Saturday, December 03, 2016

Saturday Snapshot 12/3: Sunsets in the Florida Keys


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

I missed a couple of weeks of Saturday Snapshot because we did something very unusual for us this Thanksgiving - we took a week-long family vacation to the Florida Keys! Our sons are both at the same school (University of Delaware) for the first time in over a decade, and UD gave students the entire week off for Thanksgiving (something we've never seen before), so we took advantage of this rare opportunity and headed south. We had a wonderful time! We rented a lovely little house right on the water, our younger son's girlfriend came with us, and the five of us spent a very relaxing & entertaining week living the Island Life. We went kayaking through mangrove tunnels, snorkeling both from the beach and off a boat at a reef, visited Key West and some old friends there, and spent lots of time relaxing (and reading!).

Sunset is an Event in the Keys. The kids were all intrigued to see a crowd gathered at sunset, applause, and music to accompany the setting sun. Several times at 5:00, we headed to the small beach in our community - aptly named Sunset Park - to watch the sun set. When it sets, the residents there play the 1812 Overture and "The Islands of Marathon" (we were in the middle Keys, near Marathon). For this week's Saturday Snapshot, here are a few of my best sunset photos - wish I were still there!

Our first sunset - not a cloud in the sky for days!

A few clouds later in the week for sunbeams to hide behind!

One of my favorites - living the island life!

Almost time for sunset - cue the music!

We finally got a few drops of rain on our last day - made for a good sunset!
Our last sunset

Rain brings rainbows!

Hope you are having a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

TV Tuesday: Timeless

It's been a few weeks since I had time for a TV Tuesday post - Tuesday is the best day for both of my sons to get home from college, so we had some family dinners get in the way, plus last week's vacation. All good reasons to skip blogging, but now I have so many great new TV shows I want to share with you! For starters, my husband and I have been enjoying NBC's new time travel thriller, Timeless.

The first episode of Timeless sets up the plot and the pattern for the rest of the shows. A young history professor named Lucy, played by Abigail Spencer (a veteran of Suits, Mad Men, and True Detective) is picked up and whisked off to a large warehouse filled with strange equipment. There, the leaders of a scientific team explain to her that they've invented time travel. A nasty bad guy named Garcia Flynn, played by Goran Visnjic (one of our favorites from ER and Extant), has stolen the latest model of the time travel ship and headed off to May 6, 1937, which happens to be the date the Hindenburg exploded. Besides Lucy, they have also brought in a Delta Force solider named Wyatt, played by Matt Lanter, to provide protection. The third member of the time travel team is Rufus, played by Malcolm Barrett (who is hilarious in Better off Ted), a shy scientist who helped invent the time travel method and is needed for his technical expertise. They convince Lucy she must help them at once before history is irreparably changed.

So, the new ragtag team gets into an older model of the time travel ship and follows the first ship to May 6, 1937, in New Jersey. It soon becomes apparent that Flynn wants to change history and save the Hindenburg. Although that would save dozens of lives in that moment, Lucy immediately understands the devastating effects that any change could have on history and the decades that came after the Hindenburg. The team, dressed in period clothes, rushes around Lakehurst, NJ, to try to stop Flynn from stopping the disaster.

I won't tell you whether they succeed or not because that is part of the suspense of this unique show. On each episode, they follow Flynn off to some other date in the past. In every case, Flynn is trying to change history - sometimes dramatically. I will tell you they do not always succeed in stopping Flynn, and they do see some repercussions - both personal and global - from his messing with the historic timeline. Flynn's motives remain a mystery (we have watched seven episodes so far) that viewers get small hints of in each episode. The team travels to major historic events like Lincoln's assassination and the Alamo, but sometimes, it is less obvious why a particular time and place are pivotal points in history.

I am really enjoying this show. I am a huge fan of time travel stories, both on screen and in books, and this show is no exception. It has everything that makes me love time travel stories: fascinating history lessons, the clash of modern and historic, and - most of all - the thought-provoking ramifications of time travel and changing history. That theme is especially prominent here, as are the ethical dilemmas that result. For instance, Rufus, a black man, has a really difficult time with their mission to make sure that Lincoln's assassination goes on as it really happened in history. It is those kinds of thoughtful and mind-blowing concepts that I enjoy about this show.

