Tag Archives: reviews

TWSM Book Review ‘Beloved’

Beloved by Toni Morrison

 

I decided to reread my all time favorite novel, Beloved by Toni Morrison. This is one of those few “great books” that truly lives up to its reputation, having won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988. In spite of the fact that I have read Beloved several times, it still captivated me. Beloved is a story of love, strength, pain, and redemption that is set shortly after the Civil War.

Beloved was inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, An African American woman who escaped slavery in Kentucky in 1856 by crossing the Ohio River into Ohio, a free state. Captured, she killed her baby daughter rather than have her taken back into slavery.

Sethe and her older daughter, Denver, are main characters in the novel. The “baby ghost” of Sethe’s slain daughter, Beloved, comes to live with them, creating all kinds of opportunities for revisiting what they have been through, the meaning of family, and their hopes for the future.

One of the most appealing qualities of Beloved is how Morrison shares both the incredible strength and the all too human weaknesses of her characters. The day to day reality of an African American woman who was once a slave is described in amazing detail.

“Quickly, lightly she touched the stove. Then she trailed her fingers through the flour, parting, separating small hills and ridges of it, looking for mites. Finding none, she poured soda and salt in the crease of her folded hand and tossed both into the flour. She reached into a can and scooped half a handful of lard. Deftly she squeezed the flour through it, then with her left hand sprinkling water, she formed the dough.” (Chapter 1) 

“Sethe had the amazing luck of six whole years of marriage to that “somebody” son who had fathered every one of her children. A blessing she was reckless enough to take for granted…” (Chapter 1) 

“And no one, nobody on this earth, would list her daughter’s characteristics on the animal side of the paper.” (Chapter 3) 

Although the brutality of slavery is depicted throughout the novel, Beloved is much more a story of enduring and overcoming suffering than a story of the suffering itself. It will make you laugh, cry, and want to hold those close to you even tighter. I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Beloved by Toni Morrison 

Copyright 1987, 2004 by Toni Morrison 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Book Review ‘Untamed’

Untamed b​y Glennon Doyle

 

If you are looking for an uplifting book about being your best self​, Untamed​ by Glennon Doyle fits the bill. Throughout the book, Doyle uses the metaphor of walking away from the cages that society teaches us to live in to become the strong, free, “untamed” women we were meant to be. We do this by looking to our true selves and becoming aware of what and who we want to be as opposed to what and who others expect us to be. We then make choices that are right for us as individuals.

Although Doyle is a best selling author, I was unfamiliar with her work until now. She has experienced many challenges and changes in her life including recovering from alcoholism and an eating disorder, and choosing to leave her husband for a woman who is now her wife — all while being a memoir writer in the public eye. Doyle does an incredible job of writing in a style that is real and universal and connecting with her reader, whether or not we can relate to her specific life experiences. Her humor also shines throughout the book.
Some of my favorite quotes from ​Untamed include:

“Ten minutes a day is not too long to spend finding yourself, Glennon. For God’s sake,
you spend eighty minutes a day finding your keys.”​ (Part Two: Know)

“When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she learns to please
herself.”​ (Part Two: Know)

“Selfless women make for an efficient society, but not for a beautiful, true, or just one.”
(Part Three: Aches)

I think we can all relate to the metaphor of being caged vs. being free and untamed in our own ways. Perhaps it was learning that polite girls don’t talk back while we were growing up and taking that to mean that sharing a divergent opinion is unacceptable, when the same behavior would have been encouraged in a boy. Or perhaps there are cages of perfectionism embedded in our definitions of being “good mothers”. It is easy to overlook that all mothers are human, and therefore none of us are perfect.

Untamed i​s an empowering book that encourages its readers to gently examine their own lives and be brave in making their own choices — all while laughing (and perhaps crying) along the way. I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Copyright 2020 by Glennon Doyle

Liz​ is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. ​When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Cheesy Shrimp & Grits Recipe Review

Cheesy Shrimp & Grits

On our first date, River and I got to know each other over a big plate of shrimp and grits at the local “date place” restaurant. We quickly bonded upon discovering we both enjoyed the dish as a favorite. Since then he and I have sampled shrimp and grits together at multiple restaurants in multiple cities. And no two dishes of shrimp and grits have been the same. I’ve wanted to discover a simple recipe for the dish that could be served as written or could be adjusted to include different flavors all with the same base so River and I could cook it together at home.

