Cookbook Review: The Food Matters Cookbook

The Cookbook Review series promotes individual research (that means you!) of healthy living and tracks my friendship with the nutrition and food sections of my local library. The opinions expressed are solely my own; I am not compensated for promoting any of my selected titles. Read on to see what I learned from the philosophies of this cookbook and decided to implement into my everyday life.

A significant number of people have recently asked me for tips on how to eat healthier. I have many thoughts about this flying around my head all the time. My goal is to research, research, research to continually expand my thinking and pin down what healthy eating really means. 

And so I have begun my first post-college curriculum: to be swallowed up in the learning of nutrition.
Health, fitness, clarity of mind.
I am diving in to find what these things mean for Claire Ford.
And for ways to help all of you figure out what it means to you!

First stop: the public library.
Um, I’m sorry. Have any of you actually visited your local public library?
Mine is literally two blocks away and I am horrified that I have never spent more than two minutes there, because it is incredible.
Addie and I walked there (well, she rode in the sweet, luxurious shade of her stroller and I pushed her, sweating through the Utah heat). 
A whole aisle of the non-fiction section is lined with cookbooks. And I thought I had to take a pen and paper with me to Barnes and Noble in order to get recipes from the latest and greatest cooks (because let's face it, we're on a college budget, and I can't financially support B&N as much as I'd like to). Our library even has a website where you can search for and place holds on the books you're interested in. So far I haven't searched for a single book that wasn't available at the library. All right! 

One hour, a renewed library card, and a sweaty baby later, I returned home with my spoils. 
First on the list: 
Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook
I had come across this project and wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.

Mark's philosophy: to swap the basic proportions in your diet; that is, increase unprocessed fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains, and decrease your intake of animal products (meat, cheese, etc.). In other words, "become a less-meatarian and begin eating a plant-heavy diet." He says to think of it as tipping the seesaw in the right direction. 

He calls this sane eating. 

His way of eating sanely means eating a strictly vegan diet until dinner time (only whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds). After that he eats whatever he wants. I've decided to try this during the week, except I eat a vegetarian diet instead of a vegan one (I need my Greek yogurt in the mornings). 

Other ideas for developing your own sane-eating lifestyle:
  • reduce animal and processed foods by an ounce or two per sitting
  • eat vegetarian or vegan on weekdays and then splurge on the weekends
  • allow yourself five meat splurges per month
  • participate in the Meatless Monday program
  • any other ideas? 
Ultimately, come up with a plan that works for you and stick to it! It's about moderation, not deprivation.  It's okay to indulge every now and then, as long as you're making real changes and improvements to your current diet. As your diet changes, so will the foods you crave (this is so true!).

At the grocery store, pay more attention to labels and not the claims on the front of the package. For example, we bought cranberry-raspberry juice yesterday that claimed "100% juice" on the front. Upon further inspection, however, the juice contains some juices that are themselves 100% juice, but there are also other ingredients in the jug of juice. They fooled us! 

Stock your pantry with unprocessed, whole ingredients. If Oreos are on your shelf, you're going to reach for the Oreos when you get the munchies. On the other hand, if you've prepared some snacks in advance (chopped veggies, crackers and hummus, cut-up fruit, etc.), you'll reach for those things instead. Just stop buying your weakness foods. See how you do without them for a month. Your palate won't even miss them.

When it's mealtime, turn first to vegetables and fruits. You really can't eat too many since you're getting full on plants instead of animal products and junk food. Think of animal products as a garnish, seasoning, or treat instead of the main event. 

When all is said and done, Mark Bittman promotes eating like food matters...because it does.  As we begin making better food choices, our palates will change. We will crave leafy greens instead of Snickers bars, crisp cantaloupe instead of Cheetos, homemade things instead of fast food. 

Unique things about this book: 
  • Doesn't force us to never eat ice cream sundaes, but instead encourages us to shift the weight from the not-so-good-for-you to the extremely-good-for-you foods.
  • Takes meat out of the spotlight but not off your plate entirely. 
  • Make your treats count; instead of an entire bag of M&Ms, indulge in a square of fine chocolate.
  • Easygoing, yet mindful. 
  • Emphasis on choosing better ingredients to not only help our own health but also that of the world's.
  • Over 500 recipes in line with the sane-eating concept. Most include variation suggestions and tips on how to mold that recipe to fit your personal tastes. 
  • Recipes aren't weird, unrecognizable ones; instead, they focus on unique ways of preparing familiar ingredients. 

Anything I didn't like:
  • No pictures! More than in other cookbooks without pictures, this book's recipes stood well without graphics, but it's always nice to see what the dish will look like. 

    My thoughts: People aren't lying when they promote lifestyles like Bittman's by saying that they give you more energy. It's really true! As I've started eating more leafy greens and fewer chunks of cheddar, I wake up feeling more rejuvenated and my energy lasts all day long. My sleep has started to matter more; even with a six-week-old baby who gets me up every three or four hours, I wake up in the morning raring to go. Who could say no to that? 

    I once vowed never to become a vegetarian/vegan and I know I will never completely give up meat or dairy. But I am already seeing the benefits of eating less of these things. I like that Bittman is realistic about this sort of thing. You don't have to be radical to live better. In fact, the simpler you eat, the healthier you likely are (i.e. fewer ingredients generally mean a healthier food). Having tried out this way of living, my mind is clearer and my eyes are brighter. I am living better. And it's helping me be more creative with the food I make and eat. I'm discovering new fruits and vegetables that give my diet a lot of variety and added flavor. 

    Eating a plant-heavy diet brings color to my kitchen and intense flavor to my taste buds. My food tastes better. I have more energy. My mind remains clear all day! 

    Stay tuned for my next cookbook review: Alice Waters' timeless The Art of Simple Food.