Overall, I wouldn't say this show is excellent or perfect. It's no Orphan Black (but then, nothing is!). It is very good, though. I wasn't all that familiar with the three main actors who make up the time travel team, but the more I get to know their characters, the more I like them and the interactions between them. The show has a good sense of humor (very important to me!) which works especially well with some of the modern day vs. historic clashes. And, as I gushed in the previous paragraph, I LOVE the premise and plot. This show will not only appeal to sci fi fans but also to history buffs, and the historical details have been fascinating. Besides all that, it is a fast-paced and suspenseful thriller. I can't wait to watch episode 8 tonight, when the team travels back to the moon landing.

Timeless airs on NBC at 10 pm on Mondays. All episodes, starting with the first, are still available On Demand if you have cable or on NBC's website (the last 5 are available for free; you have to sign in with your cable or satellite provider to access the first 3 episodes). Timeless is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the entire first season (link below).



Monday, November 28, 2016

It's Monday 11/28! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh! Just back this weekend from a wonderful week in the Florida Keys. It was a fabulous family vacation - super relaxing, lots of fun, and perfect weather. We loved our little rental house on the water in Marathon and never wanted to leave! We enjoyed kayaking through mangrove tunnels, beaches, snorkeling, delicious seafood, and of course, plenty of reading time!

Here's what we've been reading the past two weeks:
  • I finished my review book, The News from the End of the World by Emily Jeanne Miller (due for release in February 2017), a family drama set on Cape Cod. This one was full of secrets and lies and was quite compelling. I really enjoyed it.
  • While on vacation, I read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah for my online family book group. I just finished it last night and was completely engrossed in it from start to finish. It's set during World War II but a different perspective than I'd read before. It's set in occupied France - which is in itself fascinating (and horrifying) - and focuses on the unsung roles of women in winning the war and saving people by telling the stories of two sisters who each do their parts in very different ways. Excellent book, though very sad. I have no idea what I'm going to read next! I love that moment of choosing a new book...
  • On audio, I finished listening to a teen/YA novel called Vivian Apple At the End of the World by Katie Coyle. It's about a teen girl whose parents disappear in a supposed "Rapture" event and the panic that ensues in the world, as Vivian searches for answers. It was one of my free downloads from SYNC - if you didn't participate in the program last year, sign up now for reminders for next summer - dozens of free audio books! I really enjoyed the book and am hooked enough to want to read Book 2. I need to choose my next audiobook, too.
  • My husband, Ken, read my recent review book, The River of Kings by Taylor Brown (due out in March), because I enjoyed it very much. It's a novel that uniquely combines adventure (a kayaking trip), modern family drama, suspense, and historical fiction. He liked it, too!
  • Now, Ken is reading Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, a book I gave him for his birthday this fall. It's about the aftermath of a small plane crash with only two survivors: an adult man and a small child.
  • Jamie, 22, took full advantage of all the extra reading time on vacation! He finished The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. This is Book 1 in the renowned Wheel of Time sci fi series. He and I have both heard great things about this series, so he was thrilled to finally read it! He's asked for more books in the series for Christmas.
  • Jamie read some (all?) of the Whill of Agora series by Michael James Ploof while on vacation. I don't know how many of the books he got through since he was reading them on his Kindle, but he said they were quick reads (for him!).
  • Now, Jamie is reading Frostborn: The Gray Knight by Jonathan Moeller and enjoying it. His reading will have to slow down abruptly for a while - 2 more weeks of classes, a week of finals, and then he is off for the winter break and can read nonstop again!
  • Craig, 18, doesn't enjoy reading for pleasure (whose child is he?), but his girlfriend also came with us on vacation, and she is enjoying reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner.
Lots of great books! That's one of the wonderful things about vacation, isn't it? I was offline all last week, but here are a few blog posts from the previous week:
Movie Monday: Thin Ice - a funny crime caper starring Greg Kinnear & Alan Arkin

Memoir Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi - the best-selling memoir by a young doctor dying of cancer was as good as I'd heard!

Fiction Review: Tales of Mystery by Edgar Allen Poe - diverse collection of some of Poe's best short stories

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.


Now I have to get started on my Cyber Monday shopping!

