Sunday, July 24, 2011

Non-Fiction Reading Slump & Quest for Happy Books (not for me)

I used to read 99% fiction. Then in 2008 and 2009, before I started blogging in 2010, I read about 75% non-fiction, out of approximately 100 books a year.

Last year, I read 75% fiction instead (still out of 100 books or so). I blamed it on all you bloggers, as your reviews made me kept adding (mostly) fiction books to my TBR list :)

This year, I wanted to try 50-50. So far, it's about 2/3 fiction, 1/3 non-fiction. So I definitely have some catching up to do. But I am in a non-fiction reading slump for some reasons. I have started 3 non-fiction books I'd been looking forward to, but had to put them aside as I couldn't concentrate. Now, I am not abandoning them, as least not yet, so I want to wait till I am in the mood to read them. To give them a fair try.

I think one reason is because I am busy at work, so I read to escape. I have to pay extra attention when I read non-fiction, as my goal in reading non-fiction is usually to learn something new. When I read fiction, I just want to let my imagination go wild. I guess it's like watching a movie (fiction), as opposed to a documentary (non-fiction).

I suppose at least I still want to read, even if it's just fiction. I am such a mood reader.

But am I really a mood reader? A friend asked for some book recommendation. She likes happy books, and doesn't like scary or depressing books. I looked through the list of books I'd read in the past few years, and many of them were not happy books lol. She enjoyed The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Lottery by Patricia Wood. I was racking my brain trying to think of something. Eventually I came up with The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys (only because Lottery reminded me a bit of the last book.) Even then, they all had a bit of a sad element in them. Personally, the more emotional the better (fictional stories), for me. Books that make me cry are more memorable, and I tend to rate those higher.

Can you recommend any happy books?

PS - the 3 non-fiction that I put "on hold" for now are:
  • Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch by Rob Dobrenski
  • Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum
  • The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran AdriĆ 's elBulli by Lisa Abend
 PPS - the fiction I decided to read is:
  • Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek 
PPPS - the books I finished this past weeks were (and of course no reviews yet...):
  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty 
  • Creep by Jennifer Hillier

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Inpsiring post from Small Notebook for a Simple Home

Take a look at this photo:



Think about your answers first, before you read the post. from Small Notebook for a Simple Home.

So. True.

Thank you for the reminder.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

LOVE! Bookshelves



1. The Ring Shelf

  • 2. Mario Shelf

  • 3. Tree Branch Shelf

  • 4. Map Of The USA Shelf

  • 5. Letters Shelf

  • 6. Tree Shelf

  • 7. Pac Man Shelf

  • 8. Nest Shelf

  • 9. READ

  • 10. Hanging Binders

  • 11. Table-Inset Shelf

  • 12. Yin-Yang

  • 13. Shelf With A Reading Nook

  • 14. Chair Shelf

  • 15. Reading Pod Shelf

  • 16. Bed Shelf

  • 17. Upside-Down Shelf

  • 18. Falling Books Shelf

  • 19. Another Tree Shelf

  • 20. Geometric Shelf

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Now I am 19 books behind on my reviews! Sigh. Maybe I should do mini-reviews? But I want to give each book its attention...

Read, and yet to be reviewed:

  1. Two Kisses for Maddy by Logelin (Non-Fiction)
  2. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
  3. Addition by Toni Jordan
  4. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  5. Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi (Non-Fiction)
  6. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
  7. Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly by Larry McCleary MD (Non-Fiction)
  8. Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon
  9. Don't Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon
  10. Night Road by Kristin Hannah
  11. Odd Jobs by Ben Lieberman
  12. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
  13. Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
  14. I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
  15. Totto-Chan: The Little Girl At The Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (Non-Fiction)
  16. The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen
  17. Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens
  1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

What I am about to start reading:
  • What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Saturday, July 16, 2011

BAND - Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees. July Discussion - What’s Your Favorite Type of Nonfiction?

I was very excited to see that BAND - Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees has formed! For more info, see here.

I remember when I first started blogging, I had a very difficult time in finding other blogs that reviewed non-fiction. A few years back, I was reading about 75% Non-Fiction (roughly 100 books a year). Since I'd started blogging 1.5 years ago, I had read more fiction than non-fiction... mainly because I read all the fiction reviews from your blogs and ultimately added them to my TBR list!