    Review: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour

    Title: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour
    Author: Morgan Matson
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
    Publication Date: May 4th, 2012
    Genre: YA, Contemporary

    In the last three months, Amy Curry’s life has changed in ways she never saw coming. After the death of her father, it felt like she needed her family more than ever only to have them leave her. Now that her junior year is over, Amy is about to leave Southern California for Connecticut, where her mom is waiting for her in their new home. Some last minute changes result in Amy taking an unexpected road trip instead of flying out, so that the family car can be in Connecticut as well. Amy’s mom has planned the whole trip, including picking the driver. Roger is the son of an old family friend who is spending his summer with his dad in Philadelphia and needs a ride. The route Amy’s mom has planned is supposed to take four days, but Amy and Roger have a different idea. Instead of relying on the well planned out route they never chose, they decide to go on a few detours, completely abandoning the set route and taking much more time than four days. Visiting fifteen states in total, Roger and Amy see America in a way they never have before, from the loneliest road in America to a young Southern gentleman with a passion for shrub art. As they get to know each other while they put miles between them and California, they realize that it’s life’s detours that make the moments worth remembering.

    Summer is slowly approaching and soon everyone will be looking for the perfect summer read. Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour definitely meets the criteria: romance, road trip adventure, playlists and summer. This book is interesting in a lot of ways, one being that it includes copies of receipts, snapshots, e-mails, playlists, scraps of paper and notes from Amy’s travel journal. This all worked well, especially since you can learn so much from a receipt or a report card. I love playlists being included in books about road trips, since music is always what I remember most about any road trip. Plus, I like the music featured in this book. If you want to look at the playlists in the books, you can see my scans here. The writer actually did the trip Amy and Roger do in this book, spending a whole month to do it. This showed in the book, with all the little details included.

    As the book begins, Amy has a lot of issues and the fact that she’s supposed to spend an entire road trip with someone she doesn’t know isn’t helping things. However, after being in a car together for hours on end, her and Roger get to know each other very quickly. Both begin their journey with issues of their own, and although a road trip doesn’t magically fix all of their problems, it does help them see what they need to do to change things. I liked how different things worked its way into the story and the role those things played, like explorers and sharing music. In a road trip to a lot of unexpected places, Amy and Roger meet a number of interesting people, from a boy named Muz who asks them to deliver a message to a Virginia Dairy Queen, to a boy in a band named in honour of The Wizard of Oz. And, for the record, let me say that Henry Gale sounds like the greatest band to ever grace the world. Everything was well paced and always interesting, including the flashbacks of Amy’s life before the trip. I thought the characters felt real and I definitely liked Amy. I liked Roger for the most part, although midway through I felt annoyed with how he was so caught up in his ex. I still liked his relationship with Amy and seeing them come to know each other, state by state. I adored Bronwyn, but her generosity was a bit unbelievable to me. Overall, Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour is a book about self-discovery and the unexpected trips we take that make us who we are. Difficult to put down, this book is perfect for anyone who ever has the slightest urge to pack their things and drive anywhere without knowing exactly where they’re going.


    “The thing about Magellan is the thing about all these explorers. Most of the time, they’re just determined to chase impossible things. And most of them are so busy looking at the horizon that they can’t even see what’s right in front of them.”

    In My Mailbox (36)

    In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

    Sorry for the horrible quality photo- I wasn't having much luck today! From the library, I took out Willdwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George, Cinder by Marissa Meyer and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood. The Unseen Guest yesterday is the third book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, which follows a plucky governess in Victorian England whose charges were literally raised by wolves. I read it yesterday and I thought it was very good and funny. Of the other books from the library, I am most excited to read Cinder. All I know about it is what could be guessed from the cover. I am also just about to go to the library and pick up my hold on the movie The Help, which I am very excited about since I've had it on hold since December. 

    I also bought two books, the first I've already read a few times. I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman is a very funny book about summer camp, and I've loved it since my fifth grade teacher read it to my class. I also bought The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. 

    That's it for me this week, what new books did you receive this week? 

    Addie: One Month Old

    Grips the top of my shirt while she sleeps with her head on my shoulder.
    Loves the sounds of trickling water and tweeting birds.
    Soothed by a full tummy, a forehead rub, her pacifier, fresh jammies, or a hair wash.
    But frightened by bath time.
    Prefers to be standing up (with help, of course) to sitting or lying down.
    Stares wide-eyed at everything she sees when we go out in public.
    Rarely cries when she’s around a lot of people, even if they’re all taking turns holding her.
    Sleeps best on my chest. Sleeps second best tightly swaddled in her bed.
    Only lets you tightly swaddle her if she’s fast asleep. Otherwise she breaks free.
    Moves around a lot in her sleep. Very expressive with her hands.
    Poses in her sleep with her fist under her jaw, her hands supporting her chin, etc.
    Mesmerized by bright lights.
    Fits newborn jammies perfectly. Rocking the size one diapers.
    Has great big eyes and a teeny tiny mouth.
    Everyone comments on how delicate she is—like a doll, they say. And that hair!
    Still has auburn hair and grayish blue eyes. Mom and Dad hope her coloring stays.
    Looks fantastic in all colors. We haven’t found one that doesn’t work perfectly with her skin.
    Enchants her grandparents. Smiles at her daddy. Cuddles with her mom.
    Loves to lie on the quilt in the shade.
    Lives for rides in the car, her hands in fists as she rides in her car seat.
    Getting used to the stroller, too.
    Snorts in her sleep, and stretches good and long when she wakes up.

