Quotes of the Week- Week 13

Quickest five quotes ever!

1.

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2. “When one door closes, another one opens.”

3. “For every ten ‘no’s out there, there’s a ‘yes’ waiting to be discovered.” (I came up with this one tonight. Hope you don’t mind 🙂 )

4. “It’s not the action, it’s the reaction.”

5. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” -Benjamin Franklin (Especially applicable tonight as I am trying to fit this in before sleeping and getting up early for Geometry tomorrow.)

My week has been crazy and full of excitement and anticipation as I found out that I will be able to make the equivalent of two days of family beach week, which I thought I would miss entirely from Geometry. It means a lot of time reading in the car while trekking six hours to the Delaware shore 🙂 Should be good for finishing Emma. Will post on that as soon as I finish it. It’s amazing so far. Jane Austen is so witty and so totally amazing.

That’s a good final thought for tonight. Have a great week (and nice weather, as I’m hoping some for the beach).

-Nicole

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

So I posted that really serious Thirteen Reasons Why post this morning about suicide before Geometry and I feel like I need to even things out a little bit and give a more lighthearted review before signing off tonight. And here we are. 

Okay, I admit it: Dan Brown books are one of my weaknesses. Like a couple really great Sarah Dessen teen realistic fiction books (mainly This Lullaby and Along for the Ride), I have an admitted draw to Dan Brown’s mysteries. Sure, you could say it’s not that large, considering The Lost Symbol is the second one I’ve read. The Da Vinci Code was first; then 60 or 70 pages of Angels and Demons during midterms (I plan to reread that and finish it next time I get to the library :)); now The Lost Symbol

Now, I am not the biggest fan of mystery books. Especially of the death-around-every-corner sort. Which is why Dan Brown’s books are so perfect for me. They are academic like no other mystery I’ve found (comment if you know any!) and although they still have the death thing going on, it’s not as prevalent as solving the mystery at hand. That I like a lot. 

Here is the novel’s basic premise (I promise it won’t give anything away): Famous symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to Washington D.C. to give a talk for a gala-type event. When he gets there, arriving running into the room, it’s completely empty- and as he finds, the friend (Peter Solomon) who “invited” him is not there. The supposed secretary who arranged for Langdon to get to D.C. was not Peter’s secretary who called at all- it was another man who was asking Langdon’s help in solving a great mystery of immense knowledge. He wanted to know the answer to the Masonic Pyramid. 

There are a lot of plot twists, which are expected in a mystery novel. The best one comes pretty close to the end, with just Peter Solomon and his captor in a room by themselves. I swear I was so freaked out that I was just holding my breath until I could finish the chapter (in a very, very good way). I think it’s smart that Brown’s narrative follows some minor characters on their smaller paths- Trish and Omar the taxi driver- as well as Robert and Katherine (Robert’s accomplice and Peter’s sister) and Mal’akh (the antagonist). The flashbacks Robert has during the period when Brown follows him back to the talks he’s given or heard. That’s especially cool as a student myself. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be in Robert Langdon’s symbology class 🙂 

It was especially funny that he made several Phillips Exeter Academy references because I’ve visited there and received admission materials from there so I know pretty much what he means by that 🙂

Dan Brown’s writing is okay. It’s not especially poetic, but I don’t think that’s what he’s going for in writing suspense novels. However, I will say that I have read non-mystery/suspense novels that are suspenseful just from the writing. I wouldn’t say I love how he writes, but I do love the academic way in which he intertwines the concepts of each mystery. Each typically involves science, social relationships, religion, and lots of history. While I’m an Atheist and The Lost Symbol has an extremely religious (not giving it away!) ending, I felt like that was probably just the least interesting part of the book for me. It didn’t make me dislike the book; it just wasn’t as interesting considering my limited knowledge and interest in it. 

I would give the book maybe four out of five stars. I mean, it was a good enough mystery book and a nice weekend read. I admit it was not smart on my part to read it after Thirteen Reasons Why because, as I said in that post, it doesn’t compare AT ALL in terms of symbolism (even though it is a symbology book, tee hee). It was also hard to follow at parts, and I don’t think that knowing more about the subject of symbology would help with that as it’d make the book less interesting. And there were a couple too many characters and the motives of them were weirdly connected. 

