Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Latest book reviews

 So I made a goal this year to read 50 books, and I thought I'd review them little by little rather than my big Books of 2011 list. Here's the first few I read, more reviews to come!
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf - 4 Stars
This was a book right up my alley - intriguing cover art, a dramatic plot involving a family, and chapters that switch narrators. All my favorite things! I am trying to reserve 5-star reviews for books that I can't stop talking about, and recommend to pretty much anyone. This wasn't that good, but a solid 4 stars. It's about two 7-year-old best friends who go missing overnight, and how the search and subsequent discoveries affect their various family members. While there is the mystery of the missing girls, there are also family secrets revealed through flashbacks that flesh out the story and characters. I couldn't put it down, even taking my Nook to the gym so that I could finish it.

The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pulman -  2 Stars
This book was so not my type. Turns out when I thought I really didn't like fantasy... I don't. I stuck it out, but overall thought it was pretty lame. Not a 1-star, hated-it type book, just not my kind of thing.

The Dreamer, by Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis - 3 Stars
This book was a story about the childhood of the poet Pablo Neruda. I believe it's Young Adult - I got it from my school's library. I loved the drawings and poems in the book, and it was an easy, quick read. It was okay, not great. Not sure who I'd ever recommend it to.

Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See - 5 Stars
I didn't realize until I started reading this book that it was the sequel to Shanghai Girls, which I read last year. This is the story of 19-year-old Joy, who runs away to China, under the idealistic impression that she will help to build the "New Society" in 1957 Communist China. This is the story of her loves, her losses, her complicated relationship with her family, and her life under a communist regime. This book was incredibly eye-opening to me. I couldn't believe that Lisa See was writing about events that had actually happened in my parents' lifetime. At times the description of what the Chinese villagers went through was so horrific that I had to skim over or skip, but I was so glad I read it, since it taught me so much about an era I previously knew nothing about. This was a couldn't-put-it-down read for me.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese - 3 Stars
I'll start by saying this book got GREAT reviews on Goodreads. It's about twin boys born to a nun and a surgeon in Ethiopia, and their life story as they grow up on the brink of revolution, fall in love with the same woman, and try to make peace with their father's abandonment. Here's where I'm going to be honest. I like easier reads than this. Pages going into the political climate and events of Ethiopia just lose me. I liked the story, I loved reading about the bond between the twins, but the setting in this case was distracting to me. Pretty sure that makes me just too shallow to enjoy a book that everyone else did.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford - 5 Stars
I have to admit, I didn't finish this book until my 3rd try. The first two times I found it so totally boring. I wanted to like it, because it's got a great title. And everyone else in the world liked it, so clearly it had to be good (excellent logic, I know). And then I don't know what happened the third time - I LOVED it! It's a story of two kids in World War II-era America, and the boy is Chinese and the girl is Japanese. They attend the same, mostly-white school and form a friendship and the beginnings of young love. It then follows these two characters through the events of the Japanese internment, and how it affects both their families. I loved the first-love story, the educational historical aspect, and the overall plot line. Glad I gave it so many chances!

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Red Robin Customizer... Awesome!!!!

So I recently started Weight Watchers, making my favorite hobby of going out to eat a lot more complicated. However, keeping little splurges like that in my life is important to me, I just want to be able to plan for it.

So we decided to head to Red Robin for dinner last night, and I looked up the nutritional value before we left. Turns out Red Robin has this AWESOME Customizer website and app where they'll give you the nutritional value of anything on the menu. But the cool part is that you can remove items, and then they'll give you revised nutritional information on your custom creation. So if you love a certain entree, but plan to order it without cheese to save on fat and calories, you can see exactly what you're saving. Or if you switch out the fries for some steamed broccoli (you know, if you're crazy), you can see how that affects the nutritional value as well.

I just about hit the roof, though, when I found out that my go-to entree at Red Robin (the BBQ Chicken Wrap), has 62 grams of fat and 1100 calories! What!?!?! It's the same amount of calories as the cheeseburger with the fried onion strips on it! I don't mind the occasional (or not-so occasional) splurge, but I have been ordering that entree for YEARS because I thought it was on the healthier side. Turns out, according to the Customizer, the cheese alone adds about 20 grams of fat. Ugh! I could have been leaving that off all along - you can't even taste it! But at least now I know.

So it turns out they have a new burger, called the Keep It Simple Burger (under "Other" on the menu, NOT under burgers), that has 570 calories and 24 grams of fat. Still not as good as staying home and eating something actually healthy, but much better than a majority of menu items there at Red Robin (and only 10 WW points compared to like 26 for the wrap!). It was delicious, I felt happy with my out-to-eat splurge, and turns out I saved a ton of fat and calories compared to the "healthier" option I usually order.

Most restaurants have their nutritional information out there somewhere on the internet, so it's always worth a look, but I just particularly loved this app and wanted to share, since it's so hard to estimate substitutions when you're out. Hope someone else can use this and likes it as much as I did!

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