what I’m reading: circe by madeline miller.

Circe is a retelling of the Greek mythological story of the goddess/witch Circe. Born from the sun god Helios and an Oceanid naiad, Circe was always out of place. Her voice is strange as it sounds like a regular mortal’s voice, and her hair is an odd striped color. Circe does not appear to have any special abilities and is often ridiculed by her siblings. But when she turns a mortal into a god and a nymph into a monster, Circe is banished by Zeus and sent to live on a deserted island. There, Circe becomes immersed in the plants and herbs on the island and refines her craft to become one of the most famous witches in mythology.

I found this book to be an intriguing retelling of Circe’s story. The author merges fiction and mythology to create a fantastical story that spans centuries. Circe is a powerful witch and survives in a time where women were often portrayed as less than men. Circe breaks free of this stereotype and emerges a strong heroine that is not afraid to do what she has to do in order to survive.

But here’s the thing – this book took me so long to read because I kept looking up the backstory of each new character that was introduced. I know the basics of Greek mythology but I don’t remember the basis of all the stories. Jason and Medea come to Circe’s island? I had to look up Jason’s story on Wikipedia. Odysseus lands on the island? I had to refresh my memory of how long it took him to get home from Troy and what monsters and myths he encountered along the way. I kept getting distracted by all the other characters and their stories.

There were a couple of times I thought the story dragged and I found myself skimming. This was mainly when nothing much was going on when Circe was by herself on the island.

If you like mythology, you should read this book.


what I’m reading: the immortalists by chloe benjamin.

It’s 1969 and the Gold siblings are growing up in New York City. The eldest of the siblings, Varya, hears of a traveling fortune teller who can predict the exact day that you are going to die and convinces her brothers and sister to go see her. Over the next 50 years, we watch all four siblings – Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya – grow up and live their lives.

Honestly, I didn’t love this book. When I read the synopsis I thought the book might have some magic or mystical elements in it. But this book mainly is about the lives of the four siblings and doesn’t really delve into the supernaturalism of the fortune teller. It’s a story about family and their tribulations. Though there were parts I enjoyed, I was a little unimpressed.

I guess I was just hoping for something more than a family saga.

Each sibling’s story is told in a different section, with that sibling’s narrative taking off from when the previous sibling died (not really a spoiler because a big part of the book is about how the characters live their lives and we know that they are going to die). Whether as a result of the fortune teller’s prediction or just because, each sibling chooses to live their life differently – Simon and Klara leave the family and move to San Francisco, Daniel becomes a military doctor, and Varya spends her time researching how to prolong life.

While I thought this book was a bit unexciting, what I liked was that it made me think. What would you do if you knew when you would die? How would you spend your time? Would you live your life any differently? So many questions…

what I’m reading: red sparrow by jason matthews.

I’m not going to lie. I put this book on hold because I wanted to read it after seeing the movie that came out this year starring Jennifer Lawrence. I was surprised at how popular this book and its sequels are – there was a really long hold time at the library. I put the book on hold when the movie came out in March and the e-book just became available to check out.

The two main characters in Red Sparrow are Dominika Egorova and Nathanial Nash. Dominika was a prima ballerina until her career was sabotaged by a jealous dancer in the company. Desperate to find a way to provide for her mother, Dominika is approached by her uncle, a high-ranking intelligence officer, who offers her a position in Russia’s spy network. But her uncle has his own agenda and forces Dominika into becoming a Sparrow, operatives who are trained to seduce their targets. Underestimated by her colleagues, Dominika learns to use her wits and body to get what she wants.

Nate Nash is a CIA officer who is the handler of a Russian spy, code-named MARBLE. When a planned meet-up goes wrong and MARBLE is almost discovered, Nate is exiled to Helsinki. Russian intelligence knows there is a spy leak and knows Nate is involved somehow but does not know the identity of MARBLE. Dominika is sent to observe and seduce Nate to see if she can figure out who the mole is.

I enjoyed this book. I found it to be an intriguing spy novel with covert operations, clandestine meetings at safe houses, and a lot of sneaking around. It’s a book where you don’t know who you can trust, but that just makes the story all the better.

Did I think Red Sparrow was a great and fantastic book? Not really. There’s a lot of sexism and stereotypes. At times I wondered if I was reading a book written in the 1950s. I also felt some of the sexual content was a little over the top and I found myself rolling my eyes. The author is a former CIA agent which is evident in all of the terminology and surveillance techniques in the book. But while the author is superb at writing these spy depictions, his skill at writing romance and sex scenes leave a lot to be desired in my opinion.

The best and most random part of this book may be the recipes. Each chapter ends with a recipe for a food or dish that was mentioned in the previous chapter. There are a lot of mentions of food and eating food in this book and I found myself trying to guess which meal would show up as the recipe.

The movie Red Sparrow does a fairly good job of following the book. There are some differences in the book and the movie and, as usual, the book goes more in depth. I found that I understood more of what was going on in the film since the book explains some things that are not clear in the movie.

Like I said – for the most part I enjoyed this book and I’ve already put the next 2 books on hold at the library.

hot cakes molten chocolate cakery.

I don’t know about you, but I love dessert. I love bakeries, pie places, cupcake shops, all of them. This is why I’m embarking on a search to find some of the best bakery/dessert places in Seattle.

Over the weekend, I went to Hot Cakes in Ballard.

Hot Cakes calls itself a “Molten Chocolate Cakery” so I was pretty excited to visit. The Ballard location is located on Ballard Ave, a cute tree-lined side street off of NW Market Street. It was perhaps 3 o’clock or so when I stopped by and there weren’t very many people in the restaurant. I was able to walk right up and order and there were plenty of open seats. There is not a lot of seating, so I can see how it can get crowded when it is busy.

