Monday, January 31, 2011

Certain Girls By Jennifer Weiner

Have you ever read a book that you couldn't WAIT until it was over because it was so dull, yet were glad you finished reading it because the last 30 pages just blew you away?!  Well, that was my experience with Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner.  Certain Girls was the sequel to Good in Bed.  Both books focus on Cannie Shapiro, a Philadelphia native and writer.  In Weiner's first book, Cannie struggled with her weight and the affects it had on romance.  But by Certain Girls, Cannie is happily married, and her baby from Good in Bed is now a teenager in Certain Girls.  For almost 3/4 of the book, the main plot appears to be all about Joy, Cannie's daughter from a former lover.  Joy is your stereotypical teenage girl - wants nothing to do with her mom and everything to do with trying to be the popular girl at school - or at least hang with the popular crowd.  She hides things from her mom, lies, takes unsupervised excursions, and attempts to uncover the history of her mom's famous book.  Joy's dramas went on and on and ON for a good portion of this book, with a little Cannie drama here and there.  I was definitely getting fed up because the storyline seemed to be going no where.  Come on Jennifer - I fell in love with your books and now you're letting me down with Certain Girls!

BEWARE FOR SPOILERS (If you're going to stop reading here, thanks for stopping by! :) )

However, as I was desperately trying to blow through Certain Girls so that I could mark off my last book of 2010 on GoodReads, all of a sudden everything changed!  Cannie's beloved husband dies of a heart attack out of NO WHERE.  This was just the turning point I needed to get myself hauling through the remaining chapters last night. 

I cried.... I cried a lot.  I actually don't think I would have been so emotionally affected had I not just experienced something similar this past year.  At the start of the chapter when Peter dies, Cannie is describing how nice of a day it is - she is gardening, it's baking outside... a typical summer afternoon in the Motherland.  Up until she receives the dreadful phone call, life for Cannie is normal.  (Well, as "normal" as normal can be these days.) 

I actually remember this same description of a day in April 2010... it was a beautiful Spring day in Maryland.  Joel and I were just coming home to my apartment after working hard at his house.  The sun was shining, the windows were down in the car.. and then suddenly I received a phone call you couldn't possibly think would ever happen on what appeared to be such a glorious day.  And life as you know it will forever be changed.  You will always remember what life was like before the accident, then after the accident.  I imagine that is exactly how Cannie felt as she visited her deceased husband in the hospital that afternoon.  It brings tears to my eyes just writing about it and reliving it mentally.  A heartbreaking, yet hopeful, ending to the story was that Cannie and Peter were actually in the process of conceiving a child via surrogate.  At the time of Peter's death, they did not know the status of the pregnancy.  However, just a few short weeks pass and Cannie learns that the surrogate is pregnant with a boy.  Can you just imagine?  I'm speechless.

I gave the book 3 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.  It did have a suspenseful ending, but overall I was still not impressed.  But Jennifer, you've written a lot of books that I really enjoyed so I won't give up hope with this one!     

Friday, January 14, 2011

Charlottesville, VA Roadtrip!

On Saturday, January 8, Joel & I set out on our road trip to Charlottesville. For those who are unfamiliar with this "charming" little town in Virginia, it's claim to fame is that it's the home of Thomas Jefferson (Monticello), and also the area in which the University of Virginia resides.  I've been wanting to take this trip to Albemarle County for quite some time now, and alas the day finally came.

The trip took 2 hrs 45 min for us.  As we continued getting closer to Charlottesville, the vast Shenandoah Mountains provided a lasting view for miles.  It was so cold both days (below freezing!) and as we traveled we could see snow falling in the mountains.  I always took the mountains for granted before - growing up in the western Pennsylvania region where what I refer to as "hills" Joel insists are actually "mountains".  The Blue Ridge Mountains gave us a great backdrop for almost the entire trip.

