Book Review: The Beyond Experience by Michael Reid Jr

The Beyond Experience by Michael Reid Jr
Rating: 5 out of 5

"You're going to feel a chill."

The Beyond Experience was, in a word, stunning. To be blunt, I was skeptical about reading this. I'm a cognitive scientist, and most books I read that have something to do with neuroscience and psychology are so far from reality that they are painful to read. Mike, this story was fantastic.

The amount of passion and research that went into the characters and their story was quite clear from the get go. Even the setting of the story was intimately detailed. Mike clearly has a marvel of an imagination, and an eye for taking brilliant scientific ideas to the next level, while still remaining as realistic as possible. That is one tall order to follow.

The characters were really well written, it was enjoyable to watch them grow and change. The dynamic relationship between Dr. Lewis and Kyle, and their battle between science and religion, was well crafted. There were incredibly brutal struggles some of the characters faced, but I loved the book even more for that. It was easy to grow attached to the characters and really feel for them.

The Beyond Experience was captivating. It might be bold to say, but I think this book really has something to offer for everyone--whether you are a scientist, a religious/spiritual person, both, or neither--and that is an extremely difficult variety of people for an author to please.

Plus, how gorgeous is that cover?!

That'll do Mike, that'll do.

Go check out Mike's other two novels, Debt of Fear and Sins of the Father, on website (michaelreidjr.com) or on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc., etc., etc...

Synopsis: Dr. Lewis had always found a way to hide his deepest secrets: the abuse as a child, the loss of his fiancĂ©, the reasons why he rejected the lucrative offer from Harvard. But, when Kyle, his lab assistant, convinces him to push the limits of the drugs he'd spent a decade perfecting, his lies begin to unravel. 

Kyle's emotional events during treatment forced him to believe it was an event on another plane of life, a spiritual experience at its highest echelon. Thousands of people all over the world were experiencing similar events to Kyle's, claiming they'd been to heaven. However, Dr. Lewis disagreed, and spent countless hours searching for a neural pathway within the brain itself as the source of the augmented reality. 

More secrets, lies, and love drive the two close friends apart, beginning a cascade of events that point Dr. Lewis toward entering The Beyond Experience himself. He fought the treatment for nearly two decades, convinced his terrifying past would confront him. What he experiences becomes far more world shattering than he'd ever imagined possible, but will finally give him the answer to why his fiancé, Lily, had spoken her haunting final words: "forgive me."*

*Synopsis from michaelreidjr.com

P.S. Sorry I've been absent for so long. This whole grad school thing has taken over the last 18 months of my life. I'm still here, and still reading (though sometimes, most of the time, it's textbooks and I'm sure you don't want reviews on those!).

Happy holidays,



Am Painting

Hey everyone,

Just to give you fair warning, this post has nothing to do with food or books. Besides eating delicious food and adventuring various lives through reading, one of my more recent hobbies is painting. The story behind how I came to love painting is similar in many ways to how I came to love reading. For me, being forced to do something has never inspired much affection for whatever the subject matter is. Whether it was reading for school work, or doing art for school work, it was hard for me to find pleasure in either activity. For my story on how I became an avid reader, click here. As far as painting goes, I had all sorts of 'training' in school, including an AP Art class. Looking back, I regret that I didn't take advantage of the incredibly helpful, passionate (and slightly eccentric) teacher I had. Instead, I was stubborn and generally disliked being told what to do. Hooray for teenage attitudes! 

Anyway, about 2 years ago, my best friend invited me to go to a 'paint night' event. I remember being extremely anxious about having to paint . . . I've never been comfortable putting my lack of skills on display. Turns out, despite being overly anxious at the beginning of the night, I slowly started to relax. I realized that, even if my painting wasn't perfect, I was actually enjoying stepping away from the world and creating a new one. Soon after this, I splurged on a bunch of acrylic painting supplies (not being brave enough to tread the oil paints yet). 

Now? Though my painting skills need a lot of honing, painting has become one of the few things that  calms my anxiety. One of the reasons I love painting, other than its relaxing effects, is being able to create something that reminds people of places that are important to them.  I recently had someone encourage me to post my paintings on here, despite this being a book blog. So, without further ado, here are some of the projects I have been working on. (I apologize for the watermarks, but, unfortunately, it's necessary).

