Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Baker's One Bowl Brownies from Scratch


A ways back my friend Nancy from high school was talking about the best brownies - made using the Baker's recipe. I recently happened across it again, and I figured I'd give it a go this weekend. I've never made brownies from scratch. I've always used the box. I will not be using the box any more because these brownies are tops. They're also super easy and require one bowl just like if you were using a brownie mix. MFD is on board. After eating one of these he said, "Steph? Duncan Hines can suck it." Did you hear that Duncan Hines? He's serious.

Ingredients
4 oz bar (or four 1 oz each pieces) Baker's unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 c. (1.5 sticks) butter
2 c. sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour

1 c. chopped nuts, optional, or peanut butter, cream cheese, nutella to swirl through - all optional

FYI, the ingredients in the mix of a box of Duncan Hines chewy fudge brownies before you add anything:
Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour [Enriched With Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Malted Barley Flour), Powdered Sugar (Sugar, Corn Starch), Cocoa Powder Processed With Alkali, Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil). Contains 2% Or Less Of: Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Salt, Cornstarch, Artificial Flavor, Carrageenan, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate).

For not much more work, I might as well go with the straightforward six ingredients that I recognize.

Directions
Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwave-safe bowl on high for two minutes or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted.

Stir sugar into chocolate. Mix in eggs and vanilla until well blended. Stir in flour and nuts if using. Spread in greased 13 x 9-inch pan. If you're adding a swirl, now's the time.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. Cool in pan; cut into squares. Makes 24 fudgy brownies. 

Note: When using glass baking dish, bake at 325°F. For cake-like brownies, stir in 1/2 cup milk with eggs; use 1 1/2 cups flour.

Go ahead, lick the bowl. Maybe take a photo of yourself doing it with dirty hair and no makeup while you're at it so you can share it with the world at large. No? Just me?
Try them from scratch. You won't be sorry. Thanks again to Nancy for the recipe!

***********************
Haikuesday
Brownies from Heaven.
Fudgy chocolate goodness.
Fat Albert nods, sighs.
**********************

Tomorrow is October 1. I'll be damned. September's nothing more than a fart in the wind.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Food Theme starts tomorrow. What's your goal? Are you trying new recipes? Trying to eat more or less of something? Bringing your lunch to work? Tasting a new to you food? You choose your goal around the food theme, then share your results the first Thursday in November.

October Wallet Watch starts tomorrow too! Batten down the hatches. 
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Linking up for
Martinis & Bikinis

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shit MFD Said Vol. 10

On the boardwalk
Store clerk: Did you just get your hair cut? 
MFD: Me? No. 
Store clerk: It's perfect. 
MFD: Thanks man. I used to have horrible hair in high school. 
Store Clerk: Now...
MFD: Now I don't leave the house unless my hair is perfect.
Store Clerk: And it is. It is. 

On a lazy, rainy Saturday
MFD: What do you want to do for dinner?
Me: Well, I have a bunch of stuff to make but I don't feel like making anything. 
MFD: Chinese food you said?
Me: I think that's what I said.

At The Second City
MFD: That guy did not wash his hands after he went to the bathroom! Contaminating disease spreader. Fecal fucker!

Examining a popover at his birthday dinner
MFD: It's like a soufflĂ© type roll. 
Me: It's empty inside. 
MFD: Like your soul. 
Laughter from the table behind us

MFD: What are you watching?
Me: Dawson's Creek.
MFD: Is this a movie or a TV show?
Me: Are you kidding me?

As The Big Chill comes on
MFD: This is our life now.
Me: What?
MFD: This. We all went from St. Elmo's Fire to The Big Chill in what feels like minutes. 

Discussing types of cakes
MFD:  I like fluffier cakes. Not dense like I'm eating a packed turd. You know? 
Me: I guess...?

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All read and approved by MFD before they go live...
Shit MFD Said Vol 1
Shit MFD Said Vol 2
Shit MFD Said Vol 3
Shit MFD Said Vol 4
Shit MFD Said Vol 5
Shit MFD Said Vol 6
Shit MFD Said Vol 7
Shit MFD Said Vol 8
Shit MFD Said Vol 9


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Unconventional Barbecue Chicken

I've only recently started eating barbecue sauce. Crazy, right? I like it now, either my own that I make or Sweet Baby Ray's from the bottle. My newfound like of barbecue sauce has not come with a newfound comfort of manning the grill, so I found this way of doing it in the oven on allrecipes and adapted it to my liking.

