Saturday, June 24, 2017


Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. Hardcover, 288 pgs
Goodreads Description

     Schwalbe perfectly articulates the feelings of bookish people- and is solidly my favorite
"books about books" novelist. Whether you relate to all or bits of his musings, it is a joyful read. Similar to The End of Your Life Book Club (where he chronicles the books he and his mom read while she was suffering from cancer), this is part memoir, part life lessons gleamed, and overall awe at the power of words. ".....most good books are not tackling big questions in isolation." "I also believe that no book is so bad that you can't find anything in it of interest."
"This book you are now reading is a manifesto of sorts....because I think we need to read and to be readers today now more than ever."
       Schwalbe makes me want to read all the titles he mentioned, even ones of which I was aware but hadn't considered- or had decided weren't for me. This perfectly illustrates that no two people will interpret a book or in this case, it's description, the same way- and it can also change over time.
      This would make an excellent book club selection. While not the traditional story, each book mentioned could be discussed in terms of Schwalbe's interpretation, and those of each reader in the club. It would be one long night though- because then you'd break down each book into thoughts of those who had read the mentioned stories vs ones unfamiliar with the discussed books. Would they be interested in reading them? Why or why not? Would spoilers be allowed by those who had read it? I'd vote no! :-) I seriously digress.
        Hypothetical book club meeting aside, I now must pick up Wonder by RJ Palacio and Stuart Little by E.B White for my girls (and me). Also, The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang- a book which had gone out of print but has (luckily) been reissued.
      Funny enough, on my friend Carol Kubala's Goodreads review, the paragraph she highlighted on unreliable narrators from The Girl on the Train was also one of my notes. The virtue of mediocrity found in his reading of The Odyssey was super fascinating, and brought an issue I had recently been contemplating to the forefront of my mind. Do yourself a favor and tuck into this gem. It'll be delightful, I promise!

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Hardcover, 341 pgs
Goodreads Description

If you like my reviews at all, will you please read this one? I know it will be the most important one I write. This book has profoundly changed my life. I purposefully waited a month post-reading to gather my thoughts, include further resources for those interested, and tell you my personal story.

I have purchased several copies of this so far, and if you are genuinely interested in reading it after this review, would you contact me? I will mail you one. While difficult, I'm more upset that I didn't have this knowledge sooner. One caveat: I have a selfish favor. Will you please get in touch with me post reading in some way and share your thoughts? Whether you link me to a review, or if it just changed your mind on one point, I truly want to hear about it. I'll voxer chat you, or even call you! This is a discussion that more of us should be having, and with demand rising for the cheapest, most convenient meat, the issue will only become more prominent.

Before you think of this as a bleeding heart animal lover's book, Foer didn't even like dogs until a few years ago. His style is conducive to all readers, and truly not annoying or preachy like some I've encountered. He genuinely wanted facts, and paid checkers to do their own research to see if their conclusions matched his. He wanted to find a reason to eat meat, and I wanted him to tell me that at least fish and chicken were fine (from certain companies). There is an excellent section where Foer talks about food as tradition, and the narratives we've been told as a culture, and how it differs in other parts of the world. 

Beyond the slaughterhouse processes, deep sea fishing techniques, and the toxic wasteland that factory farms produce, there are interviews with people on all sides of this story.....from farm factory workers who wish to remain anonymous, midnight rescuers of animals, farm sanctuary workers, and the few remaining family farm operations (there is irony in this at the end as some are being closed or ousted for those who will practice a more compromising management practice).  

We all know animals die for consumption. The past two years I'd heard the usual horrors of chickens pumped full of crazy feeds, antibiotics way beyond necessary- and unreported levels are up to 40% higher (one of many sections that will make your blood boil). So I read labels carefully. I bought the "free range, grass fed" options when possible, THINKING I was making a compassionate difference.

I truly believed that most operations were streamlined to prevent unnecessary suffering and mutilation prior to death. Especially some simple precautions, like not letting the other animals witness slaughter. NOT the case. Less than 1% of all animals killed for meat in America come from family farms. Abuse is the norm, and classified under a Common Farm Exemption (CFE) makes any behavior towards the animals perfectly legal so long as it is commonly practiced in the industry.

Organic? It matters a whole lot less than what we give it credit for....especially in terms of humane treatment. Don't care? Did you know that the deplorable conditions cause such intense stress that acid is released in the animals prior to death....then we literally eat that suffering. 

Ever had a stomach bug for 24 hours? Most people have poultry poisoning and don't know it. 83% of supermarket poultry is infected with campylobacter or salmonella. Perfectly normal colored "healthy" looking chicken.

