Read, White, and Blue!

Like many others this 4th of July, I celebrated America’s birthday with friends, food, and fun. But before we kicked off the festivities, a small group of the partygoers made their way to Simi Valley to visit the $5 or Less Bookstore. I am a self-proclaimed “compulsive book buyer” so naturally I wanted to take advantage of the shop’s 50% off sale.

(I love this place! The staff is incredibly friendly, the store is neat, and the inventory is well organized. Sure, I love buying books but I love buying used books the most. Consider buying used (from the $5 or Less Bookstore) next time you’re hunting for your next read!)

The timing of the sale was great and I was excited to share this gem of a store with my friends but more than that, I feel it’s important to celebrate America’s birthday by doing things you love: in my case indulging in my book-buying problem.

In this country, we are free. You see messages proclaiming this every 4th of July, every Memorial Day. While it is just a phrase to many, I take it to heart. It isn’t lost on me that there are countless women around the world that do not have the opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to have whether it be the right to endless education, the right to choose, the right to buy whatever books I’d like…the fact that I’m able to read and write what I please…to read and write at all…is worth celebrating.

So on Saturday, I perused the bookstore happily overwhelmed by the worn spines that looked back at me, begging to be chosen. I left the store with 14 books. Some I chose based on authors I am familiar with, some were chosen based on recommendations, and others…well, they were chosen at random.

 

Here’s what I walked away with:

 

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Brando: the Biography by Peter Manso

Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrwew

Slave by Mende Mazer

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Say You’re One of Them by Uwen Akpan

Interpreter of Madness by Jhumpa Lahiri

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

The Story Teller by Jodi Picoult

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March

 

Quite the wide array of literature if I do say so myself. I’m thankful for my country and the ability to indulge in any and all books that I please. Happy Birthday, America! I love the gift YOU’ve given ME.

(Looking for your next read? Check out the Book Review Section for some guidance!)

How did you spend the 4th of July?

Short, Sweet, Sula: Review

I’ve loved Toni Morrison ever since I read The Bluest Eye in my early teen years. My love for her ability to link words together and make something heartbreakingly beautiful only deepened when I read more of her work in some lit classes in college. Naturally, the last time I was at my local used bookstore, I had to check out their Morrison selection. When I saw that they had several of her novels I went wide-eyed. I was torn between wanting to leave a few copies for someone else and wanting to take everything they had even though I wouldn’t be able to read them right away. I responded like a hoarder and cleared their shelves. Amongst the books I ran off with was a heavily used copy of Sula.

I’m trying to read about three books a month in an effort to make a dent in my overflowing bookshelves. Last month, I took much too long reading my first book. When it came time to choose my second, I combed my bookshelves for a short novel. My eyes landed on a worn, thin spine that read: Sula. At 174 pages, Sula is one of Morrison’s shorter novels; but it holds a punch in true Morrison fashion.

Sula is a girl who lives in a small, impoverished, black town. She is the last in a long line of independent women that keeps the town constantly talking. Her attitude isn’t friendly, her ways are questionable, but her confidence is bold and cautiously refreshing. The book follows her, and various characters she interacts with, over the course of about fifty years, each new chapter depicting one particular year.

Morrison uses Sula to challenge the reader’s idea of leaving your humble beginnings, go out into the world, and to come back with the wealth of knowledge and experience you have accumulated. Naturally, it is not an easy departure or return for Sula but from her choices emerge conflict. From her choices her family’s secrets come to light. The short length makes Sula a quick read, but the drama that unfolds makes it a page-turner.

Perhaps one of my favorite sentences from the novel is: “It was as though he no longer needed to drink to forget whatever it was he could not remember.” This seemingly complex, yet beautiful, sentence refers to an alcoholic character that survived, and is haunted, by the First World War. It’s a short sentence yet it is immensely beautiful and touching. The structure and tone of the sentence manages to perfectly capture the feel of the rest of the characters and the novel as a whole. Morrison is a pro at this.

Sula is short, sweet, and easy to read. Get to your local used bookstore and do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!

 

What is your favorite Toni Morrison book?

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Genre: Eleanor & Park Review

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell was the first book I completed after graduating from UCLA. It was exactly the kind of book I needed to read post-degree. It was fun, tragic, hopeful, and real.

It’s considered a Young-Adult novel and, I’m not going to lie, I was a bit apprehensive about reading it. I feel like there are many people who look down on YA novels. At one point, I was one of them. However, after binging on Eleanor & Park I was struck by guilt. How dare I judge a book based on where it is located within a bookstore. Have I, like many others, not fallen head over heals for Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree? Pssst…it’s considered a Children’s Book. Have I not obsessed over the Harry Potter series? I remember seeing copies of the novels in the Scholastic book catalog I used to receive in grade school. Because I earned a degree in English, all of a sudden I was too good to read a novel with a bright, fun book jacket? I’m happy that I looked past my narrow-mindedness and cracked this story open.

Simply put, Eleanor & Park is about a boy and girl who meet in high school. The girl is severely bullied; the boy is severely independent (although he admittedly cares a little about what people think of him). They first meet each other on the school bus. He doesn’t want anything to do with her but in an attempt to keep her head down and avoid further rejection she takes a seat beside him. Neither of them are happy about the arrangement but it is on this shared bus seat that their tale begins.

