Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Universal Yums: Snacks from Thailand! (July 2020)






Month two of Universal Yums took me to Thailand! I was a little apprehensive about this one, because I know the food in Thailand is so much different than my usual snacks. As I should have expected, I liked all the sweet treats (as always!)

If you’d like to try Universal Yums, click here for $5 off your first box!




Suthera Banana Coconut Roll (4/5)

Legend has it that banana trees in Thailand are haunted by a ghost named Nang Tani! She is a good ghost though :) These banana coconut rolls were really good! They were essentially rolled up cracker/wafers that tasted just like bananas- real bananas, not the artificial flavoring. The only downside is they’re too big to fit a whole thing in your mouth (for me anyway), but if you try to bite it, all the crispies fall down your shirt.






Tasto Sweet & Spicy (3/5)

The northern cities in Thailand prefer sweeter flavors, while the southern cities indulge in all things spicy.These garlic wheat crisps are a perfect mix of the two. I don't think they are something I would eat often, but I did enjoy them. First you taste the sweet, then there is a spicy kick at the end!








Glendee Coconut Chips Sea Salt & Caramel (4/5)

Coconuts in Thailand are picked by trained monkeys. They can pick 1,600 coconuts a day, whereas a human can only pick 80! I wasn't sure if I would like these, because the texture of coconut isn't something that I love, but they weren't like that at all! I tried a few of these on their own, and they tasted more caramel-y than anything. I could only eat a few at a time without the flavor being overwhelming. I ended up using them to top my smoothie bowls which worked out great!





Tasto Devil (3/5)

Chili pepper potato chips!! Coming straight from southern Thailand, these were made with chili peppers, which I am told are 15x hotter than jalapenos. They definitely had a kick to them, but it was more of the after taste than anything. I love jalapeno chips, but I don't think I would choose these to snack on, as the heat kinda of takes over the flavor if that makes sense.







Z Roll Farm Fried Shrimp & Salad Cream (0/5)

This was a seaweed wrapped potato stick with fried shrimp and a mayo flavor and was what I was LEAST excited about in this box. Eating seaweed is freaky to me. I panic when it touches my feet in the water! I know I said I would try everything, but I could NOT try this. I opened it and immediately gagged. I just couldn't do it. 







Chocky Wafer Shibuya Honey Toasted Flavour Cream (4/5)

These were very similar to the cream filled wafers in the US, but not as sweet. The flavor kind of reminded me of Waffle Crisp. I have such a sweet tooth, so they didn’t quite meet my sugar needs, but they were still good!








Hartbeat Lime Gummy (4/5)

These were salty lime gummies, which sounds interesting, and they were! They definitely seemed like a treat to decorate a margarita with, all that was missing was the tequila. The gummies were tart like the lime, and sweet, but really didn't seem salty to me. I would absolutely eat these as a treat again. They aren't something you can inhale all at once though, so the bag lasts awhile!






Calipzo Corn Flavoured Candy (0/5)

Corn Flavored Candy? Yep. It tasted like straight up corn. I feel like I didn't get the full effect of this candy, because though it was suppose to be a chewy candy, it was rock hard. The flavor wasn't repulsive, but its also not something I would ever eat again.

Orchard Banana Chews (3/5)

These banana chews were the first candy I've had that actually tastes like real bananas which threw me off a little. They were good, just unexpected!

Hartbeat Pineapple (5/5)

These pineapple candies were SO GOOD! I want more of them already, as they were my favorite in the box. They tasted just like a pineapple (though in hard candy form), and nothing like artificial pineapple flavoring like most treats around here do. I hope Universal Yums offers them in their shop, because I definitely want to buy more!!




Sticky Rice with Coconut Cream & Mango (3/5)

In order to enjoy this treat, it had to be briefly microwaved. It was....different. Not bad, just different. The flavor was good, but mixed with the texture it was hard for me to enjoy. I'm so weird about textures, and while I like regular rice, this gooey rice was harder for me to come to terms with. I think if I tried it frequently I would learn to like it!






Stay tuned for August's box - mummies yummies from Egypt!!





Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - July






The last full month of summer means it is likely the last solid month of reading of the year, especially knowing that this school year is going to be unusual. I didn't get through as many as I hoped I would, but I got in my ten!


80. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (3/5★)

The summer of '28 was a vintage season for a growing boy. A summer of green apple trees, mowed lawns, and new sneakers. Of half-burnt firecrackers, of gathering dandelions, of Grandma's belly-busting dinner. It was a summer of sorrows and marvels and gold-fuzzed bees. A magical, timeless summer in the life of a twelve-year-old boy named Douglas Spaulding—remembered forever by the incomparable Ray Bradbury. 

I’ve only read one Bradbury book before, and I think it was back in middle school, so I will definitely have to re-read it. 

