Stuart Little by E. B. White

When I was a kid, I enjoyed Charlotte’s Web so I wanted to read another E. B. White book. I have not seen the Stuart Little movies either.

This was a nice little children’s book which is written more of a series of short stories on the adventures of Stuart Little. I liked most of the stories. The characters were sweet and I liked the New York City setting too. Margola the bird and the Little parents were lovely.

Stuart has a big personality too and it borders on being egotistical. It was amusing until one of the last stories where he develops a crush on someone. It is relatable but he then becomes defeated when things don’t go his way. The story ends there and rather abruptly.

The novel too ends on a bit of a cliff hanger. You can tell White was done with the character and stories by then so he just gave up without much of a ending.

All in all, still a sweet and nice children’s novel.

Read May 15, 2016.

Manga Classics: Great Expectations

I read this on Free Comic Book Day except I didn’t want to queue for that so I read this manga instead.

Reading this again naturally reminded me of the novel and the many other adaptations I’ve seen. This is such a grim and tragic story. There are a lot of characters in the book who were treated very poorly and dealt bad hands. Pip was also really ignorant of things for most of the book and it was cringe worthy sometimes. This does not translate as well to manga where the humor is lighter and this novel is not light. I am glad that Dickens did change the ending from its original one because this is such a mirthless book.

The manga adaptation itself did a good job with the material and did make it lighter than it was. It did seem to rush through the last few bits though. It had to because even though this is one of Dickens’ shorter novels, it is still a long one.

I would recommend it only to people who like this novel and manga in general.

Read May 8, 2016.

Me After You by Jojo Moyes

This is the sequel to Me Before You. If you read the previous review, you’ll know I did like the novel even if I didn’t fall in love with it as some others have. I did like the last book enough to read the sequel the day after.

I did not enjoy this book. In fact, I wish there was not a sequel. I’m aware the fans wanted a sequel, but I think in this case, she should have just let the story end there. I felt the ending of the last one was bittersweet and hopeful. The opening of this novel ruined that right away.

I had criticized the previous novel’s prosaic dialogue and prose, but it was not as bad as this. This novel felt like mediocre fanfiction of the first one. The characters did not feel particularly real. It was depressing and contrived. At times, it felt like an After School special. The first book was dramatic and even a bit melodramatic, but this novel was a soap opera.

It introduces a new pivotal character to the lives of the characters and she is horrible. Lily is an annoying, two dimensional teenage brat raised from an even horrible mother. Her mother is such an awful parent that the character became a caricature.

I also became frustrated with Louisa again as it felt like she had regressed. Even more annoying, Louisa gets more chances in this book than anyone else that is humanely possible. She’s a damn lucky character and if I did not like her, I would have hated this book even more.

Worse with these new characters and events, I felt manipulated as a reader. Characters make speeches and monologues in this maudlin way that felt disingenuous. Bad things happen to the characters to move the plot forward, but it all felt forced and far fetched.

I kept reading hoping it would get better, but I became indifferent and wanted it to be over. Thankfully, it was easy to read too.

As someone who gave the last book only 3/5 stars, this sequel did not work for me either. Some ardent fans felt the same, but there are others who love Louisa Clark so much that they want more from her. You may get that here.

I do think this novel is a cautionary tale about sequels. I am going to watch the movie and forget this novel happens after it.

Read May 4, 2016 on Kindle.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I read this book because the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation looked like something I wanted to see. The reviews for the book were good. I was more or less spoiled for the ending once I read the summary. As a result, I did not cry, but that does not mean I did not like it.

I did like this book because while I didn’t love the characters early on, this is a novel with definite character development. It is overt with the plot, but it’s definitely there. The protagonist is shaped through the process and so are the other characters. I will say that some of the characters were flat and I was indifferent to most of them at the start including Lou. She was not easy to relate to at first. Secondly the dialogue and the prose were serviceable, but not noticeably special.