Each month, BAND will ask a Non-Fiction related question. Then at the end of the month, the moderator will sum it up. I can't wait to hear what everyone else said!

Here's the July question: What’s Your Favorite Type of Nonfiction?

Good question! I haven't given it much thought before. Looking back, I read a lot of memoir (travel, medical, psychological/social, food etc). I also read a lot of real crime like Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo or Columbine by Dave Cullen. I enjoy some scientific books like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by by Mary Roach, or business books such as Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath, Dan Heath, Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson and Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag by Michael Tonello (though the latter two were really memoir).

I think, ultimately, my favorite type of non-fiction are memoirs that inspire me. Now, of course, what inspires us are very subjective. I'll briefly explain each of my example:

  • Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi - set in WWII in Japan. You see how innocent the children were (even if they were the "enemy"). But most inspiring of all was the headmaster and the way he educated the children
  • Not by Chance Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist by Elliot Aronson - I was a psych major, so it was interesting to read how this prominent psychologist stumbled into psychology. Also a great professor
  • The Emergency Teacher: The Inspirational Story of a New Teacher in an Inner City School by Christina Asquith - I had wanted to be a teacher, but didn't think I know enough to teach. The author left her well paying job to become an inner city school teacher. Enough said.
  • The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls - I kept asking myself "really?" and shaking my head when I read this book. I just couldn't believe the way her parents brought her up. Yet she strives. 
  • Running with Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs - even more unbelievable. I guess because of my psych background, I liked reading about dysfunctional families... 
  • Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood by Donovan Campbell. I don't read a lot about war, and this is a memoir from a military perspective (as opposed to the more prevalent civilian's perspective, e.g. the books from Jewish survivor in WWII). I guess when I grew up in Hong Kong and Australia, the military didn't have much of a presence, compared to the US. So this memoir gave me a better understand of what the military had to endured. When we visited Guam last year, I came across more military personnel than I had anywhere else. They were appreciative when I mouthed Thank You to them silently. So I am glad I read this before my Guam trip.
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah - one of the most heartbreaking memoir I'd read. No children should have to go through what he did and be a child soldier.
  • Hot Lights, Cold Steel: Life, Death and Sleepless Nights in a Surgeon's First Years by Michael Collins. Since I work in the health care field now, it was beneficial for me to read about what the doctors had to do to get to where they are. I thought of going into medicine when I was younger. Let's just say I am glad my grade wasn't good enough to get into med school :)
  • Josie's Story - A Mother's Inspiring Crusade to Make Medical Care Safe by Sorrel King. Because of my job, I really resonate with this book. Any story about losing a child is sad, but Sorrel King really used her tragedy to make a difference.
  • Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan - we read many stories about volunteers working in other third world countries. But I think what set this story apart is that the author really took the imitative to make a difference. This book reminded me of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson. I would have listed Three Cups of Tea separately, but due to the controversy, I haven't made up my mind yet about which side I am on...

Friday, July 15, 2011

I admit it... I haven't read all Harry Potter...

I am probably one of the very few people who hadn't read all the Harry Potter books or watched all the HP movies.

I'd read 4 books then stopped... I borrowed them from the library, so by the time the new one came out, I'd forgotten what happened in the previous book(s). After Book 4, I decided not to read them anymore... maybe it's because I was already in college when the first one came out, they just didn't hold my interest as much as other books.

I'd watched the first 2 movies. I think the first one came out as the same time as the Lord of the Rings? I liked the first HP movie fine, but didn't like #2 very much - probably because I was comparing it to the LOTR movies and liked that better. Now that all HP movies is out, maybe I'd like it better if I get to watch all of them close together so I'd remember what happened, since I have a tendency to forget details lol.

So, am I the only one who didn't quite get into the whole HP craze? (or the Twilight craze for that matter lol.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Re-Reading a Favorite Book - Totto-Chan: The Little Girl At the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

I hardly ever re-read. Too many books, too little time. You know how it goes.

But when it's a favorite book, it is so worth it. Although I was a little scared and nervous that I won't like it as much as I remembered - after all, it's been 20 years (? give or take) since I last read it (and in a different language too.)

