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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review of "The Casual Vacancy" by JK Rowling

I am a Harry Potter nerd to my deepest core.  The series, which I have read probably 20 times, is comfortably seated on the throne as my all-time favorite fiction book(s). 

Naturally, I was very excited to learn that JK Rowling was penning another book--and adult novel called The Casual Vacancy.

A couple of weekends ago, my husband surprised me with a copy of the book.  I was very excited by his thoughtfulness, and immediately jumped into the novel.  

My first impression--literally of the cover--was disappointing  The bright red and yellow colors and the cheap graphic was off-putting.  If JK had not been an award-winning writer, I'd never picked up this book on it's own merit.

This should have been my first clue.

[Disclaimer: If you don't want to know anything about the book and read it unbiased, you might want to stop reading at this point.  The following is my take on the book.]

After diving into the book, my husband asked me if I liked it.  "Um....I'm not sure yet.  It's still too early to tell.  Not much has happened yet."

Then the next day he asked me again.  "So, are you liking the book better now?"

"Um....well....not really.  There are a lot of characters that I am trying to keep straight.  Nothing's really happening yet.  She is still introducing characters."

Then the next day, "So?  Any better?"

"Well, there is a lot of bad language in here.  It seems unnecessary.  The character's names are confusing and she has nicknames for half of them too.  SO I re-reading the same parts several times to figure out which character it's talking about.  And I am still not sure what it's about so far."

This type of dialogue continued for days.  Each time my husband would inquire about the book, I would find myself giving JK Rowling the benefit of the doubt.  "Well, I am going to finish it before I make a judgement."

I really wanted to like it. 

I just finished the book, and I can confidently say that if it has been any other author, I would have thrown the book away by now.  It really was that bad.

Here are a few of the reasons that I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone to read: 
  • Unnecessary Vulgarity:  The language was really bad.  Really, really, really bad.  The adults and the teenaged characters, alike, had mouths on them that would make a sailor blush.  There were teenagers calling their parents all sorts of vulgar names that I won't even allude to here.  The parents not only beat their children, there was ample amounts of cursing too--and some to children were as young as 3 1/2.  It was too much for me.  Some might argue that I live a sheltered existence and this "gritty" language was necessary for "realism."  Well, that isn't "real" in my world, and I don't think it added anything to the story. 
  • Sexual Situations:  Thankfully, she wasn't graphic in her descriptions (watching cable TV might be worse than what was described in the book), but so many of the things were unnecessary.  It seemed to be added just to be added.  Most of the comments or situations didn't add anything to the storyline.
  • Hideous Characters:  This is a big complaint, for me.  I know JK can write amazing characters with depth, humor, and uniqueness.  I can only hope she purposefully wrote these characters as flat and one dimensional.  Seriously, there is not ONE likeable character in the book.  Each character was so horrible that, by the end of the novel, I could care less what happened to any of them.  My hope is that they were written that way on purpose.  [Note to any potential authors out there--it's hard to keep a reader reading if they hate everyone in the book.  We need someone to care about, cheer for, or at least tolerate.]
  • A Weak (at best) Plotline:  This, too, was the major disappointment.  The whole time, I expected her to bring forth some profound or amazing story or in some way redeem at least one of the the smutty, fowl-mouthed, and unlikeable characters.  Sadly, 503 pages later, I am just as confused as to the point of the book as I was when I first started it.  
In summary, I am grossily disappointed in the book.  I am a fiction-reader.  I can excuse language and even some sexual situations when there is a strong story and redeeming characters.  Or if those things added to the plot in an important way.  There were neither in this book.  Her over-use of fowl language seemed to be used "because she could" or to mark a strong distinction between this book and Harry Potter.  It cheapened her writing, in my opinion.  The plot-line, if you can call it one, was so weak that I would have never finished the book if it had not been JK Rowling writing it.

The only thing I could take away from this book is that maybe she was trying to turn a light on the real life struggles of children that live in poverty and the cycle that is created as a result.  She may have been trying to get "polite" society to realize that their private lives are not that much different than those that live in the "projects" of our towns.  That the public "sins" of the poor are just as bad, if not worse, than the private "sins" of the privileged. 

However, I am really stretching to find any good in the book.  Honestly, the best thing in the book is my Jimmy John's receipt I was using as a bookmark. 

If you still want to read this book, I would beg of you to at least check it out of the library and don't waste your money.  Or I have a copy I'd sell you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Carb Free Tacos

It's taken me about 35 years to admit something: Carbs are not my friend.

Don't get me wrong, I love them dearly.  My, oh my, how they also LOVE me.  So much so, they NEVER leave my side!  Or my butt.  Or thighs.  

So I have been looking for ways to eat less carbs and less (or no) processed food.  After about two days of carb withdraw, the subsequent foggy-head feeling has passed.  I actually feel really good.

Tonight I made one of Jacob's favorite meals--tacos.  This time I went the no-carb route, and I wanted to share the "recipe" with you.  (Okay, so I use the term "recipe" loosely.  I don't really measure out my ingredients but let my pallet do the talking.  I'll give you my guidelines, how is that?)

My husband LOVED them and said it was one of his favorite meals I've cooked!  The crisp lettuce really did make us forget about the carb-heavy shells or tortillas!  Here is a picture of one of his tacos:

You'll need:
1 lb. hamburger meat (or ground turkey)
2 hearts of romaine
1 ripe large avocado (or 2 small ones)
1-2 onions
Limes (or lime juice)
1 large tomato

To make the Salsa:
  • Dice up one large tomato   
  • Finely dice 1/4 to 1/2 of an onion (more or less to your taste)
  • Add 1 tablespoon garlic (more or less to your taste)
  • Add 1-2 sprigs of roughly chopped cilantro
  • Juice of one lime 
  • Salt and pepper
  • If you want a spicy salsa add freshly chopped jalapeno 
  • Stir and then refrigerate until meal time.  The longer the better it will taste!
To make the Guacamole:
  • Place the "meat" of your avocado in a bowl. (Set the core aside for later.)  Mash the avocado with a fork until most of the large chunks are mashed well.  
  • Using a cheese grater, grate about 1/4 of an onion into the mashed avocado.  (Trust me on this.  It adds flavor throughout this way.)  Stir in well.
  • Add about 1 tablespoon of lime juice.  Add a little salt.  Mix well.  
  • Add about 1/3 cup of freshly diced tomato and mix.
  • Place the avocado seed in the middle of the guacamole and cover with a lid.  Do not eat the core, but it will help your guacamole from turning brown from the exposure to air!  
  • Refrigerate until mealtime.  The longer the better it will taste!
Clean the Hearts of Romaine:
  • Just pull off the leafs of a heart of romaine.  
  • Wash and dry each leaf well.  
  • I selected the best leafs for my "taco shells." Those were the ones the most "boat-like" and had no tears in the leafs.  
  • Keep them refrigerated so they crisp up until time to serve the meal. 
Brown your meat:
  1. Finely chop about 1/2 an onion--more or less to your liking.
  2. Begin sauteing the onion in about 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil.  I used butter.  (It added some richness to the meat, I believe.)
  3. Add the raw hamburger meat to the onion to brown.  
  4. Add salt and pepper to the meat mixture.  If you want more of a "taco seasoning" flavor you can add additional spices.  (Because the prepackaged seasonings have carbs and unknown additives, we like our meat seasoned only with salt and pepper.)
  5. Drain excess fat and serve.  
There they are!  It really is very easy!  Of course you can add cheese, sour cream, beans and other things to your meal, but we found the fresh guac and salsa complimented the delicious hamburger meat perfectly!

Hope you enjoy!