Thank you so much to Reasons2Stay for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award! According to their post:
“The award is a way that we recognize and support each other as bloggers, and especially to show that we appreciate how much time, work, energy, and effort goes into producing and maintaining a high-quality blog. It is a humbling experience to be recognized from my fellow blogger.”
The rules of the award:
Thank the blogger that nominated you.
Write a post to show your award.
Give a brief story of how your blog started.
Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
Select other bloggers to give this award to.
Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.
How my blog started:
I started reading as a hobby near the end of 2018, and the first book that I read (Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang) inspired me to bake a little cake. I toyed with the idea of making a combination baking/reading blog after that, and – with a lot of encouragement from my fiancé – I started this blog. After engaging with other bloggers, my blog has expanded a bit beyond just “bakes inspired by books,” and I’m excited to see how it will continue to change over time!
Advice for new bloggers:
1. Be true to yourself! Your blog is your place to express yourself. Write in your voice, about the things that you want to write about. Not only does it feel good to express yourself earnestly, but you will also end up engaging with people in a more genuine way.
2. Engage with other people/blogs! The more you put in, the more you get out. Personally, I find the experience of blogging to be MUCH more satisfying when I’m interacting and making positive connections with other bloggers. Read more than you post, and comment on other blog posts to build relationships with other bloggers. 🙂
Ashley Leia (I know that you don’t do tags, and you have posted before about how your blog got started…but I still wanted to acknowledge your blog here!)
June was a busy month in my personal life, and a strange month in terms of reading! I had a lot of free time at the beginning of June, and blazed through like 3 books in 10 days (this is very fast for me). Then I started a new job and life got busy, and I only finished one more book after that. A strange and inconsistent month, but a good one nonetheless. Here are the details:
Milkman, Normal People, and My Sister The SerialKiller were all longlisted for the Women’s Prize in Fiction, and they all featured female characters. They were all also fairly heavy, in terms of the topics tackled (a repressed, government-controlled society; two individuals who are struggling with sense of self and unable to let each other go; and tense, complicated family relationships). Red, White & Royal Blue, on the other hand, featured young men, and was a much lighter read. All these books were great, and I would honestly recommend all of them, but Normal People was my absolute favorite. I love Sally Rooney’s writing style, and after finishing Normal People I added all her other books to my TBR list.
I’m currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I’m not even halfway through yet, but I already love this book SO much. I also plan to read Queenie and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine this month. I’d also like to read one or two non-fiction books (not sure which ones yet), since I have been so consumed by fiction for the past six weeks.
(a handful of) the blog posts I loved this month:
I have a hard time writing this section of my “month in review” posts, because there is so much good content on wordpress. I am being sincere when I say that the following are just some of the blog posts I loved this month.
Troy Headrick wrote a post on how “critical thinking” should really be called “creative thinking,” and why it’s important.
Millenial Life Crisis compiled an awesome index of mental health terms, and questions related to each term to help people better understand themselves.
Ashley Leia wrote a powerful and inspiring response to the Vatican’s recent decision to basically deny the validity of transgender as an identity.
And Kaley taught me that you can make cold brew coffee at home using a french press!
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reading the wonderful romantic comedy that is Red, White & Royal Blue. The premise of the book is that after a PR nightmare, frenemies Alex (first son of the United States) and Henry (Prince of England) stage a fake friendship to improve their public image. As the two spend forced time together, they actually become quite close and develop romantic feelings for each other. Both being major public figures in their respective countries, Alex and Henry must figure out if they can actually be together.
I really enjoyed Red, White & Royal Blue, and one reason why is the characters. The “White House trio,” Prince Henry, and many of the White House staff are all amazing role models: clever, capable, open-minded, and possessing a strong sense of self. They are also all so much more than just their professional role, especially the White House trio and Prince Henry. I got the sense that these young characters would be still be successful and making a difference in the world even if they weren’t the children of famous world leaders.