Our lovely backyard in the Keys last week (my son is reading n the hammock & his brother's girlfriend is reading in the chair):

Reading in the Keys - Vacation Bliss
 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fiction Review: Tales of Mystery


I’ve been trying to read more classics this year, though I got a very late start to my 2016 Classics Challenge. For October, I chose one to fit the season: Tales of Mystery by Edgar Allen Poe. This slim paperback (shown in the photo here) is so old and tattered that its cover price was originally 50 cents, and my husband bought it in a used bookstore in high school for just a dime! I thoroughly enjoyed this creepy and varied selection of short stories by the master of the macabre.

This particular collection includes eight of Poe’s better-known short stories:
·      The Tell-Tale Heart
·      The Cask of Amontillado
·      The Black Cat
·      The Masque of the Red Death
·      The Fall of the House of Usher
·      The Murders in the Rue Morgue
·      The Purloined Letter
·      The Pit and the Pendulum

I probably read all of these short stories many years ago, when I was a teenager, because I used to have a large compendium of Poe’s work. A few of the stories were vaguely familiar to me, but I didn’t remember details from any of them, so I experienced them anew with this reading. Almost all of them involve death and/or murder, and many of the stories feature supernatural phenomena, so these were perfect reading for the last week in October!

Of course, I remembered the basic storyline of The Tell-Tale Heart, but it still surprised me in its brevity (just 6 pages) – in my mind, I remembered the story carrying on for much longer (possibly through some re-tellings). Even knowing what is coming in that story, it was still suspenseful and compelling. The Black Cat didn’t sound familiar to me, but when I got to the end, I did recall its strange and spooky climax.

I think I was most intrigued by The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter, two stories in a series that feature an amateur detective and his friend assisting the police in solving crimes in Paris. I hadn’t remembered that Poe had written such classic mysteries that very much have an air of Sherlock Holmes about them (and their brilliant, keen observer protagonist). In fact, I found out that Poe is considered the inventor of detective stories, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective came along well after Poe’s death. The first of these stories is a classic closed-room mystery, with a twist I never expected. I was further surprised by the sense of humor these stories display and enjoyed them both very much.

Poe is an engaging writer, pulling the reader into the story, whether it is brief or longer, and not letting go until the usually surprising ending. Although written over 200 years ago, the language does not feel outdated or difficult. I was surprised that many of the stories were set in Europe, since I knew Poe was an American writer (I live near Baltimore, where he is a much-celebrated former resident). I enjoyed this chance to get reacquainted with the famed writer of mystery and suspense and found his eerie, unnerving stories perfect for this spooky season.

143 pages, Award Books, Inc.

(This particular book I read is long out of print, so I have included a similar collection of Poe's short stories in the Amazon link below)

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Memoir Review: When Breath Becomes Air


I rarely read a book the same year it is released (just too many waiting on my shelves already!), but when I saw the best-selling memoir When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi at our favorite bookstore, I impulsively picked up a copy. I’m so glad I did – I was deeply moved by this stirring memoir written by a young doctor dying of cancer.

No spoilers here: you know from the Foreword and the Prologue that the author was diagnosed with cancer at a young age and died before the book was published. In some ways, that makes his words even more poignant, because he knew he was dying and his remaining time was short when he was writing them. He used those last months of his life to write about life and death, topics that had interested him intensely long before he became ill. He starts from his childhood and the beginning of his college career.

Paul Kalanithi knew with certainty as he started college that he did not want to be a doctor. His father and his uncle were doctors, and Paul was more attracted to literature and writing. He went to Stanford to study English Literature, but while he was there, he became interested in the physical workings of the mind and added Human Biology as a double major. He explains this unusual pairing:
“I studied literature and philosophy to understand what makes life meaningful, studied neuroscience and worked in an fMRI lab to understand how the brain could give rise to an organism capable of finding meaning in the world, and enriched my relationships with a circle of dear friends through various escapades.”

A perennial student, Kalanithi earned an MA in English Literature and a BA in Human Biology from Stanford, then moved to Cambridge and earned an MPhil in History and the Philosophy of Medicine. He finally settled on becoming a doctor and got his medical degree from Yale, then returned back to Stanford to complete his residency. Along the way, he met his wife, Lucy, who is also a doctor, and they got married.

