Posts by Sharlene

Reader. Book blogger. Parent. Eater of foods aplenty. Tea drinker. Crocheter

Underrated books that need more buzz #amonthoffaves

amonthoffaves

A Month of Faves is hosted by Tanya and Tamara

Dec 4 – #AMonthofFaves Underrated Books We Think Deserve More Buzz

I love this topic! I especially enjoy finding out about books I’ve not heard of. And I’m always interested in learning how people find out about books.

So here’s a question for you: how do you usually discover new-to-you reads? Is it Bookstagram, Litsy, or social media? Bookish websites like Goodreads? Word of mouth? Bookstores? Newspapers? Bloggers?

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai (published 2019)

An awesome middle grade book about a pair of brothers from Vietnam trying to fit into their new life in Australia. And also, making cakes!

 

Tiare in Bloom by Célestine Hitiura Vaite (published 2006)

I enjoyed this book mostly because of it’s unusual setting – Tahiti! This is actually the third book of the series, but my library only had this one!

 

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee (published 2001)

This is not a new book, since it was published in 2001, but while Chee is known for his newer works like Queen of the Night, I do think this is one book that deserves more attention. It is absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking (my thoughts).

 

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby (published 2017)

Another unique setting and also, great humour!

 

The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal (published 2018)

As you may have guessed, I tend to like unusual books. And I like how Kowal often brings in a unique perspective, like in The Glamourist Histories series which features magic in a Austen-esque setting. This series, which has two books, The Calculating Stars (my thoughts) and The Fated Sky, imagines an alternative 1952 when a giant meteorite crashes into Earth, creating the start of an extinction event. Space exploration (only an idea at the moment) becomes necessary and one female mathematician/pilot wants to be a part of it.

 

Have you read any of these? What are some underrated books you’ve read and loved?

Library Loot (December 4 to 10)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

 

Happy December!

It was Thanksgiving week here in the US last week. The kids were off school, my mum arrived from Singapore, and the husband was working from home. Also it was finally rainy season! We are always thankful for rain here in bone-dry CA, but it was an especially chilly and windy few days so we didn’t really want to go out much!

So instead, more ebooks (and an audiobook!) were borrowed.

 Claire has the linkup this week.

 

 

It Occurs to Me That I Am America – edited by Jonathan Santlofer

(I realise though that I should also borrow the book as there is artwork!)

In time for the one-year anniversary of the Trump Inauguration and the Women’s March, this provocative, unprecedented anthology features original short stories from thirty bestselling and award-winning authors—including Alice Walker, Richard Russo, Walter Mosley, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Hoffman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, Mary Higgins Clark, and Lee Child—with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen.

When Donald Trump claimed victory last November, the US literary world erupted in indignation. Many of America’s leading writers and artists openly resist the current administration’s dogma and earliest policy moves, and they’re not about to go gently into that good night. In It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art, more than thirty of the most acclaimed modern writers consider the fundamental ideals of a free, just, and compassionate democracy—through fiction.

Featuring artwork by some of today’s best known artists, cartoonists, and graphic novelists—including Art Spiegelman, Roz Chast, Marilyn Minter, and Eric Fischl—who cover political, social, and cultural issues, this anthology is a beautiful, enduring collection that will resonate with anyone concerned with the contest for our American soul.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

 

The kids’ loot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did you get from your library this week?

 

Popular books worth the hype (or maybe not) #amonthoffaves

amonthoffaves

A Month of Faves is hosted by Tanya and Tamara

 

December 2: Popular Books Worth the Hype (and/or Not Worth the Hype)

 

 

So once again, I struggle with the word “popular”. What does it mean to be a popular book? Last year, I decided that I would go by the number of Goodreads ratings. I use Goodreads to track my books and it’s probably the easiest way to figure out what is “popular”. Last year, I decided to go with a minimum of 25,000 ratings (note, not reviews). Of course, this isn’t the best way either as there will be plenty of 2019 releases that have barely had time to garner ratings! But I will do the best I can in this list!

This year I’ve read books with just a few hundred Goodreads ratings, to several hundred thousands.

The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic by RF Kuang (26,023 ratings for The Poppy War)

These are the first two books in the Poppy War series and while I enjoyed the first one, I really liked the second book, The Dragon Republic (my review).  It was exciting and magical and also, navy battles! But throughout the two books, I loved the incorporation of Asian elements, with some of the battles based on Chinese mythology and history. Cannot wait for the next book!

The Library Book by Susan Orlean (50,033 ratings)

This book was made for readers and book lovers and especially lovers of the library, like me! It was full of great writing and interesting facts about libraries (my thoughts)

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (121,395 ratings)

I really like fictional books that feature music so I was dying to sink my teeth into this one about a band. It was such fun!