    Review: Snow: A Retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    Title: Snow: A Retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
    Author: Tracy Lynn
    Publisher: Simon Pulse
    Publication Date: February 1st, 2003
    Genre: YA, Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retellings

    In Wales during the reign of Queen Victoria, a Duke in a small village loses his wife in childbirth when she gives birth to his daughter, Jessica. Broken hearted over the loss of his beloved wife, the Duke let his daughter be raised by the various servants. When the Duke remarries the beautiful and intelligent Anne, Jessica finally has a mother. As the Duchess teaches her how to be a proper woman, Jessica still finds ways to be with the servants. Her best friend Allen, the violin player, spends his time finding odd items for the Duchess. While Jessica had once admired her Stepmother, when she became a teenager she was punished by being used as a servant, making her skin so pale from the indoors that it earned her a new nickname, Snow. The Duchess, obsessed with being able to bear her husband a second child, discovers a twisted possible solution to her problems. In order to bear a child, she believes that all she needs is a human heart and she is more than willing to sacrifice her stepdaughter. In the dark of night, Snow leaves the home she’s always known for London, seeking refuge with a group of impossible creatures.

    When I first read the description of this book, I was a little confused about the Snow White character being named Jessica, since Shakespeare originated the name. However, this made sense once I learnt that the story is set in Victorian times. This retelling of Snow White was the kind of book you enjoy while you read it, but looking back later there are things that just didn’t work. It was interesting to see how this classic fairy tale was adapted in a Victorian tale, and how the writer recreated her own versions of the mirror, the seven dwarfs and the poisoned apple. For people who are big fans of the original story, I wouldn’t recommend this book. While there are some great retellings that work well and compliment the original, like Ella Enchanted, I don’t think this book is one of them. However, I’m not a huge fan of Snow White and was therefore able to enjoy this book. I think the author did a good job of creating a Victorian fairy tale that was interesting. I liked her style of story telling and her creativity. My main problem with Snow White in general is the title character, who is just so na├»ve and gullible. I still had this problem with Tracy Lynn’s Snow, although she had much more personality than the Walt Disney character, in my opinion. At the beginning, Snow seemed like a typical retelling. However, things proved to be more bizarre than I first imagined. While I liked some of the creative twists, there were parts that didn’t flow well, such as the sudden presence of the Clockwork Man. Some parts at the end felt a bit thrown together but overall I enjoyed this book. It challenges the common conceptions about fairy tales and true love. Snow is a unique retelling of a story everyone knows about the power of true love.

    Wow. It has been over a year since I've last posted.  A lot has changed since then. I have transitioned to painting on wood boards (cost effective and the wood grain adds an excellent dimension to the work). I have stumbled into painting people again...I know, I know. Yet artistically, there is still something missing.  That defining piece that defines my style and future direction. There is an internal battle raging between "playing it safe" and "doing something out of the comfort zone".  The vision is still foggy, but it does not look like anything that I have been doing up to this point. That may be a good thing. Breaking down the walls of the self-constructed box I painted myself into. I want to work BIG. Really BIG. And different. From a new perspective.

    Review: Ella Enchanted

    Title: Ella Enchanted
    Author: Gail Carson Levine
    Publisher: Scholastic Books
    Publication Date: January 1st, 1997
    Genre: Junior Fiction, Fantasy

    When Ella was just a baby the fairy Lucinda gave her the gift of obedience. While Lucinda meant this to be a blessing, it has only proven to be a curse for Ella. She has to obey any direct command no matter how much she wishes otherwise. If someone were to tell her to kill herself she would have to do it. The curse some how turned Ella into a rebel, even if she has to do what others wish. She has been forbidden from telling anyone about the curse, in fear that they would use it to their own advantage. When Ella’s mother dies, it feels like the only person she has left is her family’s cook, Mandy. When her absentee father decides to send her to finishing school, she meets the horrid Hattie, who discovers Ella’s obedience on her own. When Ella’s father marries Hattie’s mother, it doesn’t appear that things could be worst for Ella. But when she has to end her blooming romance with Prince Char to protect him, Ella hates the curse more than ever. If Ella wants to break the curse to live freely and with her true love, then she will have to search within herself to set herself free.

    Have you ever had a craving for a book? I first read this book when I was twelve, but lately I haven’t been able to help thinking about it. Thankfully, it was still on my bookshelf, even ten years later. This book is an adaptation of Cinderella, with a bit of a twist. The story is set in the land of Frell, which is full of fairies, gnomes, ogres, fairy godmothers and giants. The world that Levine created in this book is a magical combination of originality and the story everyone knows. The world building and the magic featured in the story was wonderful, as were the characters. I loved Ella and Char’s relationship, and how Levine adapted the original story into this one. The movie adaptation, which came out in 2004, is a horrible example of a book turned into a movie. If you have seen the movie, don’t hold it against the book. The movie added a lot of things, including the Uncle, and to me it felt like it was trying to be like a live-action Shrek. The book was delightful, full of everything I love about fairy tales. The best way to describe this book is a word that’s found right in the title: enchanting. I loved reading this original fairy tale featuring a feisty heroine that, in the end, saves herself.


    “It is helpful to know the proper way to behave, so one can decide whether or not to be proper.”

    Top Ten Tuesday (5)

    Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten All Time Favourite Characters in Books. This list isn't in any particular order.

    1. Elizabeth Bennet The heroine of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is quick witted and good hearted, although quick to judge. Come on, everyone loves Elizabeth. Even Caroline Bingley loves her; she's just so jealous of her that she assumes this strong emotion she's feeling is hate. Pictured is Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie, from the 1995 BBC TV series. I've never understood why my Mom named me after Emma and not Lizzie Bennet. 

    2. Harry Potter I had a bit of difficulty choosing one character from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, but I decided to choose the main man. Many of my friends hate Harry Potter the character but love the series. While Harry has a temper and often does very stupid (but brave) things, he is also incredibly selfless, brave, acts quickly under pressure and has great instincts. He also has a great capacity to love, which is what the books are all about, really. In the earlier books, I picture him close to how he's seen on the US Goblet of Fire cover.

    3. Atticus Finch In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is the main character's lawyer father. The Finch's live in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. When a clearly innocent black man is accused of raping a local girl, Atticus defends the man, Tom Robinson, in court, after going to great lengths to insure that Tom made it to the trial. Atticus is wise and always tries to do the right thing, no matter how difficult it is. It is eery how wonderful Gregory Peck's portrayal of him is in the 1962 film. 

