The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book, by Nadine Horn & Jörg Mayer

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A while ago, I thought I might just try and fit back into my pre-baby pants. First, I decided NO MORE SUGAR. (spoiler alert: I still eat sugar). Then, I bought spandex jogging pants. I huffed and puffed around the block every day and I did the whole “clean eating” thing too. I do not fit into my pre-baby pants. (They went out of style, anyway). But you know what? I did kind of feel a bit…glowy.

Full disclosure: I still can’t wrap my head around vegan “sausage” or “eggs” or “cheese.” I am a cheese-loving, too-much-bacon-loving, sugar-consuming lady. BUT The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book has a lot of good recipes that are delicious even for someone who isn’t ready to jump into the full vegan movement.

Smoothie Heaven

My favourite recipes in this book were the smoothies. While the milks are traditional nut milks, the smoothies turn out looking beautiful with the added bonus of being healthy too! In particular, I liked the blueberry almond milk smoothie, because it was flavourful and (if I’m being honest) not all that bogged down in “greens.” (I do realize that “green smoothies” are healthy, but so often they end up looking like disgusting swamp water, which let’s face it–it just isn’t appetizing! In contrast, all of the smoothies in this book are lovely and worth slurping down.

Breakfast Doughnuts Anyone?

I’ll admit it. I eat doughnuts for breakfast. Probably more than I should. If you’re like me and you’d take doughnuts over kale-whatever-whatever smoothies any day of the week, then Horn & Mayer’s “breakfast doughnuts” recipe might just be the answer to your sugar-coated prayers. They actually taste like doughnuts. Trust me–I wouldn’t lie to you, fellow doughnut lovers. These baked doughnuts are delicious and well worth the time it takes to mix up the ingredients (which, for the record, aren’t super hard to find).

The Ultimate Vegan Breakfast Book feels like a win for vegans and non-vegans alike. It is most definitely a DIY DO if you have an interest in trying out some vegan recipes.

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The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook, Olivia Hops

Besides reading as much as humanly possible, trying feverishly to complete my publishing program and write a lot, every once in a while, I like to try out DIY projects. I too, have been lured in by those fabulous Pinterest sirens. There were the glitter shoes (cracked and never recovered), the countless recipes that festered in my crock pot and the knitting projects that just…never happened (because who really has time to knit? Okay, someone out there does. It’s just not me right now. Props to you, knitters of the inter web. I salute you with my non-callused fingers and my long-forgotten knitting needles lying somewhere, someplace in my house).

Since it’s that time of year where Pinterest is exploding with awesome super-mom lunches and costumes that look like they cost a million bucks (but apparently only cost pennies), for the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring some cool DIY books.

This week’s review is for The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook by Olivia Hops. It’s a fun DIY cookbook that will have you drooling for more…

Clean Layout, Pretty Pictures

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from The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook, 2018.

Aside from the actual recipes, which are excellent and worth checking out, the actual book is well-organized, with sections for how to make “safe-to-eat” cookie dough and desserts that include various cookie dough recipes. I also appreciated the introduction, which told the story of how Olivia Hops came to invent her delicious recipes and start up her business as well as the beautifully stylized pictures.

How Much Do You Love Cookie Dough?

I was honestly on the fence about the whole edible cookie dough fad before reading this book. Sure, I like to sneak a bite of raw cookie dough while mixing up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but with the wild assortment of flavours you can find in Hops’ new cookbook, it elevates edible cookie dough to a whole other level. My favourite? The Key Lime Pie flavoured dough. (If you’re looking for a sample recipe of Olivia Hops fantastic creations, The Washington Post recently published her famous recipe for MONSTER Cookie Dough.)

Overall, I’d classify The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook as a DIY DO!

 

Love Letters to Jane’s World, by Paige Braddock

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I really should read the newspapers more, if only because I might have discovered Jane’s World sooner. (Granted, I was just a kid when Paige Braddock’s iconic LGBTQA comic became popular). Love Letters to Jane’s World is a compilation of the “best” of the comic series and it also features letters from Braddock’s fans. While I may have been too young to be a fan in the early days, I certainly am now!

 

Quirky Jane

Jane’s storylines are fun to read, because her character has such a wild imagination. While there is the tension/love-connection between Chelle and Jane, I also appreciated her wackier storylines, where Jane gets abducted by aliens or dreams that she is on an island of Amazons. The dialogue is witty and the storylines were quick-paced enough to keep me flipping pages.

