“Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes

15507958I absolutely loved this book (and even the movie!)  I saw the trailer starring the always adorable Emilia Clarke, so I knew I wanted to watch this movie since it looked interesting.  I wasn’t expecting what I read, but wow, I really loved it.  I don’t typically read romance novels, and this was definitely NOT a romance novel.  It’s a realistic novel about two people in a unique situation.  Will Trainer is a successful, early-30 something business man in London when he is accidentally hit by a motorcycle.  He becomes a quadriplegic and lives at his parents’  home (which just happen to be next to a castle since they are loaded).  Lou Clark is a quirky and eclectic spirit who works at a small bakery shop and lives with her entire family in the same village.  Lou doesn’t have much of a life other than her job, boyfriend, and family.  When the shop closes where she works, she has to find new employment to help support her family.  She is hired to be a charismatic breath of fresh air for the struggling Will and his “out of his wits” family.  It’s a page turner because it is very realistic and not a bodice-ripping romance.  I can imagine if I suddenly loss the use of my legs and was unable to do anything, I’d be pretty depressed and wouldn’t want to be cheered up.  That is a very normal response to a horrible accident.  Lou eventually gets Will to trust her, and that is when their friendship flourishes.

The number one thing I enjoyed about this book was that the character’s change, but not really.  They are always themselves, and the struggle is a REAL struggle and not one of those “why doesn’t he like me” type of books.  Reading this as a mother, I found it also interesting reading a chapter in Will’s mother’s perspective, which added more depth for me since not only was I seeing Lou’s perspective but a distraught mother’s view too.

Just to say – I saw the movie this week with two of my best friends, and it was great.  I was happy when I saw JoJo Moyes wrote the screenplay too, so I knew she would keep the story intact without Hollywood meddling.  It’s a tearjerker, so be prepared, but this is just a beautiful and tragic story that makes you think.

Jen’s Rating: *****

“The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman

the light between oceansSometimes you find a book that you can’t put down, and The Light Between Oceans sucked me in.  It is an incredibly moving novel that takes place in Australia after the events of WWI. It’s a little slow at first, but I listened to the audiobook and was entranced at the first disk.  We follow Tom Sherbourne, a WWI vet who survived unscathed as he returns to Australia with a bit of shell-shock and survivor’s guilt.  In his desperation to find peace, he decides to become a lighthouse keeper and gets a position on Janus Rock.  Eventually, he marries a local girl, Isabel, and they set off on the lights together hoping to start a family of their own.  Unfortunately, fate has cruel intentions for Isabel as she suffers two miscarriages and one tragic stillbirth.  Weeks later as if a miracle of God, the couple find a boat washed onto shore with a dead man inside and a newborn baby still alive.  This book is highly emotional I’m sure, but reading this while pregnant is another story all together since I would be sobbing in my car while driving at some points. What would you do?  If God has taken three of your children and one washes ashore, do you keep this child to raise yourself?  Do you call the authorities?  As a mother, I can’t imagine losing my child only to find out later that someone else was raising them.  As a former child, I remember idolizing my parents at a young age and thinking they could do no wrong.  SUCH CONFLICT!  As I said, it is emotional, well-written, perfectly paced (in my opinion) and gut-wrenching.  Sometimes these types of books come around and make you wonder how far your moral compass would go.  I have no idea if I’ll be able to watch this movie in a theater without a huge box of tissues.  I can’t wait to see Michael Fassbender in this.  Here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it.

Jen’s Rating: *****

“City of Women” by David R. Gillham

city of womenI absolutely loved this book and discovered it on accident.  At my company book sale in December, I snagged it and then started to notice it around bookstores.  I feel like I’ve read so many books that I know plots before they happen, but this book completely blew me away with it’s complex characters and multiple layers.  It’s a complicated story that really grips you and keeps you thinking.  I kept asking myself, “What would I do if I were in this situation?”  We meet Sigrid, a woman married to a Nazi fighting on the Eastern front, who is trying to navigate Berlin in 1943 during WWII.  Sigrid is a hard woman to like at the beginning, but she kind of grows on you unlike other female characters in the novel.  She’s seduced by two very different men at different times, (and let me just say that the sex is HOT and totally believable, which is pretty interesting considering the author is a man) and becomes entangled with her neighbor who is hiding and moving Jews to safety.  Seriously, this book is fascinating and so interesting.  There are so many twists and turns and adventure that you really can’t see what is coming.  I loved it, and I hope you give it a try!