Fear not, I still love it just as much, if not more. The touching moments are still touching. But now, as I am older and hopefully wiser, I have a new found appreciation.

Will talk more about it in my review later, but just can't help but gush about it now. It's like bumping into an old, lost friend. Makes you feel all warm and squishy.

Funny how I could hardly remember the plot of some books I read in recent years. Yet, bits and pieces of this book just came right back, even with the language differences (I read the Chinese version a few times previously, and just read the English version for the first time). And I am still inspired after all these years.

I hardly have any favorite books of all time, but this is one of them. I wonder how I'd feel when I read it in 2031. Let's make it a date, Totto-chan.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Just saw that Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan will be released in October 2011!

I remember reading Sybil: The True and Extraordinary Story of a Woman Possessed By Sixteen Separate Personalities by Flora Rheta Schreiber back in college. Since I was a psych undergrad major, I was fascinated. So I wonder what this book will tell?

Details from the Publisher Simon & Schuster here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

There must be something wrong with me...

There must be something wrong with me...

The last two books I read, both had glowing reviews, on amazon, goodreads, or various blogs. And I was disappointed with both!

Maybe because both seemed like they were murder / mystery / thriller / suspense books but weren't - the premise definitely sounded like they were - a missing 13 year-old girl, or a retired orthopedic surgeon with Alzheimer's suspected of killing her best friend...

I guess for those who read this genre a lot, these two books shouldn't be read as such. For those who don't really read this genre, the plot twists probably were better received.

I guess I just need to take my Sherlock hat off when I read these books!

Note - the two books were The End of Everything by Megan Abbott and Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. Full reviews coming up soon. Maybe after a couple of weeks I'll TURN MY MIND and that reading books I don't end up liking isn't THE END OF EVERYTHING. (Just can't help but think I want my time back, when there's a lack of time! They aren't bad book, just not books for me.)

The Window Seat Reader had a great post on Why I Rate. I totally rate book based on MY OWN enjoyment, not for their literary merit.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Spoilers or no spoilers?

Do you like reading spoilers in others' reviews?

For myself, I am conflicted:
  • If you include spoilers, please clearly marked that your reviews include spoilers please! Sometimes I read reviews before I read a book just to see whether I want to read that book (too many books, too little time, I need to make a decision somehow!) I tend to read the negative reviews first to see why the reviewers don't like it. In those instances, I don't want to read spoilers!
  • Other times, I want to read spoilers! I am done with a book, and want to discuss with someone, I want to see what others think of those spoilers (usually crucial parts of the story)
  • Another time I want to read spoilers  is when I DON'T want to read a book, but want to find out what happened, I want to find out how it end. Yeah, the lazy way to read a book :) 
Do you include spoilers in your reviews?
  • I tried not to, because I don't want to spoil it for someone else's enjoyment of the book
  • Sometimes I include spoilers when I really want to talk about it in the review. But I would mark it clearly that it includes spoilers, so for those who don't want to know, can skip.
  • But lately, I'd re-read some of my older reviews, where I might say the twists were good or predictable, but didn't elaborate... and now I don't remember what those twists or secrets were!  Or how the story ends! Which made me think that I should use more spoilers tags, so when I read back, I'd remember the story more... 
How do you feel about spoilers?

Book Review - The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

Title: The Kitchen Daughter
Author: Jael McHenry
Year: 2011
Page: 288
Genre: Fiction - Food