Spring (from the infamous Paint Night)
My first batch of paintings for people. Moab, Snowy Peaks, Fall Birch, Winter Trees, Abstract Peaks, Waves 
Uniting love for Mountains, Rivers, and Red Rock 
Summer Birch 
Northern Lights
This is a hat rack I made for my husband. I wanted to remind him of four of his favorite places back home: Provo Canyon, Moab, Silver Lake, Superior.
Fall Birch
Snowbird Sunrise, done on a cut of wood
Mount Superior Sunrise
Mount Superior Blue Bird (can you tell Little Cottonwood Canyon is one of my favorites?)
A little piece for a youthful soul
Not at Treasure is Silver and Gold, Mate
Waterton Lakes National Park
Blue Tetons
Parabatai Rune
Mount Timpanogos



Book Review: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: In a galaxy powered by the current, everyone has a gift.
Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power — something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.
Akos is the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe. Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get this brother out alive — no matter what the cost.
Then Akos is thrust into Cyra's world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. Will they help each other to survive, or will they destroy one another?*

I know I have been a bit MIA for almost a year, and I only have two words for you: grad school. That's a story for another time though. I have had the past few days off and finally got to read this beauty of a book, Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth. Roth is best known (thus far) for her Divergent trilogy (Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant), now all major motion picture movies. 

Carve the Mark was so much more than I thought it was going to be. Darker, smarter, fiery, and gritty. The adventure, heartache, and brutally honest and violent characters literally had me glued to the pages until 4 in the morning. Though some of the passion between the stubbornly fierce Cyra and alluring yet dangerous Akos was a bit predictable (a clear reminder of a Montague-Capulet predicament), there were quite a few mesmerizing and surprising plot twists. Roth's description of life, pain, and love spoke boldly about struggles people constantly face. I also absolutely loved that the characters weren't simply good or bad. There is no such thing as a person who is all good or all bad, and Roth did an incredible job writing multifaceted characters, people that live in that murky-grey area of life that we all know too well. Relatable characters like these are powerful because they show us that it's okay to not be perfect, as long as we are doing what we can. As Cyra, the leading, bad-ass lady in the book, says, "It's hard to know what's right in this life . . . We do what we can, but what we really need is mercy." 

Here's to hoping you don't lose as much sleep as I did reading this! (Or, maybe, I hope you do. It is that good, after all)


*Synopsis by Goodreads.com


Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane. 
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.
What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of color. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.*

Jojo Moyes, a British novelist, has previously won Romantic Novelists' Association Romantic Novel of the Year and was a Nominee for Goodreads Choice Award in Fiction. Contemporary romance is not typically my cup of tea, everyone had been raving about this book though, and I finally gave in. Me Before You is the first novel of Jojo Moyes' that I have read, and I was pleasantly surprised. The novel was well written, and though the plot was somewhat predictable, I did enjoy that Moyes finished with a heart-wrenching, morally-questionable decision. I almost didn't think she would have the guts to go through with it, but she did, and it was fantastic (I apologize for the vagueness, I don't want to spoil anything). I think more authors need to write about 'questionable' topics, things people don't typically like to discuss in open conversation (e.g. disabilities, depression, rape, addiction, etc.). It's important to acknowledge these do, in fact, exist, try to understand them, and teach others about them. But I digress.

Original Photo from Sawtooth Adventure Company
Solo guitarist/river guiding extraordinaire is my little sis (aw, proud big sis moment!) 

The characters throughout Me Before You, were extremely intriguing to me, and, if I'm being honest, aggravating at times. I enjoyed the contrast between the Clark family and the Traynor family. While the middle class Clark family struggled financially, they seemed to love and support one another, even if it was in a unique way. Whereas the Traynor's, a wealthy, upper class family, seemed to be held together by the thin thread of Will's condition alone. The stubborn, exhausted, envious, and witty Will Traynor was startling and brutal to read about. I did not like that Will's character was so focused on being envious of everyone else's capabilities, or telling others how to live their lives, that he did not focus on what his capabilities were and how much he could do. I do have very mixed feelings about Lou Clark though, Will's co-star in Me Before You. Lou is awkward, witty, immature, and self-absorbed for almost the entire novel. I am perfectly fine with awkward characters, however, when they are immature, self-absorbed, and play the victim for almost the entire novel, I get a bit aggravated. Thankfully, we witness an emotional and mental growth within her character, as she beautifully learned how to let go of the past and put others before herself. The dynamics between the two co-stars, Will and Lou, really worked for me. Their banter back and forth was highly entertaining, and witnessing their relationship grow realistically (i.e. gradually, two steps forward and one step back) was a nice change from the all-too-common quick-paced relationships. I'm a firm believer in the idea that one of the best ways to help yourself out, is by helping others. Lou and Will's characters come to understand this idea near the end, and I have to admit, the wait was worth the phenomenal ending. Me Before You is a quick, entertaining, and daring reminder to help others, to love deeply, and to live well. 



*Synopsis provided by Goodreads.com

Dutch Crumb Apple Pie

I am not a fan of long spiels before getting to the actual recipe on blogs. In my experience, people look at recipes for the recipe, not for a narration. So, without further ado, here is my recipe for Dutch Crumb Apple Pie!

