My Favorite Books of 2017 (So Far!)

Hi friends!Top Ten TuesdayIs your week off to a good start? I’m making my way though Adele Griffin’s Be True to Me — who can resist a ’70s set story of romance and betrayal? Not I, clearly — and whipping up a recipe with fresh fruit from the farmer’s market before popping some popcorn for tonight’s iZombie finale. It’s the pattern of my summer thus far: relaxing and reinvigorating, just how I like it!

In addition, I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that we are now halfway through 2017, as evident by this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic: Best Books We’ve Read in 2017 So Far. With college and other extracurriculars on my mind during senior year, I didn’t read as much as I usually do, so you’ll find below the eight novels I did read that I consider current favorites. What books have you enjoyed so far this year?

Before I begin, a reminder: Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the always wonderful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish. Pop on over to read posts from others or to add your own!

The Upside of UnrequitedTo start, Becky Albertalli’s sophomore novel, The Upside of Unrequited, is nothing short of a gem. It was the first book I read this year, giving me ample time throughout the winter to suggest it to friends and family alike ahead of its release this past April. I’ve continually recommended it for good reason: the characters are drawn with humor and plenty of heart, and Albertalli shapes the story with her knack for teen romance. A book is good when it has me smiling from beginning to end.

How to Break a BoyI’ve read quite a few young adult debuts this year, but none have stood out to me so much as Laurie Devore’s How to Break a Boy. Taking the typical “mean girl” narrative for a spin, Devore delivers a compelling and realistic story that packs an emotional punch and develops characters who are certainly flawed, but who also force readers to listen, think, and reflect. I’m only bummed that the novel has flown under the radar since its release, as I, for one, can already tell it will be one of my favorites by the year’s end.

We Are OkayLike any form of art, there are some books that enter your life at the right time.  My list of such novels is long, but among them is Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay, which I read and fell in love with this past spring. Weaving together such emotions as grief, love, and loneliness after the narrator’s family has been lost, it is quiet and simple and right up my alley. The lyrical, pensive, and oft-melancholic style won’t appeal to all readers, but I myself plan to read it once or twice more through, along with the rest of LaCour’s collection.

Flying Lessons and Other StoriesOn the middle grade end of things, one book comes to mind from what I’ve read this year: the anthology Flying Lessons and Other Stories, compiled by one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books. That the book showcases kids of such a wide range of backgrounds, abilities, and interests is reason alone to recommend it, but I consider it a favorite of the year because not one story fell too short from the bar, a rarity with short story collections. Is it too much to hope for another one in the works?

The Names They Gave UsI absolutely adored Emery Lord’s 2017 release, The Names They Gave Us, but that should come as little surprise, for Lord has consistently written novels with well-developed characters, strong familial and friendship dynamics, and plots that make me cry, not because they are sad, but because her writing can prompt a cathartic release. The Names They Gave Us follows in the same tradition, as readers follow the protagonist Lucy’s summer as a camp counselor and her mom’s battle with cancer. In short? I loved it.

The Importance of Being EarnestIt’s not often that I share the books I’ve read in school here on Ciao Bella, if only because I typically found my English classroom curriculum rather dry {or, on the flip side, found no reason to review a classic already loved and adored by so many, myself included!}. With that said, however, this list wouldn’t feel complete without Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, a play I read for AP literature. I rarely laugh out loud while reading, and yet, Wilde’s satirical look at Victorian society had me giggling with each flip of the page. A winner, no doubt.

The Things They CarriedSimilarly, The Things They Carried also hails from my AP Lit syllabus, though its setting and subject are a far cry from Wilde’s English drama. A collection of stories linked by the Vietnam war and the experiences of the author Tim O’Brien, the novel effortlessly moves between fact and fiction to produce what has been rightfully called a “classic work of American literature.” As someone who generally avoids “war stories,” for lack of a more specific term, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, nor did I expect the stories to linger in my mind for so long.

The Careful Undressing of LoveFinally, for someone who has felt unsatisfied with Corey Ann Haydu’s work in the past, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed her latest release, The Careful Undressing of Love. With thanks to Haydu’s dreamy and descriptive writing, readers are invited into an enchanting, reimagined world where the Devonnaire girls reside. From the eye-catching cover to the stunning last chapter, I was captivated from beginning to end. Magical realism fans would do well to pick it up.

Have a lovely Tuesday!
B

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The Summer List // 2017

Hello!

The Summer List 2017{via}

Happy Friday! What’s up for your weekend? I have graduation parties galore, ice cream to scoop, and plans to wrap up Grace and the Fever before it’s due at the library. Before that fun, however, I wanted to share my sixth {!!!} summer list, an annual Ciao Bella tradition in which I list my goals for June, July, and August. While it’s always written in good fun, I like that it provides some direction for the summertime. What do you hope to do over the next few months?