    4. Katniss Everdeen This girl. Katniss becomes a tribute in the 74th Hunger Games when she volunteers in place of her twelve year old sister, Prim. A strong hunter, Katniss will have to fight to survive if she wants to be the one person left standing when the games are over. Katniss is brave, strong and selfless. Sometimes it feels like girls in novels are sort of Bella Swans, who need a boyfriend. Katniss is the girl that sparks a revolution, and is one of the best things about The Hunger Games. You have to love The Girl on Fire. 

    5. Anne Shirley Anne of Green Gables is an imaginative young girl who finds herself adopted by the Cuthberts of Avonlea, even though they were expecting a boy. Anne can turn the simplest things into something fantastical, and finds Avonlea full of kindred spirits. Able to live in the most beautiful place she can imagine, Anne leaves her sorrows behind and soon she becomes a big part of Green Gables. I love Anne's joy for life, her imagination and even her fiery temper. You can read my review of Anne of Green Gables here

    6. Lyra Belacqua The main character of His Dark Materials series, Lyra is brave, rebellious, headstrong and worthy of the nickname Lyra Silvertongue. In a way she's quite wild, since she hasn't had a proper upbringing and was raised as an orphan.

    7. Sherlock Holmes The famous consulting detective is completely brilliant, and his arrogance is probably deserved. Thank God Arthur Conan Doyle brought him back from the dead after The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes; can you imagine Sherlock Holmes without The Hound of the Baskervilles
    8. Lucy Pevensie Perhaps not the most obvious choice, but I love Lucy. She's probably the main character of the series, and she certainly believes in Aslan the most. I've always liked how it's her goodness and innocence that protects her: what convinces Mr. Tummus to save Lucy is that she couldn't fathom that he would betray her. I should also say that I've always had a soft spot for Edmund, although Lucy probably would have had the brains never to eat magical food. I mean, everyone knows not to do that. Well, at least everyone who reads fairy tales. 

    9. Jo March The main character in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Jo is a headstrong and passionate writer. She is hopelessly flawed but so real it's hard to imagine she isn't a real person. Of course, that might be because she is based on the author herself. 

    10. Augustus Waters Oh, Augustus. There is no picture of this wonderful boy, partly due to the fact that the book just came out, but also because who could completely capture everything that is Augustus? In John Green's newest book, The Fault In Our Stars, Augustus is a cancer survivor and an amputee, who falls in love with the book's main character, Hazel. He's obsessed with the idea of heroism and that our lives and deaths should mean something. Despite everything, he's not afraid to love. You can read my review of The Fault In Our Stars here

    Honourable mention to Anna from Anna and the French Kiss, Frankie from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, Ed Kennedy from I Am The Messenger and Rudy Steiner from The Book Thief. 

    Who are your favourite characters from books? 

    A Guide to Vlogbrother Videos for Fans of John's Books

    John Green is the author of a number of successful novels for teens, including Looking For Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. John is also one half of the Vlogbrothers; he and his brother Hank Green make youtube videos that formed the Nerdfighter community. This post is your quick guide to Vlogbrothers videos that discuss any of John Green's novels. While there are many great videos made my John and Hank that are not related to John's books, this list is for anyone who would like some more background information about Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson and The Fault in Our Stars. There are five years worth of videos, so feel free to leave the URL of any videos I missed so I can add them to the list. While some of these videos you could watch before reading the books (such as John reading from the first chapters,) most of them will be best enjoyed after you finish reading. 

    Looking For Alaska
    • "I Am Not A Pornographer" John talks about English classes reading his book and how a controversial scene in Looking For Alaska lead to it being called pornography. Some people believed that Looking For Alaska was pornographic and would have a negative affect on teen readers. John talks about his thoughts on these allegations and how Looking For Alaska is not porn. 
    • "Famous Last Words" John quickly shares the 50 last words of famous (and deceased) individuals. While this video isn't directly related to Looking For Alaska, famous last words played a large role in the book.  
    • "Foreign John Green Books and the Ultimate Concern" I really wanted to include this video, even though it doesn't talk about the books as in depth as other videos do. But it does show a number of foreign copies of John's books, and features him discussing how something Sarah told him on their first date made it into Looking For Alaska. 
    •  "Looking for Alaska at my High School" In this Thoughts From Places video, John returns to his old high school in Birmingham Alabama, which is pretty much identical to the school Miles attends in Looking for Alaska. This video shows various places featured in the book, even showing the swan. 
    •  "Looking for Alaska Five Years After the Printz Award" Nearly five years after Looking For Alaska won the Printz Award, John discusses the story behind the book and describes how writing a book cannot be done by one person alone. 
      An Abundance of Katherines
      • "Quotations (And Holden Hats)" John discusses the quotation "What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable" and how it is often miscontextualized. One of the quotes I often see quoted from John originates from this video: "Maybe our favourite quotations say more about us than the stories and people we're quoting." 
      Paper Towns

        Will Grayson, Will Grayson
        • "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" John reads from the first chapter of his new book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which he cowrote with David Levithan. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is about two teenage boys named Will Grayson who meet by chance in Chicago. As Levithan's Will struggles with coming out and having his heart broken, Green's Will does his best to never have his heartbroken by not letting himself care about anyone or anything. 