This message – that the characters are so much more than just an extension of their famous parents – is actually what’s at the core of this book. As Alex and Henry become romantically involved, they start to imagine themselves as more than just young public figures, and contemplate if a different life – one where they can just be themselves – is a realistic possibility given their circumstances. I really love this message because it is encouraging and inspirational to young readers who could also be struggling with sense of self.
Red, White & Royal Blue is also full of inspiring social and political messages. First, the book takes place in an alternate reality where a woman was elected president of the United States in 2016 after Obama’s term. The novel also describes LGBTQ+ characters really well. Several characters besides Alex and Henry are not straight, and this is a universally understood fact about them, and there’s not much more to it than that. For example: Nora (the vice president’s daughter) is bisexual and that is a part of her identity, but it’s also not the only or most important part of her identity, so her sexuality is mentioned but not fixated on. I think this is important because it demonstrates that sexuality is diverse, and that this should just be accepted without being a big deal.
My one critique of Red, White & Royal Blue is that – while uplifting – it feels wildly unrealistic. Without spoiling too much, this book ends on a positive note (rom-com lovers, rejoice!) – but one that feels more idealistic than realistic. Actually, the entire fictional universe in which a woman Democrat becomes POTUS in 2016 just felt like wishful thinking. I think that is intentional on the author’s part, but I have complicated feelings about escapism which is probably why the idealistic nature of this book didn’t always sit well with me.
All in all, I recommend Red, White & Royal Blue. It is a fun rom-com of a novel, but it also depicts important social, political, and philosophical issues. Also, I hardly touched on this above, but the book is also funny! The characters are razor-sharp, and the way they (playfully and lovingly) tease each other is both clever and hilarious. If you are a looking for an uplifting book to read this summer, Red, White & Royal Blue is a great option.
The bake: red, white, and blue cherry-almond cake.
To celebrate Red, White & Royal Blue, I baked a cake of those colors (and with pink frosting, as an ode to the book’s cover). Cake was a fitting bake for this novel, because the PR nightmare that forces Henry and Alex to become “fake friends” for publicity purposes involves them accidentally destroying a fancy cake. Making the cake colorful was important to me, too, because one of the major themes of this book is expressing yourself and being bold.
To make the cake, I took this recipe from My Name Is Yeh (leaving out the sprinkles, and switching the proportions of almond and vanilla extract), and frosted it with a homemade honey cream cheese frosting. I sandwiched the cake with frosting and fresh cherries, and then topped it with even more cherries.
I am so happy with this cake! The interior of the cake ended up being “pink” white and blue (no red), but it still looks awesome; this might actually be the most aesthetically pleasing cake I have ever made. Also, it tastes really good. Cherry and almond go so well together, and the fresh cherries that I used are full of flavor. And since the cake uses egg whites instead of eggs, it is light and airy and not too dense. So to summarize, the cake is colorful, aesthetically pleasing, full of flavor, and not too dense: basically, the perfect bake to celebrate Red, White & Royal Blue.
A few days ago, Tiana at The Book Raven posted an article by this same name. I have frequently felt drained of energy in the last week, but not sad or angry about anything in particular either. As such, I thought the idea of focusing my mind on things that I genuinely love would be a good way to find motivation and re-energize myself. So, I made my own list of 10 things that bring me joy (or fulfillment). And I (gently) challenge anybody reading this post to come up with their own list 🙂
10. Public transportation.
I recently moved to an actual CITY for the first time in my life, and I constantly find myself marveling at how much there is to do, and how accessible most places are by public transportation! Even when the trains have “technical difficulties” that result in “residual delays,” and even when the train is filled with more people than it should be able to hold, it is such a privilege to conveniently travel via mass transit.
9. Water related activities.
These include swimming, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach. There is something very calming about water to me, and I love interacting with bodies of water in different ways – even just taking a walk along a river, or reading by a pond.
8. Trees, plants, flowers, and fungi.
I love nature, and admiring the diversity of life that exists in the world. It is truly incredible that so many incredible flowers, plants, and fungi exist at all. I especially love brightly colored flowers and fungi, and plants with bold leaf patterns or surprising leaf shapes.