Ingredients
family pack of chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
Barbecue sauce to your liking (1-2 cups)

Directions
Spray a small casserole dish with non-stick spray. Preheat oven to 350. Apply garlic powder and salt to both sides of chicken. I rub some of the garlic powder under the skin.

Cover and cook for an hour.

Remove from oven. Drain fat from the dish. Remove skin from chicken (make sure you get it off from underneath too). Put chicken back in the dish, brush with barbecue sauce, and cook for an additional 30 minutes.
1 - before it goes in the oven / 2 - when you first take it out, fat on bottom and skin still on / 3 - brushed with barbecue
It turns out really tender and delicious. Whether you're a fraidy cat like me and don't want to use the grill, or don't want to use it in the cold winter months, this is a good way to still enjoy barbecue chicken. Serve with green beans and rice to round it out.
***********************
Haikuesday
My mind is a blank.
Give me seven syllables. 
Unicorns. Rainbows. 
**********************

Go wish my friend Shelby of Big Hungry Shelby a happy birthday today - via twitter or facebook!
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Linking up for
Martinis & Bikinis

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Confessions: On Being Alone

via
I avoid people who aren't comfortable being alone because I'm afraid if we hang out, they're going to look to me for constant entertainment and want to talk to me the whole entire time. I'm good with some comfortable silence. I need it.

Also, I think you have issues to sort out if you're not comfortable in your own company. Gotta keep it real.

The only person I like to shop with is Lori. We have a similar browsing style and speed.

Sometimes I specifically plan to have no plans. And I get annoyed when someone tries to bust in and fill that time like they feel sorry for me because I don't have plans. I do. I've planned to hang out alone. It's called me time. Get some.

When I'm in the car alone for a long period of time, I sing my heart out like you all do, and I imagine I'm being filmed by MTV singing covers because I'm a famous singer. People clearly have nothing better to do than to watch me drive while singing other people's songs.

I can't recharge if I don't have alone time. It's one of the ways I practice self-care.

Even though I'm very social and I put myself out there on the internet daily on a blog, I'm actually more of an introvert. I'm quite comfortable being alone and enjoy it a lot.

I love to go out to dinner alone armed only with whatever book I'm reading at the moment.

If I couldn't retain my independence in my marriage, I wouldn't be in it. It's odd that a shared value of independence is the thing that makes MFD and I work so well.

Part of what fuels my writing is observations on others and their behavior. Park me by myself on a bench or a beach and give me a pair of sunglasses and a notebook and I'm happy as a clam.

What about you? Do you value your alone time? 
Any confessions to make about your alone time activities? Don't be a perv. 

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 Linking up with Kathy for Humpday Confessions 

 Linking up with Shanna for Random Wednesday














Linking up with Liz for Fitness Blondie's Blog Hop:
The Hump Day Blog Hop

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How I Use Essential Oils

I started using essential oils back in February. I think I mentioned it and said I'd do a post soon. I didn't want to write a post on it until I had a few months under my belt. I think seven months is enough time, yes? Personally I don't like to read reviews on blogs unless someone has been using something for a while. So I try to follow that here. I don't want to recommend something to you that I lose interest in after a month, you know? I don't sell oils, no one sent me oils for free and I'm not getting anything for writing this post. I'm just sharing my personal use here. 

I was really overwhelmed with all the info out there about oils. So I basically started by looking at my OTC meds, figuring out what I was using them for, and looking to replace them with oils. 