        The Fault in Our Stars
        • "Men Running on Tanks and the Truth About Book Editors" John talks about the editorial process involved in specifically The Fault in Our Stars, while mentioning his other books as well. 
        • "THE FAULT IN OUR STARS" For the first time, John announces the title of his newest book, The Fault In Our Stars. The title was suggested by a nerdfighter, and references a line from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. 
        • "Reading Chapter One of The Fault In Our Stars" In this (long) live show video, John reads the first chapter of The Fault In Our Stars. 
        • "The Fault In Our Stars" It's Question Tuesday and The Fault In Our Stars is finally available in most countries. John answers questions about his newest book before leaving for the tour. 
        • "TFiOS Party!" Hank talks about how proud he is of John for writing The Fault In Our Stars. Video clips of excited nerdfighters are also shown. 
        • "Wrong But Right: Thoughts from Places Amsterdam" It was after watching this video that I was inspired to write this list. John has gone back to Amsterdam to celebrate the release of The Fault In Our Stars in the Netherlands, and talks about Hazel being wrong but right while showing key places from the book and where he wrote it.  
        • "Video Game Books" This video was not done by the Vlogbrothers (but by Marldance) but features Hank playing "Video Game Books" at Tour De Nerdfighting New York (I was there.) The song is from Hazel's perspective about Augustus and his favourite book. 
        On Writing

        In My Mailbox (35)

        In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

        Yay, new books! Last Sunday I bought A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin, the sequel to A Game of Thrones. I'm planning on catching up on my reading this week by reading a lot of books, then reading A Clash of Kings next week. On Thursday I bought As You Like It by William Shakespeare. I'm going to see the play at the Globe in September, and I wanted to read the play before I go. I own the works, but I just wanted a little paperback to bring with me when I go to summer camp. On Friday I volunteered at my library's book shop and bought two books for .50 each: The Complete Poems of John Keats and A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. My friend really liked A Million Little Pieces, and someone recommended it to me on my blog. To be honest, I'm sort of regretting buying it, but it didn't cost very much. 

        As usual, I have a pretty random selection from the library. Gone by Michael Grant is a book about a world in which everyone wakes up one day to find all the adults gone. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin will be my first of her books, although I'm not quite sure if this is the right place to start. I already own City of Illusions, Planet of Exile and Rocannon's World, which, as I understand it, take place in the same universe. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen looks interesting: it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set in the Holocaust. A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce is a retelling of The Miller's Daughter story. Last is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I read this ages ago, but the details are a little hazy. I do remember it being very good, though. 

        What was in your mailbox this week? 

        Review: The Death Cure

        Title: The Death Cure (The Maze Runner #3)
        Author: James Dashner
        Publisher: Delacorte Books For Young Readers
        Publication Date: October 11th, 2011
        Genre: YA, Dystopia, Science Fiction

        This review contains spoilers concerning The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials.

        In this final instalment of The Maze Runner series, the stakes are higher than ever for Thomas and the other Gladers. After the third trial is over, WICKED promises Thomas and the other Gladers that the time for lies is over and their old memories will finally be returned to them. After being put through so much by the Creators, Thomas isn’t sure if he can trust them again. WICKED is ready to create the cure for the flare, and they have all the variables they need to select the final candidate that will help them create a cure. When Thomas, Newt and Minho escape and find themselves outside of WICKED’s control for the first time they can remember, they get to see what the world has become. In a world void of hope, all those who are free of the disease live in constant fear or it, while the infected slowly lose their minds. As Thomas comes to understand the affects of the flare more fully, he wonders if WICKED’s actions could be justified. Can the lives of some be sacrificed for the greater good? And if it comes down to it, would Thomas be able to die for the sake of humanity?

        This is the final book in The Maze Runner series, although I think a prequel is on its way. I loved The Maze Runner but didn’t enjoy The Scorch Trials that much. My feelings for The Death Cure fall somewhere in the middle. While I had to make myself keep reading at times during book two, this book was difficult to put down. There was lots of suspense, some new information and a great deal of excitement. While others were frustrated that we still don’t get to see Thomas’ past, I think that was partly due to the fact that the prequel is on its way. A lot of people were unhappy with this book, but I think I enjoyed it because I had lower expectations after being disappointed by The Scorch Trials. Dashner is a great storyteller, and that’s what I liked about these books. The plot is compelling, but the writing is fairly straightforward. I don’t think Dashner writes romance or female characters very well, and I still don’t find Thomas to be a compelling character. I loved Minho and Newt just as much as ever, and they almost made up for the flatness of Brenda. I never felt like Teresa, who is supposed to be a major character, was all that developed either. Dashner definitely writes male characters best, and we even get to see one of the Gladers return in this book. It felt like this book touched on heavier themes than the previous books in the series, such as the nature of good and evil and whether a small group can be sacrificed to save the masses. I enjoyed The Death Cure, but I could see why it wasn’t as satisfying an ending as some people needed. I am counting on the prequel to provide more answers, and it certainly looks promising. Packed with excitement and fast paced action, this final instalment of the Thomas’ adventures will keep you reading to the last page.


        5 Bookish Things That I'm Excited About

        1. A Mighty Girl Last month a new website called A Mighty Girl launched and I am not a skilled enough writer to describe how excited I am about this website. A Mighty Girl features recommendations of books and movies that feature strong, confident females. Who needs Bella Swan when you have Katniss Everdeen and Lyra Belacqua? Perfect for teachers and parents, the site offers the world's largest selection of great books and movies for girls, from Judy Blume to Hayao Miyazaki. It's a great site (with an adorable logo) that offers a huge, well organized selection of recommendations. The site was founded by Carolyn Danckaert and Aaron Smith, based on the idea that all girls should have access to books and movies that offer positive female role models. And who can argue with that? You can also follow A Mighty Girl on Facebook.

        2. J.K. Rowling is Everywhere! Since she is infamous for making people wait (whether it's for books, tweets or website updates) it has been wonderful to hear so much from the creator of Harry Potter this past week. Her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, will be released September 27th of this year. You can read more here. It was also revealed that Jo is writing the long awaited Harry Potter encyclopedia. (x) Pottermore was also opened to everyone this past week. Thanks to an all-nighter back in the summer, I was lucky enough to be one of the Beta testers for Pottermore. After what felt like forever, I was finally able to login to the site around Labour Day, and was overjoyed when I finally got to go to Hogwarts, have my word choose me (elm with a phoenix core, 14 and a half inches, unyielding) and be sorted (Ravenclaw.) I also got to learn new information about the Potter universe, duel and make potions. This interactive site was originally supposed to be open to the public in October, but instead there was a long wait reminiscent of the push back of the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince film, and Pottermore was finally open to the public on April 14th. Now anyone can be on Pottermore, regardless of where you live or how pure your blood is. While I know many people were disappointed with the site, I was impressed with its accuracy of sorting and all the new information J.K. Rowling provided. I hope everyone who has signed up in the past few days thought it was worth the wait.