7. Being outside!
This includes being outside and taking in the great outdoors, but also being outside in a crowded city or even a mundane suburb. It can be enjoyable just to be outside regardless of context, breathing in fresh air and feeling the sun (or cold or rain). There is also something cathartic about being “out and about” – it makes me feel more connected to the world.
This is a book blog – of course reading was going to be somewhere on this list! Reading is a hobby that sometimes brings me happiness, but more frequently brings me fulfillment. I love connecting to characters, learning how to empathize with people who are unlike myself (even when they are fictional), and reading content that forces me to think deeply about topics that normally wouldn’t cross my mind. Even though the books that I read don’t necessarily always make me happy, reading is very rewarding to me.
On a chemical level, coffee physically makes me happy, because the caffeine energizes and excites me. Coffee also makes me happy on a personal level, because I’ve grown to love the taste over the years too. I love exploring new coffee shops and trying new coffee-based drinks.
There is so much to love about food! First of all, trying new foods and flavor combinations is literally a new way of sensing the world and exploring life. Food is also a great way to connect with other people: making a meal or treat for someone is a way of expressing care; eating a meal with someone is a form of bonding; and talking about restaurants and favorite foods is a great way to break the ice with new acquaintances or coworkers. And, of course, food can be comforting and hold sentimental power.
3. Creative pursuits.
I don’t think of myself as a naturally creative person, but I love creative activities because they allow me to express myself in interesting ways. As a teenager, I loved dance as a means of creative expression. I still dance a little bit, but now I also see blogging, cooking, baking, and even fashion as meaningful forms of self-expression.
Exercise is very high on the list because it physically makes me happier. As Reese Witherspoon famously said in Legally Blonde, “exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” This is absolutely true! Even if I am doing a difficult workout that I don’t particularly enjoy, I always feel better afterwards. Most of the time, however, I do enjoy the actual process of exercising – especially yoga – not just the chemical benefits of it.
1. Spending time with people that I love and trust.
The number one thing that makes me happy is having positive and genuine interactions with others. This often takes the form of being goofy with me fiancé, talking to my sisters on the phone, or hanging out with friends. But it can also instances of getting to know new people better, like having a wine night with my upstairs neighbors, or connecting and laughing with coworkers who are training me at my new job. I’m convinced that the positive effects of spending time with other people can even be physical (I have experienced this multiple times in just the past several months).
The book: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.
The latest book I finished is yet another novel from the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite tells the story of two sisters: Ayoolah, the beautiful golden child with an unfortunate habit of murdering her boyfriends out of “self defense,” and Korede, the under-appreciated sister who helps Ayoolah clean up her messes (both literally and figuratively).
The premise of this book may seem a bit silly, but My Sister, The Serial Killer is actually a wonderfully thought-provoking novel! It is surprisingly deep, tackling topics of family, loyalty, and how people respond to trauma. But even if you were read this book without looking past the surface, it would still be an interesting and thrilling read. Several intriguing questions are raised early on in the book, and you will find yourself turning pages to resolve these mysteries. For example: Will Ayoolah and Korede be caught for their most recent murder? Will Ayoolah ever be found out for who she really is? Will Korede continue to clean up after and cover for her little sister? Is Ayoolah an innocent person acting in self-defense, or is she a sociopath?
Going beyond the surface, My Sister, The Serial Killer raises much deeper philosophical issues about loyalty and morality. I found myself wrestling with what the “right” thing would be for Korede to do in her situation. Should she be disloyal to family and turn Ayoolah in for her murders? Or should she protect her sister, and in the process knowingly put more men at risk for murder? I am firm in my answer to that question, but I won’t share it here, because…
…the last thing I want to say about My Sister, The Serial Killer was that I was disappointed with the ending. This isn’t to say that the ending felt like a let-down or weak writing on the author’s part. The ending was well-written like the rest of the book – I just happen to strongly disagree with the choice that Korede made. That being said, My Sister The Serial Killer was an intriguing and surprisingly thought-provoking read, and I do not in any way regret reading it.
