If You Love Television Dramas, You'll Delight in This Indie Novel

From the prologue, which takes us inside the collapsing World Trade Center on 9/11, to the end, Full Circle lays bare many of the political and social issues the United States has been grappling with since before the 9/11 attacks. Despite its seriousness, Full Circle reads like a television drama. The cast includes Samia, an Iraqi refugee; Melissa, a faltering fashion mogul; and Susan, Samia's hapless friend who also happens to be Melissa's assistant.

Samia, Melisa, and Susan all have leading roles as well as their own plotlines, but Full Circle pays the closet attention to Samia. Samia fled Iraq to save both her life and the life of her unborn son. When Full Circle begins, her son is ivy-league bound but struggles with bullying at school.

A Mouth-Watering Ezme Recipe That Will Make You Forget Salsa

If you read my review of Searching for Gertrude, you’ll know that one of the things that struck me about the book was D.E. Haggerty’s descriptions of Turkish food. I love Mediterranean food, but I can’t say that I’ve ever had Turkish food nor had I ever given any thought to what Turkish cuisine might consist of. Because I found myself salivating while reading Searching for Gertrude, I decided to find a Turkish recipe to share with you. Because I am a reviewer and not a chef or food blogger, I decided to stick with what I know, reviewing. So, here is my review of Peter Sommer Travels' Ezme recipe.

Remember, I’m not reviewing Turkish cuisine, and I’ve never actually eaten Turkish cuisine, so I can’t speak to the authenticity of the following recipe. But I’m also not going to Turkey any time soon, so I’ll take what I can get even if I have to make it myself. Interestingly, (to me at least) Pittsburgh does have a few Turkish restaurants, which I plan to visit soon.

You might also be thinking, “Ok Laura. It’s a recipe post because the food was in a book. Whatever.” But that’s not the only reason I’m posting this recipe. I started Picking Books to bring people together in a world where we are all too easily torn apart. And breaking bread is one way to bring people together. Although I’m not literally sharing a meal with you, hopefully, this digital breaking of bread sparks your interest in Turkish food and culture. 

A Story of Romance and Espionage in World War II

Searching for Gertrude by D.E. Haggerty follows two characters, Rudolf and Rosalyn in their attempt to find Rudolf’s lost love, Gertrude. Gertrude’s family leaves Germany in 1933 after Germany appoints Adolf Hitler as chancellor. According to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, it didn’t take long for the Third Reich to strip German citizens of their human rights and open its first concentration camps.[1]

Gertrude’s family was Jewish. Rudolf was not. Consequently, Gertrude’s father chooses to move his family to Turkey, favoring his family’s safety over his daughter’s love for Rudolf. Rudolf is devastated. He assuages his hurt and anger by openly opposing the Nazis, but his father points out: “’I didn’t say you should stop opposing [the Nazis]. I said you can’t continue with your current activities. Activities, may I remind you, which have gotten you noticed at college.’” Rudolf’s father asks, “’Have you ever considered you can do more damage from within than from without?’”

Rudolf heeds his father’s advice and studies Oriental history and culture, which gets him a job with the German consulate in Turkey where he hopes he can finally find his Gertrude. In his quest for Gertrude, Rudolf enlists the help of Rosalyn, an altruistic Jewish-American nanny, and Malcolm, a British spy.

Time-Saving Cleaning Tricks Inspired by ‘Get Your Sh*t Together’

Cleaning sucks. I'd rather be reading. But I want to live in a clean home. I do not want to spend a lot of time cleaning it. Ergo, I've developed a few cleaning tricks, hacks, cheats or whatever you want to call them, so I have more time to read. I’m not proposing that you live some sort of hyper-scheduled life where you rush through your day and reading is just another task on your to-do list. That being said, if I can borrow time from a monotonous task like cleaning so I can spend a little more time doing something I love, I’m going to and you should too. 

I got my first inclining that cleaning is a huge, hopeless time sink when I listened to Get Your Sh*T Together by Sarah Knight. Knight says “There are some folks out there who claim it’s possible to tidy once and remain tidy once and remain tidy for life. But I have to say, I call bullsh*t.” According to Knight, the only way to keep your house clean is to clean it regularly. And it is, but you don’t have to clean the whole house perfectly every time you clean. And if you can live with a little mess, have I got some cleaning tips for you. And let’s be honest, living with “a little mess” is probably better than the way you’re living now. (No offense, I’ve just been alive for the past three decades. I know how busy you are.) Barring “get a cleaning service,” here are my time-saving tricks for cleaning your home.

'White Houses' by Amy Bloom: A Book Review

Eleanor Roosevelt had a lesbian affair, who knew? Apparently, it’s not so common, common knowledge. In White Houses, Amy Bloom tells a fictional story about the real-life romance between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. White Houses fascinated me, but not it the way you might guess.