A few notes:
1. I am not a doctor, and I don't play one on TV. As with anything you use on or in your body, do your research, consult a physician, etc. 
2. There's a crap ton of conflicting info about essential oils out there. Whenever I see essential oil posts on the internet, the comments are full of know it alls wanting to tell others where they're wrong and what all the dangers are. People are insane and cultish over this shit but will not think twice about other normal things that have the potential to be much more dangerous.  If I die from using essential oils, you can be the first to say I told you so to my cold dead body. I promise. Otherwise, let me do me and you do you.
3. I use doTERRA oils and have had success with them. I know friends who use other brands and have had similar success. I have also purchased some cheapos from the grocery store that I use on cleaning but not on my body.
4. I'm covering the ones I use the most here. Before I started using them, I knew what they were but wanted to know exactly how people used them daily. What works for me may not work for you. There's a big divide over ingesting essential oils - some think you can, some think you are an idiot if you do. I've done it with no problem while I've had problems with OTC medication widely accepted by the world. That being said, I mostly use them automatically and topically.

This is a doTERRA blend of 10 single oils. I never take headache pills anymore, I just use this. I roll it on my temples and the back of my neck and it's awesome. If I don't have this handy, I use 1-2 drops of peppermint and lavender and apply it to the back of my neck, temples, and forehead.
Deep Blue is another doTERRA blend that I apply with a carrier oil to muscle and bone aches. If it's really bad and bone related, I add a few drops of frankincense to it. This has been helpful with MFD's lingering ankle issues after his accident. 

Essential oils applied directly to the skin can be too much or cause severe irritation and reactions for some people. I play it safe and use a carrier oil to dilute them. 
I grouped these together because I most often ingest them in an empty veggie cap. 

DigestZen is a doTERRA blend that alleviates heartburn and improves overall digestion. Sometimes I also apply this directly to my stomach with a bit of carrier oil. I take it when I feel like heartburn is looming.

Oregano helps colds and strengthens your respiratory system. It's antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral and an immune stimulant. I take this if I start to feel puny.

Frankincense is cray. It does one million things and is great for neurological health and overall immunity. It's also good for scars and wrinkles. 

Lemon should also be on here, because I put a drop in my water. It's an antioxidant. 
Eucalpytus oil - I use this on counters to deter ants. It's also good for removing stickers/decals and residue from glass. Add it to the wash to kill dust mites. This oil is also key for my number one nemesis: sinus issues. I put a dab under each nostril and haven't had to use my OTC sinus meds at all.

Melaleuca (we typically call it tea tree oil) - Aside from being awesome for your face, this is great for cleaning. It's antimicrobial, antifungal, antiseptic, all the clean things. You can add it to any homemade cleaner to amp it up. If the smell is too much, add some lavender or orange. Great for cleaning toilets and bathrooms in general. On the body, I add some of this and some clove essential oil to a carrier oil and use it as I'd use neosporin.

Peppermint - Invigorating and stimulating as well as antiseptic.

Lemon - Antiseptic and antimicrobial. It cuts through grease like a pro. I usually formulate my countertop spray with water, rubbing alcohol, and lemon, peppermint, and basil.


Before bed, I sprinkle my pillow with lavender oil (it doesn't stain), apply it to the bottom of my feet with Vitamin E lotion from The Body Shop, and diffuse it. It's freaking awesome.
Another doTERRA blend, this is awesome for cramps. Apply directly to skin, recline and eat naughty foods. I don't even feel like killing anyone over inconsequential things. Magic.
The bugs have been bullshit in our backyard this summer. I rub some of this right on my legs and feet and they avoid me. Sweet relief. A zillion times better than OFF. This is second only to the Guardian product I got for free from Influenster to try out recently.

I have other oils and use them in a variety of ways for a variety of things, but much less frequently than I use the ones in this post. I've pretty much stopped buying and using OTC medications except when I travel - these leak and don't travel well. 

I probably use past tense, lavender, peppermint oil, and lemon the most. If I was going to dip my feet in the essential oils pool all over again, I'd start with lavender, peppermint oil, and lemon. 

Lest you think I'm some Johnny on the spot concerning essential oils, I have a guidebook from doTERRA that I refer to - I look up what's wrong with me and figure out what oil to use, just like I might read labels on OTC meds in my closet. I can also refer to my doTERRA lady Holly - her facebook page is here

And that's how I'm using essential oils. Do you use them? 

