Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Review: The 3-Day Reset by Pooja Mottl

Title:   The 3-Day Reset
Author: Pooja Mottl
Publisher: Seal Press
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Eating healthy can be a struggle. It’s hard to pick broccoli and brown rice over hot, cheesy pizza, and 21- or 28-day diets often ask you to cut out different foods all at once, leaving you feeling deprived.

In  3-Day Resets , Pooja Mottl outlines 10 different ways to change your cravings and start eating whole, healthy foods—foods that are also delicious—three days at a time. Each reset takes 72 hours to complete and consists of three simple steps, which means you’ll be able to stay focused on healthy eating.

“Awareness” resets target your consumption of certain ingredients like sugar, wheat, and salt.

“Discovery” resets teach you new ways to drink beverages (including tea) and eat chocolate, yogurt, and chicken.

“Change” resets shift how you view eating breakfast, salads, and take-out.

Packed with delicious recipes and nutritional information to support why you should eat whole foods like quinoa instead of processed, frozen, or packaged foods,  3-Day Resets  will set you on the path to healthy eating… and help you stay there for good.

My Review:
This book review is going to be a bit different than my others.  You may remember my "teaser" post about this book back in May.  Since then, I've read the book and actually tried one of the resets for myself--because what better way to review it, than to actually do it??  As a result, I'm going to take you through my experience with the 3 Day Reset that I tried (sugar!) and let that frame my commentary on the book.  I will detail one full day of the reset, and then summarize the other two (for length's sake!).

Just to remind you what this reset entailed: cut out ALL refined sugar for three days.  The purpose is not to have you give up processed sugar for the rest of your life.  Instead, it's meant to show you how your body can react (in positive ways) to less refined sugar.  According to Mottl, your taste buds should start to better appreciate the natural sugars in things like bananas, apples, etc. and make you less inclined to jump for candy, cookies, etc.  Plus, it will just make you more aware of what everyday foods contain sugar, because you'll be more conscious of it.  Mottl actually suggests using an 80/20 rule after the reset (eat without refined sugar 80% of the time, while the other 20% is your wiggle room).  In this day and age, it's very hard to subsist without any refined sugar EVER, and I'm glad the book acknowledges this.

Okay, so...3-Day Sugar Reset: GO!

I actually started this reset on May 27--the day after Memorial Day.  Why?  Because I ate TOTAL AND COMPLETE CRAP for the entire Memorial Day weekend.  What better time to reset my eating habits?  I topped it off with some pizza and wings for dinner on Monday night, then had 2 bite size pieces of Hershey's chocolate for dessert before saying siyonara to refined sugar for 3 whole days.

Let's talk for a quick minute about shopping for this reset.  I wanted to make a couple of the recipes that Mottl suggested (namely 2 desserts that do not include refined sugar), so I went to my beloved Wegman's to pick up the ingredients the night before.  This included dates, raw honey, Sucanat, coconut milk, and cacao powder.  It took me FOREVER to find them...I was going totally insane in the "Nature's Marketplace" area of the store for almost 45 minutes.  But I did find them, and now that I know where they are, hopefully they will be easier to find again,  Even though this was a total pain in the butt (and not at all something I could have done with the kids--thank goodness I was alone), I am glad that I got better acquainted with this area of the store.

Tuesday, May 27: I woke up at 5:30am to do my morning run.  Normally, I down 1/3 of a Clif bar and a bunch of water before a morning run, but the label on the Clif Bar said it contained organic cane syrup and a few other things that sounded an awful lot like sugar, so I skipped it (still not sure if that is OK for the reset or not?).  I ate some raw almonds instead.  Seemed to do the trick!

Breakfast was rough.  I normally eat a bowl of oats and honey cereal that is decidedly FULL of sugar.  Today, I switched it up and made scrambled eggs (for both me and Small Fry), topped with cheddar cheese, plus some strawberries on the side.  I was even super good and did away with the ketchup I normally dip my eggs in (has high fructose corn syrup).  I also had my morning cup of coffee, which I sweetened with Sucanat (dehydrated whole cane sugar) instead of table sugar.  I honestly didn't notice a flavor difference at all.

I had a peach for my morning snack.  This was a wake-up call, because normally I grab a pre-packaged cereal or granola bar when I am out and about with the kids, but that wasn't going to fly today.  Had to really make a conscious effort to avoid them!  Also, so hard not to automatically finish off Small Fry's snacks when he doesn't finish them.  It's amazing how much more conscious this made me of the things I absentmindedly stick in my mouth each day.