Kalanithi was only 36-years old, months away from becoming a neurosurgeon himself, when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Ironically, he had been on the other side of this for years, treating patients with serious cancers, talking to them, and supporting them. Although he’d suspected cancer for a while (and interestingly, as a doctor with plenty of experience, denied it for a while), in that moment, looking at his own scans with his wife and his doctor, his life changed instantly. Suddenly, instead of struggling through the grueling days of residency and making plans for the next decades of his career, he was unable to work at all and focusing in on the next days and months with his family.

The author’s early instincts to become a writer were right on. His love of literature comes through clearly, and he has a beautiful way of describing the world and his experiences with a sense of clarity. His early fascinations with death and the meaning of life are also put to good use here, as he considers these topics from his suddenly shortened life and impending death. Although I do not have a terminal illness, I found much here to relate to, from his thoughts on how illness changes your life (applicable to chronic illness as well as terminal illness) to his experiences with late-stage cancer, as I just lost my father to melanoma last year, to his reflections on life and death.

Kalanithi died before he finished the book, so his wife wrote the last chapter. Have a box of tissues nearby for that – it is a rough one! He left behind his wife and 9-month old daughter, as well as the rest of his family and friends. Before he left, though, he gave the world a gift – a thoughtful, moving memoir that tells the story of an interesting but too-short life, while musing on the meaning of life. This is a special book.

225 pages, Random House

Monday, November 14, 2016

Movie Monday: Thin Ice

My husband went to the library last week and came home with a DVD for us to watch: Thin Ice, a comedy/crime caper from 2011. It gave us a lot of surprises, suspense, and plenty of laughs.

Greg Kinnear stars as Micky, an insurance salesman in Wisconsin who pretty much lies about everything. As the movie opens, Mickey is at a regional sales conference in a low-budget hotel. He gives one of the presentations, bragging about his prowess as a salesman. Micky meets Bob, played by David Harbour, an eager guy just starting out in insurance sales. When Micky realizes his nemesis has offered Bob a job, Micky steals him away, promising him more money.

It turns out Micky works out of a tiny office with a single assistant and has no money. His ex-wife is furious at him for spending their son's college fund. He is broke and desperately needs some cash. Bob eagerly tells him he has a potential client, and Micky insists on coming along when Bob visits him. They go to the home of an elderly man out in the country named Gorvy, played wonderfully by Alan Arkin. He's a grumpy old man, but Bob and Micky convince him he needs an insurance policy. As is typical, Micky goes back by himself to close the deal without Bob and notices another way he can possibly scam more money from Gorvy, without him even realizing it.

From there, the plot gets twisty and complicated - a classic caper movie! Only this is the kind of caper where everything goes wrong and trouble waits around every corner, where the perpetrators are fumbling and inept. Micky finds himself inextricably linked with a real criminal, played by Billy Crudup. Chaos and hilarity ensue, from a priceless violin to an unintended murder and beyond. Kinnear plays the increasingly desperate Micky with his usual skill. There is plenty of suspense here and lots of laughs. It's a fun, escapist movie that we enjoyed.

Thin Ice was released in 2011 and is available on DVD: used ones are available on Amazon for as little as a penny, via Netflix DVD, or at the library where we found it!




It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday morning - new week, fresh start. I am ready! Last week was very difficult for me. I added yet another medical diagnosis to my laundry list of chronic illnesses, and this one has been very painful lately. Bottom line is that my feet hurt so much I haven't been able to wear shoes or socks in almost two weeks, which has left me more housebound than usual and occasionally venturing out in 40-degree weather in flip-flops! I am feeling better emotionally this morning, but last week really did me in. I am ready for a fresh start...and our upcoming trip to Florida, when I am hoping that the warm weather will put this condition back into remission again!