I ordered the Peanut Butter Cup, which is a milk chocolate cake with peanut butter fudge, peanut butter ganache, and vanilla ice cream.

What can I say? It was wonderful. The cake was delivered to my seat while still hot. It was rich and gooey, with a center of peanut butter. The vanilla ice cream was the perfect complement and the peanut butter fudge was delicious.

I confess I was disappointed that my cake came in a compostable bowl. I expected it to be either a free-standing cake, or in a glass bowl like in some of the pictures I’ve seen online. Although it was served on a wooden board, the presentation wasn’t great. Plus, the cake stuck to the inside of the bowl so it wasn’t possible to eat it all.

Also, at $11, it was a bit pricey. The cake is a little small and the ice cream looked no bigger than one scoop.

There are plenty of other goodies to eat here – cookies, brownies, and plenty of other cakes. Definitely worth a visit and although I enjoyed my cake and ice cream, I’m not sure I will be a regular eater here as it wasn’t really worth the price.

what I’m reading: let me lie by clare mackintosh.

Anna Johnson’s parents committed suicide last year. Her dad jumped off a cliff and several months later, her mother jumped off the same cliff. Anna has been struggling to go on when, on the anniversary of her mother’s death, she receives a card in the mail that suggests her mother did not commit suicide but was killed. What is Anna to do?

The first part of this story was a bit slow but then I was pulled in. I don’t know if I’ve been reading too many psychological thrillers lately but I find it’s getting difficult to read them because I’m always looking for the twist, I’m always trying to figure out what really is going on. I read every sentence with skepticism and question every remark and action characters make.

Of course there was a twist in this book and I was on the lookout for it, which perhaps hindered my enjoyment of the book because I kept waiting for that twist and revelation to show up.

But what I really loved in this story was the way the author depicts human emotion. All of the emotions that Anna feels as a new mother, combined with her feelings of anger and sadness at her parents, really put an intriguing touch on an otherwise boring character.

My favorite character may have been Detective Murray Mackenzie. He is technically retired but works as a civilian at the police station and is the one on duty when Anna appears with the card about her mother. I found his personal story to be quite compelling; his wife is mentally ill and struggles with depression and it’s those human emotions (again) that drew me in.

researchers have uncovered two hidden pages of Anne Frank’s diary.

Researchers at the Anne Frank House were recently able to decipher two never before seen pages of Anne Frank’s diary. The pages had been covered up with brown paper and were previously unreadable, until now.

Anne Frank is the Jewish teenager whose diary about coming of age while hiding in a secret annex during World War II is one of the world’s most widely known books.

On Anne’s thirteenth birthday, she received a red and white checkered diary which she began writing in and took with her when her family went into hiding a few weeks later in 1942. Anne wrote in that red and white checkered diary until it was full and continued to write entries, short stories, and letters in other notebooks for the next two years. In March 1944, the family heard on a radio broadcast that the exiled Dutch government was planning to publish accounts of life during the German occupation. Anne decided to rewrite her diary so that it could be published as a book after the war. She declared the title would be Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex) and she completed approximately 200 loose pages of her rewrite before the family was arrested in August 1944.

Anne died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, when she was 15. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only family member to survive the war. When he returned to the secret annex, he discovered Anne’s diary had been saved by Miep Gies, one of the helpers who aided the family in hiding. He had Anne’s diary published in 1947.

The two newly revealed pages are from Anne’s first diary, the red and white checkered one. All of Anne’s writings are kept in storage at the Anne Frank House for safekeeping and are examined once every 10 years. During a regular check on the diary’s condition in 2016, the Anne Frank House photographed the pages with a high-resolution camera and light shining on them. Researchers saw the underlying text was partially visible and, using photo-imaging software, they were able to decipher the text without touching any of the pages, which could have damaged them.

The new content that was discovered? A few crossed out phrases, four “dirty” jokes, and a summary about sex education and prostitution. The pages were dated September 28, 1942 when Anne was 13.

It’s not known why or when Anne covered up the pages. It’s possible she didn’t want her father or anyone else in the annex to read them. Anne frequently edited and re-wrote her diary entries while in hiding and it’s also possible she pasted over the pages while she was preparing her second diary for publication.

There are so many things about this story that I find fascinating. I was unaware that Anne’s diaries were kept in storage and only taken out once every 10 years. I wonder what the researchers are looking for when they photograph the pages and do their routine checks. I wonder what else Anne would have edited had she had more time and had the family not been arrested. I wonder what the final version of her diary would have said.

The new text is available on the Anne Frank House website, but currently only in Dutch due to copyright restrictions. You can learn more at the Anne Frank House website.

what I’m reading: the wedding date by jasmine guillory.

The last couple of books I’ve read hadn’t really held my interest so I was pretty excited when I saw that this book had become available from my hold list at the library. The Wedding Date did not disappoint and it was the perfect book to push me out of my reading slump. I adored this book and the characters.

Alexa and Drew meet when they are stranded in an elevator during a power outage. Needing a date to a friend’s wedding the next day, Drew impulsively asks Alexa to go with him. After the two have perhaps too much fun at the wedding, Drew flies back to Los Angeles and Alexa heads home to Berkley. When they can’t stop thinking about each other, Alexa and Drew embark on a long-distance relationship.

This is an adorable and romantic story that I could not put down. I loved the flirting between the two characters; they had so many fun and sweet moments. Also, both characters are constantly eating! I wanted to eat all the food they talked about – cheese, crackers, doughnuts, french fries, all of it.

The story just didn’t focus on the two main characters. It delved into both of their careers and their friends. Drew has some great moments as we see him working as a pediatric surgeon. Alexa is smart and focused on her career as the mayor’s chief of staff. Both of them have awesome best friends and co-workers that contributed on their own to the story.

I think this is my favorite book so far I’ve read this year.