White Houses, though it chronicles a love affair between a famous, married woman and a reporter, isn’t ask scandalous as you’d think. This wasn’t some tawdry affair. More important, White Houses is as much about Lorena Hickok’s childhood as it is about the affair. And Hickok’s childhood was tragic.

The Ultimate List of Book Recommendations

Who’s got “read more books” as a new year’s resolution? Did you set a goal on Goodreads? Are you excited to get started? The trouble is, now you have to decide what books to read. You’ve got a whole year though. You can decide as you go. But goals man, they’re easier to achieve with a plan. So, to help you make your plan, I’ve put together a list of lists. The following is a list of 6 of book recommendation lists that combine to form a comprehensive, master book recommendation list.

'Carnegie's Maid' by Marie Benedict: A Book Review

Pam Jenoff’s quote on the front of Carnegie’s Maid says it all: “Downton Abbey fans should flock to this charming tale.” I’m a Downton Abby fan, and I loved this book. Like pretty much every book here on Picking Books, Carnegie’s Maid contains a wealth of accurate historical information. And within its pages you get a good sense of who Andrew Carnegie was and a loose outline of his rise to prominence.  Benedict also touches on the struggles Irish people continued to face after the famine in 1840 and the difficulties immigrants faced both on their way to America and once they got here. What I love most about Carnegie’s Maid, however, is how Benedict delves into Pittsburgh’s rich cultural history.

Breakfast Burrito Unrecipe

A recipe on a book review blog? Yes! You won’t see these often, but we readers always need more time to read! The best way I’ve found to squeeze in a few extra moments with a book is to make breakfast quickly. By making breakfast in a cook-once-eat-for-a-week fashion, I have more time in the morning and my mornings are less stressful.

I’m calling this an unrecipe not because it is an infertile recipe that's useless to society but because it’s not really a recipe at all. It's more of a guide. I also couldn't resist the opportunity to reference The Handmaid's Tale, however contrived my reference may be. 

I make 14 burritos at a time: a week’s worth of burritos for my husband and me. Don't forget that you can use any vegetables, cheese, or meat you want.

'The Nightingale' Book Review

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked after my sobbing woke him. After wiping away my snotty tears, I answered, “This book,” referring to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As I lay there crying in the middle of the night, I wondered why I do this to myself. I read to escape, not to feel! I also started to think that Hannah’s story was too perceptive. Hannah must have based The Nightingale on something real. So, let’s talk about Hannah’s inspiration for The Nightingale.

I Learned More about World War II from 'When My Name Was Keoko' Than I Learned in School

I have no recollection of learning about World War II in high school. I took AP U.S. History, so you’d think it would have come up, and it might have, but I don’t remember it. So, before I read When My Name Was Keoko, all I knew about Japan during World War II was that we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I knew nothing about Korea. 

When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park came out in 2002. The book follows a young Korean girl, Sun-hee (Keoko), and her older brother, Tea-yul (Nobuo), during World War II. By the time we get to Sun-hee’s story, the Japanese have occupied Korea for thirty years. When My Name Was Keoko begins with Sun-hee having to choose a Japanese name. “Graciously allowing”—as the Japanese Emperor’s official order phrased it—Korean's to choose Japanese names was one tactic Japan used to indoctrinate the population of Korea.

Women's History in 'Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk': A Book Review

It’s 1931  and The New York World-Telegram declares Lillian “the highest paid advertising woman in America” (p. 24). Lillian, though proud of her achievement, confronts her boss: “But woman, Chester. It says woman. Why not person? I’ve come in here to ask for a raise. We both know I bring R.H. Macy’s more business than anyone else on the thirteenth floor, woman or man. Why not pay me what I’m worth?” Of course, it’s 1931 and Lillian doesn’t get the raise, “…this is just how it is,” Chester says (p. 27). In Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, author Kathleen Rooney explores women's issues. She explains the state of maternity leave and the glass ceiling in the 1930s and 1940s with historical accuracy.

So You'd Like to Learn More about History, but Reading Isn't Your Thing

In my first post, I said that reading is a privilege that too many of us take for granted. Reading is hard. Like exercise, and most other habits that are good for us, the urge to procrastinate too often prevails. Add to that our overwhelming schedules, and reading never happens. I get it. I do. And I'm not going to sit here and judge you for not reading. There have been points in my life where I've gotten out of the habit of reading for a while, but I always get back to it the same way: by reading children's books. This isn’t some great new idea that I came up with. Many people encourage would-be readers to pick up easy, fun books. Children’s books are entertaining because kids are harsh critics. Reading children's books, whether they are novels or picture books, fiction or nonfiction, is a good way to ease yourself into a reading habit. Give it a try.