So if you like a mystery and academic reads and have possibly read Dan Brown’s novels before, I say take it out of the library and spend a weekend on it. If you haven’t read Dan Brown’s books before, I recommend reading The Da Vinci Code first because I liked it better. 

Have a great weekend!

-Nicole

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I cannot get this book out of my head. Seriously. I am not exaggerating when I say that I read the entire book in a three-hour car ride last Saturday and have not paused to think about other books since then (well, except maybe for Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol which I read right after but in no way compares- sorry Dan). 

This book has thrown my head for a loop. Part of it, for sure, is the fact that it grapples with suicide, which is a difficult topic not only for teenagers like myself but for people in general. It’s especially hard for teens because it’s quite prevalent in the world around us right now. More and more teens are facing difficult issues in their everyday lives and are considering turning to drastic measures to “fix” their problems. 

It really upsets me. That’s especially so since I was teased and made fun of when I was younger. I just hate, like Clay in the book, when people say they have no one to talk to or no one to sympathize with. Just like Clay I go, “I’m here! I know how it feels! Talk to me! I want to help!” I realize, like Clay does eventually, that it’s a somewhat wasted effort. People who are suicidal often have the perception that no one understands or wants to help. I don’t think that’s really true. 

Back to the book a little bit. Several days (or maybe a couple weeks, I don’t know…) after the suicide of his classmate Hannah Baker, Clay receives a box with mix tapes in the mail with no return address. Curious as most people would be, he starts listening- and what he hears changes his life forever as he realizes the pieces that he and other people around him played in causing Hannah’s suicide. He takes one night and a cassette player, roving around his small town following Hannah’s instructions and just listening. 

The book is really well-written compared to other YA realistic fiction (and mystery) books. Jay Asher does a great job of making emotions come to life in both narratives, Clay’s and Hannah’s. I admit that it is definitely a YA lit book, as the writing style is not especially “sophisticated.” However, that is what I believe Jay Asher was going for; trying to make something like teen suicide accessible to read and accessible to discuss for teenagers. It was very, very, very smart to do the double-narrative.

The cassette tape concept was a fantastic idea. In the back of the library copy of the book I borrowed, there was a Q&A with Jay Asher. He said that with modern technology changing so fast, doing something that was “current” when he was writing it would soon be outdated. Yet doing the reverse, having outdated technology and making all the characters know what it is, would make it seems “cooler” and more up-to-date. It’s more timeless that way. Using cassettes was also brilliant since it gave the book formatting in terms of chapter division. That made the book clearer, and it made for especially suspenseful cliff-hangers for both the reader and main character Clay since Hannah would stop on something dramatic and you knew there had to be a period of Clay holding his breath since he had to load the next tape in. 

It is a really accessible book. Jay Asher was super-successful in that. The other suicide book I’ve read that was vaguely similar was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar last summer. Don’t get me wrong, I adore that book. Extremely good writing, excellent mentality to it, characters well-developed and intriguing. But it doesn’t open itself up to teen readers as much, and it doesn’t ease the discussion of suicide in any way, really. This book, Thirteen Reasons Why, is opposite of that in many ways for teens. The characters’ mentalities are less thought-out and are more irrational- much more like actual teenagers. The idea and topic of committing suicide is, I can’t exactly describe, not as blunt. Hannah doesn’t treat it as the only option at first like Esther does. The best part of Thirteen Reasons Why, though, is the way that it shows the after-effects on the people surrounding those who commit suicide. It’s amplified by the fact that Hannah is telling her story and explaining to all of these people how they added to her decision. 

The one part I didn’t really understand was the concept behind why Clay was on the tapes. Readers had heard throughout the first section of the book what Clay was thinking about it, and then when it finally came to his part, I was confused. Why would Jay Asher make Clay have less of a dramatic story than Justin, per se? I would think that Jay Asher would try to make the main character deeply involved or intertwined, but no. Was it an attempt to keep Clay more of an outsider, a bit more of a goody two-shoes? I don’t know, but if I had to change one thing, that’s what it would be. 