We arrived in Charlottesville late in the afternoon, and after checking in to the hotel, we headed out to explore what the "Downtown Mall" had to offer.  Unfortunately it was so cold that neither of us could hardly stand to be walking around outside, but the Mall area did look intriguing with all of the shops (used book stores - yikes!) that I failed to browse through.  Instead, we opted to spend an hour milling around a wine shop, on a search for Tosti Asti (champagne), and left with many other bottles of wine, beer, mugs and a new champagne to try (it did not disappoint!).  We dined at the College Inn (the pesto white pizza was bangin'!), and then later downed some of our purchases from the wine shop.

On Sunday we woke up and had breakfast at The White Spot (I love all these college food joints!), and then drove around UVA's campus.  I have to say, I was highly disappointed in UVA's bar scene.  I kept saying to Joel, "There has to be more than this!".  I guess Happy Valley is the only place who knows how to do it right :).  We did check out UVA's Rotunda - one of their well-known buildings on campus that goes all the way back to the time Thomas Jefferson founded the school. 
The Rotunda w/ TJeff
Joel acting like it's his house!

We had lunch at Padow's Hams & Deli before we headed to Monticello - the home of Thomas Jefferson.  Monticello was AWESOME. 
holding hands with the little Lego's Man outside the deli

What a beautiful home!  I just couldn't get over how amazing it was - built on top of a large "hill" overlooking Charlottesville.  It offered amazing views, beautiful grounds (which I'm sure look much better in the spring/summer/fall), and an architecturally savvy home.  Imagine building something this grand back in TJeff's time... just imagine people!  I loved it AND the guided tour - I would strongly recommend this if you ever make it to Charlottesville.
TJeff & I before the trip to his house

Downtown Charlottesville from Monticello
neat tree on the tjeff property - the branches grow down to the ground

leaving Monticello
We finished off our trip with a stop at the Thomas Jefferson Vineyard, and finally headed back to Mary-land.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hamburger Soup

I stumbled upon this recipe last week as I was diligently going through my Google Reader, and I knew I wanted to try it out. It's from Kim Bensen, who is a woman who lost a tremendous amount of weight and now has her own weight loss plan available online. Anyhow, as I was making it last night I thought "Man, I'm going to end up hating this and then it will all be such a waste", which usually seems to be the case when I make soup - mainly because I try to be adventurous with the veggies, and I should just listen to my gut - I hate veggies! But alas, I attempted this soup aaaaannnnnddddd.... I loved it! It will be my lunch for the next 2 days. My alterations to the recipe were 1 cup of celery instead of 2 cups (I hate celery), 1/2 of a diced onion, and instead of canned tomatoes, I used canned petite crushed tomatoes already seasoned with basil, etc. (I had suspected that just plain canned tomatoes would be a little bland.).  Well peeps, my decision was a good one because this soup was full of flavor and even a little spicy (hot spicy).  To me there is nothing better when a recipe says "combine all ingredients", making it almost a no-brainer to achieve a quick, yumtastic meal.  If you decide to try this, let me know what you think! 

Hamburger Soup
It was almost gone!
* ¾ lb 93% fat-free ground beef
* 2 cups canned tomatoes, diced
* 3 cups carrots, diced
* 2 cups celery, diced
* 1 onion, diced
* 1 tbsp salt
* ¼ tsp pepper
* ¼ cup uncooked brown rice
* 8 cups water
* 3 beef bouillon cubes

Put all ingredients into large pot. Bring to a boil and stir to break up meat. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes. This makes 12 servings - 1 cup per serving. Weight Watchers PointsPlus Value = 2

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Book List!

I didn't quite get through my entire 2010 book list, so they have now been pushed onto my 2011 book list as a result.  I'm determined to get through these, and maybe even a few more!  Let me know what ya think, or if you've read any of these!

Hilary's 2011-pritty-good-books- book montage

Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology
There's No Place Like Here
Dating Big Bird
The Savage Detectives
Nineteen Minutes
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
It's Your Time: Finding Favor, Restoration, and Abundance in Your Life Every Day
Roses Are Red
Pop Goes the Weasel (Alex Cross,#5)
Cat & Mouse
The Shack
The Kite Runner
Angels & Demons
The Inn At Eagle Point

Hilary's favorite books »

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