Sunday, January 7, 2018

Let's compare; my 2017 books

It's a fantastic feeling to look at my books from the past year and find so many great titles.  I hope your year in reading was just as exciting. I read a good mix of books from my TBR piles and plan to sign up for Roofbeam Readers' TBR Challenge this year to keep me on track.  I also added in stacks of new books about diverse characters, which made me fall in love with some new authors like Jason Reynolds and Angie Thomas.

Longest book: Eragon-I'm glad I finally read this fantasy tale
Favorite Detective-Cormoran Strike (Robert Galbraith)

Top Twelve

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (real train, great writing)
2. The Mothers by Brit Bennett (Nadia and Luke, love story but more)
3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (brilliant story of police violence + more, very well written)
4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (dystopian look at our world if Pence takes over)
5. A man called Ove by Fredrik Backman (sweet story of Ove learning about life)
6. American War by Omar El Akkad (dystopian look at future American w/out oil)
7. Our souls at night by Kent Haruf (sweet tale of neighbors making a connection)
8. To the bright edge of the world by Eowyn Ivey (amazing writing, journal-style about Alaskan exploration, LOVED her 1st book The Snow Child)
9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (amazing, 300 years of life in Ghana and descendents)
10. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (The Count is imprisoned in beautiful hotel and finds a way to continue living a great life)
11. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (novel in verse, aftermath of Will's brother's death, strong voice)
12. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (1937 New York City, great cast of characters)

Top Elementary Fiction:

1. Shooting Kabul by N.H Senzai (escape from Afghanistan, life in America)
2. Some kind of courage by Dan Gemeinhart (great character western)
3. The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill (well-told fantasy)
4. Save me a seat by Sarah Weeks/Gita Varadarajan (diverse friends have all the fun, after the drama)
5. Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (9/11; well done)
6. The girl who drank from the moon by Kelly Barnhill (well-told fantasy)
7. Eragon by Christopher Paolini (dragon quest)
8. Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (excellent voice, plantation aftermath)
9. Pax by Sara Pennypacker (pet fox struggles in the wild while boy tries to get back to fox)
10. A wrinkle in time by Madeleine L'Engle (wild, intergalactic ride, introduced it to 5 unsuspecting 6th graders)

Enjoy! What stories made an impression on you in 2017?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

3 Great Stories

I ended 2017 with three good library books and oddly enough I didn't receive any books for Christmas. Probably good because my own piles are still sky high. Before I share my 2017 stats I thought I'd share these three.

1. The Tie that binds by Kent Haruf (1984): I read this because I loved Haruf's Our Souls at night which pushed me to the library to find his first story of Holt, Colorado. Described as a Greek Tragedy, this story gives us Edith Goodnough, a woman who struggles to make something of her life within the confines of the hand she's been dealt. Her mother dies young and Edith is left to care for her younger brother, Lyman and her abusive father.  The intricate tale of love and loss will make you question how far responsibility carries anyone.

2. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011): I picked this one up after reading A Gentleman in Moscow and found this one as clever. Katey Kontent, a 25 year-old New Yorker with her roommate Evelyn meet Tinker Gray, a wealthy and handsome banker in a Village jazz club.  The three of them set off on adventures, big and small, with both Evelyn and Kate hoping for their own moments with Tinker. Evelyn and Tinker eventually pair up but it's not in any way how they expected.  Filled with twists and turns and memorable characters like Anne Grandyn, this first novel by Towles is just as intriguing as A Gentleman in Moscow.

The Dry by Jane Harper (2016): Set in Australia this murder mystery has its own twists and turns in a short amount of time. Aaron Falk returns to his small hometown after his childhood friend Luke and his family are murdered. Aaron agrees to stay for a week to help the new sheriff as they both have questions about what exactly happened. While digging up clues they find simmering hatred and other secrets harbored by the small town residents. As they dig for clues Luke hopes to solve another mystery involving the drowning of his childhood friend Ellie of which he was the prime suspect. For a mystery with a LOT going on this one handled it all with interesting style. I'm looking forward to the next Aaron Falk tale.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Holiday Hoopla

Christmas is over and thank heavens.  The holiday is a bit of a mountain to climb; all the preparations of gifts and food, keeping everyone happy and moving in one direction, the right amount of drinks and frivolous fun balanced with close family time. I would think this would all get easier as the kids get older.