        3. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries I'm kind of worried for Hank Green's well being, since he seems to do everything! The co-founder of the Vlogbrothers and Crash Course has embarked on a new project called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, in which Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is retold through vlogs made by the story's protagonist, Lizzie Bennet. Adapting a novel through video vlogs is so simple it's brilliant. As far as I know, no one has ever done it before and Pride and Prejudice is a perfect place to start. While The Lord of the Rings would make terrible vlog diaries (it would just be Frodo vlogging, minus all the action and would make no sense) Pride and Prejudice is perfect because it's so character based. Just three episodes in, I think the series is clever and entertaining, with great acting. There are a few changes so far: the story is set in the present U.S, not Regency England. Lizzie also has two sisters (Lydia and Jane) instead of four. The series was created and executive produced by Hank Green and Bernie Su.

        4. Holden Caulfield Thinks You're a Phony I am incredibly excited about this t-shirt! I first saw it in this video and I fell madly in love. The shirt of course references Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and even though I hate shipping things from the US to Canada, I bought one yesterday. I'm going to wear it to my wedding. And funeral. Just everywhere.

        5. Insurgent by Veronica Roth Ever since Veronica Roth posted pictures of the hardcover copy of her new book Insurgent, I've been itching to read itThis book is the sequel to Divergent and will be released on May 1st.

        From websites to book releases, what is everyone else excited about lately?

        Review: Wonderstruck

        Title: Wonderstruck
        Author: Brian Selznick
        Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
        Publication Date: September 13th, 2011
        Genre: Junior Fiction, Historical Fiction

        In 1927, Rose spends her days making a scrapbook about a famous actress and turning her workbooks into paper recreations of buildings. In her house in Hoboken, Rose looks out at Manhattan and dreams of leaving her home. When Rose sees an article in the newspaper about her favourite actress doing a play in New York, that might be the incentive Rose needs to leave New Jersey. In 1977, Ben mourns for his mother who died earlier that year. One night when he returns to his old house, a lightening storm changes everything for Ben. When he finds a few old items by chance, Ben decides to leave Minnesota for New York to find the father he’s never known. With Ben’s story told through words and Rose’s through pictures, their two stories converge in the American Museum of Natural History.

        From the author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Wonderstruck follows two children as they embark on journeys that will change everything for them. Told in a similar format as Hugo, this book features Selznick’s beautiful illustrations. I loved how, like in Hugo, Selznick incorporated real places and things into the book. I loved the story and how the two different plotlines started out with nothing in common and slowly came together. I went to the American Museum of Natural History earlier this year, so discovering that it is featured in this book was a very pleasant surprise. I loved the role different things, such as lightening, New York, museums and collections, played in the book. This book is partially inspired by From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, although the two books are very different. I loved how the different settings in the story fit into the plot. This book is huge, but it is a quick read, due to all the pages of drawings. Because of this, you might think that the characters would feel underdeveloped, but Selznick managed to create realistic characters in a short amount of time. The writing was good, but it lacked the special magical feeling that Hugo had. Before you start this book, the most important thing to know is that probably half of the book is made of illustrations. I could see people picking this book up without knowing that and feeling disappointed in the shortness of such a large book. Writing another novel after the success of The Invention of Hugo Cabret would have felt like a difficult feat, but Brian Selznick managed to create another original and captivating novel. The illustrations make this book truly beautiful, and it manages to share a lot of the best features of Hugo while still being completely unique. After how much I loved Hugo, it felt like Selznick’s next book wouldn’t be able to compare. Lightening must have struck twice for Brian Selznick, because Wonderstruck was an amazing novel about the things that make us who we are.


        “Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders.”

        In My Mailbox (34)

        In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

        From the library, I took out four books: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, Snow by Tracy Lynn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale and Zel by Donna Jo Napoli. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour is the only book I took out that's not a fairy tale retelling. It's a road trip book and it looks really good, although I don't like the word epic. I have a funny feeling that I started to read Snow before, maybe 8 or 9 years ago. I definitely remember a book where the princess was named Jessica. I may not have finished just because something came up, not because I didn't like it. Also, my friends and I used to go to the library ever few weeks and come very close to our our library's limit: 30 books! You can bet a lot of these books went unread. Book of a Thousand Days looks really good, although I know little about it. Zel is a tiny book, and I read and enjoyed another book by the author, Daughter of Venice. 

        This week The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict was released and I bought, read and reviewed it earlier in the week. It's a prequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society books, following the society's founder as a child. Great book that's smart and fun. 

        What was in your mailbox this week? 

        Review: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

        Title: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict (The Mysterious Benedict Society Prequel)
        Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
        Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
        Publication Date: April 10th, 2012
        Genre: Junior Fiction, Mystery, Adventure

        Before Nicholas Benedict brought four unusual children together, he was just a lonely orphan himself, sent from one orphanage to another. While Nicholas’ mind might be extraordinary, his abnormally large nose and his narcolepsy make him a target for the other children. When nine-year-old Nicholas arrives at Rothschild Manor, he can only hope that things will become better for him. There, he makes a quick friend only to have him scared away by the orphanage bullies, the Spiders. With his photographic memory and canny ability to notice everything, no one has ever met a child like Nicholas. When he discovers that the former residents of the orphanage, the Rothschild’s, have a hidden treasure room, Nicholas wants to solve the mystery. Finding a hidden treasure would solve all of Nicholas’ problems and free him from the orphanage. Ever a mystery, Nicholas has much to learn before he becomes the founder of the Mysterious Benedict Society.