After trying several recipes, Self Proclaimed Foodies’ version of Cheesy Shrimp and Grits is the clear winner. It’s simple, but not simplistic, with full flavor from the cheese, shrimp stock, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce. I’ve made this recipe both with white wine and cooking sherry in the water to cook the grits and have discovered I like the richness from cooking sherry slightly more. Although choice either is delicious. I also used locally sourced and ground grits. While I know those might be challenging to find, a recipe like this really calls for the highest quality ingredients you can find and afford.

This recipe for shrimp and grits makes four servings. For date night, we only needed two servings, especially with a kale salad on the side. So River and I cut the recipe in half. This worked well, except we both felt it needed slightly more sauce. I’d encourage you to make the full amount of sauce. Any leftovers could be used for another dish later. I bet it’d be great on a lovely piece of sauteed cod! We also used bacon fat to sear the shrimp, opting to impart the smokiness bacon fat provides. The entire dish paired nicely with a dry prosecco. A crisp riesling would also be delicious.

~Laura

TWSM Book Review ‘Hello Summer’

Hello Summer by Mary Kay Andrews

Hello Summer is a hot-off-the-press summer read complete with mystery, romance, a beautiful beach, and a strong female protagonist who loves her family, her career, and perhaps a certain old flame. It would make a great beach read, but it is an equally satisfying virtual vacation for those of us who are land-locked or “Covid-locked” this summer.

Andrews main character, Conley Hawkins, is a journalist whose career is upended when she
receives the news that the cool, new job she has accepted will not happen because the
company went under — during the going away party from her old job! She packs up her bags
and her pride and decides to visit family by the beach for the summer while looking for new
employment. Along the way, Conley stumbles upon an old love and a dangerous local news
story worthy of a soap opera.

One of the most entertaining parts of Hello Summer is the treatment of family relationships —
including the emotional ghosts and hopes for the future that come with them. Conley has to deal with her rascal of a grandmother, the long shadow of her missing mother, grief she hasn’t
worked through from her father’s death, and her overbearing, know-it-all sister.

The theme of strong women can be seen throughout the book. Here are a couple of my favorite
quotes:

“I have to admire her. Symmes Robinette walked off and left her with two teenagers to
raise, for a woman twenty years younger. Typical of that time, he had all the money, so
he had all the power when it came time for the settlement. And yet, she managed to take
care of business despite all that.”

Toddie Robinette was no shrinking Southern belle, Skelly agreed. “She could be tough
as nails when she had to be.” (Chapter 44).

The ups and downs of Conley Hawkins’s relationships, her floundering (or burgeoning?) career,
and the twists and turns in the mystery to be solved will keep you turning the pages of Hello
Summer.

By the end of the novel, Andrews wraps up all of the plot twists and relationship issues in
satisfying ways for the reader. If I have one criticism of this book, it is that Hello Summer is
decidedly light reading, but sometimes that is exactly what we need. I recommend that you kick
off your shoes, dig your toes into some sand (or maybe just put on some fuzzy socks) and enjoy
Hello Summer.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars

Copyright Mary Kay Andrews 2020

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two
teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or
searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with
friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still
has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who
can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Entertainment Review ‘Bad Moms’

Bad Moms

Ever felt like you were a bad mom? Like for some reason you just can’t get anything right when it comes to parenting?

I would venture to say that somewhere around 99% of us have felt this way at one time or another. That’s why you should take the comedic antics of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn and learn to laugh at yourself and motherhood and all the turmoil we allow to penetrate our lives and the way we view ourselves as moms.

The movie starts with the crazy life of Amy Miller (Mila Kunis) and her constant juggle of work, kids, her man-child husband, and life in general, and never having one minute to herself. She strives so hard for perfection which only drives her farther and farther away from it.

Amy’s life becomes more chaotic when she finds her husband having an online affair. She kicks him out of the house but realizes that she has been going at it alone all along!

Not helping matters is the snooty yet beautiful PTA President Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) who

Seemingly has it all including control of practically everything that happens in the school. No one dares to cross Gwendolyn.