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The “Best” of Jane’s World

While this compilation won’t give you an all-access pass to all of the moments from Jane’s World, it does sample a lot of great moments from the beginning, middle and later parts of the series. It was interesting to watch Jane and the world that she lives in change across the panels, and it made me want to read more. Some of the transitions between panels were a bit abrupt, which for an uninitiated Jane’s World first-time reader was confusing, but the actual stories were excellent.

 

 

 

Give this collection a try if you’re looking for a quick read with some lovable characters.

Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe

 

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When I heard that the upcoming YA fantasy Ruthless Magic, by Megan Crewe was a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter I was pretty darn excited to get an advanced reader’s copy. I have to admit that there were some fascinating aspects of this new magical YA story, although I didn’t feel like the connection between Suzanne Collin’s page-turning thriller and J.K. Rowling’s classic series entirely did Ruthless Magic any great lip service.

Let me explain.

The Skullduggery Effect

Ten years ago, a series came out called Skullduggery Pleasant. In our local bookstore, the marketing copy read “Pick up the new Harry Potter today!” I was initially intrigued, but what I would later discover was a fantastic series in its own rite just… didn’t “do it” for me, because the truth was that Skullduggery Pleasant is not Harry Potter. It’s true that book marketing teams frequently use “comp titles” to help place their new books in the market, sometimes I think that choosing the wrong title to compare a fledgling book to can ruin what might otherwise be a great reading experience. I call this “The Skullduggery Effect.”

Okay, now back to Ruthless Magic. 

A New Magical World

I liked it. I did. The beginning set up a unique, magical world set in New York City. I thought that it was interesting to read about the hierarchy of magicians and the need for the main characters to fight for a spot at the prestigious magical school. Along with some beautiful prose and tantalizing intrigue in the first few chapters, the characters were likeable and felt genuinely “real.” This is a well-written book on many accounts.

But Where’s the Tension?

While the narrative does create a similar feeling of competition between young individuals like in The Hunger Games, the narrative urgency that had been building for such a good, long time at the start of Ruthless Magic is broken when the characters just decide to work together. (You could argue that some characters work together in The Hunger Games too–especially in later instalments of the series–but there was also other intrigue building that tempered this release of tension between previously “warring” characters. As in, my all-time-favourite will-Katniss-and-Peeta-get-together already storyline). While there was some light romance building, the white-hot tension wasn’t quite there. Or maybe, it just didn’t feel the same…

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Is Ruthless Magic a victim of The Skullduggery Effect? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a well-written narrative with some solid moments that were fun to read, but do yourself a favour and ignore the comp titles for a more enjoyable reading experience.

 

 

Educated, by Tara Westover

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“This is not a story about being Mormon,” writes New York Times Bestselling author Tara Westover, at the start of Educated, a book that has been compared to narratives about cults. I’ll admit that I was intrigued initially, based on this description, but I was quickly won over by Westover’s candid and heartfelt account of her experience growing up in the mountains as part of a fundamentalist Mormon family. Readers who love a good, gritty memoir packed with excitement and a narrator that you can’t help but root for will love Educated.

Family Values

There were many elements of Tara Westover’s life that shocked and surprised me, to the point that I couldn’t set down the book, because I just had to know what would happen. The many visceral descriptions of abuse and other frightening moments in Westover’s life were fascinating to read about, but what stuck out as the most dynamic parts of the story were not her “escape” into more “mainstream” culture, but the relationships that she had with her family.

Even though Westover lives through some truly terrible moments at the hands of her older brother Shawn and her bipolar father, the view that she creates of her family feels balanced. No one is ever quite a villain in this piece, which makes them all the more endearing to read about. I think it is because she includes such tender, honest moments between these characters that they are made human in the readers’ eyes. Because I felt that Westover loved her family despite their flaws, I found myself loving them too.

A College Narrative with a Twist

Maybe it is because I went on to post-secondary education that I was attracted to the descriptions of Tara at College, but I liked reading about her experiences there. This section of the book had some particularly excellent tension, as I was constantly wondering how she would pass courses that required knowledge Tara did not have based on her lack of a high school education, or how she would pay for another semester when she was too broke to eat.

Even more fascinating was Tara’s point of view as a strict Mormon living for the first time with “gentiles.” It was a unique perspective to view and I found that while the earlier scenes featuring her family (and the many times that Tara was put in dangerous situations), this section had its own revelations that kept me turning the pages. I loved reading about her gentile roommates, who had to remind her to wash her hands, or the moment in a lecture where she didn’t know who Hitler was. Reading this section gave me a clearer sense of Westover’s struggle.