Lunch, another tough one.  I usually make a sandwich of some kind, but our bread has brown sugar in it!  So instead, I made this really yummy southwestern bean salad that I found a recipe for at Wegman's.  It was delicious, filled me up no problem, and made enough to have more tomorrow.  Score.

Afternoon snack: raisins.  I wanted chocolate in the worst way after lunch!!  This was definitely the hardest time of day for me to resist the sugary stuff.

Dinner, my husband was making chicken quesadillas, but the tortillas (and the taco sauce) had sugar in them.  So, he set aside my portion of the chicken and I put it on top of a big salad instead.  Which I dressed with oil-and-vinegar instead of my usual bottled balsamic vinagrette.

After dinner, I decided to try one of Pooja's suggested refined-sugar-free desserts.  I made a strawberry mousse, which consisted of strawberries, avocado, cacao powder, Sucanat, and coconut milk.  Throw it all in the blender and DONE.  It was SO GOOD.  My husband agreed, though Small Fry totally hated it.  Which made me a little sad, because I think when he heard "chocolate" and "dessert" his palate was totally expecting a Hershey's-type flavor.  I think he would have enjoyed this if he wasn't so accustomed to the processed sugar of regular chocolate.  Oh well.  Something to work on.


I won't give you as detailed of an analysis with the other two days (this post would be tooooo long), but I'll summarize it like this: the reset was good because it made me SO much more aware of how much sugar I eat on a daily basis (hint: way too much).  It also pushed me to start reaching for healthier snacks during the day, because that definitely showed itself to be my sugar-weakness (moreso than meal times).  That is a change that I was able to make long-term (still doing that now, a month later).

However--I found that a full switch to no processed sugar (even at an 80/20 ratio) was very difficult for me.  I think a lot of it is lifestyle--rushing around all day with two kids, one of whom is a VERY picky toddler (hi, the only vegetable he will willingly eat is a carrot, and that's only because Sven eats them in Frozen), makes it hard for me to avoid a lot of processed sugar.  If I'm being 100% honest, I just don't have it in me right now to research and try a bunch of new dinner recipes, which is what would have to happen for me to really follow this lifestyle change.  However, because the reset made me more conscious of the sugar issue, I am making a better effort to avoid the sugary "extras" in my meals (salad dressings, sauces, etc.).

Another thing to note: I didn't find that the reset turned me off to the overly-sweet nature of table sugar (as Mottl had said might happen).  My first day after the reset, I ate an Oreo expecting to feel nauseous afterwards.  But you know what?  I didn't.  It was good.  Oreos will always be good.  So that part definitely didn't happen for me...haha.

After reading through the rest of the resets, my guess is that (at least for me), my results would be similar.  The bottom line is this: I think that The 3-Day Reset is a great way to make you more conscious of your eating habits.  Even though I have not sworn off sugar for good, my reset made me more aware of the high amount of sugar I ate on a daily basis, and as a result, I have definitely made changes to my snacking habits.  That's a change that has been helpful and sustainable for me.  I also learned two new great recipes for desserts that I have occasionally turned to at night for something sweet, instead of my usual ice cream or cookies.  However, a lifestyle of 80% no sugar/20% sugar (recommended after completing the reset) is difficult for me to sustain--you will need to make a very conscious effort to do so, and I think if you combine this change with some of the other resets, you're going to find that your diet needs a major overhaul.  I think it would be a possibility if I was single, and had lots of time to grocery shop and avoid the foods in these resets (sugar, wheat, salt, etc), but I'm not and I don't.

Even if the results were not 100% for me, I definitely recommend giving The 3-Day Reset a try!  It helped me make some important changes to my diet, and its important reminders about eating whole foods have stuck with me long after I finished my reset.

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Pooja Mottl on her websiteTwitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A long reflection on the relative merits of Book Shaming.

I'm sure most of you have heard by now about the ever-so-controversial article written by Ruth Graham at on June 5.  It's called "Against YA", and to quote its sub-heading, the basic premise is: "Read whatever you want.  But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."

Yes, Ms. Graham's message to adult readers is FOR SHAME if you enjoy YA novels.  They weren't written for you (in fact, they are way below your level), and it's cringe-worthy for you to advertise the fact that you read them.