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (43,806 ratings)
Murderbot! Murderbot!

Becoming by Michelle Obama (320,815 ratings)

I listened to this one and it was great hearing her read it.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (107,199 ratings)

Goodness it’s taken me a while to get to this one! But it was a lovely dark one.

I’m on the fence about the hype for this one:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

This of course is the long awaited serial to The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I’ve loved for many years. So I was excited to read this one and while parts of it were great, overall I was a bit disappointed (read my thoughts here). 

 

It’s Monday and it’s raining!

 

 

Happy Monday!

The kids are back in school after a week-long break.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! As usual, we did our Thanksgiving hotpot!

 

 

The weekend before Thanksgiving, we headed down Highway 1 to Big Sur and Cambria, then to Ventura! You can read my post about this here. But if you know me by now (via the blog that is), you can probably guess that there’s a lot of eating involved. And so, don’t read the post when hungry!

 

 

Shrimp and loofah dumplings

We cooked laksa at home. Yum!

 

 

 A recent finished project. This is the Around Town Cardigan using Touch of Alpaca yarn in Blush and Purple Aster.

 

Currently…

 

Reading:

The Light Brigade – Kameron Hurley

I’m really enjoying this SF read that has humans at war with Martians.

 

 

Watching:

 

Sugar Rush Christmas. Fun!

Listening:

On the Move – Oliver Sacks

Eating:

Hot dog bun from Kee Wah Bakery

Drinking:

Black tea with milk

Cooking:

Shepherd’s pie maybe. We had laksa last night which was yummy!

 

Last week:

I read:

 

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Really enjoyed this story in which a young girl is sent by the Mayan god of death on a journey.

The Chain – Adrian McKinty

An interesting plot that starts with a girl being kidnapped and her mother made to kidnap someone else’s child in order to have her daughter released (and the chain going). The writing is nothing to shout about, the first part of the story quite thrilling, but the second part, not so much.

 

 

I posted:

Library Loot (November 27 to December 3)

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

 

 

badge
It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date

 

#WeekendCooking A trip down Highway 1

The weekend before Thanksgiving we took a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping the first night in the lovely seaside town of Cambria and then in Ventura in Southern California.

Here are some foodie highlights!

The main reason for this road trip was to try it out in our EV! We’ve driven down Highway 1 to Big Sur before, but not further than that. Usually we take the I-5 down to LA and beyond but it is one hell of a boring straight road. So it is so much more delightful to take the curvy winding roads of the 1, with the sea on your right and lots of vista points to stop and take photos at.

We arrived in Big Sur before 11, too early for lunch at the Big Sur Bakery, and the guy there, while friendly with the kids seemed to suggest that we would find more kid-friendly fare back down the road, “if you want scrambled eggs and things”. Um, not really, but I can take a hint. Instead, we kept going further down south to Ventana Inn, and ate at The Sur House (also, supercharger).

The food at The Sur House is nothing impressive, at least at lunch time, but you can’t beat that view!

I had a Gulf Shrimp sandwich which was tasty. The kids burger was well, a good enough burger, and the husband’s fried chicken sandwich had a nice hint of Thai spiciness and herbs.

But that view!

We kept heading down that beautiful highway to Cambria, our first stop for the the weekend.

We stayed at Pelican Inn, right across the road from Moonstone Beach which has a nice boardwalk and some tide pools to check out. After spending some time at the beach, it was time for an early dinner (also it was getting dark).

So just down the street from the inn is Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill. And there was already a short line of people outside the restaurant at 5pm, when it opens. We joined the queue and were given a nice window-side table, which of course would be more useful if anything were visible outside. It’s a touristy place so I wasn’t really eating there with high expectations, but I liked that the kids’ menu had fried clams on it. And the 8yo was extremely excited to have clams (strangely my kids like mussels and clams, something I wasn’t expecting. And don’t get me started on my 6yo who would eat all the smoked salmon and salmon sashimi if he could). The 6yo went with spaghetti. And I had the seafood pasta, the husband picked vongole. The service here was really great, efficient, friendly but not too much. And they even gave out little toys to the kids (who also got ice-cream).

The broth that the pastas came in was delicious and seafoody.

 

We continued our drive down south, stopping in the cute Danish town of Solvang. It’s very touristy of course, lots of shops selling random knickknacks, a horse-drawn trolley, lots of Scandinavian-style buildings, although it was too warm to feel like we were in Denmark. The best part of our little stop there was finding Mortensen’s Bakery and buying some treats for teatime.

 

This pistachio square was delicious!

 

And I hadn’t seen a Sarah Bernhardt cookie before and it was yummy. It’s mocha buttercream sandwiched between two almond meringue cookies.