Still, the strength of the novel is its characters and its relationship. Lou grows on you. Since I knew Emilia Clarke would be in the role, I had no problem imagining her when I read the book. I think Clarke’s Lou will be more funny and charming.

In fact, I have a feeling I may like the movie as much if not more than the book. This plot is very typical of a sappy romance movie. Based on the trailer, it seems that they made all the characters from the novel more likeable. The best part is that Clarke and Sam Claifin look like they have a lot of chemistry which I would buy. This is a romance novel and the story hinges on that relationship.

I know the sequel will probably not be as good, but I still look forward to see Lou’s life after the events of this novel. Furthermore, I am eager to see the movie.

Read May 3, 2016 on Kindle.

Monthly Movies – March/April 2016

Beyond the Lights (02-03 03 2016) – Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a chameleon. She really sinks into her roles. She is beautiful too and it’s amazing seeing her range from Belle here. Nate Parker is very handsome in this, but it’s all Gugu. Goodness they had great chemistry.

Ant-Man (16-18 04 2016) – Watched this movie on and off for three days because my schedule was packed that weekend. I liked this. The humor worked all around. Good dialogue. I adore Paul Rudd and have since Clueless. I like that his was a heist movie in a lot of ways. I look forward to see more of the character.

No Knead Sourdough Diary Vol. 2

Flax Seed and Oat Sourdough

With this entry, I have gone off the one sourdough recipe I have been making and found others. Basically, I am doing the turn and fold method with the long bulk fermentation for all my breads now. It is mostly working too and I love eating my sourdough. I bake it about once a week now, often prepping the dough in the morning and evening for first and second proof, then baking at night. I do not cut the bread until the next morning.

Continue reading “No Knead Sourdough Diary Vol. 2”

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Initially, I read the buzz for this book, but after awhile it seemed there were more mixed reviews. However, I had to read this for a book club I was attending for the first time. One of my best friends got me into the group. She did not like this novel and found it miserable. As a result, I had a bit of bias going into this book.

I did not hate this book. I definitely did not like any of the characters. No one is likeable in this story and the few likeable characters (Cathy the roommate, the mysterious ginger guy) were one note. The women didn’t feel complex to me either. They all had issues and Rachel was more sympathetic than the other two. However, I found it really sad and annoying that all the women in this novel were defined by their relationships with men and in some specific cases, their mothers or being a mother. Most of the the men in the novel seem to dislike women. I understand it’s part of the unreliable narration, but to be fair, the actions of most of the women were crazy. Still, it was a lot of plot and not a lot of character depth.

The plot itself was predictable. I saw the murderer and cheater early on. I’ve mentioned before that twists don’t really matter to me much as a reader or entertainment consumer as long as the characters and the actual journey engage me. In this case, I did not like the journey too much and found the ending more anticlimactic than anything. I am glad it ended well because it would have been a miserable book otherwise.

In better news, the book moves along and is a very quick read. I know some people who really enjoyed this novel and others felt more neutral. It is not an awful book either, but personally, I think the hype is exaggerated.

Read April 23, 2016 on Kindle.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

The Smitten Kitchen food blog is my favourite food blog and has been for many years so when Ms Perelman announced that she was going to release a book, I knew I would eventually buy it. Most of my cookbooks were sourced from a book surplus site which is more discounted than Amazon. However, I bought this book full price from Amazon.ca because I knew I would love it.

Food and Cookbooks are in general very subjective. With the praise the blog and cookbook got, some people didn’t see the appeal. I think you will get the author, writing, and style, or you won’t. Thankfully for me, Perelman’s food and writing style seem right up my and many other people’s alleys. As always, mileage varies, but this is a rave for me.

Continue reading “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman”

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

This was a fun book. I could not shake the Harry Potter comparisons the first quarter or third of the book, but then it became a book of its own merit with its own sincere characters.