There were many parts of the holiday that I enjoyed and will savor over the course of 2018 and I plan to put a little more thought into next year's plan. Next year I don't want to be the one person constantly in the kitchen preparing food. We've always had interesting meals for holidays, we don't tend to have a big platter of meat as the main course. This year we had two vegans to work with and it was no easy feat. As per my last post I did prepare an almost all vegan spread and they were delicious recipes. Even with a perfect spread it was still off.  Next year I'm just going to have a ton of Indian food pre-prepared, ready to heat back up and served around the table. 

Everyone has expectations for the day and I have a sinking feeling that somehow I was not a good cruise director. Although I think whatever plans I had made or not made wouldn't have mattered. What is it about holidays and family gatherings that bring out the negative or at least hurt feelings? It begs the age old question "why can't we all just get along? It takes a lot of empathy to understand trauma and depression and while I am a caring person I feel like I'm being slowly pulled down the rabbit hole. So instead I'm putting my whole spirit into ushering in 2018. Let it be a good and peaceful year.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Weekend festivities

It snowed last night which means for many children celebrating Christmas that Santa's journey will be made much easier in his sled. My children are all older yet they appreciate snow a little more at this special time of year. I love the snow when I can stay inside, curled up in front of the fire with a very good book. Luckily I got most of my errands/shopping done yesterday.

I have a lot of cooking and baking to do today and I thought you might like some recipes.  Heather and Tristan have been vegan for about a year now and that changes our holiday meal drastically. We are pretty healthy eaters leaning more toward vegetarian so it's not like a cooking crisis but traditional meals like oyster stew and clam chowder on Christmas just won't do.  Instead will be having a carrot and potato soup with fresh homemade bread, a salad and homemade vegan brownies for dessert.  It will be a simple meal sandwiched between two church services.

Tomorrow we are going to have a tofu/potato scramble, vegan cinnamon rolls and mimosas (luckily those are vegan naturally!) for breakfast after a few gifts have been opened.  Later in the day we will sit down for a late supper of turkey lasagna (my husband begged for one non-vegan item), a a vegan roast (Heather and Tristan are bringing it), this amazing cauliflower dish from Jaime Oliver, mashed potatoes and vegan gravy, and a vegan berry pie.  I've got my work cut out for me so I don't know why I'm still standing around.

Happy holidays everyone for what you may celebrate may be different than I; I wish for you a happy and contented life as we move into a new year.  Another year for Trump to mess things up giving us all the more reason to stand up and be heard.

Merry Christmas, Peace on Earth, and 
JOY to the World.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Craving Chickpeas...

Happy December!
Last week I was craving spicy soup, which has nothing to do with Christmas or December but just my own odd taste buds.  I looked through recipes both online and in my massive stacks of books looking for just the right one. I found this one by Rachael Ray that looked interesting: Indian-spiced Chickpea, and this one, Morroccan Chickpea, from Good Foods, and then this, Chickpea Chili, from MyRecipes.  I ended up kind of making my own up loosely based on the last one except I did not have butternut squash on hand and I left out pimento-stuffed olives because seriously I couldn't imagine that flavor with the soup I was craving. Once I settled on a recipe I found some friends to invite over to be my tasters.

I made a batch of brown rice, tossed up a fresh salad, and this rustic bread to break together. Oh and I had a couple of chicken breasts on hand and as other people love their protein I shredded it and left it as a topping to be tossed into the soup like the parsley and sour cream. They left quite full, smiling and with half a loaf of bread in their hands. Also they'd both done well at Spite and Malice and Taboo; games that we played.  It was a lovely winter night; cold outside, toasty on the inside.

I finished Maggie Stiefvater's new book, All the Crooked Saints, tonight. She is a very imaginative writer and I think she casts a spell on each of her stories. This one, set in Colorado in 1962, is about the Soria family and their ability to collect pilgrims looking for miracles and it's about radio waves, saints, and love.  I don't understand how she weaves that altogether but she does. My Maggie favorites are The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys series. Now I'm on to Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni and Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

How lucky we are...library books are a treasure.

If I had to buy every book I wanted to read my bank balance would be zip, zilch, nada. All the time.

Praise Jesus for the invention of public libraries and hope to the future they last for all eternity. Over the past few weeks I've compiled a stack from 2 different visits.