I give Thirteen Reasons Why four and a half stars. It’s a truly amazing book for making hard-to-reach topics like suicide and reaching out for help more accessible. I took off the half star because the main character’s part was more removed, which in turn made me think that Hannah just put Clay on the tapes so he could hear the story. Oh well. It was a fantastic book. Kept me glued to it. I swear I was gripping the hardcover so tightly during the car ride that my hands alternated between pale white and bright red. Read this book. It’s amazing just for the way it makes you think afterwards, and the captivating manner of its lyrical writing. 

It may not be the most enjoyable book in the world, but it is definitely a game-changing YA one. 

Oh, and one last thought- I know it’s probably a terrible idea and cheesy to do this, but like Jay Asher says in the Q&A at the end of the book, if Hannah’s feelings resonate with you in a really current way, look for help. Please. That’s all I can ask, except for enjoying the book. 

-Nicole

Quotes of the Week- Week 12

This is, as the title suggests, my five quotes for this week. I have been meaning to post this for, I don’t know, three days or so, but have been busy with Geometry and enjoying my summer. Isn’t enjoyment so time-consuming? 🙂

As a theme for this week, I am going to post the five best fortune cookie fortunes I know. It surely sounds weird, but the quotes are good. And we had Chinese food for lunch the other day, so I have some fresh ones 🙂 

Here are the five best fortunes:

1. “Playing safe is only playing.”

2. “Before you ask yourself ‘Am I doing things right?’, ask yourself, ‘Am I doing the right things?’.”

3. “Warning: do not eat your fortune.” (this was my sister’s the other day)

4. “To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.”

5. “The beginning of all understanding is innocent.”

I hope you have a great week!

-Nicole

Bon Appetit (and some amazing brownies)

Hi!

I hope everyone’s afternoon is going well. Mine is! I spent the afternoon baking cookies and a batch of brownies. Lots of fun, especially for a baker girl like me 🙂

The brownies are absolutely AMAZING and I will share the recipe below. First, though, I’m going to take this opportunity to say just how much I love Bon Appetit Magazine (where the original recipe for these brownies came from). 

BA is awesome. I love the whole concept of it as a food magazine, and then the execution of it is perfect. The layout, the recipes, everything. Their writers and editors do such a fantastic job. I love The Foodist (Andrew Knowlton) and The Providers (Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward). I adore all of the interviews, the two per issue; the inside feature and Back of the Napkin. Especially the Connie Britton one since I’m in a bit of a Friday Night Lights craze. 

And yes, I do dream of one day sitting in Adam Rapoport’s chair as editor-in-chief, but who doesn’t? He does a great job of melding all of the ideas of his writers into something fairly cohesive. And he writes kick-butt Editor’s Letters for the beginning of each issue. I was basically editor of the school newspaper this past year, but did I get an Editor’s Letter? No. I got a two- or three-paragraph introduction. So I definitely have something to aspire to. 

I eagerly await the arrival of our home copy of Bon Appetit in the mail each month, and I have to fight my dad when it first arrives for a chance to get a look at the thing. I sure hope that won’t be stopped anytime soon, and that BA will continue to win my heart. 

Now for those brownies…

This recipe is a slight adaptation on the Cocoa Brownies in the December 2012 issue. I was out of white granulated sugar and all-purpose flour, but you can substitute those back in from what I’ve put here without a doubt.

White Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chip Brownies-

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups sugar (since I had none, I used 1 cup turbinado and between a quarter and a half cup of powdered)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 

Pinch of salt (kosher or iodized; I typically use iodized)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (just eyeball it)

2 eggs

1/3 cup flour (typically all-purpose is best, but I used maybe 2 tablespoons all-purpose and the rest whole wheat and you can’t tell)

About 1/2 or 3/4 cup white chocolate chips

About 1/2 or 3/4 cup peanut butter chips (I found these at Whole Foods)

Additional turbinado sugar, and several teaspoons of coarse-grained sea salt

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Instructions-

1. Preheat over to 325 degrees Farenheit. Line the baking pan with foil and coat lightly with nonstick spray. 

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan. It goes faster if cut into pieces, but it doesn’t matter. 