        This is the prequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, following the society’s leader when he was a brilliant child. I loved the first two books in the series, but felt disappointed in the final book. Left feeling unsatisfied with the ending, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, since prequels can be a hit or miss. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is a clever book in which a mystery slowly unfolds as we get to see Nicholas start to become the person we know from the other books in the series. I was worried that Nicholas would be too similar to Reynie, but the two characters felt distinctly different. Nicholas is odd, but he’s always had to look after himself and is resourceful as well as brilliant. Nicholas has never known his parents, and is convinced that people are naturally bad, especially adults. As Nicholas learns more about the true nature of humans, he discovers what kind of person he wants to become. Although his uniqueness earns him his share of enemies, he also forms true friendships. In junior fiction, sometimes I find that conflicts are resolved with magical solutions. I liked how in this novel Nicholas learns how to live with some of his problems while resolving others on his own. He didn’t just make them disappear by turning back the clock or having someone cast a spell. At first, I didn’t know exactly what this book was about, aside from being about Nicholas Benedict. While dodging bullies, Nicholas tries to find a hidden treasure room in the orphanage. He researches the Rothchilds and pieces together the clues to find the truth about their treasure. Unlike in The Mysterious Benedict Society, there aren’t any codes and riddles, but I liked how all the pieces of the mystery came together in the end. I was really happy with the ending, although early on in the book it felt like things were moving slowly. While The Mysterious Benedict books are filled with codes and little mysteries, The Extraordinary Education is made up of one big mystery, and has no fantasy elements, unlike the trilogy. I think fans of the other books will enjoy this prequel, although you could easily read this book without knowing anything about the other books in the series. A great junior fiction book for anyone, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict is an exciting story about a smart thinking boy who will grow into a truly great man.


        Review: A Game of Thrones

        Title: A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
        Author: George R.R. Martin
        Publisher: Random House
        Publication Date: August 6th, 1996
        Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

        When the King, Robert, leaves King’s Landing to visit his old friend Ned Stark in the North, a chain of events are set into motion that will forever alter the fate of the Seven Kingdoms. When the King offers Ned the newly available position of the King’s Hand, Ned will have to seriously consider leaving Winterfell to run the kingdom. A man of honour, Ned has five children with his wife Catelyn and one illegitimate son, Jon Snow. Although it is highly irregular, Jon lives with the Starks and has never met his mother. While Jon, who has never completely belonged with the Starks, decides to become one of the Night’s Watch, Ned will have to leave Winterfell to become the King’s most trusted advisor. Just as Ned and three of his children are to leave Winterfell with the King, something happens that makes his wife distrust the Queen. Meanwhile, in the East, the son of the former King is conspiring to gain back his throne from Robert, the Usurper, by marrying his thirteen-year-old sister, Daenerys, to Khal Drogo, a Dothraki warlord. With the Dothraki army approaching and a conspiracy discovered by Ned Stark, it is clear that the long summer is over and winter is coming.

        I was rather intimidated by the hefty epic fantasy novel, even though it is quite popular, especially since the HBO show just started its second season. I was expecting something more like The Lord of the Rings, but A Game of Thrones has little in common with Tolkien’s works. The world in this book is reminiscent of England in the middle ages, and magic didn’t play as large a role as it does in The Lord of the Rings. A political fantasy, this book is told from the third person point of view of various different characters, altering each chapter. From Ned Stark of Winterfell, his wife Catelyn, his bastard son Jon, his daughters Arya, Sansa and son Brann, as well as from the point of view of Daenerys and Tyrion, the Queen’s dwarf brother. Seeing different characters' point of view worked well, as we get to see different parts of the Seven Kingdoms, from The Wall to the East. I loved Arya Stark, who was my favourite character by far. After finishing one of her sections I would flip ahead to see how long till the next one. Arya is only nine, but I loved her strength and bravery. All the characters, whether I hated them or loved them, were well developed and realistic. While this book is 800 pages, I was surprised by how it never felt like it was dragging on, and by how easy to plot was to follow. The pacing was also well done, which is important with a book as long as this one. Choosing one quote for this book was difficult, since there were so many great ones. I liked the writing style, but I didn’t like the way sexuality was portrayed in this book. While this will make me sound very uptight, I hated the sex scenes, which I found to be distasteful, to put it mildly. With rape, incest and violence, I’d say this book isn’t for the faint of heart. I guessed this going in, since the adaptation is from HBO, which just makes me think of graphic violence and nudity. That aside, A Game of Thrones was a compelling story about the fight for the throne. It’s greatest strength is that it’s a gripping story with strong characters. In A Game of Thrones, the stakes are high and the characters must decide which side they’re on, with their lives on the line.


        “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

        Top Ten Tuesday (4)

        Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Top Ten Books That Were Totally Deceiving. This could refer to books that had covers or summaries that didn't fit with what the book was actually like. For me, this is mostly times I was completely off base in my assumptions about books. This list isn't in any particular order.