I've read countless blog post responses to this article by now.  The general reaction seems to be outrage (unsurprisingly).  No one wants to be judged for their reading choices, and given the popularity of YA novels among all age groups these days, Ruth Graham sure hit a nerve by attacking this particular genre.

However, unlike many of my blog colleagues, I'll be honest and admit that my initial reaction was not a seething rage at the injustice of what basically amounts to Book Shaming.  I know, THE HORROR!

Let me explain.  Yes, deep down my gut reaction was to feel upset by one reader telling another reader that their chosen literature is not acceptable.  I read what I want, dammit!  No one tells me otherwise!


I was immediately stopped in my tracks by the thought that I, also, am a Book Shamer from time to time.  You see, I make NO secret of the fact that I lose a little respect for readers who tell me that the 50 Shades trilogy is among their favorite books of all time.  And honestly, if a fellow 30-year-old told me that Twilight was the best thing they've read in the last decade, I'd be giving them a bit of the side-eye.

So why is it not okay for Ruth Graham to get judgy, but it's OK for me to be judgy?  I spent much time on this conundrum.  The struggle was real, peeps.  And for me, it comes down to two things.

NUMBER ONE: Some books are not well-written.  I am kind of snarky when people say that they love those books.

Because let's be honest: 50 Shades of Grey, its subject matter completely aside, is not winning any awards for awesome writing, grammatically or stylistically.  I haven't read the whole thing, but I've read enough to make that determination with some authority.  It is the paper equivalent of online fanfic, and it shows.  Thus, it is hard for me to take it seriously when someone tells me this is their favorite book.  At least expose yourself to authors that make better use of a thesaurus before you put this in your hall of fame.

YA novels are generally not poorly written.  Ruth Graham may not think the subject matter is at an adult level, but you can't argue that the writing is downright awesome in many cases.

NUMBER TWO: Once adults reach a certain age, I begin to expect that they've become a somewhat well-rounded reader.

This is kind of related to number one, in that I expect other adults around my age to have read MORE than just YA (or sci fi, or chick lit, or historical fiction, pick a genre).  And perhaps this point makes me more judgy than the first point does.  But if I find myself talking books with someone my own age, I guess I'd be surprised if they told me they never branched out beyond one genre.  I'm not saying you should be reading Moby Dick or War and Peace to be considered "well-read".  But you never tried anything beyond Jodi Picoult or Emily Giffin?  As much as I love those authors, I'm a little surprised.

I suppose what it comes down to is this: if you've read novels in a bunch of different genres, and you still think Twilight is your favorite, be my guest.  That's your opinion, and even if I don't share it, it's yours and OWN IT, GURRRRL.  But if your reading repertoire is 99% Twilight, Divergent, Matched, etc. and you declare them to be the bastions of modern literature...yes, I find myself being a wee bit judgmental.  Because how can you know something is a true favorite, if you've never really tried to pair it against anything else?  (And no, the Bronte and Thoreau you were required to read in high school don't count.)

So, as for Ruth Graham: at its core, no, I don't agree with her article.  Shaming someone just for reading YA, because you find it too simplistic for adult minds, seems extreme, outrageous, and yes, overly judgmental.  Even if you think YA is below the reading level of an adult, isn't it ridiculous to make adults feel ashamed when they choose to delve into this genre?  You glean different details and meanings from YA as an adult than you do as a teenager, and that alone makes it worth trying once you've reached an older age.

However--if she was aghast at adults who read YA and only YA (or only any one genre)...I might be a little more sympathetic.  Because why pigeonhole yourself?  Isn't there something to be said for being a well-rounded reader?

I guess my subheading should be "read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed if you never try anything different."

What do you think, readers?  Am I being a total judgy mcjudgerson here?  Have you ever been a "book shamer"?  What are your thoughts on the article?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book Review (DNF): The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

Title: The Hollow Ground
Author: Natalie S. Harnett
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source: ARC received from publicist for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads:

"We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet."

The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the Black Lung stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet. Inspired by real-life events in now-infamous Centralia and the equally devastated town of Carbondale,  The Hollow Ground  is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place.

My Review:

As you all know, I'm not really accepting ARCs for review other than for TLC Book Tours (and even that got scaled way back).  However, when I was approached with an offer to read The Hollow Ground, I jumped on it.  Mostly, it was the setting that did it for me--I have been rather fascinated by the history of the coal fires in Centralia, PA (a literal ghost town--Google that shizzle), and my mom's family is from northeastern Pennsylvania, not far from Carbondale.  My grandfather was a coal miner.  So I thought for sure this would be a match made in heaven for me.  But alas, it was not to be.

