed a great new workout, which I modified slightly from one I found on Julie’s site.

Sweat AND Get Strong Combo Workout!

I did this 2x, using a mix of 8lb and 5lb weights, and then completed the strength portion a third time sans burpees. If you’re not sure WHAT THE HECK a burpee is, you can find a comprehensive description and video  here. I really loved the combination of strength and cardio in this routine, and it definitely got me huffin’ and puffin’!

Onto the review! First, a quick synopsis:

The Book Thief  is the story of Liesel, a German girl left with foster parents just before the outbreak of World War II. Along the way to her new home with her younger brother, he dies; after the funeral, Liesel steals The Gravedigger’s Handbook, though she cannot yet read. It’s only the first of what will become a series of book thefts. As she settles in with her harsh but caring foster mother, Rosa, and kind foster father, Hans, Liesel gets to know her poor neighborhood and learns to read. Her obsession with books grows as the war closes in, rationing is put in place, air raids begin, and Hans hides a Jewish man in the basement. Through it all, Death travels the Earth, taking in more and more souls every day.” (Common Sense Media)

Right off the bat, I knew that the narrator of this novel was a professional. His voice takes command of each page;  it oozes confidence. A professional what took me a little longer to figure out, but with a Chapter 1 entitled “Death and Chocolate”, there was no way this was his first rodeo.

Colorful and haunting, his words are often displayed bold and centered on the page:

“A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors.

Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses.

In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them.”

Gripping, yes?!

When I realized that the narrator IS Death (I did not read a summary of the book before starting), Zusak’s choices for his narrator’s voice made perfect sense.  Death IS a professional of the highest degree. Who has practiced his trade longer? Repeated his work more times and in a greater variety of scenarios?

This is the kind of thought process that this book provoked in me.

This is not just a story about a story, this is book about words and the power of language. Under the most atrocious of circumstances, the protagonist Leisel Meminger is captivated, punished, healed and ultimately saved by the stolen words that she reads and by the words that she writes.

“She was battered and beaten up…Her eyes had blackened. Cuts had opened and a series of wounds were rising to the surface of her skin. All from the words. From Leisel’s words.”

As a GREEN blogger, constantly amazed by my own and others’ reactions to my words, this novel hit home. I felt Leisel’s need to learn to how to read and to nourish her longing for words, even through stealing.

My favorite aspect of this book is the development/portrayal of Death’s character. Death is revealed as exactly that, a character or person that is relateable. Death is NOT the enemy here. Despite his wisdom and the usual certainty in his voice, he is not omniscient. He expresses disgust towards Hitler and confusion towards God. He is deeply invested in Liesel’s life.

God.

Twice, I speak it.

I say His name in a futile attempt to understand. “But it’s not your job to understand.” That’s me who answers. God never says anything.”

I think I will choose to view Death in this way. Aside from folklore and fairy tales, there is no reason for humans to think that Death is terrible, evil. Grief and loss are what we really perceive as fear of Death. I am thankful to Zusak for introducing me to this perspective.

It is probably evident that I enjoyed this book! Along with the above, Zusak does a phenomenal job painting the characters in Liesel’s world–you know them and care about them. There are no boundaries between author, narrator, and character.

A drawing by one of the characters

My one caveat to potential readers of this book is its darkness. As you may imagine from the synopsis above, this book is founded on incredibly dark subject matter, and there is not always a light at the end of the tunnel. If you are someone who has a difficult time “leaving it at work” so to speak, you might want to approach this book with caution.

I can honestly say that I have never read a book like this before. I would recommend it anyone who is in the mood to have their beliefs and perspectives set at a tilt!

Have you read The Book Thief? If so, what did you think?

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