One evening after a particularly bad day at work, home, and everywhere else, Amy shows up late for one of Gwendolyn’s hours long PTA meetings and is immediately appointed chair of the upcoming bake sale due to her tardiness. She finds herself hitting a local bar afterwards just to wind down and forget about the day when she runs into Carla and Kiki. They begin to drink and complain about how hard it is to be a good mom. Suddenly Amy decides let’s just be bad moms! They all agree, high five each other, and end with one last celebratory shot.

The next morning Amy starts being her bad mom self. The day begins with her kids asking if she is going to fix them breakfast. She looks at them and calmly says No. They ask what they are going to eat. She says you’ll figure it out as she leaves the room eating cold nachos that she made when she got home the night before.

As they leave for school, she decides to take her husbands beloved red antique car. The kids say, “Won’t dad be mad?”. The now Bad Mom Amy says, “Yes, so what.” They have the wildest ride to school ever in this restricted vehicle which is what makes it even more fun. She shows up at school, hands her kids two Arby’s bags for their lunch, and tells them to have a nice day. Gwendolyn is there and asks if Amy will be at the PTA meeting that night. Amy just smiles, shakes her head and says No and waves goodbye. Gwendolyn is furious and humiliated in front of her friends.

This movie is so full of hilarious and humorous moments that most any mom could identify with. It’s silly at times but can bring a smile to most anyone’s face.

If nothing else I hope this movie can show moms that it’s impossible to be perfect and anyone who seems to be putting on a show for everyone to see. Being a “Bad Mom” does not mean you’re bad, it means you’re human.

The movie is not kid friendly due to language and sexual content. However, for adults who are parents it couldn’t be funnier.

~S

‘I Still Believe’ Is Worth Your Time

To be honest, I generally avoid Faith-based movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good inspirational film, but I’ve found many of the “church” movies to be cheesy and unrealistic. That being said, I was hesitant to watch “I Still Believe” when it came out in early March. I finally decided to give it a chance because I love the previous work of the two lead actors, KJ Apa (you might know him from the insane teen drama, “Riverdale”) and Britt Robertson (of “Tomorrowland” fame). Knowing that these actors would give stellar performances regardless of the story, I gave in and fired up the film the other day.

“I Still Believe” is the real-life love story of Christian singer Jeremy Camp (Apa) and his college sweetheart, Melissa (Robertson). When Camp sets out for college, he dreams of writing songs and playing guitar on stage. He meets a friend, Jean-Luc (Nathan Parsons), who is also a singer. At one of Jean-Luc’s shows, Jeremy spots Melissa in the crowd and is immediately taken with her. The pair begin to secretly date and a wonderful love story unfolds. However, the pair finds out that Melissa is severely ill. The latch on to their faith as they navigate the tough waters ahead.

“I Still Believe” managed to weave in faith, miracles, and Christianity without feeling phoned in or cheesy. Apa and Robertson are incredibly believable and share an easy yet intense chemistry. At the end of the film, the real-life Jeremy Camp enters, discussing Melissa’s story and her desire to change lives for the better, even if it is only one person that she impacts. After watching the film, it is safe to say that she succeeded.

You can stream “I Still Believe” on Hulu, or rent it on demand.

Happy Streaming!

~Katie

TWSM Book Review ‘Self Massage’

Self Massage: The Complete 15-Minute-A-Day Massage Programme’ by Jaqueline Young

If you are looking for an easy way to improve your self-care, then Self-Massage: The complete
15-minute-a-day massage programme by Jacqueline Young is for you.

I love a good professional massage (and a back or foot rub from a significant other is always
nice), but I had never tried self-massage before reading this book. I was surprised by how
simple it is. And unlike other types of massage, self-massage is free and available to you
regardless of your schedule, your relationship status, or business closures due to Covid-19.

Jacqueline Young, the author, is a clinical psychologist and acupuncturist who lived for four and
a half years in Japan studying and practicing oriental medicine. She has also travelled widely in
India and the Far East studying traditional health techniques. She is the author of books and
articles on natural medicine.