This is going to be a short review because, yes...I DNF'd this book.  (Did Not Finish, for the layperson.)  And I hardly ever do that (in fact, it's only the third time ever).  But I worked my way through 46% of this novel, and I just could not connect with it, no matter how hard I tried.  And I tried...OH MY GOD did I tryyyyy (a little early-90's rock for you right there...anyone?  You can thank me later).

I think there were two issues for me here.  First was the main character, Brigid.  She was so static.  I felt like a lot of things were happening TO her, but she was rarely ever making things happen.  She was very passive, and thus came off as a weak protagonist.  I didn't build any emotion for or against her, which is rarely a good sign.

The second issue was that there wasn't much plot movement.  I made it to nearly the 50% mark, and didn't feel like I had reached any level of anticipation for these "decades' old secrets" that were mentioned in the book's summary.  Perhaps that anticipation would have come later, but by the halfway point, I found myself unwilling to wait for it any longer.

Hopefully others will have a better experience with this one (there are quite a lot of excellent reviews on Goodreads!), but The Hollow Ground was a miss for me.

Readers, have you had to DNF any novels lately?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review: Fallout by Ellen Hopkins

Title: Fallout (Crank trilogy #3)
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: September 14, 2010
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads: (SPOILERS from the first two books)

Hunter, Autumn, and Summer—three of Kristina Snow’s five children—live in different homes, with different guardians and different last names. They share only a predisposition for addiction and a host of troubled feelings toward the mother who barely knows them, a mother who has been riding with the monster, crank, for twenty years.
Hunter is nineteen, angry, getting by in college with a job at a radio station, a girlfriend he loves in the only way he knows how, and the occasional party. He's struggling to understand why his mother left him, when he unexpectedly meets his rapist father, and things get even more complicated. Autumn lives with her single aunt and alcoholic grandfather. When her aunt gets married, and the only family she’s ever known crumbles, Autumn’s compulsive habits lead her to drink. And the consequences of her decisions suggest that there’s more of Kristina in her than she’d like to believe. Summer doesn’t know about Hunter, Autumn, or their two youngest brothers, Donald and David. To her, family is only abuse at the hands of her father’s girlfriends and a slew of foster parents. Doubt and loneliness overwhelm her, and she, too, teeters on the edge of her mother’s notorious legacy. As each searches for real love and true family, they find themselves pulled toward the one person who links them together—Kristina, Bree, mother, addict. But it is in each other, and in themselves, that they find the trust, the courage, the hope to break the cycle.
Told in three voices and punctuated by news articles chronicling the family’s story, FALLOUT is the stunning conclusion to the trilogy begun by CRANK and GLASS, and a testament to the harsh reality that addiction is never just one person’s problem.

My Review:

As with any review of a second or third book in a trilogy, I shall warn you: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS from book #1 (Crank) and book #2 (Glass).  You can check out those reviews here and here.

Got that out of the way?  Good!  On to Fallout.

Fallout is quite different from the first two books in this trilogy.  I almost think of Crank and Glass as one big, long book, because they are both told from Kristina's perspective and have very little lag time in the time periods between the two novels.  However, Fallout is about 17 years removed from the second novel, and is told from three perspectives: those of Kristina's oldest kids, Hunter, Autumn, and Summer.  So, Fallout definitely stands out as a bit of a change-up in the trilogy.

In the beginning, I wasn't sure I liked this change in perspective.  After being so immersed in Kristina's POV for 2 books, I was feeling too disconnected reading from her children's view.  Also, the first two books, though technically fictional, were based on fact, whereas this book is entirely fictional (the real-life "Hunter" was only 13 when this was written, not 19 as he is in the novel).  I could feel that switch in authenticity just a bit, because at times, it felt like Hopkins was trying too hard to prove a point.  What I mean is: each child had very obvious ways that they were affected by Kristina's behavior.  Hunter had anger issues, Autumn had OCD and panic attacks, etc. and this laundry list of "typical" outcomes from being raised by an addict didn't seem to flow naturally within the plot.

However--as I got to know the three protagonists more and more, their individual histories started to blend a bit better.  I fell into their lives more easily.  By the end, each character felt like a well-rounded person, and not just a poster child for the effects of drug abuse.  Plus, Hopkins comes up with a pretty genius way to bring their stories together at the end, right alongside Kristina's, which tied things up nicely (even if their futures still seemed uncertain).