Yields: Two Pies
Total Time: About 2 hours


Flaky Pie Crust:
  • 2 heaping cups of flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • About 1 cup cold water
  • 2 pie tins 
Apple Filling:
  • 18 Gold Delicious apples
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
Streusel Topping:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 12 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1. Flaky Pie Crust:
  • Preheat oven at 375 degrees F.
  • Mix together flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.
  • After softening the butter (do not melt it all the way), cut in butter until there are pea-sized pieces of dough. I prefer to hand mix the dough to make it the perfect consistency.
  • Slowly add cold water (you may not need the full cup, depending on how "heaping" your cups of flour were). Mix until the dough clumps together in one big ball. It may be slightly sticky, but you don't want the pie dough to be as wet and sticky as, say, roll or scone dough. 
  • Sprinkle flour over the kitchen counter and roll out the dough (half of it per pie).
  • Place rolled out dough in a pie tin. Cut extra dough that hangs off the edges of the pie tin (leave about a 1/4 inch hanging over the edge, it will shrink a little when cooked). Shape pie crust edges how you wish (I pinch the edge and give it a little twist for my design). 
  • Using a fork, gently poke a few holes at the bottom of the crust. 
  • Cover pie crust dough with tin foil, place beans (or some other type of weight) on top of the foil to stop the crust from bubbling up.
  • Bake pie crust for about 20 minutes. Remove the weights and tin foil from the crusts. Bake the crusts again for another 5-10 minutes until it is fully cooked and lightly golden on the edges.
  • Place pie tins on cooling rack.
  • Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. 

2. Apple Filling:
  • Peel, core, and slice apples into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. 
  • Toss the apples in a (very) large bowl with sugar, cinnamon, and salt. 
  • Heat butter in a large pot, over high heat, until foaming subsides. 
  • Add the apple mixture to the heated butter; toss to coat. 
  • Reduce heat to medium-high. Cover pot, stir occasionally. Cook apple mix until apple slices are softened, about 10 minutes. 
  • Set a large colander over a (very) large bowl; transfer the cooked apple mix to the colander. Drain off as much of the juice as possible. 
  • Set cooked apples in a large bowl and set aside. Pour juice back into the heated pot. Add heavy cream to the juice mixture and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, until thickened and spoon leaves a trail in the mixture.  
  • Transfer the cooked apples into the pre-baked pie shells.
  • Pour the juice and cream mixture over the apples and smooth.

3. Streusel Topping:
  • Combine flour, brown sugar, and sugar in a medium bowl.
  • Drizzle melted butter over the flour/sugar mixture. Mix with a fork (or by hand) until evenly combined and mixture forms small chunks. 
  • Sprinkle the streusel mix evenly over the pie filling. 
  • Bake pies (at 425 degrees F.) until the streusel topping is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. 
  • Cool on wire rack. 
  • Serve and enjoy! 

In my most humblest of opinions, this apple pie is best served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Although, my husband would argue and say that it is actually best served in a bowl, smothered in milk. 




Book Review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: Jack, 12, tells the gripping story of Joseph, 14, who joins his family as a foster child. Damaged in prison, Joseph wants nothing more than to find his baby daughter, Jupiter, whom he has never seen. When Joseph has begun to believe he'll have a future, he is confronted by demons from his past that force a tragic sacrifice.*

The first book I read of Gary D. Schmidt's was The Wednesday Wars, and I absolutely loved his writing style. I was thrilled when I found out about Orbiting Jupiter. This book is written from the simple, young perspective of Jack, a sixth-grade boy who lives on an organic farm with his parents. His family welcomes fourteen-year-old Joseph into their home as a foster child. Coming from prison, Joseph, who rarely talks or smiles and doesn't let anyone stand behind him, starts adjusting to life with Jack and his family, a life of attending to farm animals and going to middle school. Through Jack's eyes, we learn what haunts Joseph, how differently people within his new community judge and treat him, and witness how trust and love can change someone for the better. 

Although learning Joseph's background is crucial, my favorite part of this book was reading about the new relationships, good or bad, that Joseph made within his new home and school life. It was fascinating and emotional to see how various people treated him. Jack, being a true example of a kind heart, accepted Joseph almost immediately. . . just as soon as his cows approved. "You can tell all you need to know about someone from the way cows are around him," (Orbiting Jupiter, pg 11). That is one of the most true statements I've ever read, though I would apply it to almost any animal--dogs, cows, horses, etc. 