As you can tell, this book gave me a serious case of the "Did you knows?" It's been difficult to stem my passion for this topic. I stumbled onto this lifestyle pretty much on accident. I had read a couple nutrition books on reading food labels, and then watched a couple lifestyle YouTubers. One day I watched a person discuss their favorite Netflix documentaries. I then found Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, and Cowspiracy. These highlighted the environmental, moral, and health aspects of eating a more plant based lifestyle. I started eating less meat, but still consumed fish and chicken pretty regularly.

I never planned on going fully Vegan. I wanted to hold onto something! What's the harm in eating eggs and drinking milkshakes? The animal is still alive and the dairy industry must be slightly kinder! Unfortunately, the foul treatment continues there. The dairy industry is directly responsible for veal, continuous artificial insemination of cows, and the mechanical forced over-milking of cows who are separated from their babies at birth (to disrupt the bonding process). This overmilking leaves udders riddled with infection most of the time. Most are sent to slaughter when their usefulness runs out. I remember being "lactose intolerant" as a kid, and having to drink lactaid milk. Mom really thought I had to have milk, because that is what we hear all the time. Past baby age, we aren't really meant to drink it. Being lactose intolerant is unsurprising. We just don't need it- we aren't the intended consumers- baby cows:-P

The challenges I've encountered haven't been insurmountable- I thought I would miss more foods. (my heart does occasionally have pangs for the cookies and cream milkshake at Chick-Fila. There are surprising alternatives, and if you live in a more metropolitan area, there's even less digging. And yes, you CAN get enough plant based protein. Through research you can debunk all the meat myths society has fed us for years. Tofu can actually be delicious, and you don't need to be terrified of it. 

So, I'm a 33 year old Vegan. This read was my final straw. Never thought I would EVER do something like this. The hardest part? Cheese. However, there is a biological reason for being addicted to cheese. It's the casein. I watched YouTube videos on the science behind this, and alternatives. I had my first Papa John's Veggie Pizza with extra sauce instead of cheese...and was pleasantly surprised. I also use the Vegan go-to...nutritional yeast flakes, known as "Nooch" in my pastas and sauces. Plus the cholesterol in cheese is another reason to give it the heave-ho.

I've had to cook a lot more of my own meals. This does take effort at the beginning, but most worthy pursuits do. I actually feel fuller on my meals, less bloated, and waking up is easier. It's like a fog has lifted that I didn't even know was there. I never feel heavy, and can often eat bigger portions since it's cleaner and more nutritionally dense- if you aren't overindulging in Vegan junk food, which is as easy to find as regular junk food. Haha, movie theater popcorn is mostly safe since the butter is fake anyway.

**SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a learning process, do not beat yourself up for setbacks (intentional or unintentional). I cheated twice purposefully- once because I wanted something sweet and I was near my favorite ice cream on a road trip, the other because I was at a restaurant where I could only order broccoli or rice if I didn't want meat and cheese...and I caved instead of paying close attention and ordering smartly. Bread hides many dairy components as well, and I hadn't even thought of that until after several veggie burgers on buns. Do the best you can, and acknowledge your progress. Your efforts are amazing and should be celebrated, not picked apart:-)

I feel embarrassed for my ignorance when I rolled my eyes at events with vegans I deemed snotty and difficult, assuming they were promoting their lifestyle to feel superior to others. Now I simply realize they had more information than I did, and decided to live more compassionately. Once you know this stuff, you are forced to make a choice, even if that is doing nothing. My husband has been incredibly supportive, and I hope you will find someone in your life to support you as well. It can feel isolating to go against the grain. Every time the people pleaser part of me starts to feel awkward, I just remind myself of why I'm doing it. And armed with knowledge, that's far more important to me now.

I would love to meet Foer one day and personally thank him. I now donate monthly to animal rights groups. I support a couple YouTubers through Patreon accounts since they are more eloquent in their dissemination of information than I could ever hope to be. I'll probably even get some corny T-shirts, and I have a tattoo design I'm currently considering on my left wrist. I'm proudly one of those hippy dippy happy people:-) It's amazing to live a life in line with your values.

I think I've gone on quite long enough. If any of you are still there, here is a list of some of my resources.