Read This Book

Deeply moving, raw and wild like the mountain that she hails from, Tara Westover’s Educated is a narrative that you won’t want to miss. I may have come for the sensational story about escape from a survivalist family, but I found that I never wanted to leave.

Have you read Educated yet? Feel free to share in the comments what you liked about it!

 

 

*Thanks to Netgalley for providing this Advanced Readers Copy!

Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin

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At first glance, Young Jane Young is about scandal, which I happen to like. Quirky, offbeat and often hilarious, the many narrators of “Jane’s” tale are both original and highly entertaining. When you begin to peel back the layers of this complicated and (at times) emotionally eviscerating tale of Aviva Grossman and the people who orbit around her life, it becomes clear that at its heart, Young Jane Young is an exploration of the politics of relationships.

Marriage, She Wrote

Throughout this book, there were several moments where women of all ages were put in submissive positions, or were in some way forced to escape from uncomfortable situations. Aviva’s mother takes us through the trials and tribulations of dating as an older woman, Franny is constantly subdued by her husband and Aviva herself is thrown into the middle of a controversy when she has an affair with a married congressman.

What I found most interesting about this narrative thread was the constant return to the idea of marital fidelity and the role of the women involved. In several of the interconnected storylines, there are married men who are  unfaithful, but each time, it is always the woman who is judged. This is made particularly evident with Aviva’s Grossman, who we learn from the beginning that she has changed her name just to escape the scandal. I think that Gabrielle Zevin creates a lot of strong moments within her narrative that will make readers think more deeply about relationship inequalities and in particular, slut shaming.

A Complicated Kindess

Along with the hardships such as slut shaming that many of the female characters face, Young Jane Young has a lot of funny, sweet moments that kept me reading late into the night. I loved Aviva’s relationship with her daughter, Ruby and their closeness. Although I felt that Ruby’s section of narrative felt disconnected from the other non-epistolary parts, her story was necessary (and completely devastating). What I loved the most about these female narratives was that the characters felt honest and their relationships, though flawed, were enjoyable to follow. I felt like nothing was simple and that made it all the more fascinating to read.

An Intelligent, Multi-layered Narrative

Read this book if you love quick-paced books with lots of narrative layers. Each time I picked up this book, I felt like I was discovering new elements to the story that only deepened my fascination with the characters and their ongoing plights. Zevin even makes references to The Scarlet Letter and Robert McNamera’s “mutually assured destruction,” which were clever details that added to the overarching ideas.

I’m glad that I was given an Advanced Reader Copy of Young Jane Young, because it is an intelligent and funny read that I feel is particularly relevant right now with all of the scandals that are going on in Hollywood right now. Barring that, it’s an exceptionally written story that was a lot of fun to read.

 

 

Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan: A Book Review

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Jennifer Egan, known for her unique form, has a new book out and while it is a departure from the stories that we have loved, I’ll bet you that Manhattan Beach is going to be a new favourite. (At least, it is for me). I received the ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Part mystery, part historical epic, Manhattan Beach has something for just about everyone.

Three Stories

While some reviewers may claim that the book feels disjointed, I liked the variety between the storylines and felt that they intersected in interesting and unexpected ways. Perhaps those readers who first fell in love with A Visit From the Goon Squad weren’t expecting a narrative that follows a different and more linear path.

Egan takes us from the Great Depression into World War Two, splitting the narrative voices between Anna, who struggles to find a place among the men at the naval stockyard, Anna’s father and Dexter Styles (a night club owner). Was it a shock to be suddenly dropped into he 1940’s with an adult Anna? Sure. But I felt that the resulting mystery of Eddie’s disappearance made up for this jolt in the narrative time-frame. It was fascinating to see such a well-researched historical novel unfold from three different points of view, because it added a well-rounded perspective to the story.

A Feisty Heroine

Who doesn’t love an awesome, strong heroine to cheer on? Perhaps my favourite part of Manhattan Beach was following Anna as she becomes the first woman diver in New York Harbour. At a recent interview at the Toronto Public Library Appel Salon, Jennifer Egan mentioned that she interviewed the real-life inspiration for Anna’s character and that a lot of her research was about going beneath the surface of the time that she was writing in, to bring more emotional depth to her characters. With Anna’s character in particular, I felt that this was true.

If you love books that celebrate feisty women and take you on a wild ride through the seedy gang world of New York in the 1930’s-1940’s, pick up a copy of Manhattan Beach.