Self-Massage is based on a combination of Japanese and Chinese massage therapies,
together with acupressure techniques. It includes information about the meridian system and
acupoint guide for those who are interested in learning more about these. However, if you just
want to make your neck or feet feel better at the end of a long day, you can totally use the book
for that.

Young gives step-by-step, easy-to-follow instructions with over 200 photos illustrating the
techniques. She breaks the self-massage into easy routines in the following areas:

1. Warm-up
2. Head and face
3. Neck, shoulders and arms
4. Chest and abdomen
5. Back
6. Legs and feet

I started with the head and face routine, and was delighted at how refreshing it was. All six
routines together take only 15 minutes (once you have a little practice).
Some of my favorite quotes from Self-Massage include:

“With this massage you will have a self-health system literally at your fingertips! It can be
used anytime, anywhere, and no special equipment or oils are needed.” (Introduction)

“Once you feel confident of the movements they can easily be adapted for use on
others. So, by learning self-massage, friends and family can benefit, too!” (Introduction)

“By being sensitive to exactly what your body needs, at any given time, you can get the
best out of this system and learn to give of your best, too.” (The Self-Massage System)

Young does not mention consulting your doctor before using the techniques in Self-Massage,however she clearly states that “all pressure must be gentle and comfortable” (Introduction).

If you have any concerns about the safety of self-massage for you as an individual, please consult a medical professional.

I hope that you give Self-Massage a try. It is a quick read, the techniques are easy to learn, and
we all deserve the benefits it has to offer.

Rating 4 ½ stars out of 5

Copyright Jacqueline Young 1992

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two
teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or
searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with
friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still
has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who
can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Beer Braised Pork Review

Beer Braised Pork Review

Shortly after my ex-husband and I went our separate ways a few years ago, I discovered craft beer and local breweries. And we have a lot of them in Virginia. Heading out to a brewery for an hour or two to grab a beer and listen to live music became a past time I could do while my son Dylan was at Boy Scouts, or since he’s old enough to be alone a few hours, with a friend after dinner on occasion. Hanging out at breweries a couple times a month, I began following their Facebook and Untapped pages so I could time my visits with bands or releases of brews I’ve grown to enjoy. One of those breweries posted a link to Beer Braised Pulled Pork Sliders with Chipotle Beer Cheese Sauce and suggested their imperial porter as a good choice for the braising liquid.

Upon trying this recipe once, I was hooked. It’s a staple now in my recipe binder and in my freezer. Often, I’ll make a double batch of this when pork loin or pork butt goes on sale. (The last time I had two dutch ovens going with meat!) I have indeed, tried the imperial porter suggested, which is my go-to, although I recently discovered a stout with a hint of orange I feel complements this dish well. And this pork works so well with so many things!

Because I don’t often eat bread, I’ve never made this dish with the suggested cheese sauce on a slider or sandwich. Dylan likes it spiced up a little more with extra of the spice rub mixed in the shredded pork while reheating as a large, stuffed quesadilla or taco (see pictured quesadilla with my homemade barbeque sauce and cheddar cheese). One of my favorite treatments is pork over grits with a mushroom gravy made with some of the braising liquid and beef broth. We also enjoy it as pulled pork sandwiches, in omelets, in homemade mac and cheese, on flatbread, and once I even made an eggy sort of casserole with the beer braised pork, cheese, egg, and heavy cream.

Yes, the braised pork freezes extremely well either once cooked and still in large pieces or shredded and stored in 2 cup servings. I’ve also transferred the pork loin or butt to a slow cooker after searing in the dutch oven. Dylan and I discovered quite by accident when we mixed up two jars in the pantry that the spice rub makes an excellent seasoning for chicken tacos as well. Beer Braised Pulled Pork Sliders with Chipotle Beer Cheese Sauce is so easy and so versatile, answering “What’s for dinner?” during this time of uncertainty is one less question you have to stress about.