Jen’s Rating:  *****

Plated vs. Hello Fresh vs. Blue Apron: A Tale of Losing Weight the Healthy Way

pig by raptureiconsIt’s no secret that I have tried to lose weight pretty much forever.  After my eye surgery last August, I eventually got off the Prednisone, and I have tried to lose the steroid weight.  (Even though I was briefly on it a month ago… and it looks like I’ll have to jump on again pretty soon).  Matt and I bought a new treadmill (which is awesome!), and I have slowly been getting back into running.  Since the weather has been nice, I have plopped on my UP band and started running outside.  A few weeks ago, Matt and I ordered some meals from Plated.  If you’re not familiar with Plated, it is a service where you choose meals which are then sent to you fresh!  That’s right, you pay and food comes to your door!  Yes, you have to still do all the chopping, but it is fun to make new recipes you would never even imagine!  We have really enjoyed doing it since cooking is one of my favorite things to do anyway, and I love trying new recipes that I would never ever think to cook.  Also, we have looked at our finances when it comes to food.  We have bought a lot of the same things over, and over, and over.  Not only is it repetitive, but is it really that healthy?  No, not really.  Years ago when it was just Matt and me, we would probably eat pasta twice a week.  TWICE A WEEK!  That is crazy business!  Now that we have Audrey around actually eating real food, we have tried to incorporate more fruit and veggies in our daily diets too. I had seen Plated on Shark Tank, and totally forgot about it.  My Facebook page started advertising to me about these Meal Subscription websites, so I thought, hey, why not give it a try?  I saw ads for Plated, Hello Fresh!, and Blue Apron.  These services have you choose from a selection of meals each week and then they deliver the recipes and pre-portioned ingredients and they are marketed as easily make chef-quality meals at home. I hate grocery shopping, so if I can cut down that time in my life, it is even BETTER.  I do love cooking shows and tape them religiously (favorites include Giada at Home, Pioneer Woman, Dinner at Tiffani’s, and Barefoot Contessa).  Also, right now I spend about $150-$200 a week at the grocery store.  Could these Meal Services be more affordable?  Decisions, Decisions. #1. Plated First of all, I automatically liked Plated because I had brand awareness.  Facebook sent me a coupon code which gave me 4 free plates to try (which equates to 2 different meals).  I am pretty gung-ho when it comes to food, and I think it helps that my Asian mother has made some weird stuff in our kitchen before.  I’m not too afraid (I would think) and somewhat adventurous!  Would I be able to cook everything properly? This is where all those cooking shows would come in handy! IMG_1213We ordered: Trout Teriyaki Spaghetti with Meatballs Chicken Paillard with Asparagus For our first meal, we made the easiest of the 3: Chicken!  One thing I really loved about Plated was how they sent you the recipe.  The recipes were printed on a nice page of card stock.  A large picture of the meal was on the front with preparation instructions on the back.  After my cataract surgery, I cook very differently now.  I can’t see fine details and things up close, so I have to wear reading glasses.  I liked how the menu had the print large enough and easy for me to read.  This may seem like a dumb point, but this is really good for me.  Also, I liked how the instructions were VERY precise and told you exactly how much to use and add to each dish.  I’ll be honest, the chicken was really good, but Matt and I were still hungry after we finished.  This is most likely because we both eat somewhat small lunches and usually have big meals for dinner.  In retrospect, these small portions are actually GREAT for dinner because after eating so many, I now expect a smaller portion to make me full.  It’s like I’m tricking my body!  The second night, we made the Trout Teriyaki, which was downright amazing.  I have always had a fear of cooking fish (read above: Asian Mother Fish Cooking), but Matt and I both really loved it!!  Our definite favorite.  The spaghetti the next night was a bit strange because it was more of a vegetable sauce rather than a marinara or cream sauce (which we both love).  However, Audrey totally loved the meal and ate a ton of it.  Kids love noodles. Overall:  Plated is the most expensive of the meal delivery services, and I think the reason is because the recipes look to be more exotic.  Each plate costs $12 (they highlight 2 more expensive meals per week in the choices) which amounts to $24 a meal.  3 meals a week costs $72 with free shipping.  The price is definitely a factor, but in my eyes, if this means we will eat at our house 3 times a week and NOT go out, this is also a solid win since going out means $75+ for a dinner out.  I wasn’t sold on it yet.  Also, the trout given was very generous where the other meat was a bit smaller than I would have liked.

Grade: B+

IMG_1264#2. Hello Fresh!  I found another free coupon code on Facebook (as much as I hate social media, it definitely has helped my tummy).  We received our box on a Wednesday, and some of our produce didn’t look so fresh.  Our kale was really wrinkly and sad-looking.  The avocado was a bit smushy.  Also, the recipe card was in a booklet, and all the recipes were in that specific booklet.  I actually got the thing wet at one point, and everything got smudgy.  We ordered: Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Roulades with Kale and Couscous Salad Oven-Roasted Salmon with Avocado, Tangelo & Quinoa Salad (pictured to the left) Mustard Pork Chops with Green Beans and Crispy Potato Cakes Our first meal was the salmon, and I really loved it.  The tangelo (I had never heard of a Tangelo before.  It is a Tangerine + Pumelo… I think) and avocado were really well paired.  As I mentioned, the avocado was a bit on the suspicious side, but it was still good.  I don’t really care for quinoa, so Audrey ate a lot of that grain.  The second night was the pork chop, and I love myself a good pork chop.  That part was good, but the potato cakes were just meh.  Finally, we made the stuffed chicken, and that was just a crazy meal.  Audrey really loved the couscous, but the rest of it was underwhelming. Overall: Hello Fresh! is a bit cheaper than Plated ($69 for Hello Fresh and Plated is $72).  As I mentioned, I didn’t feel as if the produce we got was that fresh compared to Plated.  However, the chicken and pork chops were bigger than the Plated box.  Also, I thought there was a lot going on with each recipe.  On each recipe, there was a piece of the meal that I didn’t like.  (Couscous salad, Quinoa Salad, Crispy Potato Cakes).  Matt didn’t really like the food that much either.  Oh well!