Awesome YouTube channels and links:

Awareness and activist videos/channels:
Top 5 Vegan Films of 2017  -An overview video from the YouTube channel Plant Based News, this one is self explanatory.
101 Reasons to Go Vegan  - a great starter video. Condenses tons of facts. A great go-to after or before Netflix documentaries.
Mic. The Vegan He is a vegan science writer so gives excellent nutrition facts.
The Vegan Activist His videos are powerful, and some can be graphic. Sometimes they're too much, but if you need extra motivation...he's your guy. He's pretty helpful about putting (Non-Graphic) in the title if you can't handle the tough images.
Gary Yourofsky Gary has some incredible lectures. He can be controversial, but his data is hard to dispute. He has recently retired from activism, has reached burnout and had to deal with lots of hate.
Bite Size Vegan She is touted as Gary's protege. As her channel description says, she provides friendly and fast facts on how and why to be Vegan

Recipe Ideas:
Cheap Lazy Vegan
Hot for Food
Liv's Healthy Life
Happy Healthy Vegan (they also do vlogs. Sometimes they can be a little much, but I like them nonetheless:-)
That Vegan Couple (also vlogs. They are about the happiest people I've ever watched. That alone speaks volumes. You want what they have!)
NikkiVegan  (super chill and soothing gal, her voice lulls me sometimes and I have to relisten:-P
SoTrueQ (a male!! I promise they exist. He is a funny, honest, and super entertaining African American from the South who is Vegan)
Mind Over Munch  While not solely Vegan, she usually provides Vegan recipe options. I love her personality and awesome ebooks. My favorite is her Bento Box Lunch ebook. Tons of great ideas for packing school lunches for kiddos.
Clean & Delicious -also not strictly Vegan, she has a Kale Butternut Squash soup recipe that I have made multiple times.

Cookbooks I've been loving:
Isa Does It! (Isa Chandra Moskowitz is one of the first names I came across in the Vegan cooking world. She is praised for her many books, had a show called Post Punk Kitchen, and is known for making meals that meat lovers enjoy as well. Just check out her reviews). I can heartily recommend 15+ of these recipes. My kids prefer the chocolate cake and blueberry muffins out of this book over ones containing dairy.
Thug Kitchen One of the highest rated Vegan cookbooks on Amazon, the recipes are delicious...but full of swear words. Be warned: Lots of profanity. Like every other sentence.
**Many of the YouTubers I mentioned sell their ebooks. Some I've been able to print and coil at my local Office Depot.
Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking by Dana Shultz  - 101 Entirely Plant-Based, mostly gluten free (if you care about that), recipes that require 10 ingredients or less. I highly recommend following them on Instagram and their blog for tons of free recipe posts. The most recent amazing one was a Jalapeno Cheese Sauce. Nom Nom Nom!

Netflix stuff:
Fed Up
Forks Over Knives
What the Health

There are a ton more, these are just the ones I've seen and found helpful.

Hmm, what to rate?

Please leave me a comment below:-) I'd love to know what you think or if you'll be picking it up!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Published by Ecco, 2017. Hardcover, 336 pgs
Goodreads Description

     Breaking from my trend of reading dystopias, the premise of communal parenting was the description that hooked me on this utopian-esque novel. I found myself with mixed opinions.
     Wilson did a bang up job with Izzy, the fresh faced protagonist. She made mistakes, but quickly got back on track and remained mostly self-assured. He gave her atypical female talents (in stories anyway!) self-confidence, and the ability to love- but not become so infatuated that her own identity was compromised. I loved that she didn't have these incredible feats of daring, and lived a mostly normal life. This might seem boring to some readers, but the character felt like a real human being, and not a forced stereotype to drive the story.
         The Infinite Family Project is meant to take place over ten years. For a slim novel, this in an ambitious narrative. I applaud Wilson's attempt. Setting up the backstory, parameters of the study, everyone's living accommodations, the progression of the children, and the adult relationships had to be incredibly challenging.
       Therefore, I wished it had been longer or structured differently. I missed hearing from different perspectives, and each character was teased just enough that I missed a further connection. I wanted to know more about the billionaire funding the study- Brenda Acklen, and her granddaughter. I wanted to know the troubled emotions of several of the couples, and what made them react the way they did. I wanted to know more about the children's lives. This could have made a good series. I'd recommend to anyone who has wanted a little extra help as a parent, enjoys good writing and innovative plots.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Published by Penguin UK, 2016. Hardcover, 288 pgs
Goodreads Description

       Who doesn't want to live a better life? While the philosophy of Hygge still feels broad and abstract after reading, I like the idea of it being adaptable to your own definition. The plethora of ways different cultures adapt this in their homes and community was enlightening. I would have liked a bit more on how this shapes politics and world view, but this might be harder to explore because of the intangible quality. 
       It corrected some of my misconceptions about being an introvert. Introversion doesn't necessarily mean an aversion to people, introverts can still be social! It's the large group setting that is not preferable. That alleviated some of my fears that I was abnormal:-P This is a cozy little book, even if a bit vague and predictable. A great coffee table edition to your house.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Published by Quercus, 2014. Paperback, 406 pgs
Goodreads Description