3. Combine the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a bowl. 

4. Pour butter into sugar-cocoa mixture and stir with a silicon spatula. It’ll be very thick and somewhat grainy. 

5. Add vanilla and one egg, then stir quite a lot to incorporate. Add the second egg and repeat. 

6. Mix in the flour with a couple swift stirs. Try not to over mix, especially because you have to mix again to add the chips. 

7. Add the chips and stir. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, and top with the extra sugar and sea salt. Put into the oven. Bake until a toothpick around the edge comes out clean, and one in the middle has one or two moist crumbs attached. This helps the texture be really fudgy. Once out of the oven, let them cool in the pan for 20 minutes or so, and then flip them from the foil onto a cutting board and cut into squares. 

These brownies turned out incredible. The sea salt and sugar on top add a little crunch and the sea salt is the perfect offset to the sweetness. You can taste the pieces of white chocolate and peanut butter without it being cloying. I made these once before with chopped Reece’s peanut butter cups and without the sugar/salt topping too. And they are just as good plain without any chips mixed in or sugar/salt topping (which was my new invention today!). These for me are the perfect intensely chocolaty (without any melted chocolate!) brownies. 

Enjoy!

-Nicole

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I finished last Sunday what I dare say may be the best book I’ve ever read. I know it seems shocking to say such a thing, especially as an avid reader who is constantly cycling through books and calling lots of them her favorites. But this book truly is different. It is unlike any book I’ve ever read, really, and is completely inspiring as a reader and as a writer. 

Though this may seem complicated to explain, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not really about Henrietta Lacks. It is about how doctors took cells from a tumor in her cervix and discovered that the cells were immortal. The doctors then shared the ever-multiplying cells with other doctors, and eventually HeLa (the abbreviation used to denote those cells specifically) were used to make lots of scientific discoveries. The cells also produced millions and millions if not billions of dollars in industry. All of this happened without the knowledge or consent of Henrietta’s family. And they received not one drop of the profits. 

That is probably the simplest way to tell the story. The author, who I’ve come to admire immensely, Rebecca Skloot, interviews lots of people involved, and spends quite a bit of time with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. When I was poking around this morning looking at things on Rebecca Skloot’s website, I found this video of her talking about how she did her research and interviews and things. I found it just fascinating. 

This book is incredible, and very inspiring to me. I found it inspiring not only as a reader, as Skloot tells the tales of the wonders that these cells have accomplished, the lives of Henrietta and her daughter, Deborah. I found it so fascinating from a writer’s standpoint. I am a really academic person; I love writing and English and history, yes, but math and science are really fun for me too. I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks partly because it gave me a major role model in Skloot. She went and got a degree in biology AND wrote this absolutely amazing book that took her an entire decade. I find her strength and determination so inspiring as a young reader and writer, especially since I hadn’t before thought of ways to incorporate my math- and science-loving academic side with thoughtful writer ways.

I am now completely taken with creative nonfiction. The only thing remotely similar to this that I’ve read was Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. And that book is really nothing like this book; besides the fact that it’s creative nonfiction in a way, it’s about a totally different topic written in a voice that is not even comparable. It’s like apples and zucchini. Not even oranges. Zucchini. And I’m planning to read Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger, projected to be similar in creative nonfiction storytelling, but that may be in a little while, considering I have about two dozen books from the library and my bookshelf combined to get through first.

To finish up here: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is insanely good. I could not put it down. The characters, the writing, the order of events in terms of the details, the factual accuracy… It’s no wonder to me why this book won a lot of awards. And now it has earned a new one: my favorite and most inspirational book.

Read it, please, if you have a chance, to see what I’m talking about. I don’t think you can regret it. 

-Nicole

Something Pink

Something Pink

I have been in a very pink-purple mood lately. I have a DIY project to start using paint swatches (in these colors!) and will post when done! Seems like a good color for my summer week, even though this picture was from maybe November…
-Nicole