The bake: lavender macarons.
In My Sister, The Serial Killer, Ayoolah (the serial killer) is constantly being courted by men, and there are several scenes where suitors show up at her house with flowers. In tribute to that, I decided to bake something floral. Floral desserts are often seen as feminine and dainty, too, which makes a floral bake the perfect antidote to the sinister novel of My Sister, The Serial Killer.
The specific bake floral bake that I decided on was lavender macarons! How lovely and delicate and unlike the novel that inspired this bake! I followed this recipe for the macarons, but instead of making the honey buttercream I just filled the macaron shells with raspberry jam.
Macarons are notoriously difficult, but this recipe does an excellent job of spelling out the steps needed to bake them successfully. Some of my macarons cracked, and not all of them achieved “feet” at the base of the cookie…but they taste so good! Macarons are normally quite sweet, and the addition of lavender brings a pleasant sharpness to the dessert. I suspect I’ll make this recipe many more times in the future!
Even though the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced, I am still reading some of the long-listed books. Most recently, I read Normal People by Sally Rooney. Normal People is the story of two young adults, Marianne and Connell, who share an intimate but secret relationship in high-school, and are never quite able to let each other go.
Normal People is a novel that is driven by its characters. The characters are complex, heartbreaking, and frustrating – or, in other words, painfully realistic. The most frustrating and heartbreaking character is Marianne, who deals with her internalized pain by entering into risky relationships. Watching her make one harmful decision after another was so painful, but I had to keep rooting for her and reading to see if she would recognize or address the deeper issues.
Also heartbreaking and frustrating to read were the tensions that arose between Marianne and Connell, because they could have been resolved so easily with just slightly better communication. In fact, the theme of communication comes up repeatedly throughout Normal People. From Connell and Marianne becoming closer each time one of them shares deeply personal information, to their completely unnecessary fights over perceived intentions, Normal People shows the importance of good communication in a healthy relationship.
Normal People also provides a lot of commentary on relationships and dependence. Throughout the novel, I questioned the healthiness of the various relationships that were depicted. Some of the relationships are clearly unhealthy, while others are more ambiguous. Ultimately, I think this novel shows that no relationship is perfect, and that the timing of a relationship plays a major role in whether it will work: two people can be wrong for each other at certain points in their life, but still have a healthy relationship later on, and vice versa.
Normal People is a completely engrossing read, and it can easily be binged in a single-day. Parts of this novel are heartbreaking, yet the story is so compelling and addictive. The only times I put this book down were to process the emotions that it made me feel (and also sometimes to cry, because it really made me feel things).
The bake*: boozy hazelnut latte milkshakes
*this recipe does not actually involve baking
Two foods that appear throughout Normal People are coffee and alcohol. Because of this, I decided to make something that would incorporate both. And because I’m apparently going through a milkshake phase right now, I decided to incorporate them in the form of a spiked hazelnut latte milkshake.
I didn’t follow a recipe for this milkshake; I kind of just experimented until I liked the taste and consistency. Here are the ingredients I ended up using (to make two small-ish servings):
1 cup vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup oat milk
1 teaspoon espresso powder
~2 tablespoons hazelnut liquer (optional)
Pinch of cinnamon
After that I topped with whipped cream and espresso powder, mostly for aesthetic purposes. The milkshake had a great hazelnut-coffee flavor, and I honestly couldn’t taste the alcohol in it (which could be good, or dangerous, or both). I guess you could say it tasted…normal! Just kidding! It is better than normal 🙂
Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
Answer the 5 questions you were asked
Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
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Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
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What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?Always Be My Maybe on Netflix. (It is also the *only* movie I’ve seen recently, but I genuinely thought it was good).
How often do you make music playlists? Probably once a month – I usually make playlists for road trips, new workout routines, or parties.
What’s the last book you were gifted?Rising Strong by Brene Brown.