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

First Sentence:
Bad things come in threes.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I love books about food, fiction or non fiction (see the blog name?) So when I read Charlotte's Web of Books review of this book, I'm sold!
First thought:
  • Something different!
Cover Art:
  • I thought it was clever - the bag looks almost like a little black dress. With that and the red capsicum (peppers), you know it's a book geared towards female and food :) Well, as if the title didn't tell you that!
  •  Fitting
  • The author described other people voice like orange, tomato, chocolate/espresso, e.g. "Ma's laugh sounded exactly like spearmint bubble gum. Her voice was like regular spearmint, clean and cool, but the laugh was a gum bubble popping." (p39)
  • Easy to read
  • I like how the story was set up, with a bit of magical realism
  • I liked the message of the book - "there is no normal" - from Ginny's Book of Normal. The book was a nice touch
  • Each chapter started with a recipe, though sometimes the "handwriting" on those recipes were a bit hard to read
  • The characters are all likeable. I didn't take much notes as I read it so I can't remember all the details
  • I do like how the relationship between Ginny, and the housekeeper's son (sorry forgot his name), was handled. It was unexpected, so I liked that. Too many women's fiction was too predictable, hence I didn't like reading them usually
  • I don't remember much but I think it did tie things up? Gosh I feel like I am 100 years old and don't remember what I did yesterday!
  • You definitely felt for Ginny. Plus what really is normal anyway?
What I Learned:
  • I need to take better notes when I read, so I'd remember what happened and how I felt about the characters!
Read this Author again?
  • Probably!


I will take a new approach to death, because what is important about death is not the dead. It's the living. Those of us left behind. (p260)

Overall Rating:
3.5 Stars. Cute, fun read with a unique premise. Readers who like magical realism will like it.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

Title: These Things Hidden 
Author: Heather Gudenkauf 
Year: 2011
Page: 337
Genre: Fiction

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
When teenager Allison Glenn is sent to prison for a heinous crime, she leaves behind her reputation as Linden Falls' golden girl forever. Her parents deny the existence of their once-perfect child. Her former friends exult her downfall. Her sister, Brynn, faces whispered rumors every day in the hallways of their small Iowa high school. It's Brynn—shy, quiet Brynn—who carries the burden of what really happened that night. All she wants is to forget Allison and the past that haunts her.

But then Allison is released to a halfway house, and is more determined than ever to speak with her estranged sister.

Now their legacy of secrets is focused on one little boy. And if the truth is revealed, the consequences will be unimaginable for the adoptive mother who loves him, the girl who tried to protect him and the two sisters who hold the key to all that is hidden.

First Sentence:
I stand when I see Devin Kineally walking toward me, dressed as usual in her lawyer-gray suit, her high heels clicking against the tiled floor.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I know Marce from Tea Time with Marce didn't like this one as much as the author's first book, The Weight of Silence (her review of These Things Hidden here), but Charlotte's Web of Book really enjoyed this one, more so than the first book (see her review here). So I thought I'd read for myself to see what I think! I like her first book okay, a 3-Star read for me (see my review here)
First thought:
  • Was just another okay read for me
Cover Art:
  • Okay. Relevant to the story but not eye catching
  • Okay again. You know it's going to be about secrets...
  • The story was told in 4 perspectives: Allison, Brynn, Charm, Claire. I usually like that because you get to see the big picture. However, I found that the 4 voices were not very distinctive, and had to see whose chapter it is
  • Easy to read, summer-beach style of writing
  • A bit predictable. While I didn't guess all of the twists, there were no a-ha moments when the secrets were revealed 
  • Some plot lines were just too convenient
  • They were a bit stereotypical and I really felt indifferent about them
  • Isn't Brynn's college friends  a bit immature? "Your sister is a criminal so you must be a criminal too!"
  • [SPOILER] I am surprised that Allison was able to hide her pregnancy, especially with twins? Given that she's athletic with probably a slender build, it seems unusual that she can hide from everything [/SPOILER]
  • I read this back in mid-April, so 2.5 months ago, and I honestly don't remember exactly what happened in the end. It wasn't so bad that I hated it, but it wasn't so good that it was memorable.
  •  Indifferent
What I Learned:
  • I have high expectations of fiction? It seems to take a lot for me to find a fiction book I really like. 
  • It seems like I don't have much positive to say about this, but I am still going to give it a 3 stars, meaning it's an okay read - not bad, but not as good as I'd hoped. 
Read this Author again?
  • Both of her books are just okay for me. So I have to see what the premise is like first...

Overall Rating:
3 Stars. Okay. 

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pretty covers!

Was browsing around and saw some pretty covers! Don't know anything about the books but the covers caught my eye. Yes I judge a book by its cover! If I see these books on the selves at the library or at a book store, I'd totally pick them up to read the blurb, and if the blurb interests me, the first page or two. When there are so many books out there, the cover plays a crucial role.

How about you, do you judge a book by its cover?