I don’t really know how to come to terms with how I felt about this book. It was essentially a collection of short stories, and while they did fit well together, it also meant there wasn’t a real plot line or any real character development. What I liked about it was less the actual stories, and more the nostalgia for innocent childhood summers.

The writing was beautiful, and I really wanted to like the book. I think it is one of those novels that gets better every time you read it, so perhaps I will revisit it at a later date.


81. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (3.5/5★)

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. 

This has been on my TBR list since long before Goodreads was around to help me keep track of which books I wanted to read. I knew it had been around awhile, but I hadn’t realized it had been published in 1999. 

The story was written in letters, which I wasn’t sure I would like, but I found it didn’t distract from the story like I thought it would.

It is very much an old story, and though the themes are all still very applicable now in today’s day and age, I think kids today would have a harder time getting though the story and grasping its messages.

82. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green (4/5★)
  
Months later, April’s friends are trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda is contemplating defying her friends’ advice and pursuing a new scientific operation…one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension. Just as it is starting to seem like the gang may never learn the real story behind the events that changed their lives forever, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers—all of which seems to suggest that April could be very much alive. 
  
In the midst of the search for the truth and the search for April is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavoris the bold and brilliant follow-up to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It is a fast-paced adventure that is also a biting social commentary, asking hard, urgent questions about the way we live, our freedoms, our future, and how we handle the unknown.

The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While the robots were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction with only their presence. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories.  

I’m not a sci-fi reader, like, ever, but I’m glad I picked these books up. This was a great conclusion to the short series, and honestly I think I liked it better than book one! I really liked how the story was pieces together by different POVs, interview transcripts, articles, tweets, etc. 

Well if this isn’t an absolute reflection on society today, I don’t know what is. I know I said that about the last one, but like...this is the kind of stuff that could be taken apart in an English class, and quite frankly would be much more fun to analyze than anything I’ve ever had to. It’s a very fictional story, but really speaks to the use of power and social media and just humanity in general.


83. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (3.5/5★)

For years, rumors of the "Marsh Girl" have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life--until the unthinkable happens. 

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

I know this book had a lot of hype, and a forever-long wait list on Libby, but honestly, it didn’t live up to my expectations. It wasn’t a bad story, but it felt very padded, like there was a lot stuffed in there that was unnecessary. The story was bittersweet, and I liked it enough, but didn't quite see what all the hubbub was. I have to say, I do love how it ended! And the author wrote fabulous descriptions.




Michelle was a young single mother when she was kidnapped by a local school bus driver named Ariel Castro. For more than a decade afterward, she endured unimaginable torture at the hand of her abductor. In 2003 Amanda Berry joined her in captivity, followed by Gina DeJesus in 2004. Their escape on May 6, 2013, made headlines around the world. 

Barely out of her own tumultuous childhood, Michelle was estranged from her family and fighting for custody of her young son when she disappeared. Local police believed she had run away, so they removed her from the missing persons lists fifteen months after she vanished. Castro tormented her with these facts, reminding her that no one was looking for her, that the outside world had forgotten her. But Michelle would not be broken. 

In Finding Me, Michelle will reveal the heartbreaking details of her story, including the thoughts and prayers that helped her find courage to endure her unimaginable circumstances and now build a life worth living. By sharing both her past and her efforts to create a future, Michelle becomes a voice for the voiceless and a powerful symbol of hope for the thousands of children and young adults who go missing every year.


I feel very weird giving this memoir a “rating,” because though most memoirs have a point or a message or a lesson, this was literally just the story of what happened to her- there is (intentionally) nothing to learn from it (except that there is evil out there in the world.) I’m giving it 3.5 stars not because of the content, but because of the structure, pacing, etc. 

It was an interesting, though morbid, story, and truly terrifying that this happened to her, and to others, and that it continues to happen. When reading you can tell that she didn’t have a solid education, because the writing is very juvenile and doesn’t flow well which makes it harder to read (which is why the 3.5 stars).

This autobiography had been on my TBR list for awhile. I remember when the girls were found, but never really knew the story. The other two girls wrote a book together as well, which is still on my TBR list.


85. Night Swim by Megan Goldin (4/5★)

Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name―and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The new season of Rachel's podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season 3 a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation―but the mysterious letters keep coming. Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered―and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody in town wants to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases―and a revelation that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.


I really enjoyed this story! Night Swim comes out on August 4, and is centered around two criminal cases- an active rape trial, and a “closed” accidental drowning/possible murder case. I sat outside and read until it was too dark, then laid down inside to read until I fell asleep, then promptly finished in the morning- I don’t sit still long very well, so that is a testament to how good it was!

I thought it was fun that the main character was a true crime podcast host since I love true crime podcasts. The pace was quick and kept you guessing all the way throughout as to what would happen and whether or not convictions would take place in the end.