What are you looking forward to right now? Life in general! A lot of good changes have happened recently (new job, new city, new adventures) and everything is very exciting right now!
[weird question]If you could switch places with one with one actor in any scene in any movie/TV show, which would it be? Hmmmmmmm. Maybe Rachel Bloom in the masquerade scene in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Because everyone is dressed up so nicely and she gets to dance with Scott Michael Foster!
Three things about me:
I recently moved to a big city and discovered my love of public transit! And reading on public transit!
I am a vegetarian.
I am that stereotype/cliché type of person who drinks cold brew coffee in all types of weather.
Earlier this week, I read Milkman by Anna Burns. Milkman tells the story of an 18-year old girl being stalked by a paramilitary man known as “Milkman” in the tense political climate of Ireland in the 1970’s. As Milkman becomes more persistent with his advances, rumors spread and lead to life-altering consequences for our unnamed narrator.
Compared to other fiction novels I’ve read recently, Milkman is a challenging read. The writing style wasn’t easily comprehensible to me, especially at first, and I found myself having to re-read sentences frequently. Also, some of the paragraphs in this novel are incredibly long. As in, there are paragraphs that span entire pages, or even three full-pages.
I also found Milkman to be a slow read: both in terms of how long it took me to finish the book, and also the pace at which the plot moves. A lot of Milkman isn’t active plot, but rather the narrator explaining events that previously happened in her town, or giving lengthy backstory about community members. I honestly found that background information to be annoying at first – I didn’t see its relevance – but I eventually came to understand and appreciate the way that these seemingly “irrelevant” details help to paint a very precise portrait of the culture and mindset of her community.
To me, Anna Burns’ ability to create this realistically detailed fictional world was the biggest strength of Milkman. Nearly every detail in the novel reinforces the strictness and tension of the community, and the self-conscious, repressed, and suspicious nature of its citizens. Surprisingly, I often found myself noticing parallels between the narrator’s community and modern-day America (though the latter is definitely not as repressed or tightly controlled as the fictional community described in Milkman).
The last thing that I want to touch on is how funny Milkman was. It took me a while to realize it, but amidst the darkness of this novel there is actually a lot of humor! Burns writes the conversation of gossipy, judgmental shit-starters in a way that hilariously calls them out on their “unintentional” drama-stirring. She also writes the monologues of the narrator’s overbearing mother in a way that is simultaneously funny and infuriating.
Overall, I liked Milkman, but it’s a book that takes time to get into. It is a dense read, but it’s worth the challenge of reading and re-reading paragraphs, because the book provides a moving glimpse into a rigid and repressed society where inaction and obliviousness have unfortunate consequences.
The (not-quite) bake: tahini milkshakes.
Recently, I’ve started going through books at a much quicker pace than usual. Normally, I read two or three books in a given month, but in just the past two weeks I have read four books. Why am I telling you this? Because my accelerated reading pace means that it’s currently not feasible for me to bake something for every book that I complete.
So, for Milkman, instead of baking something I decided to make something much simpler. I went the obvious route of making something milk-based, and decided upon milkshakes. Specifically, I made these tahini milkshakes from Molly Yeh’s amazing food blog (using oat milk instead of regular milk, though).
Milkshakes are straightforward to make, and these tahini milkshakes were no exception: you simply measure the ingredients and blend everything together. In addition to being easy to make, these milkshakes taste amazing! They have a pleasant, but not overpowering, tahini flavor, and they are not excessively sweet. Also, the serving size of these milkshakes is pretty small, making this treat refreshing and indulgent…but not too indulgent. I would say that this tahini milkshake recipe is the perfect accompaniment to Milkman but, honestly, it’s just a perfect summer treat regardless of what it’s accompanying.
Last week, I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. An American Marriage tells the story of Celestial and Roy, a newlywed couple whose marriage is put to the test when Roy is sentenced to thirteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The novel shows the effects of Roy’s incarceration on the relationship from the perspective of three characters: Roy, Celestial, and Celestial’s childhood friend Andre.
