On My Bookshelf: The Very Short Story Starter by John Gillard

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If you're an aspiring author like me, then you're constantly grappling with what to write and how to write it. It's a daily struggle for me, a person who knows she wants to write, but doesn't know where to start. Enter: The Very Short Story Starter.

I stumbled across this workbook of sorts one day while perusing the university bookstore for as many pieces of varying writing styles and subjects as I could.  I had magazines, literary journals, and a memoir or two all in my possession at one point or another when I wandered over to the "Writing and Publishing" section. There I found this book, unlike any I'd seen before, just filled to the brim with creative writing prompts with unique starters, and limits. If the prompt says keep it to 500 words, you need to figure out a way to make that happen. If there's one thing I know about myself, it's that I often struggle with brevity, with getting to the point as quickly and effectively as possible. As I thumbed through to land on prompts such as "Imagine you are on a train or at a train station when a murder takes place" and "Go to a local coffee shop, order your favorite drink, and write a story inspired by an incident in a coffee shop before you finish your drink" I knew it was coming home with me.

NOW, let's talk about the book's effectiveness. This is not necessarily a quick activity book. While you are prompted to write short works of prose, the assignments you choose are meant to make you sit down and write. And that's a good thing. Many of the prompts provided are entertaining and thought provoking, and really help to get the creative juices flowing. And if you're worried about whether or not this book may lean heavily on the side of fiction or non-fiction, rest assured that there are plenty of prompts that can benefit anyone. My advice? Write in pencil. You never know how very small a number 500 is until you're writing in pen and getting dangerously close to 430 with no story ending in sight.

The good: This book offers an enriching opportunity to hone your writing skills and think creatively. If you're struggling to get started in the world of writing, or just want to jump-start a stagnant writing project or two, this book does wonders to get your brain back in the proper mindset.

The bad: While the book's introduction section does go into detail about why flash fiction has started to gain in popularity (we live in a busy world, and people like short reads they can easily digest on their daily commute, or on a park bench while sipping a latte), the book sort of throws you right into the deep end without easing you in with some simpler prompts to get you ready.

Bottom Line I've thoroughly enjoyed this book so far. It's forced me to put down my phone, turn off the television, and just write. Some prompts have been more compelling to follow-through on than others, but overall, it's done exactly what it has promised: get me problem-solving my writing projects in a way that makes me feel creative and productive. All my aspiring writers should TOTALLY take advantage of Gillard's fantastic resource.

You can buy The Very Short Story Starter: 101 Flash Fiction Prompts by John Gillard HERE.

BOOK REVIEW: Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking

I feel like I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I am a cookbook lover. You know this about me. But one thing that I am not is a cookbook hoarder. I don't have the space for it. But more than that, I've realized that my life has to be about more than just collecting. The books the adorn these shelves must be able to earn their keep. So last Spring, I took a long, hard look at my bookshelf and made some tough decisions. I went through each cookbook that I have accumulated in the past four years. If I loved it for the pictures, but hadn't marked any recipes, it had to go. If I bought it, read it once, then literally forgot that I had it, it had to go. If I hated it because the recipes were completely inconsistent, out it went. And so on. The process took a bit longer than I thought that it would, but in the end, it felt like a well-needed cleanse. I had donated books that were perfect, but not necessarily perfect for me, and freed up beloved real estate on my shelves. This left room for my absolute favorite time of the year: Fall Cookbook Season!  And number one on the list of new titles for Sydney's Library? Breaking Breads!

You may know Uri Scheft as the owner of Breads Bakery, or you may be more familiar with what he has made so popular both in New York, and with literally every online food publication: chocolate babka. People lose their minds over it, and you'll see tons of recipes all over the place trying to replicate it, but there's nothing better than the real deal, so now you can make it in your jammies in the comfort of your own home forever.