We also view the relationships Joseph developed with various teachers at his new school. While some pre-judged him and immediately shrugged him off as a no-good, dirty-rotten criminal, others, bless their loving and caring souls, gave Joseph a chance and were shocked at what he was capable of. "It's not the solution. . . It's the path to the solution that's fascinating," (Orbiting Jupiter, pg 29). It was beautiful to witness the miracle of a young man who has been through so much at such a young age, start to open up and have hope, to smile and laugh like a fourteen-year-old should. "Christmas is the season for miracles, you know. Sometimes they come big and loud, I guess--but I've never seen one of those. I think probably most miracles are a lot smaller, and sort of still, and so quiet, you could miss them. I didn't miss this one." (Orbiting Jupiter, pg 114-115). It can be difficult to successfully write such an honest, painful story--to put such astounding life lessons into a middle-grade/young adult novel. This is where Schmidt has shown what a profound author he is. Through the voice of the tender youth, he effectively transforms difficult and painful topics into quiet and simple stories that demand our attention. It is impossible to read this book and not think about how you treat others, judge others, or how to be a better person. Orbiting Jupiter is simple and bold; a powerful, difficult, and beautiful story about hope, true friendship, and being a good person.



*Synopsis provided by Goodreads.com


Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis: "In Mongolia, when a dog dies, he is buried high in the hills so people cannot walk on his grave. The dog's master whispers into the dog's ear his wishes that the dog will return as a man in his next life. Then his tail is cut off and put beneath his head, and a piece of meat or fat is place in his mouth to sustain his soul on its journey; before he is reincarnated, the dog's soul is freed to travel the land, to run across the high desert plains for as long as it would like. I learned that from a program on the National Geographic channel, so I believe it is true. Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready. I am ready."
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. 
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.*

Because this review is largely about dogs and their goodness...
 here are all of the dogs in my life. 
Featuring: Rufio, Tiger, Jack, Buck, Jack Sparrow, Rudy, and Indiana Jones.

Garth Stein is a New York Times and international bestselling author, as well as a PNBA Book Award winner. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a masterpiece of contemporary fiction. Through the perspective of a dog, Enzo, Stein brilliantly reveals the beauty and cruelty of human life, the love within true friendship, the trials of an ever-changing family, and the wisdom that lies within car racing. From the first page, we are introduced to Enzo's loving, humorous, clever, and loyal-to-a-fault personality. His enthusiastic spirit, as well as his undying love for life, racing, education through means of cable TV, and envy of those with opposable thumbs are captivating. 

Enzo, that handsome son-of-a-furry-gun, is also a wise soul, one we could all learn something from. Which is why I now present you with (drum roll please!) . . . 

The Amazing Enzo and His Words of Wisdom:
  • Enzo is a perfect example of companionship and hope. He tells us that he believes ". . . the center of our family could not be fractured by a chance occurrence, an accidental washing, an unexpected illness. . . However things might change around us, we would always be together," (The Art of Racing in the Rain, pg 106). 
  • Enzo shows us humility and the art of being a champion. "Racers are often called selfish and egotistical. I myself have called race car drivers selfish; I was wrong. To be a champion, you must have no ego at all. You must not exist as a separate entity. You must give yourself over to the race. You are nothing if not for your team, your car, your shoes, your tires. Do not mistake confidence and self-awareness for egotism," (The Art of Racing in the Rain, pg 314). 
  • Enzo, a brilliant dog, but dog nonetheless, is better at being a good human being than most of us human beings. "Here's why I will be a good person. Because I listen. I cannot speak, so I listen very well. I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own. People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one another's conversations constantly. . . Learn to listen! I beg of you. Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories," (The Art of Racing in the Rain, pg 102). 
  • Through his story, Enzo tell us that it's okay to lose, but we that have to try, even if we are scared of what could happen. "There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose," (The Art of Racing in the Rain, pg 277). 
  • Finally, Enzo shows us the joy in living--in taking charge of, and being the champion in, your own life. "That which you manifest is before you; we are the creators of our own destiny," (The Art of Racing in the Rain, pg 43). It ". . . makes one realize that the physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak; a true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible," (The Art of Racing in the Rain, pg 65).

And because I like lists so much, here are a few crucial items you will need while reading The Art of Racing in the Rain:
  1. A full tissue box.
  2. Pen and paper--to take notes on the pure genius and wisdom that Enzo has given to us, mere humans.
  3. Your own furry friend to cry and cuddle with.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is by far the hardest book I have ever read, and will probably ever read. It is also, undoubtedly, one of the best books I have ever read. It is brilliant in it's unique perspective, through Enzo, of heartbreak, hope, love, and the exhilaration of racing and living. If only more humans were like dogs, were like Enzo. The world would be a far more pleasant place. A dog can teach you everything you need to know. This book may be heartbreaking to get through, but I promise you that every page is well worth it. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of those books that will change you.