Grade = C

#3. Blue Apron IMG_1569My friend, Mary, randomly sent me a week to try Blue Apron!  It was so sweet of her, and I was really excited to try it out.  I have now sent her a free week of Plated, so I am curious if she will like it better.  We received our box on a Wednesday, and this one was going to be crazy!  Automatically, I was wondering how I would like Blue Apron because it picked our meals for us, and I didn’t have a choice.  Since it was free, I didn’t care, but if this is part of how their site differs, then I would probably have a problem with that later on. We ordered: Seared Pork with Sautéed Spinach and Smashed Potatoes Turkey Steam Buns with Quick-Cucumber Radish Kimchi Pan-Seared Cod with Curried Basmati Rice, Snow Peas, and Mint The first meal I cooked was the Pan-Seared Cod since it was fish, and I really hated it.  I don’t think it had anything to do with the fish, but I HATE curry, and I can’t stand the flavor.  I couldn’t eat the meal at all since it just smelled (to me).  Matt didn’t seem to mind since he had two servings that day.  Surprisingly enough, we both really loved the Turkey Steam Buns with Kimchi meal the most.  It was really delicious, and we loved it!  I would have never thought I would like that recipe.  The Seared Pork recipe was also very good. Overall:  I liked two of the meals, and the servings were bigger than the other two boxes.  The price is lower too.  We really liked Blue Apron!  As I mentioned above, I am not sure if you can choose your own meals since these meals were pre-chosen for me.  It might be part of their promotion for getting free meals.  The only complaint I would have is that their directions weren’t as “dumbed down” as Plated’s.  Plated’s recipes might have more steps, but it flows better.

Grade = B+

IMG_1517 (1)So the winner in our book was Plated!  I have had the opportunity to send friends referral free meals, so I am curious to see what they think!  We have made some really amazing recipes over the last few months.  Some of my personal favorites have been: Pork Pad See Ew (a South Asian stir fry), Pizza with Vodka Sauce (seen in the picture), and Bistec Palomilla (a Cuban dish with Yucca!  I had never heard of Yucca before).  The pizza alone set me straight on the path to Plated.  Even though it costs a bit more and the ingredients are smaller compared to other companies, I just really like the range of the recipes.  I feel as if they try to use global influences, which makes me want to cook more fun things!  In the coming weeks, I hope they have more pizza dishes!  I hope they come up with a Filipino dish too (Chicken or pork adobo by chance if anyone at Plated reads this…. you can thank me later).  I know my weight loss and eye malady journey will be for the rest of my life, but at least I am eating healthier.  I look forward to coming home Tuesday-Thursday and cooking something exotic and fun!

“The King’s Curse” by Philippa Gregory

the kings curseI’ve read all of Gregory’s books about the Plantagenet/Cousin’s War in England before the Tudor takeover.  This last book in the series was one of the best, but I think it was a wee bit too long and repetitive to get a full four stars from me.  “The King’s Curse” is narrated by Margaret Pole, an interesting protagonist since she is the cousin to Queen Elizabeth Tudor and is the eventual governess/Godmother of Princess Mary I.  I didn’t know much about Margaret Pole, but I later found out that she was the eldest victim of Henry VIII’s madness and reign.  I relished in reading the beginning with the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur, and then would become heartbroken once Catherine and Henry VIII were married only to read chapter after chapter of children who would die at birth or shortly after.  The only book I haven’t read of Gregory’s is “The Other Boleyn Girl,” which is probably her most famous book, and I wondered if this book was a mirror of events she had documented years earlier.  Gregory is a masterful writer when it comes to Tudor history, but to this day, I still enjoy Margaret George’s book about Henry VIII more.  Overall, I think this is a great read, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the Plantagenet/Tudor dynasty that rocked England and Europe.  Margaret Pole became Blessed Margaret Pole, and her saint day is May 28th, which is a day after her untimely (and horrific) execution.  I finished the book a few days before this day, and deliberately thought of her on May 28th.  Another fun fact: I have been reading the Game of Thrones books at the same time, which is fun since GOT is loosely-based off the Plantagenet conflict.  (Is it me, or is Anne Boleyn a little bit like Margery Tyrrell?  And of course, the actress who plays Margery also played Anne Boleyn in The Tudors TV show.  Coincidence?  Well, as long as Margery doesn’t lose her head, it won’t be… but they just read so similar.  I digress)

Jen’s Rating: *** 1/2 stars