Uri was born in Israel, but moved all the way across the world to Denmark during his formative years. This blending of two cultures (mixed in with the handful of cultures from countries that he's lived in as an adult) gives his writing and recipes a sense of well-roundedness that is sometimes very hard to come by. For many, it will be an introduction to spice blends and flavor combinations that will both surprise and entice them.  For me, that's the sign of a real winner. And you know I love me some fresh bread, so it's like a win-win.

Let's get this out of the way first: this book is not for beginners. Nor is it, I'm afraid, for bakers with very little patience. For starters, bread is never quick and it makes you wait. For hours. And hours. And Uri, who is truly an artist, not only wants your bread creations to taste good, but he also pushes and encourages you to become your own resident bread artist at home. It is challenging, it is sometimes confusing, and it's also very delicious. And while the instructions can seem a little daunting (and at times you may feel like you have completely lost your will and ability to finish the project), Uri gives very detailed step-by-step instructional photos to help keep you on track. I needed those. Desperately.

I also enjoy that this book has tons of variety. Of course the core of this book is bread (flatbreads, challahs, babkas, etc), but you've also got cookies, hummus, and  great recipes for things like preserved lemons and babaghanouj. After completing a five-hour recipe for bread, you will want to take advantage of something quick and relatively easy to ease yourself back into the kitchen.

So, if you've made it this far, let me break it down for you:

The Good: This book is going to teach you how to make bread, or else. You will learn about yourself, and learn about your strengths and varying levels of patience. I also love how absolutely thorough and thoughtful Uri was when writing this book. It's got everything from proper bread storage tips, to words of encouragement, to alternative designs and creations for when you want to deviate a little from the recipe. Every question is covered.

The Bad: There's nothing bad about this book, really. One thing that I wish had been included was bolded estimates at the top indicating  how long each recipe would take altogether. Of course, I understand that each kitchen is different so therefore proofing times will be different, but a ballpark number  would've been so wonderful. I also wish that some instructions had been explained a little bit clearer, but I have always been able to soldier on and put something tasty on the table.

Overall: This was a book that I was so excited about, and my expectations were totally exceeded. Almost every recipe in this book has been bookmarked for further endeavors in the DD kitchen. This is my favorite book of Fall 2016, and I urge you to buy it for every patient baker you know. Once they've got it in their hands, encourage them to make the Sticky Pull-Apart Cinnamon Challah Braid (pg. 56), because it is my favorite and I need more people to talk about it with for hours and hours.

 

You can buy it here!

P.S. HAPPY THANKSGIVING, GUYS!!! I have 100000 pies to make.

Book Review: Mrs. Lilien's Cocktail Swatchbook

photo I buy a lot of cookbooks. You know this about me already. You know that it's somewhat of an addiction, but I'm proud to say that I've got it somewhat under control. (The bookshelf that I bought to house them all is already looking a bit cramped...)

So, instead of buying more, I decided to take a little breather and dive into the ones I already own. My wallet, which up until now I didn't think could speak, just loudly whispered "Thank You" from my purse. Don't get too comfy, wallet, for there will come a time when I will need to fuel my CA (cookbook addiction. It's a thing) again.

This weekend, my best friend Anna held a cocktail party that was inspired by her recent trip to Peru, and it reminded me of this beyond AWESOME book I found once called Mrs. Lilien's Cocktail Swatchbook. I am obsessed with it, and after this post, you better be too so that we can talk about it together.

It's one part retro, one part boozy, and one part extra colorful, and it's the exact read you need when you want to become your own bartender. Ever wondered exactly what goes into that whiskey sour you always order? This little book's got you covered. (P.S. I'm just curious: when you hear that a cocktail has egg whites in it, what's your reaction? To me, it's fine, it adds a little foam and body. For others, it's all they can talk about.)

There's a drink for every occasion, every taste, and I'd say every budget. And if you really want to cut a corner or two, there's always the option of making your own simple syrup!

I know Christmas is over, but this makes the perfect stocking stuffer. Buy it now, save it, don't forget about it, and you're set for next Christmas. You're welcome.

 

Happy cocktail mixing!

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