As always, books are comforting when life gets rough. Here's what we've all been reading this past week:
  • I finished When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, the best-selling memoir that everyone's been raving about. I rarely read a book the same year it's released, but I treated myself to this one when we were in our favorite little bookstore at the beach last month. It's a memoir written by a young doctor who knows he is dying of cancer, and it was incredibly moving and completely engrossing. I sobbed through the last chapter.
  • Now, I am reading a new review book, The News from the End of the World by Emily Jeanne Miller (due for release in February 2017) a family drama set on Cape Cod. This one is full of secrets and lies and is quite compelling so far. 
  • On audio, I am listening to a teen/YA novel called Vivian Apple At the End of the World by Katie Coyle. It's about a teen girl whose parents disappear in a supposed "Rapture" event and the panic that ensues in the world, as Vivian searches for answers. It was one of my free downloads from SYNC - if you didn't participate in the program last year, sign up now for reminders for next summer - dozens of free audio books! I am a little freaked out that I am currently reading TWO books with "the end of the world" in their titles!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Subject 375 by Nikki Owen, a thriller that I gave him for his birthday last month. It's narrated by a woman with Asperger's who has been accused of murder - sounds like an intriguing story! He said it was confusing at times due to the unique perspective of the narrator, but all the loose ends came together in the end.
  • Now, Ken is starting my recent review book, The River of Kings by Taylor Brown (due out in March), because I enjoyed it very much. It's a novel that uniquely combines adventure (a kayaking trip), modern family drama, suspense, and historical fiction. I hope he likes it as much as I did!
  • Jamie, 22, is reading The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. This is Book 1 in the renowned Wheel of Time sci fi series. He and I have both heard great things about this series, so he is thrilled to finally read it!
 Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Eye in the Sky, an emotionally powerful story about the consequences of modern warfare

Nonfiction Review: Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton - a fascinating but sometimes dry history of the spice trade

Snapshot Saturday: Fall Colors

Summary of Books Read in October

Weekend Cooking: 3 Butternut Squash Recipes

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Weekend Cooking: 3 Butternut Squash Recipes

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

Although our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) ended at the end of October for the year, we still had a LOT of winter squashes left to use, including 6 butternut squashes! Thankfully, my sons are away at college because they don't like winter squash at all. My husband will eat it, but it's not his favorite, either, and he was already getting sick of eating it roasted, the way I normally prepare it. For the record, I love winter squashes, especially butternut!

So, I went on a search for some new recipes that used butternut squash in different ways. We have prepared and eaten these three recipes over the past couple of weeks and thoroughly enjoyed them all!

I started with my favorite source for recipes, Cooking Light. The first recipe, Golden Winter Soup, I had made once before - for friends for lunch - but my husband hadn't tasted it yet. It is one of my all-time favorite soups  - creamy and so full of flavor! I can't eat dairy, so I substituted coconut milk for the half-and-half (which turned out wonderful) and had to skip the cheese toast on the side. I also used an immersion blender to make both preparation and cleanup easier. Without the dairy, that leaves the soup with very little protein, so we just added some grilled some chicken sausage on the side. This soup is delicious and perfect for a cold day, for lunch or for dinner. Super easy, too.

The second butternut squash recipe I tried was also from Cooking Light: Squash-Apple Turnovers. Another winner! These were delicious. The only change I made was that I couldn't find refrigerated dinner roll dough, so I used premade pie crust dough. We served the turnovers as a side dish with roasted cauliflower and the leftover Green Curry Fritters I wrote about last week. My husband said that even though he was sick of squash, these yummy turnovers fooled him into thinking he was eating pie! They were wonderful, both at dinner and leftover for lunch the next day.

Finally, I turned to my favorite cookbook, Curtis Stone: What's For Dinner? (review at link). Curtis had a very simple recipe for Thai Red Curry with Butternut Squash and Chickpeas. I never would have thought of using squash in a curry, but my husband and I love Thai curries of all kinds, so I gave it a try. We ran into a slight problem: the can of chickpeas I pulled out of the pantry had expired over 9 years ago! My husband was appalled and threw them out. I had already decided to add chicken to the curry anyway, so the absence of the chickpeas didn't affect the dish much. As with all of Stone's recipes, this one was bursting with flavor and delicious. We thoroughly enjoyed it for dinner, and I practically licked my bowl clean after eating the leftovers for lunch the next day.

So, three winning recipes for butternut squash - and all a bit different from the usual preparations!

Now, I still have 2 butternut squashes left, 1 acorn squash, and a kabocha squash. Any ideas??

