Dec 22, 2014

The Center of the Universe

My Week In Books

When I get ready for trips, I do my research by reading novels and watching films. I love visiting a far off town and seeing something I recognize from a book or a movie. It turns out, this joy works in reverse, too.

In The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak, we travel through sixteenth century Istanbul with Jahan and his white elephant, Chota. The animal is part of the palace menagerie and Jahan, as his trainer, makes his home among other animal keepers. When not working at the palace, he is an apprentice to Sinan, the city's most revered architect.

Sinan and his team of apprentices work on mosques and aqueducts and shrines. Many times over Jahan describes the domes of their greater works and what accomplishments they are. It reminded me of the many domes we walked beneath, around and near while visiting Turkey.

The Mausoleum of Sultan Mehmed Turbesi in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Mausoleum of Sultan Mehmed Turbesi in Istanbul, Turkey.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.
Istanbul Modern, a modern art museum in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Turkey.
Istanbul Modern, a modern art museum in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, Turkey.
View from a rooftop terrace restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey.
View from a rooftop terrace restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey.
View from the ferry ride from the European side of Istanbul, Turkey, to the Asian side.
View from the ferry ride from the European side of Istanbul, Turkey, to the Asian side.
The Architect's Apprentice is about more than architecture, of course. Like may other books detailing life in royal palaces during the 16th century (think Philippa Gregory's books), there is romance, backstabbing and intrigue.

In March readers will be able to get a copy of The Architect's Apprentice, though it's available for Kindles now. I was fortunate enough to score a copy of the novel early thanks to GoodReads First Reads. Add this to your To Read list and check it out as soon as it's available. If you've been, or plan to visit, Turkey, it will be wonderful. If you appreciate beautiful writing, it will be magical.

The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak.

Dec 17, 2014

What's Tastier: a Bowl of Cookie Crisp or a Bowl Full of Actual Cookies?

Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles)


In this edition of the Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles), where I enlist my family and friends to go back and taste test all of the cereals our moms wouldn't let us eat growing up, my brother, Kittyvator and I sample Cookie Crisp. What will it taste be like as adults? Will they be as good as we suspected? Or, were our moms right all along?

Then we go one step further and dare to ask the question: What tastes better: a bowl of Cookie Crisp or a bowl full of actual cookies?

We taste test Cookie Crisp cereal as adults to see if the allure from childhood remains.

Cookie Crisp

A bowl full of Cookie Crisp - note how the pieces shimmer with sugar.

Have you had this cereal before?

Brother: No
Kittyvator: No
Me: No

 

As a kid, what did you think it would taste like?

Brother: A bowl full of min-Chips Ahoys. if that's what it tastes like, my tastebuds will be pleased, buy I'll still be sad for our children.
Kittyvator: Chips Ahoy is my guess.
Me: I'd hope like cookies and milk!

 

Now that you've tried it, what do you think it tastes like?

Brother: It tastes more like cereal than cookies. My tastebuds don't appreciate that but at least the kids won't get diabetes.
Kittyvator: This jus just weirdness personified in a cereal.
Me: Cookie-flavored cereal, I supposed, but that turns out to be disgusting.

 

Was your mom right or wrong to not let you eat this?

Brother: Good job, Mom. Stick with cereal that looks like cereal.
Kittyvator: Absolutely.
Me: Correct!

  

The Verdict: This gets a thumbs down from all of us.

It's a taste-off between Cookie Crisp and a bowl flu of Chips Ahoy.

What happens when you just eat a bowl full of cookies instead of the cereal?

A bowl full of Mini Chips Ahoy.

What was better: a bowl full of Cookie Crisp or a bowl full of Mini Chips Ahoy?

Brother: Has the recipe changed for Chip Ahoy or did Cookie Crisp ruin my pallet? The real cookies are better, but only a by a little.
Kittyvator: The cookies were not better. They weren't hard and were basically tasteless.
Me: The Mini Chips Ahoy were better than Cookie Crisp but not nearly as tasty as I remember.

  

The Verdict: We're undecided about which is better - the bowl of Cookie Crisp or a bowl of Mini Chips Ahoy.