        1. Looking For Alaska by John Green The title is perfect the way it is, but I first thought that this book was about a young boy who goes on a road trip to Alaska. I didn't think that the title referred to him literally looking for Alaska, but I thought it would be about him searching for what kind of place Alaska truly is. On the way, he would fall in love with a girl who made him feel like drizzle (I'd seen quotes on the Internet.) The real book is much better. You can read my review for the real Looking for Alaska here

        2. Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock It's the cover that's to blame for this book. Even though I'd heard so many good things about this book, the title made it look, well, bad. I was expecting a fluffy book about a spoilt city girl whose family loses all their money and has to move back the family farm, owned by her old fashioned Grandparents. There, the heroine would suffer through gross chores, while falling for the farm's stable boy, who she initially clashes with.  Once again, the real book was better. DJ is definitely no spoilt Princess. You can read the review (and find out what the book is really about) here

        3. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins While I think Dairy Queen could benefit from a new cover, Anna and the French Kiss is perfect the way it is. However, the cover and the title made me think it would be a cheesy, fluffy teen romance. But Anna was so much more than that! I probably wouldn't have even picked this book up if it weren't for all the praise it recieved (including a glowing review from John Green.) Luckily, I looked past my assumptions and read this book (and later bought it.) You can read my review here

        4. Secrets From the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean I'm not sure how popular these books are outside of Canada, but Stuart McLean hosts a radio show on CBC and some of the stories he tells on that show have been collected into books. This was my first Vinyl Cafe book, and I wasn't expecting light hearted (and often hilarious) stories centring around a family and their friends, family members and neighbours. Based on the cover, I thought this book would be a fun mystery, focusing on a crime (not murder) in a cafe. The culprit would be one of the cafes regular customers. Of course, the Vinyl Cafe is actually the name of Dave's record store. 

        5. Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan Due to my laziness, I skimmed over the title and for a while before I read it I thought this book was about two female friends, Naomi and Elly. It took me a few pages to figure out that Ely was a boy. I actually assumed that Naomi was bisexual at first. It didn't occur to me that I was an idiot who couldn't read. In my defence, Bruce's mom makes the same mistake in the book. 

        6. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Random Riggs With the ominous looking cover and the 'horror' sticker my library stuck on the book's spine, I was terrified to read this book. I didn't even notice that the girl on the cover was levitating (another case of me missing details and being completely off about what a book is about.) I thought this book was going to be about a teen who, against his will, has to move to a deserted area near an abandoned orphanage. When peculiar things begin to happen to him, he decides to investigate what happened to the children who lived there, only to slowly learn that they were all brutally murdered by Miss Peregrine. He soon begins to wonder if whoever killed these children might come back for him. Once again, the real thing is much better. Review here

        7. Across the Universe by Beth Revis I had no idea that this book was going to be science fiction. A lot of people heard the name and assumed it was related to either The Beatles song of the same name, or to the movie of the same name (based on The Beatles song.) I didn't think that, but glancing at the cover in bookstores (and missing the description on the cover) I thought it was going to be romance novel (set on earth.) I guess I assumed the title either referred to the couple's favourite song, or how their love was so strong it could span across galaxies (or something equally as cheesy.) Alas, I was wrong again. This book is actually about a space ship that is taking a number of frozen passengers to a new planet. 

        8. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling This is probably one of those things that no one should ever confess, but I honestly didn't know that this book was going to be about a boy wizard. In my defence, I was only nine and I had never even heard of Harry Potter. My fourth grade teacher read the book to us, so I never got a good look at the back of the book. The front of the UK cover just shows a boy at a train station with a silly name printed on the train's engine. I knew it was going to be a fantasy book due to the fact a cat turns into a woman in the first chapter, but I didn't know what Hogwarts was or what was going to happen. That was nearly thirteen years ago, and now I don't think it's very likely that anyone will pick up this book without a fairly good idea of what is going to happen. 

        9. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth When I picked this book up at Barnes & Noble I was expecting something similar to Dairy Queen. Farm girl deals with life in a small town while trying to discover who she really is and where she belongs. When I read the jacket and saw that it was about a girl whose parents have just died, but she's filled with relief because she spent that daying kissing a girl, I was very surprised. Even though the cover doesn't fit (Cameron doesn't actually live on a farm; I don't remember her being near any hay in the book) I do like the cover. You can read more here

        10. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick I definitely thought this book was going to be fantasy. I thought it might even be the next Harry Potter! While there is a feeling of magic and wonder, it is actually historical fiction. I also thought Hugo Cabret was the invention. You can read my review here

        Review: A Year Without Autumn

        Title: A Year Without Autumn
        Author: Liz Kessler
        Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
        Publication Date: April 1st, 2011
        Genre: Junior Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary

        Jenni is looking forward to spending the end of her summer vacation with her family at their timeshare apartment. While it’s great to get away, she also gets to spend the last weeks of summer with her best friend Autumn and her family. Autumn is the best friend Jenni could wish for: she’s exciting while Jenni is cautious. After Jenni takes a ride in the rickety old elevator in their building, she knocks on Autumn’s apartment door only to find someone else living there. Although it might seem impossible, Jenni seems to have travelled a year in the future. It seems unimaginable to Jenni, but something has happened in the last year that has put a wedge in Jenni and Autumn’s friendship. As Jenni keeps travelling further into the future, she sees everything she knows unravel each year. While her friendship with Autumn once seemed indestructible, a tragic event has distanced them and Jenni actually went a year without talking to Autumn. Was it really worth it for Jenni to see the future and is it set in stone?

        I love time travel and was looking forward to A Year Without Autumn, but once I started reading this book and realized that the main character was twelve, I wasn’t so sure anymore. As the story started to unfold, I was sure I knew what was going to happen. Autumn’s bossy ways and Jenni’s belief that she didn’t deserve her best friend would push them apart. As it turns out, things were much more complicated than this. As Jenni tries to piece together what happened to ruin her friendship with Autumn, she finds out that a tragic event occurred on the very day she travelled to the future. As she travels into the future a year at a time, she finds that this event didn’t just affect her friendship with Autumn but her whole family as well. This aspect of the plot was touching and made me emotionally invested in the story. The characters also proved to be less superficial than they first appeared. As I said, I love time travel. Some of the particulars of the time travel made my head spin and I think there were a few things that didn’t make sense. However, the overall affect worked well. Another thing I didn’t like was the character of Mrs. Smith: that plotline felt a bit forced to me. Of course, a few flaws doesn’t stop me from liking a book. I easily found myself wrapped up in the story and sitting on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. A Year Without Autumn is not only about time travel and fantasy, but also about friendship and family. It’s a great read for younger readers looking for a story about friendship and growing up with a twist.