         Particularly upsetting in Donald Trump's America, I feel he would love implementing parts of this story in our country. It's terrifying in it's implications, and feels eerily plausible. If you found Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale bothersome, this is the Young Adult version. O'Neill somehow manages a similar premise while making a wholly redesigned world. That is no small feat, as Atwood's book is iconic, and the temptation would be strong to cherrypick details here and there. That was most impressive. While I wouldn't want to visit any dystopia, this wins the worst....think I'd even take my chances in The Hunger least there's a small chance of viable life. 
       I was more sickened by this novel than Atwood's. The male chauvinism is a given, but the depths which the females undercut and manipulate each other, instead of banding together in any form of solidarity, was heartbreaking. While teenage gossip and bullying is common in our real world, the relentlessness in this story was draining, and acutely made me feel the broken spirit of these "designed" girls. All of O'Neill's cover designs for this book are perfect. 
     The gruesome tone was particularly set by the ominous countdown to the "Ceremony" where each Eve is assigned their lifetime role as one of three, all-terrible options. References to Organized Recreation, their sleeping arrangements, Expiration date, and drug use added richness to an already horrifying world. I was able to see where the ending was headed, and was proud of O'Neill for sticking to the tone of the story instead of adding a bubble gum ending.


Published by Reaktion Books Ltd, 2009. Hardcover, 128 pgs
Goodreads Description

      Chocolate and coffee. My two ride or die, definite inclusions if I were stranded on a desert island. While this slim volume doesn't encapsulate all the information on this DELICIOUS delicacy, it provides a cliff notes version, which is sufficient for this gal. The Edible Series is a beautiful collection of the culture and history of one type of food or beverage. I would also read the ones on Breads, Ice Cream, and Wine, but pass on ones such as Lamb. Carbs are my weakness. I digress.
         I was unsurprised to learn that cacao nuts were so valuable that they were often treated as a form of currency, and also buried with loved ones. The cultural meanings of chocolate to gender go back a long ways...especially as it was women who often prepared it. Of course, chocolate's history is steeped in slavery and unethical treatment. Hated those necessary parts, but found the evolution interesting. Enough with this review. I have to go make myself a hot chocolate.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Published by Penguin, 2016. Paperback, 222 pgs
Goodreads Description

"We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue."

      Hands down my favorite book of this year, and maybe last year. What an utterly wonderful story- with a wholly unique insight and structure (half novel, half textbook). The prose is poetic and tender, and still manages to provide tough love and some therapy- for whatever stage in your relationship. It's greatest gift is providing insight into behavior, thus promoting understanding of your spouse- and even more importantly, yourself. I found this through a suggestion on The Book Depository website when looking for another novel. This is unusual, as most of my recommends come from bookish YouTubers or podcasts. I will have to utilize this feature more, because this is a gem!
       The most common question most couples receive is "How did you meet?" or "How did you get engaged?" This is also the general focus of many contemporary romantic novels. Even if the novel chronicles their life, it is more event-based. In this, we have a constant focus on the mechanics of longterm relationships. This story charts the beginnings of infatuation for Rabih and Kirsten, but mainly chronicles the long haul of life....ever after, children, philandering, a section titled "beyond romanticism", and mature love.
        A section of particular significance to me was "The Romantic vision of marriage stresses the importance of finding the 'right' person, which is taken to mean someone in sympathy with our interests and values. There is no such person over the long term. We are too varied and peculiar. ....The partner best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace." This really helped me, as I often wish I could be more interested in the bands or entertainment that my husband enjoys, even though he could care less. I know it shouldn't matter, and even though he has told me (repeatedly)....somehow reading these words was a revelation- no exaggeration.        
       Another italicized note from the author: "It may come fast, this certainty that another human being is a soulmate. We needn't have spoken with them; we may not even know their name. Objective knowledge doesn't come into it. What matters instead is intuition: a spontaneous feeling that seems all the more accurate and worthy of respect because it bypasses the normal processes of reason."  They are things that you know to be true- but most of us would have a hard time articulating. I found myself saying "That's it!" to many of these.
        The author has an uncanny ability to use dialogue, and also explain underlying intention in an evocative way. "When, on their last day together Mrs. McLelland remarks.....what a pity it is that Kirsten never sang another note after her father left home.....she is- as much as the rules allow- asking Rabih not to ruin Kirsten's life."     
        I'm really befuddled why I haven't heard of Alain de Botton before. The average ratings are high on Goodreads. I agree wholeheartedly with The Daily Mail and Evening Standard's blurbs on the back cover....that it should be compulsory reading for anyone entering or already in a marriage, and that it may even save some marriages. In any case, I am extremely happy to discover him and can't wait to read more. If you've read others by him, drop me a line and let me know what to pick up next. In any case, I would recommend this to all human beings. You'll be a better, more empathetic person because of it.