Dec 16, 2014

Kidnappings, Examining Rock and a Murder Mystery on the Bayou

My Week In Books

When someone recommends to me a book I like, I go back to them for more in the hopes they'll continue to be a good source of great books. Kat Chow, an NPR reporter and sometimes guest on Pop Culture Happy Hour did me right. Again. When I started reading An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, all I knew was that Chow enjoyed it. A few pages in, I knew I did, too.

As a rule, I don't watch scary movies. I hate that feeling of something being about to jump out at any moment, of waiting for the other shoe to drop. In An Untamed State, Gay establishes from the very first paragraphs that she's setting up something scary. And I was okay with that. When something is scary on paper, I can shot the book when it gets to be too much. With a movie I have to cover my eyes and plug my ears and that just doesn't leave a free hand for using the remote to turn off the television.

In An Untamed State, Mireille Duval Jameson is in Haiti with her husband and son visiting family when she gets kidnapped. Her thirteen days in captivity and the recovery that follows are explained in great detail. Interspersed throughout, Gay shares with us background into Mireille's relationship with her family growing up, her husband and his family and the country her parents call home.

There are so many topics lying central to An Untamed State: privilege, violence against women, the experience of first- and second-generation immigrants. I was most intrigued by the story of recovery. How does a person recover after experiencing terrible violence perpetrated against them? How do relationships recover?

Gay has created a marvelous book. When I was done and logged the book in my GoodReads account, my review simply said, "Wow."

- - -

When I look back on life, I see it as punctuated by music - good and bad - and it was for that reason I was interested in Behind the Music: A Collection of Short Stories With a Musical Theme by Karen J. Mossman. This short collection leans towards chic lit with it's dramatic stories and insertions of romance, which I don't always appreciate. But the first story, A Cry in the Night, about a musician and a woman both taking a break from their regular life and meeting each other in the process, shows a lot of potential. Although just a brief story, Mossman has the beginnings of what could be a much longer romantic novel.

I received a copy of Behind the Music: A Collection of Short Stories With a Musical Theme by Karen J. Mossman for free as part of a GoodReads First Reads contest.

- - -

There was a period when I was younger when I read mysteries all of the time. Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew, whatever. I've gotten out of the habit, but still enjoy a good detective story. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran is just that, but it's so ... quirky. The setting is more The Wire than anything Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple would have encountered. Claire DeWitt herself is sort of a cocky mess, but so up front and confident about it that it's almost okay.

I don't think Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is a story that will stick with me very long, but if I am ever stuck for a book to read, I'll happily check out the other Claire DeWitt story.


An Untamed State; Behind the Music; and Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.

Dec 10, 2014

Tasting the Forbidden Cereal of Our Youth: Honey Smacks

Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles)


In this edition of the Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles), where I enlist my family and friends to go back and taste test all of the cereals our moms wouldn't let us eat growing up, my brother, Kittyvator and I sample Honey Smacks. What will it taste be like as adults? Will they be as good as we suspected? Or, were our moms right all along?

Taste testing Honey Smacks as an adult.

Honey Smacks

Taste testing Honey Smacks as an adult.

Have you had this cereal before?

Brother: No
Kittyvator: Yes
Me: Yes, at my grandparents' house in Cleveland.

 

As a kid, what did you think it would taste like?

Brother: I think they will taste light and airy like Rice Krispies, but maybe more honey-floavored like a Honey Nut Cheerio.
Kittyvator: They'll taste like sweetest corn puffs.
Me: I remember this cereal fondly ... sweet and delicious!

 

Now that you've tried it, what do you think it tastes like?

Brother: We have a winner! This is how cereal is supposed to taste. I am looking forward to starting future mornings off right with some Honey Smacks!
Kittyvator: I'm not sure. It tastes like a chemical with sugar. I loved it.
Me: It's just as I remembered! Bliss!

 

Was your mom right or wrong to not let you eat this?

Brother: WTF mom!
Kittyvator: No. Hell no. Sh!t no. I do believe she was wrong for that!
Me: WRONG! An abomination!

 

The Verdict: We ALL approve!