A young woman is found dead on the floor of a Tijuana hotel room. An ID in a nearby purse reads “Atlantis Black.” The police report states that the body does not seem to match the identification, yet the body is quickly cremated and the case is considered closed.
So begins Betsy Bonner’s search for her sister, Atlantis, and the unraveling of the mysterious final months before Atlantis’s disappearance, alleged overdose, and death. With access to her sister’s email and social media accounts, Bonner attempts to decipher and construct a narrative: frantic and unintelligible Facebook posts, alarming images of a woman with a handgun, Craigslist companionship ads, DEA agent testimony, video surveillance, police reports, and various phone calls and moments in the flesh conjured from memory. Through a history only she and Atlantis shared―a childhood fraught with abuse and mental illness, Atlantis’s precocious yet short rise in the music world, and through it all an unshakable bond of sisterhood―Bonner finds questions that lead only to more questions and possible clues that seem to point in no particular direction. In this haunting memoir and piercing true crime account, Bonner must decide how far she will go to understand a sister who, like the mythical island she renamed herself for, might prove impossible to find.
This was a pretty brief read, a little more than 250 pages. The premise sounded interesting, but after reading I felt let down. Despite its topic and poetic writing, the content was very surface level and didn’t get too deep.  It was also very disjointed- skipping back and forth throughout time, making things occasionally confusing. I suspect it was written moreso as a means of catharsis for the sister/author than anything else. The description made it sound like the author was doing her own thorough investigation into her sister’s suspicious death, but really it was more or less a brief biography of her life and an overview of the events leading up to & following it. This was an ARC, but the release date is coming up in August 4.


87. Nightmare Hall: The Silent Scream by Diane Hoh (4/5★)

There’s a reason why they call it Nightmare Hall . . .
Jessica Vogt gets a rude awakening when she moves into Nightingale Hall and learns that the previous spring, a student named Giselle hanged herself from a light fixture—in Jess’s new room. Campus officials pronounced it a suicide. But did Giselle really kill herself? Or was it a setup?
Strange things are happening to Jess. One night, she is awakened by a terrifying scream. A photo taken of Jess and a classmate reveals a third person in the shot—a girl with long, pale hair and a sad face. Is Giselle trying to communicate with Jess? As Jess moves closer to what really happened that fateful night, someone starts targeting her. Is she being haunted by a ghost, or is there a killer on the loose?


Nightmare Hall was the very first thriller/horror series I fell in love with. Written in the early 90s, I remember buying them all from our local bookstore before binging them some point in my late elementary/early middle school years.

This was the only one available on the Libby app, so I borrowed it to see if the series was as good as I remembered it (it was). As an upper middle grade series, it was a quick afternoon/evening read. While it doesn’t have intense suspense, it is perfect for the age level it was written for. Now I need to find the remaining 28 books!!

88. Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (3.5/5★)

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.
Among this year’s incoming class is Ines Murillo, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. Even the school’s enigmatic director, Vikt√≥ria, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves within the formidable iron gates of Catherine. For Ines, it is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had. But the House’s strange protocols soon make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.
This book came out in May, but it took until now for me to get a copy from the library. It came with a lot of positive reviews in the bookstagram world, so I was anxious to give it a go.

The protagonist was quirky and strange. I didn’t dislike her, but I didn’t love her either. I don’t even know how to describe this book. It was odd. Like it had suspense, but not the kind that has you in the edge of your seat. It mixed sensuality, mystery, and introspection. The storyline isn’t very deep, nor is the plot line very expansive. It is most definitely different than your average “thriller,” and won’t be for everyone, but I did enjoy it.


89.  A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (4/5★)

A cannon. A strap. 
A piece. A biscuit. 
A burner. A heater. 
A chopper. A gat. 
A hammer 
A tool 
for RULE 

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching.Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? 

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? 

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES. 

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if Will gets off that elevator. 

This is a very haunting YA book that came highly recommended, and I can see why. I got literal chills on the last page. I started it as an audiobook, but after realizing the audio was less than two hours long I looked more into it and found that the book was written in verse, SO I returned the audiobook and checked out the actual book instead. If done right, I LOVE books written in verse, and this one was definitely done right. The whole story takes place on an elevator, a new visitor arriving on each floor. I’m going to read through it one more time before returning it, because it definitely seems like one of those books you get more out of every time you read it.


90. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds (4/5★)

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before. 

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this four-starred reviewed tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken directly from today’s headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

This was another YA read, so while I wasn’t the target audience, I still really enjoyed it. This was the second book I read by him this month, though it wasn’t written in verse like the previous. It was a powerful novel that stimulates a lot of thought.  I really liked the dual-perspectives offered in the storyline. Lots of tough topics, but a really excellent book. 

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(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)


Reading Challenge: 90/100 books read in 2020

You can find previous book reviews here!