********************************
Haikuesday
She getting married
(name this movie, eighties fans)
to oily bohunk
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Friday, September 5, 2014

When We Were in Chicago... a down & dirty recap

A few things you should know about how I vacation & how I recap vacations:
1. When I come to your town, I want to see all the tourist things. Because I am a tourist. 
2. Vacation is not a place where we cheap out. We save up so we can do all the things, eat where we want, and have the luxury of convenience. I cheap out on hotel rooms though and always choose a mid-range place because when we do a quick trip, we're barely in there. 
3. If we go to a city over a weekend, we pack as much in as possible and sacrifice sleep and lounging to do so. Beaches and cruises are for relaxing, these trips are for seeing and doing. I love creating ridiculous itineraries and we enjoy being on the go. My itineraries always have some sway and the ability to move shit around on the fly because you always have to do that when you travel. The trick is to get a flow going so you get a lot in without feeling like you're on a mission. 
4. Apologies on the food shots - they're always taken with an iPhone and lots of these places were dim. MFD already has a fit about me taking pics of all food so I'm not going to prolong the process by getting the lighting right. If you don't give a shit about food or restaurants, skip over the paragraphs before the food collages.
5. If we're friends on FB, you know a lot of this because MFD checks in everywhere as it gives him great joy.
6. I don't split trip recaps because I like to keep all the information in one spot, so it's long. 

Time/travel parameters: we flew Frontier Airlines from Trenton to Midway on Saturday night, arriving in Chicago at 6:30 p.m. We flew out of Midway at 7:59 p.m. Tuesday night and arrived home at midnight. We stayed at Hyatt Place River North and did breakfast at the hotel daily. We basically arrived, dumped our bags, and hit the streets. 