The book started like some weird Harry Potter fanfiction. Simon is the typical chosen one like Harry.
Penelope is both Hermione and Ron. Agatha is the archetype of the girl. It was funny, satirical and subversive. While two of the leads are male, the book has a good cast of interesting, varied, and distinct female characters.

The more I read the book, the more depth was imbued in the characters and the world building. It became sincere and touching. The ending was good and a touch sad like many epic stories are.

The ending was neat enough that I doubt there will be sequel. I got so involved in this fantasy world and the characters, I hope there is one.

Recommended for readers who enjoy a good fantasy novel.

Read April 4-6, 2016.

Monthly TV – March 2016

House of Cards (March 25?-29, 2016) – A good season of the show. I enjoyed it. Maybe a bit more than the last. I love how the characters are fascinating, vulnerable, and vile at the same time. Claire’s mother was a great addition to it.

Cooked (March 29-April 3, 2016) – A Netflix documentary series based on Michael Pollan’s book Cooked. I have been more into food than ever lately if you’ve noticed so this was right up my valley especially the episodes about bread and fermentation. It was not the best documentary series I’ve seen about food, but it is a great companion to the book in many ways. I think most people interested in food would like it and definitely for those of us who have read the Pollan book.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This was the right spring time book for an Easter read. I’ve seen more than one adaptation of this book on TV and movies. I also think I read at the very least an adapted version of this as a kid.

I liked the transformation of spoiled and sour Mary into a kinder and more robust one. I was less interested in Colin and the move shifts more to him in the latter half. Dickon is a funny character too. I do genuinely like the kindness of the characters that Burnett writes about it here and in A Little Princess.

What I liked most about this book was that my hard cover was big and had lovely illustrations by Inga Moore. I think that was a big part of why I enjoyed the story as much as I did. As a child, I loved a similar style book of Peter Pan. It really makes a worthwhile reading experience when children’s books are presented this way.

Read March 27, 2016.

No-Knead Sourdough Bread Diary Vol. 1

Sourdough

In 2012, I created my own sourdough starter from scratch. It used organic flours (rye, kamut, whole wheat, spelt) and distilled water. I kept the sourdough alive and tried to make sourdough bread half a dozen times. However, it was only mildly successful one time when I made a Olive Sourdough Fougasse. I basically gave up on sourdough until recently. It’s been a personal challenge for me as a baker. I put the sourdough starter in the fridge and would occasionally feed it, but it has lived in hibernation since 2013. In fact, I had a bit of a hard time reviving it when I took out for this experiment.

Currently, I feed my sourdough mostly with a mix of AP, whole wheat, and rye flours. I find rye flour really makes an active starter. I will also the starter with kamut or spelt if I have it on hand. I use distilled water some of the time, but I have been mixing it with cool boiled tap water. Luckily, I have access to one of the best municipal water systems in Canada.

A couple of months ago, a neighbor and I became friendly over our mutual love of food. She shared with me this no knead sourdough recipe from the Clever Carrot. She also gave me a loaf to try. The whole no-knead process and the many tips (love the water glass float taste) convinced me to try the recipe.

Why do I love sourdough? I do love the tangy taste of it. Second, it lasts longer than standard bread loaves. I do not consume a lot of bread. I make bread because I love to bake it, but rarely do I ever crave it. I am not a carbs person so a loaf of bread takes me a awhile consume. A standard 1kg loaf like the one below will take me on average 4-6 days. Loaves from commercial yeast including the other No Knead bread recipe I use get dry and hard within two days. This is why I always have to freeze those loaves, but with sourdough, they remain mostly soft in room temperature for days. I love that. Finally, I do believe sourdough is easier to digest and probably better for you.

Note: I use Canadian All Purpose flour which has higher gluten levels than standard American or British AP flours. I almost always used AP flour over bread flour for bread including all my previous Jim Lahey No Knead bread attempts. I bought bread flour for this experiment though. In the end, I feel AP is enough.

Continue reading “No-Knead Sourdough Bread Diary Vol. 1”