An added bonus is that the children's stories are interspersed with fictional news articles that catch you up on the lives of some of the side characters introduced in the first two books.  Adam from Crank, Brad and his kids from Glass, etc.  This was a nice addition to the central story.

Overall, despite my uncertain start, Fallout may have been the best of the three in this trilogy.  The changing perspectives allowed me to see the first two books in a bit of a different light, while also highlighting the tidal wave of ill effects that Kristina brought down upon her friends and family during her drug addiction.  Even though this book, of the three, is the most "fictional", I still find it sad that Hopkins wrote this often-depressing projection of the future based on the terrible battle that her own daughter is (still) facing with meth.

Just like with the first two books--I highly recommend this trilogy.  And if you read the first two, your experience is definitely not complete until you finish Fallout.

Readers, what's the best trilogy you've read lately?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

May 2014 in Review

Howdy, reader friends!  And welcome to June.  I can feel summer in the air!  And because I am the parent of a toddler, that only reminds me of one thing!
Because Frozen rules my life.
But, in addition to listening to Small Fry use his "deep voice" to sing In Summer to me 10 times a day, I am also looking forward to some reading in the sunshine.  Ahhhhh.

Let's recap May!

In May I read/reviewed 5 books:
One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern
Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro
Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
Glass by Ellen Hopkins
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

I also gave you a teaser for my upcoming review of Pooja Mottl's The 3-Day Reset , and I managed my one non-review post of the month when I recapped my fabulous day at the Rochester Teen Book Festival.

Making time to write that one non-review post for the month was tough, but fun to do.  It's nice to get out of the review cycle sometimes.  I wanted to do the 6 Degrees of Separation meme that several people suggested to me, but didn't have time.  Maybe for June?  Does anyone know the book this month?

One other book-related change of note: I am on a temporary hiatus from all ARC reviews, including those with TLC Book Tours.  As much as I love TLC, I am reading at a really slow pace (for me) these days, and it's making it hard to get my reviews posted on time.  I want to at least take the next few months off from ARCs, so that I can use the summer to just read books from my own TBR.  You know, the thing I said I was going to do at the beginning of the year??  Yeah, I want to actually do that.  And now that my half marathon training is starting soon (June 30th!  ACK), I want my bloggy stuff to be really low-pressure for a while.

So let's go enjoy summer!!

Got any great warm-weather plans coming up, my friends??

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Title:   The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master,  The Ocean at the End of the Lane  is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.  

My Review:

Why is it that I am generally not a fantasy-genre fan, and yet I continue to love Neil Gaiman?  DISCUSS.

I guess I should first clarify that this novel is not easily placed into one genre.  Fantasy seems closest to the mark, but perhaps magical realism?  A fable?  A tad bit of horror?  So maybe one reason that I enjoyed this book is because it flies in the face of the very IDEA of genres.  It's got a bit of everything, and Gaiman manages to meld it all together masterfully.

I love how this book begins as a middle-aged man's reminiscence about his childhood, and then creeps, almost imperceptibly, into a story that is rather disturbing and at times, horrific.  I felt similarly about Coraline and Neverwhere .  I hate to make broad generalizations about Neil Gaiman's work when I've only read 3 novels so far, but based on that limited repertoire, I'd say he has a knack for probing the (potentially frightening) forces that make our world tick.  While you're innocently working at your job, or sitting in Starbucks, or reading a book on your couch...who (or what) is out there, allowing our world to exist?  Are they good, or evil?  Do they even LIKE us?  The Ocean at the End of the Lane will leave you wondering about that.  A lot.

I was also drawn to the way this book often sets up children vs adults scenarios, and the power that the child characters wield (even when they don't think that they do).  This idea of there being strength in the innocence of childhood (especially in the face of evil) has always been an interesting theme for me, and is seen quite a lot in Stephen King's work too.  In the case of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the young main character's POV also lends a more unfiltered view to the story than anything an old, "jaded" adult could have provided, which makes the end result that much more powerful.

Notice how I didn't delve into many plot specifics here?  I don't want to spoil anything for you.  But trust me--the broader points (like the way the tone so gradually shifts, and the deeper meaning behind the plot action) are what will stick with you anyway.  Yes, the story is great, but it's the story-behind-the-story that's going to leave this one rolling around in your brain for a while.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Neil Gaiman on his websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

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