 

We finally reached our stop for the night in Ventura, the Ventura Beach Marriott, a newly refurbished hotel, and I loved how the room looked. Also a plus for the sliding barn bathroom door!

For dinner, I found an Italian restaurant, Spasso, not too far from the hotel. The service was a bit slow (there was one waiter and one manager) in this small restaurant (the elderly couple at the table next to us came with books, making me wonder if they were regulars and expecting it to be a leisurely meal). But the food was really good.

We started off with an antipasti platter and I had a Campari martini, which was delightfully refreshing (and very strong).

The husband’s vongole (yes again!) was the “proper” kind, he said, not sitting in a pool of broth (which, while delicious, isn’t the vongole he was used to). And also, had a liberal sprinkling of chill flakes which made for a great spicy meal.

I had the carbonara. I love carbonara but most places make it with cream and it becomes too rich and just overkill. I make it at home sometimes but my kids don’t like it much (they’re very much bolognese fans). And so I was looking forward to this one, and it was just right!

The kids had lasagne and salami pizza.

That was a delightful dinner. We don’t have fantastic Italian food in our city (have to drive across to Mountain View or Palo Alto or the city for that), so I’m always happy to eat good Italian food.

Our road trip was coming to an end and we were due to head back north the next day. But first, a stop down to LA to meet friends for lunch.

They decided to take us to Porto’s which is apparently an LA institution. It’s a Cuban bakery and cafe and it’s expanded to several branches.

It was impossible to find parking though and we later found out why as the lines inside are insane (and stretched out the door). And this was on a Monday!

The cakes and pastries looked amazing but I didn’t want think cakes would survive the long drive back to the Bay Area. So we bought some cheese rolls (surprisingly, not a savoury thing but sweet – the cheese being more like a cream cheese), potato balls (papa rellenas), chicken empanadas, meat pies (pastel de carne). You also can order cooked food there so we had a ham and cheese croissant sandwich for the kids, a Cubano, and a steak plate. The eating area was so crowded! But the food was great.

The pastries were eaten on the drive back and the kids really liked the potato balls. The empanadas were good but I thought that the meat pies didn’t have enough filling in the puff pastry.

And that was a very delicious road trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Library Loot (November 27 to December 3)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

 

 

Happy Wednesday! And if you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! We don’t do turkey but will be having a hotpot!

Meanwhile, it’s Library Loot day and here’s what I’ve got this week.

Share yours in the linkup!

 

On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks (audiobook)

When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: “Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.” It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California, where he struggled with drug addiction, and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.

With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions—weight lifting and swimming—also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists—Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick—who influenced him.

On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer—and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human

 

 

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

How much can a family forgive?

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the bond between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace

I hadn’t heard of this book before I saw it on the Tor.com best books list

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley 

From the Hugo Award­­–winning author of The Stars Are Legion comes a brand-new science fiction thriller about a futuristic war during which soldiers are broken down into light in order to get them to the front lines on Mars.

They said the war would turn us into light.
I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world.

The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief—no matter what actually happens during combat.

Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think is going on.

Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero—or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did you get from your library this week?

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

For a long time I had Atwood on a pedestal. I mean she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale!

Then I read Angel Catbird and it was a bit sad and embarrassing (please don’t read it). So it has been a while since I’ve read anything by Atwood (not counting the brilliant graphic novel adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale).

I was however curious about The Testaments.

Please note I will attempt to make sure there are no spoilers in this review and as such, I won’t talk much about plot (here’s the the Goodreads synopsis) but the storyline takes place 15 years after the first book.

First of all, if this were written by a YA author as her version of what happened to Gilead I probably would have applauded it.

But this is Margaret Atwood we are talking about, and so I had high expectations.

I don’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I liked (or liked despising) the fact that we were back in Gilead and hearing from Aunt Lydia. Lydia was a great character and it was especially interesting hearing from her perspective.

The story was fast-paced, very plot-driven, and it ended up being a quick read despite its 400 pages. But I felt that her young teenaged character in the non-Gilead world wasn’t convincing. Some of what she said sounded odd. And really, I was disappointed that we don’t hear from Offred.

After I read the book, I saw a review that remarked that The Testaments picks up plot elements from the TV series and I wondered, what have I missed out on since I haven’t seen the TV show? And to be honest, after learning about that, I was a bit pissed off. Is this a sequel of a book or of a book and a TV show? Did I need to get a Hulu subscription in order to learn what I was missing?

So after it all I feel that this book, while readable and entertaining, was, for me, not very satisfying. It brought me back into a familiar world with hopes of answers but I wasn’t wowed by it.