I also finished an amazing book, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, a beautifully written story of Count Alexander Rostov.  He's under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in the heart of Moscow. He's lucky to be alive yet it's difficult to understand you may never take one step outside to do ordinary things.  He sets up routines to get through until young Nina, a visitor to the hotel engages him in conversation. His time is soon taken up with this precocious guest as they explore the inner workings of the hotel. Amor's language and the characters he breathes life into make this tale magical and believable. I would love to have been part of this story even as the seamstress who guides Alexander into parenting.  I returned this one back to the library only because it had a hold on it; otherwise I may have read it again. Instead I found Amor's first book, Rules of Civility (2011) and plan to read that soon.

Here is the rest of my stack:

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) : excellent novel in verse about young Will retracing his life after his older brother is killed. (finished)

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (2017) : Magical tale of the Soria family in Colorado as they take care of pilgrims and each other. I'm on chapter 6 and as soon as I finish composing I plan to fly the sofa and read...I've loved Maggie's writing for a long time and once took a long drive through flood waters to hear her speak. She's pretty badass too.

What to say next by Julie Buxbaum (2017) : Recommended to me by my friend Tina, this one is an interesting tale of an unlikely friendship between Kit and David. (not yet read)

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (2017) : Carter Briggs is a happy young man until he sends one text to his friend Mars minutes before Mars, Eli, and Blake are killed in a car accident. Now the world seems to be coming down on Carter as everyone looks for someone to blame. (not yet read)

The Ties that Bind by Kent Haruf (1984) : I read Kent's "Our Souls at night" in the hammock this summer and was in love with the characters and the simple story line. I thought I'd start at the beginning of the Holt, Colorado stories with this one.

The Dry by Jane Harper (2016) : This title popped up on my mother-in-law's feed as a great new read while they were here which prompted both of us to put it on hold at our respective local libraries. After reading my last Cormoran Strike mystery (the 2nd in the series)-b/c I read them out of order-I could use another good thriller.

One of my 4th graders wandered around the library yesterday with a stack of books in her hand and a huge smile on her face and dreamily said "so many books, so little time..." 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Be Grateful Day

{Roger Williams on Smithsonian}
I have mixed emotions about this holiday. I don't have any trouble being thankful and realizing ALL that I have to be thankful for but the celebrating of this particular holiday just reminds me of the horrors we inflicted on Native people then and still. It also seems like a ticket for overeating.  Do I sound like a humbug?  Yes I probably do.  I just wish the holiday was simple and not followed by a crazy shopping frenzy. So today I challenge you to think about what you are truly grateful for and to realize our lives are built on the backs of others. Read here for another look at Thanksgiving. And this young person perspective.

My Grateful 11:

My family; 5 of us make up a unique team of weirdness filled w/ humor.
My brother Jason; he is my family rock and pushes me to be more.
The elders in my life; mom, my in-laws, my stepmom and my dad in spirit.
Nature; thank heavens for parks of all kinds, places to hike and breathe.
Public education; may they one day be truly equal.
Public libraries; free books to borrow is a wonder.
Books and reading; I love to be transported.
Delicious food; well cooked, unusual ingredients and flavors.
My health; which is often rocky but I'm very lucky to be alive.
My lovely house; I can see a layer of dust over the floor but ehh-
Friends that bring me quiet times, good times, and laughter.

What brings you joy?  Celebrate that today. Fill your plate with the stories that are told around the table and find happiness in the people you are sitting with around the proverbial table. Reach out and think of the many marginalized people in your community.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween

We spent a whirlwind two days in La Crosse, WI exploring and then my husband ran a trail race on Sunday morning. We loved La Crosse and found many cool things to do there.

{very windy at the top of the cliff}
We loved Old Crow, The Charmant Hotel, Skeleton Crew Brew, Grandad's Bluff, Stacked Turtle Brewery (named for Yertle the Turtle) and Duluth Trading Co. The sights of the bluffs around town were amazing even with much of the foliage stolen by cold weather and rain. We would not go back to Two Beagles Brewery; the service was good-the beer was tasteless. We had trouble finishing our flight and left the Oktoberfest with most left in the glass. 

{Charmant Hotel Bloody Mary}
We stopped in La Crescent, MN on our way home; who knew they were the apple capital of the Minnesota?  We pulled in at a farm stand and bought three bags of beauties and an apple fritter to share.

The beautiful Halloween photo at the top is courtesy of my friend Sarah and her 3 adorable children. We love their pumpkin glow! My girl carved a pumpkin of her own but with friends and I have yet to see photos. Happiest of Halloweens to you and stay safe out there.