Saturday
Strolling the Chicago Riverwalk - the skyline is magnificent at night
Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennium Park - specifically Kevin Eubanks from The Tonight Show
The Skyline -and us - reflected in the Bean
We took an 11:30 reservation at The Girl and the Goat in the West Loop, owned by Stephanie Izard from Top Chef. That time is all they had more than a month and a half out. I liked it a lot - the atmosphere was great, I enjoyed seeing the open kitchen, the food was mostly a hit, and the service was energetic and friendly despite the hour. MFD and I shared everything: goat cheese & sweet corn dumplings (excellent, not pictured), hamachi crudo (crisp pork belly, not pictured - just meh, should've gotten the pig face), wood fired scallops (surprisingly awesome, recommended by the waiter, first pic on the bottom left), egg salad oysters (top middle photo, totally amazing). For dessert MFD has some regrettable bittersweet chocolate thing that sucked. I had peaches and blueberry buckle with goat cheese gelato. GIRL, you don't even know. You don't even know!! The coffee was excellent. Yes, we drank it at midnight because we are fools. 
Sunday
Rise and shine bitches! Up and out by 7:30 to walk down to Milton Olive Park via the Ohio Beach entry. What a glorious view of the city. So quiet and really awesome. 
Gangster Tour, because who doesn't like a little cheese with their vacation? It was pretty interesting, and we did drive through most Chicago neighborhoods which gave us an idea of the places we weren't going to be visiting. 
We originally planned to go to the Art Institute or Field Museum in the afternoon, but it was MFD's birthday weekend and he wanted to swim. So weird to have this big ocean-looking lake in the middle of a large city. I did not want to swim so I dipped my toes in, read and people watched. p.s. - post swimming is the only time you'll see MFD's hair not perfect. 
Dinner at Shaw's Crab House. We both loved the 1940s-ish atmosphere and the seafood was excellent. The service was top notch. This key lime pie is the best key lime pie I've ever had, including numerous pies in Key West itself. 
Jazz at Andy's Jazz
Monday - MFD's Birthday and Labor Day
Since it was Labor Day, we got to walk really slowly on the sidewalks looking up at the buildings in the central business district and take pics in the middle of the street without locals getting pissed off at us for slowing their roll. The city felt deserted and it was awesome.
Sears Tower Skydeck. What a trip! I did much better than I thought I'd do out on the ledges and MFD did worse. We went on an overcast day with some fog. It rained while we were up there and even with all that, the views and experience were really impressive. I bought fast pass tickets prior to arrival which took our wait time from an hour and a half to 20 minutes to get to the 103rd floor.
Lunch at Lou Malnati's. I thought I was not a fan of deep dish pizza. I was wrong. We got the Malnati Chicago Classic and it was delicious. I also loved the Green Line beer brewed by Goose Island in Chicago.
I had an UBER credit (sign up and use promo code ubersmd to get a $30 credit towards your first ride) so we jumped in one to get to Wrigley Field since we were already running late. We were initially supposed to take the Red Line, but we were short on time and it was a nice quick ride up the Gold Coast into Wrigleyville. What a cool experience - you walk in off the street and there you are! We also walked around the stadium when we left, which was pretty cool as well seeing all the stuff on the outside walls, checking out the places for roof top viewing, and getting a load of people tailgating outside and on the sidewalk.
MFD had a Chicago style hotdog at Wrigley. I had mine at the airport. This is my kind of hotdog.
People we saw at both the Skydeck and Wrigley...these three, dressed as Cameron, Sloane, and Ferris. How fucking amazing is this? MFD got their photo at the Skydeck and I spied Cameron & Ferris with the zoom at Wrigley. MFD actually went down to where they were sitting to say hello to them again because of course...Mayor.
MFD's birthday dinner at David Burke's Primehouse in The James Hotel. Prices were ridiculous but YOLO, birthday. The steaks were unbelievable. MFD had the 55 day aged and it melted in your mouth. I thought the atmosphere was just okay. My steak, wine, and coffee gelato were excellent though. I was unable to get reservations at Gibsons, which was our first choice.
MFD used LYFT to get a car to take us to The Second City. You guys, this was awesome. We saw The Best of The Second City on the mainstage. It was hilarious and for $30 each we saw over 2.5 hours of comedy. I loved every second of it. Also hilarious: when MFD had a mouth full of water and it shot out in an actual spit take because he could not hold back the laughter.
Tuesday
We packed up and had the hotel hold our bags while we took off for the Wendella Lake & River Boat Tour. Totally fucking awesome. We went out onto Lake Michigan (the photo you see below with the water coming through is the lock opening up from the Chicago River to let the boat out - the lake is about two feet higher than the river), learned about all the buildings, then back onto the river to do the same. We loved this. I could fill a blog post just with photos taken on this tour, and they don't fit well into collages which sucks.
In a Philly takes Chicago move, we met your friend and mine Marla from Luck Fupus and her husband Steve for lunch at The Purple Pig. We sat outside and had a nice long lunch.
We ordered a bunch of plates to share, and I would go back every day until I could try everything on the menu. Really a phenomenal experience. Some dishes we sampled include calamari with fregula, radishes, cucumbers & pistachios; the best Greek salad I've ever had; chorizo stuffed olives; some type of foie grass; chocolate goat cheese and a few other cheeses; milk braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes; stuffed squid; soft serve ice cream with espresso poured over it. I can't remember the rest. The food was my favorite on the trip. Everything was excellent and it was a bonus to share the meal with friends from home!
We checked out the rocks in the face of the Tribune Tower, which was awesome. We glimpsed Bill Rancic and while Marla, Steve & I were sitting in the shade MFD got his photo taken with him. Of course we missed that. Why not. We strolled down to see The Bean in the sunlight and also to check out the Crowd Fountains.
MFD and I hopped into a cab and Marla & Steve went on to enjoy their first day in Chicago as we wrapped up our last. MFD got an Italian beef sandwich and we split a freaking donut ice cream sandwich from Firecakes Donuts. You guys, is this real life? How do my pants still fit? It was awesome.
We took the Orange Line to Midway during rush hour - not fun. MFD also tried to take an elevator up to the platform, which opened to reveal a big puddle of stinky hot pee. Silly MFD, always avoid elevators at public transportation stations.

What a phenomenal city - very clean, very friendly to tourists in that it's easy to get around and the people are pretty nice. It's also beautiful, walkable, has a wonderful food scene, and shows its face really well. We loved the feel of the city and if the winters weren't so ridiculous I think I'd be arguing with MFD to stay here instead of moving there. Thanks to Steph at Not Entirely Perfect for her Chicago smarts, especially this map/post, and help with hotel locations and which streets to avoid at night. We missed meeting up due to her move and both of our schedules but will do so next time!

Chicago, I think you're the favorite city of all the cities I've visited.


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Thursday, September 4, 2014

What I Read This Summer

Hey party people. I threatened to start doing a dedicated book post every month. Here it is.