Read 40 Books First, it’s not a summer list without some sort of reading goal! Though the numbers are never my primary focus, I’m still aiming to read forty books over the next few months. It’s ambitious, perhaps, but with so many good novels at my fingertips – The Pearl Thief, When Dimple Met Rishi, and Be True to Me – can you blame me?

Prepare My Dorm Room My orientation isn’t until September, but if there’s one thing I can do over the summer in preparation for college, it’s plan my dorm room design! With a color palette already in mind, I’ll be on the lookout for the artwork, bedding, and supplies needed to decorate my new home.

See a Musical or Play As a proud theatre fan, this one should be no challenge: my mom, sister, and I are counting down the days until we see Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 in New York City; I’ll be helping out with my community theater’s summer show Smokey Joe’s Cafe in July; and I have my eye on a production of Romeo and Juliet being performed throughout the summer. Needless to say, I can’t wait.

Bake with Peaches Peaches, I feel, are a symbol of summer, and so, it’s a shame I haven’t baked with them more! Thankfully, my favorite food bloggers have numerous recipes for me to choose from after a trip to the grocery store. Doesn’t this Crispy Peach Cobbler look delicious?

Finish Jane the Virgin CW has produced many a gem: iZombieCrazy Ex-Girlfriend, and, of course, the hilarious and delightful Jane the Virgin. After a spring of Monday night rehearsals and work shifts, I’ve fallen behind in the show’s third season, so I’m hoping my time at home provides me the chance to catch up with Jane, Rafael, and the other lovable characters.

Go to an Art Museum With a number of notable art museums in the New England area, I don’t think the problem will be making the trip, I think it will be deciding on which one! Whether it’s the Clark, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, it’s a day trip I hope I can make.

Hand Letter Each Week I had been pondering what artistic project I wanted to tackle this summer when I came across my old sketchbooks from art class, where I had hand-lettered the titles of the books I read that winter. I plan to do the same this summer, as I think it will be a fun way to keep my hand-lettering skills sharp and display my love of books. In other words? A win-win all around.

Create a Photo Album Finally, I’d like to compile the photos from my senior year in a photo book! I created albums earlier in the school year as Christmas gifts for my close friends, but now that I have so many pictures from prom, graduation, and the like, I think a second book will be in order.

Have a lovely day, and an even better weekend! :)

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Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies and Reverse White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello!

Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies and Reverse White Chocolate Chip CookiesI had a friend recently ask what I will do next year when I no longer have a kitchen open to my baking whims. It hadn’t hit me until she mentioned it — and I still don’t have an answer — but it did fuel my desire to bake more frequently before I head off to college. After a hectic senior year schedule, I’m bummed, but not surprised, that it has been over a year since I last posted a recipe.

With a desire to bake, however, comes a desire for new recipes, which brought me to today’s dessert: malted chocolate chip and reverse white chocolate chip cookies from Irvin Lin’s Marbled, Swirled, and Layered. The cookies first caught my eye because of how they looked — baking can be just as much about the visual as it is the taste — but only a batch later, and I think it’s safe to say that both my family and my friends have all found a new favorite. With a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a bakery style size, these cookies can only be improved with a glass of milk on the side. Worth turning on the oven in this summer heat? I sure think so.

Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies and Reverse White Chocolate Chip CookiesMalted Chocolate Chip Cookies and Reverse White Chocolate Chip Cookies Loosely adapted from Marbled, Swirled, and Layered by Irvin Lin

ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup and two tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk

for the chocolate chip cookies

  • 1/2 cup malted milk powder
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips

for the reverse white chocolate chip cookies

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips

to make

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugars, vanilla, and salt. Add the eggs and egg yolk, beating well after each addition.
  2. Mix in the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, until well-incorporated and the dough remains a little sticky.
  3. Divide the dough in half, and set aside one halve for later use. In the same bowl of the electric mixer, stir in the malted milk powder and flour to the remaining dough. Mix in the chocolate by hand. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  4. Place the reserved dough back in the bowl of the electric mixer, and incorporate the cocoa powder until fully mixed. Add the white chocolate by hand. As done previously, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  5. Once the dough has been refrigerated, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease two baking sheets and set aside.
  6. For each cookie, scoop a chunk of malted dough and roll into a ball. Do the same with the white chocolate chip dough. Stick the two together and roll them together so they form one big ball. Press down on a hard surface, such as a plate or cutting board, to form a disk roughly 2.5 inches wide. Cut the dough in half, perpendicular to the dough dividing line. Flip one half over and then press together, as if to form a checkerboard pattern.
  7. Place cookies on baking sheets in rows two inches apart.
  8. Bake cookies for fourteen to fifteen minutes; they will spread and be golden brown along the edges.
  9. Let the cookies cool before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Have a wonderful Tuesday!
Bella

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