Monday, January 12, 2015

On Goodbyes

Oh, friends.

It's just not in me anymore. I've loved the time I've spent on this blog - I've loved the people it's allowed me to meet, the events it's allowed me to participate in, the new books I'd never have read without the people I've met & the events I've participated in.

But I just don't have the desire anymore. I still want to talk about books - I definitely still want to read them - but blogging just isn't how I want to do those things anymore. So I think this is goodbye.

I'm still going to be in the book world, reading your blogs and joining in with the fun, bookish stuff going on in the world. I'm just going to have to find a new way to do those things. For the few of you interested in still keeping up with me, I have a whole list of bookish accounts that I am much more active on than this blog - come find me if you want!







It's been a good run - a wonderful experience - and I'm leaving with nothing but good memories. (And a giant TBR list.) Here's to new experiences and adventures, and new ways of expressing the reading life that I love.

If you need me, I'll be hanging out with these two - reading books.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 In Review

It's that time of year again - time to look back over the highlights (and lowlights) of the past reading year. Once again, I was lucky to have many more highs than lows - I don't know if that is due to my increasing ability to choose books I like, or my increasing dependence on reviews from readers I trust, but no matter the cause I'm certainly happy with the outcome.

I read little nonfiction in 2014, which is somewhat unusual, but can most likely be attributed to the lack of large chunks of time to read. I generally do better with nonfiction when I can devote several hours over a weekend to reading a book - that doesn't happen much lately. But here are the best of my nonfiction year -

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot -  we all know that good nonfiction reads as compellingly as fiction, and this would be a book to prove that thesis. Fascinating and heartbreaking, this story made me think about the good of science vs. the good of the person, and which really is the most important.
 Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer - given to me by a good friend, this is a lovely book about choosing to follow the voice of vocation in your life. Had I read this book as a 20-year-old, it most likely would have become one of the seminal books in my life. Coming to me later, it was a good reminder to listen for the truths that your heart tells you. Wise and gentle, a thoughtful read.
 Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton - This book became much more than a book for me. It became a mantra - a philosophy - a call to live the life I want to life. Melton's words are wise, funny, and gracious, reminding us all that love really is the most important thing. I loved this book so hard.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber - This spiritual memoir will, quite honestly, not be for everyone. For me, it was a breath of fresh, redeeming air that resonated with my soul. Faith doesn't have to look the same for everyone, and sometimes the questions are the path to true belief. Beautiful, real, and spirit-filled.

Fiction was by far the bulk of my reading this year, which isn't a huge surprise. There is just nothing like getting lost in another world for a while to make my world feel right again. A LOT of my favorite reads of the year were speculative fiction - sci-fi or fantasy - which is also not a huge surprise. They've been a staple of my reading diet for years. Here are the highlights -

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - this was my first read of 2014, and it was a stunner. Gaiman's story of a young boy saving himself is a meditation on memory and the power of words, and it was unforgettable.
 A Woman in the House by William E. Barrett - a loan from my mom, this is not a book I would ever have chosen on my own, but it was a truly beautiful story about two unlikely characters coming to love each other in the strangest of circumstances. Once again, my mom is always right, and her taste in books continues to be pretty darn good.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - I think I loved this book from the first sentence, and didn't stop until I turned the last page. These two quirky characters completely stole my heart, and the bittersweet ending was absolutely perfect. Wonderful.

 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - I finished a classic this year! That always feels like an accomplishment. I have to admit this one was a slow starter - I nearly gave up, but eventually Magwitch wormed his slimy way into my heart, and then I was lost in the story. I'm happy I finally made the time to read this much-beloved story.

 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - there is just something about Tartt's twisty, unpredictable door-stoppers that keep me reading page after page. I don't know that I actually liked any of the characters, and there were points that felt S L O W as mud, but she always makes me want to find out what happens in the end.
 The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin - definitely not a book that will appeal to everyone, but I've always loved novels that take Biblical characters and imagine lives for them, and Toibin's Mary has doubts and anger that seem so natural to the life she has lived. This was thought-provoking and beautifully written.
 Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones - my first DWJ, but certainly not my last, this was a delight from beginning to end. I'm hoping to visit more of this world in 2015.
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - I think I liked this MORE than the first in the series, which is pretty rare for me. I know the ending left me with a pit in my stomach, and a deep need to know what happens next. I love the author's use of found photographs to augment the story - they add a creepy element that feels just right. Love this series.
 Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund - I can't remember how I first stumbled on this series - it might have been a library impulse read - but it's becoming one of my favorites. The two books seem so different, yet when they connect the story becomes so much richer. I love Peterfreund's feisty, take-charge heroines, and her homages to classic books are lovely. I hope there are lots more volumes in this series!
 The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin - I chose this for my Diversiverse read this year, and it was fantastic. Not a perfect novel by any means, but so entertaining that the flaws didn't really bother me. I'm looking forward to reading the next books in this series in 2015.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson - the last book I finished in 2014, and it was a whopper! Well over 1,000 pages, and while it took some time to truly get into the story, it was well worth the investment. I am fasincated by this world, it's religion, politics, nations and peoples. I am eagerly looking forward to the (many) upcoming volumes in this magnificent series.