For those of you that hate reading, never fear, Thursday Thoughts returns next week.

Going forward they won't be so long, but for this one I'm covering three months because that's how I roll. I'm going to kick it back to June and cover the books I've read since then.

If you want to know what the book is about, you should click on the title to get to a summary. I'm not in the business of summarizing books. There are people who do that for a living and they will always be better at it than me, so just go read what they have to say about it. What I am in the business of is telling you why I did or didn't like it as best as I can.

Sometimes it's hard for me to describe, and I'm sure it is for you too. Sometimes a book will hit something so personal, so intrinsic to our personality, that we've never even really explored it before. So it resonates with us without us being really able to say why.

Big shout out to the Philadelphia Free Library system for supplying me with all of these books. Much obliged.

June Reads
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Holmes - This one was a marathon, not a sprint. When I first started, I wasn't sure if I would finish but it drew me in and I genuinely wanted to know how things would end up. There was just enough zany to provide levity to some serious issues.

Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky - I could've done without the gimmicky shit in this book about relationships and secrets and sickness, but I really liked the backdrop and it was an easy, mindless read. If I find myself wanting to be where the book is taking place, if the location and description of it call to me, I will put up with some bullpucky to keep reading about it.

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh - I was psyched about this book. It was really promising but it ended up tripping over itself a lot. There was definitely potential for more to the story, and I wish McHugh had gone further with some things. Still liked it, wanted to like it more.

Lakeside Cottage by Susan Wiggs - If there's something I really hate, it's repetition in story telling. There's too much of that in this book.

How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman - There was some weird shit in this book. I kept reading to find out exactly what.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri - By page 63 (13 pages past the time I typically discard a book), I was ready to give up on this. I didn't, and I'm glad. This was a heavy read, and parts of it broke my heart. Really sluggish to push through on the front end for me, I wish I would've clicked with it a little faster.

July Reads
The Accident by Chris Pavone - The premise of this book is totally awesome. The execution is a little lacking. Still, it was my first time reading Pavone, and I've added The Expats to my list. I liked the writing. Who knew the publishing world could be so exciting and fraught with danger?

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - I absolutely hated the writing style. But the story was compelling enough to carry me through, and it was overall a pretty quick read.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt - Another heavy book for summer. I loved it. It was not happy, but the story was important. I'm glad the early years of the AIDs epidemic is getting play in books like this one and movies like The Normal Heart. While that's a facet of this book, it's more about relationships, love, and loss. It's a good read that sits low in your gut for a while when you've finished.

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe - I was not expecting such heavy shit from this title. But there was a lot going on in here and it was a page turner.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams - Williams wrote my favorite novel of last summer (One Hundred Summers) so I had high expectations of this book. She delivered - it was something juicy to sink my teeth into without stretching my brain too much. Williams weaves a good tale and I'd love it if she came out with one book a summer. Perfect for a lazy summer reading fling.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken - YA dystopian lore, the first in a series. Sometimes I wonder how authors come up with this shit. It was a quick read and I'll continue on with the series.

August Reads
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman - To me, this was two different books - the flashbacks (which I loved) and the present day (not so much). I don't think she did a good job fusing them together. I put it down sort of saying, "So? What was the point?"

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen - This is the first of Gerritsen's Rizzoli & Isles books (in which Isles does not make an appearance). I had a hard time in the first 30 pages separating what I was reading from what my brain knows of the TV show. I'll carry on with the series in book form.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub - This was supposed to be the book of the summer? Read Violet Grant instead. It was hard for me to find anyone to like in this book.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - I adored this book. I think the storytelling and writing style are perfect for the actual story. The characters are great and you can like the good guys and dislike the bad guys a little bit - the author blurs them enough to make them realistic. None of us are perfect and none of these characters are either. I really enjoyed it.

The Arsonist by Sue Miller - I really enjoyed While I Was Gone and The Senator's Wife, so I expected to love this. And I did for a while. But the title didn't really represent the book well and that annoys me. The way Miller packaged the end annoyed me too. It felt hurried while some other parts of the book felt draggy. I like you, Sue Miller. Try again though.

Do any of these sound good to you? What were your top reads this summer?

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