~Laura

TWSM Book Review ‘The Successful Single Mom’


The Successful Single Mom: Get Your Life Back and Your Game On by Honoree Corder is an
uplifting and practical book. Corder is a business coach and former single mom who has “been
there and done that”. This book (one of six in her Successful Single Mom Series) focuses on
self care, prosperity principles, and setting practical goals for success within a 100-Day Plan
framework. Corder is an authentic, caring, and upbeat coach as she guides her readers through
the process of setting up and implementing their own 100-Day Plan.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Successful Single Mom:

“If your ambitions are longer term, such as going back to school, losing weight, starting a
new relationship, or moving to a better neighborhood, it is crucial to have more
immediate, sanity-saving goals that involve such things as finding some much-needed
personal time, going out one night a month, listening to music, writing in a journal,
getting fresh air and exercise, or spending a few minutes a day in quiet reflection.”
(Chapter One)

“The truth is that you are wonderful, brilliant, beautiful, and fantastic … even if it’s been a
(long) while since that’s what you’ve heard about yourself. The truth is you are capable,
because you demonstrate it every single day by giving love to your children, keeping the
lights on and the fridge full, and basically getting it all done (or most of it anyway).”
(Chapter Two)

“Her positive attitude became apparent when she said, ‘You say to yourself, I can’t
change it. I’m going to roll up my sleeves and move on. This is about making the
decision that what has happened, what is happening, isn’t going to break you. You’re
going to survive, thrive, and flourish. Period.’ ” (Chapter Three)

If I have one negative comment about The Successful Single Mom, it is that Corder focuses
largely on women who are entrepreneurial instead of engaged in traditional nine to five jobs.
With that said, the book is a breath of fresh air if you are feeling stuck and can use a big dose of
positivity and some concrete action steps, regardless of your current employment status or
hopes for the future.

The other books in her series delve further into specific topics including
going back to school, getting physically fit, managing your finances and building wealth, finding
new love, and cooking.

I highly recommend The Successful Single Mom. It will energize you, empower you, and make
you smile about the future.

Rating 4 ½ stars out of 5

The Successful Single Mom by Honoree Corder
Copyright 2009

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two
teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or
searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with
friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still
has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who
can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.

TWSM Book Review ‘Heartburn’

Heartburn by Nora Ephron is a novel that I have wanted to read for ages and finally did. I have always thought of Ephron as the cool, funny aunt that I never had (no offense to my actual aunts who are lovely women). Heartburn is a great read, and the story behind the story is astounding. 

Heartburn’s main character, Rachel, a successful cookbook writer, discovers seven months into her second pregnancy that her husband Mark is having an affair, just as Ephron discovered during her own second pregnancy while married to Carl Bernstein, the journalist who broke the Watergate scandal. In spite of the striking similarities of the novel to Ephron’s real life, the book is full of laugh out loud humor and personal empowerment. Rumor has it that she also bought a house with the proceeds from this best selling book, demonstrating that success is the best revenge. 

Some of my favorite quotes from Heartburn include: 

“I don’t like blaming family members for what goes wrong with children, because someday when my kids are arrested for grand larceny I don’t want anyone looking accusingly at me, but Mark’s behavior was so obviously Florence’s fault that even Florence knew it.” (Chapter two) 

“This reminded me of those feminists who are always claiming that male domination is not the natural state because there’s one tribe in New Guinea where the men lie around weaving and the women hunt bears.” (Chapter four) 

“I kept expecting him to reach out for my hand, or touch my face. He didn’t. Rachel, I said to myself, this will not do. You cannot go anywhere, much less home, with a man whose idea of an apology does not include even a hypocritical show of affection. Say no. Tell him to drop dead. Crack one of your father’s atrocious lamps over his head. Go into the kitchen and invent the instant waffle. Anything.” (Chapter seven) 

Heartburn is an authentic, painful, and humorous ride. Ephron herself was also a true inspiration. When she died at the age of 71, she had been married for over twenty years and was an award winning writer of books, plays, and screenplays. 

If you would like a good laugh (and perhaps a good cry), I highly recommend Heartburn

Rating 4 stars out of 5 

Heartburn by Nora Ephron Copyright 1983 

Liz is a technical writer by day and a humor writer by night. She lives in Minnesota with her two teenage daughters and their cats, Beau and Phoebe. When Liz is not reading, writing, or searching for new books to review, she can be found practicing yoga or enjoying time with friends and family — usually around a fireplace or a lake. She is savoring the time that she still has with her daughters under her roof, yet she secretly dreams of being an empty nester who can travel more and not have to worry about other people borrowing her socks.