Of course, there were a few stinkers - as my New Year's gift to you, here are three to stear clear of in 2015 -

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (poorly imagined and convoluted)
Taking the Lead by Derek Hough (superficial and unsatisfying)
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (really just wrong in every possible way)

I don't keep track of stats, really, but I'm going to be more intentional about what I read in 2015, so maybe the keeping of stats will naturally follow. I've been running with the "read whatever I feel like" method of choosing books, and while it's been fun, it has also lead me to a backlog of books on my shelves and TBR list that are just not getting read. In 2015, I am going to be much more purposeful about reading the books I've already chosen - of course, I will continue to abandon with glee books that don't strike my fancy. Life is too short to read boring books.

Here's to 2015 - let's make it another great reading year!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Thoughts - JoJo's Num Num's by Joanna Baltzly

JoJo's Num Num's by Joanna Baltzly
published 11/13/14
154 pages

Synopsis from Amazon -

This is a cookbook like no other one on the market!!! Included in this delightful book is a complete 8 week (2 month) menu plan section at the back with menu lists with grocery lists for that week that you just copy, check off pantry items you already have and take the rest of the list with you to the grocery store to purchase remaining ingredients needed!!! Easy to use! This book is also filled with 150+ recipes to use for your loved ones!

My thoughts -

I'm just going to be honest at the beginning and say that I know this author - her sister was in my class from kindergarten through 12th grade; her mom was one of the piano teachers in the music club I was involved in; we went to church together, I spent nights at her house - she's one of the people I feel like I've known all my life. Needless to say, when I found out that she was publishing a cookbook, I was pretty excited.

Not only was I excited in the general sense - Hey, someone I know is publishing a cookbook! I was also specifically excited because I have tried some of her recipes in the past that she has posted on her blog, and they have been delicious! So the idea of supporting someone I know, while also getting a bunch of new, yummy recipes was pretty fantastic. And I'm happy to say the cookbook has been well worth the investment.

I've had the cookbook for a little over a week, and have tried 5 recipes - Chicken Alfredo Stuffed Shells; Grandma Jeanie's Swiss Steak; S'mores Bars; Salted Caramel Mocha; and Creamy Cocoa. There has not been one that hasn't been delicious. In fact, when I pulled the stuffed shells out of my oven, I honestly couldn't believe that something that delicious had been baked at my own house. This lady can cook, and the recipes she shares are incredible. Now, I should note that these are not diet recipes, or "clean eating" recipes, so if you have a specific diet there might be some difficulties. This is good, old comfort food at it's finest, and we've been loving them.

This cookbook is self-published, so it does not have the lovely staged food photos that you would find in a cookbook from a famous author or restaurant. What it has that makes it special is author notes - at the end of at least 2/3 of the recipes in the book, Joanna tells a story about the recipe's origin, or when she remembers trying it for the first time, or how she came to develop it. This makes the book seem almost like sitting down and having a cup of coffee over a yummy treat at a friend's house, and is a delight to read.

I should also briefly mention the meal-planning section in the back. Joanna has taken the recipes in her book and divided them in to 8 weekly meal plans, giving grocery lists and recipe page numbers for each week. So you could just print out the list, hit the grocery store, and have 5 days of suppers already planned out for you. This is basically a genius idea, and I can't imagine the time it would save.

Joanna has graciously agreed to let me share a couple of recipes - I've personally tried both recipes, and they were hits with everyone in my family. If you are looking for a new cookbook filled with comforting, family-friendly recipes, it would be hard to go wrong with JoJo's Num Num's. Highly recommended!

S'mores Bars

1-12 oz box Golden Grahams
1-10.5 oz bag miniature marshmallows
1 1/2 c. milk chocolate chips
1/4 c. corn syrup
5 T butter or margarine
1 tsp vanilla
1 c. miniature marshmallows (separate from above)

Butter or coat a 9 X 13 pan GENEROUSLY!! Melt all but 1 c. marshmallows, chocolate chips, corn syrup & butter in a microwave safe bowl until melted together completely. Immediately add vanilla, and stir in completely. Pour over the Golden Grahams and coat completely. Stir in the last cup of marshmallows. Spread in buttered pan refrigerate! Wait at least 30 minutes until they are cooled before eating.

Chicken Alfredo Stuffed Shells

1 package (12 oz) jumbo shells
1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts, cubed
2 T olive oil, divided
1 egg
1 carton (15 oz) ricotta cheese
3 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 c. (4 oz) mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 tsp parsley
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 c. butter, cubed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 c. heavy whipping cream

Cook pasta al dente. In a large skillet, brown the chicken in 1 T olive oil. Remove and set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the egg, ricotta, 1 1/2 c. parmesan, mozzarella and seasonings. Add the chicken and stir again. Stuff each shell with this mixture. Lay each of these stuffed shells in a 9 X 13 greased pan. If there is extra stuffing, spread it over the top. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic, cook for another minute. Add the cream. Cook another 5 minutes. Add the other 1 1/2 c. parmesan cheese and stir until it has all melted and the sauce thickens. Pour this sauce over the top of the shells. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 c. parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover, then bake an additional 10-15 minutes until it starts to bubble.