I’m not going into more detail about plot only because I hope you will go out and experience this book for yourself. Yes, not just read it but experience it.

The characters are so well written and well rounded. They could easily be friends of yours. If you don’t see yourself in these characters then you’ll see someone you know within them. Personally, an aspect of myself is in every page of this book, which is probably why I love it so dearly. The situations the characters find themselves in are incredibly true to life. The plot isn’t the only wow-factor that emerges from the pages; Rowell’s writing style is genius too. She goes back and forth between Eleanor’s point of view and then Park’s. It’s this type of seesaw that builds excitement, anticipation, and even a bit of anxiety within the reader. “If only he/she knew…” often popped into my head. The chapters are short: some are mere sentences while others are a few pages long. It’s the perfect book for the reader who hates cutting their reading off mid-chapter or the reader who finds themselves flipping through the pages thinking, “When is this chapter over?” Even though I love reading, I love short chapters more. I don’t have a complaint or criticism of the book…except maybe one…but we can talk about it after you’ve read the book for yourself.

So, please, if you’re a lover of the written word, if you ache for stories that are real, go out now and buy the book. Fall in love with Eleanor & Park.

 

What’s your favorite YA book?

Not Your Grandma’s Bread Pudding: B Sweet Review

When I dine with other people, I like to let them choose where we go. You never know when your friend is going to pull out a culinary gem from their back pocket…it also doesn’t hurt that I’m incredibly indecisive and having them decide spares me of the anxiety attack that accompanies choosing.

Last week, my friend and I were trying to plan our Friday night outing. She picked the dinner spot and suggested a dessert place in LA. She texted me and asked if I like bread pudding. I automatically thought: YES (my pumpkin/chocolate chip bread pudding is pretty killer)! As soon as I responded, I wanted to take it back. The bread pudding I’ve been exposed to (if not made by my own hand) usually involves raisins. Why do all “classic” desserts call for raisins? Were their designers merely trying to rid their pantries of these shriveled monsters?

Anyways, before I could go into my long(er) rant about raisins, my friend cut me off and said, “Nah girl, I’m not talking about old people bread pudding.” Her suggested dessert location, B Sweet, was later described as “BOMBBBB.” You know it’s serious when your friend uses all caps.

Friday night rolled around and we made our way to the Sawtelle neighborhood on the other side of the 405. Traffic was non-existent at 10 pm. We braced ourselves for the headache known as LA parking but we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to snag a prime spot with no effort and without having to go through any of the stages of LA-parking grief. As we made our way to the dessert bar, my friend warned the group: It’s going to be crowded. However, when we walked through the welcoming glass door, below a beautifully lit sign, we were the only ones in the place. I thought this ominous at first but my fear quickly turned to thanksgiving when we approached the “register” (aka iPad) and asked for samples. The woman helping us was very kind and patient even as we tried multiple flavors (Glazed Donut, Cookies and Cream, and Birthday Cake) while the non-existent line behind us quickly escalated to overflowing out the door.

The samples themselves were thoughtful and delicious. Each morsel, handed over in a sample cup, was dressed with its corresponding sauce. They WANT you to have the whole experience in one bite. It’s rare to see such attention to detail, especially in such a busy place.

"Being Bad"...but was it bad?!
“Being Bad”…but was it bad?!

While my husband was falling fast for the glazed donut, we ultimately decided on sharing the Birthday Cake flavor topped with a scoop of ice cream. We were presented with two sizes: “Being Good” and “Being Bad”. Now, in our defense, the empty “Being Good” container looked as if it held barely enough to satisfy a small child, so we opted for the “Being Bad”. Our eyes were the size of saucers when we were presented with our overflowing treat topped with confetti sprinkles…much larger than the empty container appeared. Oh yeah, we were definitely “Being Bad”.

The shop had become almost uncomfortably full between the time it took us to order and when we were handed the mountain of bread pudding goodness. Rather than stand at the adorable bar at the front of the shop (ideal for people-watchers), we opted to take a seat out front on the crate furniture, which kept in tune with the bits of charming industrial décor from the interior. It was here that we enjoyed the night air (still warm at 10:30 pm…thanks, SoCal) and our take out container of sweetness.

Sure, we were “Being Bad” in terms of size but it tasted oh-so-good! There was the perfect ratio of ice cream to bread pudding. The bread pudding wasn’t piping hot and it wasn’t cold and mushy. It was the perfect warmth with the perfect amount of moisture. It also didn’t sit heavy in our stomachs, surprisingly. It was dense, yet refreshing. We nearly finished the whole container. It was so good that I felt bad not being able to finish the last couple of bites, knowing I’d regret it later.

All in all, the bread pudding was delicious and definitely not reminiscent of “old people”, although there are flavors in-house for anyone of any age. The fun, new spin on this classic dessert fits in perfectly with the vibrant neighborhood in which it resides. Do yourself a favor and head over to B Sweet NOW (or maybe when traffic dies down a bit)!

 

What’s your favorite dessert spot?