The chapters of An American Marriage are alternatingly told from the perspectives of each of the three main characters. This technique only works when characters are well-developed, and in An American Marriage they absolutely were. The different perspectives allowed me to gain a more nuanced understanding of situations and relationships, and (usually) to empathize better with each character. I say that the differing perspectives usually elicited empathy, because there were some passages written from Roy’s perspective that made my blood boil. Celestial and Andre often omit or sugarcoat Roy’s undesirable characteristics (egotism and entitlement, to name a couple), so reading chapters from his perspective made me like him much less than I would have if his perspective hadn’t been written at all. But this makes the story more complete, more realistic.
An American Marriage illustrates many contemporary societal issues, and is probably meant to encourage discussion of those issues. With the plot revolving around the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent black man, racism of course plays a major role in the novel. Maybe even more prominent than racism in America, however, is the issue of toxic masculinity. Many of my frustrations with Roy are the result of his outdated ideas about gender roles in relationships. Roy is not solely to blame for his sexist views, however, because these ideas are clearly pervasive in the community where he grew up.
In addition to addressing pertinent social issues, An American Marriage also brings up philosophical questions about relationships and marriage. This novel left me broadly considering the institution of marriage, and what it means to commit to another person forever in a rapidly changing world. I have also been questioning whether Celestial and Roy’s relationship was destroyed by Roy’s imprisonment, or if it was simply a bad relationship that would have failed regardless.
Overall, An American Marriage was an incredible read and I highly recommend it. Parts of the plot might make your blood boil, but that speaks to the book’s ability to pull you in!
The bake: blackberry jam cake.
All my previous bakes have been loosely inspired by books, but this bake comes pretty directly from An American Marriage. At Celestial’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner, her mother Gloria makes a blackberry jam cake with “the aroma of rum, cloves, and cinnamon.” This blackberry jam cake is so special that not only did Celestial’s husband Roy request it as his groom’s cake, but it also played a role in Gloria’s courtship of Celestial’s father!
I followed this recipe for blackberry jam cake (omitting the golden raisins), and frosted it using this white chocolate frosting. Something to note about the cake recipe is that the bake time is pretty long, which may be the result of the jam in the batter. Also, because of the various textures in this cake (i.e. the chopped walnut chunks), it is a bit tricky to get a smooth frosting coat over it. Other than that, it is a straightforward cake.
I had been thinking about decorating the cake with walnuts and blackberries, as I recently adopted the philosophy that cake decorations should be reflective of what’s inside the cake. Unfortunately, I forgot to buy fresh blackberries this weekend, so I ended up decorating the cake only with walnuts.
This cake is very good: the jam keeps it moist, the spices give it a complex flavor, and the walnuts add more texture. I had a hard time picking up the blackberry flavor – the cake tasted like a sweet spice cake to me – but I still like it. In all of its complexity, this is the perfect cake to represent An American Marriage.
May was a crazy month. Like, truly insane. I embarked on a major move, so – between packing, driving 1000 miles, unpacking, organizing the new apartment, and also finding a new job – there wasn’t too much spare time, especially during the first half of the month. I still managed to do some reading and baking, though – take a look below!
Somehow, I finished three books amidst the craziness of May! The books were:
It’s hard to compare these books to each other, especially because Boom Town is so different (historical non-fiction) from The Pisces and An American Marriage (contemporary fiction). I liked each of these books for different reasons, but An American Marriage was probably my favorite. I haven’t posted about An American Marriage yet, but a more detailed review is coming soon!
I’m currently reading Milkman by Anna Burns (current progress: about one third of the way through). My impression, so far, is that this book is unlike anything I’ve read before, and I’m not quite sure if I like it. I also plan to read Normal People by Sally Rooney this month. I’ve heard so many great things about this novel – from reviewers I follow here to the employees at my local bookstore – so I’m really excited for that read. Normal People will likely be a quick read, but I haven’t yet decided what to read after that. Maybe more books from the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist? Or maybe just ANY other books from my exponentially-growing TBR list?