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Books Read in October

October was an interesting reading month for me. I had one book started (an audio with my husband) that we haven't finished yet, one book I set aside and decided not to finish (a rarity for me), and the rest spooky, creepy stuff to round out my RIP XI Challenge and the Halloween season!

So, it looks like I didn't read much, but it's a little misleading:

  • The River of Kings by Taylor Brown (GA), adult fiction (reviewed for another pub) 
  • Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton (East Indies) - nonfiction - Did Not Finish
  • The Drowning by Rachel Ward (UK) - teen/YA fiction
 
So, officially, I read just 5 1/2 books in October (I did review the unfinished one but won't count it in my total at the end of the year) and almost all of it was dark and creepy. I read one nonfiction and the rest fiction, with a mix of adult and teen/YA and two audiobooks. I think my favorite was The River of Kings (due for release in March), a unique novel that combined adventure, a modern-day family drama, suspense, and historical fiction.

Progress on 2016 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I read 2 more TBR books in October for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge - that's a total of 19 so far this year (and many more to go). For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, October was (of course) Things That Go Bump in the Night month - most of my books last month fit, but I chose The Drowning since it involves a ghost. I added 1 new nonfiction book to my 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge, but no  classics for the 2016 Classics Challenge (I did start an Edgar Allen Poe book but didn't finish it until November). For my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, I added a book set in the East Indies. I am also tracking the states my books are set in, even though there is no Where Are You Reading challenge this year, and I added Wisconsin and Georgia last month. And I added 4 more books to my RIP XI Challenge, to finish it off with 8 total.

Finally, I filled 16 spaces on my monthly Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not my best month but not bad (you can join the fun any month without officially joining a challenge). Here's my Bingo card for October:


 
My books filled these spaces:

A Reliable Wife - Shelf-love book
The Hunt - Sci fi, diversity, new job
Girls on Fire - Monsters (I took that one figuratively), troubled teen, character who reads, sarcasm, cop/fireman
The River of Kings - free book
Nathaniel's Nutmeg - Diary/journal, library book, illness
The Drowning - Ghost, nurse/doctor
Free space

What was your favorite book read in October? Did you read dark & creepy stuff, too?

Saturday Snapshot: Fall Colors


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Some brilliant fall colors from my neighborhood & beyond for your enjoyment!


My neighborhood colors

Sunlight on a brilliant red tree

My favorite pairing in the neighborhood

Sunlight filtering through maple leaves

The crocuses at this park are confused!!

A sunny morning at our local nature center

Our local covered bridge, reflected in the stream, at the nature center

Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Nathaniel’s Nutmeg

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My book group recently read and discussed a nonfiction book, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History by Giles Milton. I read about half of the book before our meeting and did not finish it. We all agreed that the information presented was interesting and made for some good discussion, but the writing was somewhat textbook-like and not always compelling.

As the sub-title explains, this is a book about the history of the spice trade. The quest for spices from a small group of islands in the East Indies began in about 1550 and was mainly a race between the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British to lay claim to those islands, though this book is mainly from the British perspective. In case you aren’t sure (I wasn’t!), the so-called Spice Islands are a group of mostly tiny islands in the East Indies, from Borneo to New Guinea, south of the South China Sea, between what is now Vietnam and Australia.

Of course, we’d all heard of the Spice Islands and the spice trade before, but we were astonished to read about the value of these spices that are now found in every home and can be purchased cheaply in any grocery store. The price of spices like nutmeg, mace, and cloves skyrocketed in part due to pronouncements from doctors that they had miraculous curative properties, at a time when the plague and other fatal illnesses were sweeping the world.

These miracle cures were ridiculously hard to procure. Ships had to sail from the northern Atlantic in Europe south to the equator, west almost to South America (making use of the trade winds), south to the southern tip of Africa, up the eastern coast of Africa, past India, and finally down to the islands…which, after that long journey, were hard to access due to reefs and sometimes hostile natives. It was common for two-thirds of a crew or more to die en route. Those that survived, however, hoped for riches beyond their imagination when the merchants at home got access to their cargo.

Of course, those islands were already occupied by native residents, who had their own governments and societies. As in the rest of history, though, the white Europeans completely disregarded the natives and treated the islands as up for grabs. Whichever country controlled the islands – and hence, the spice trade – would be the biggest economic power in the world. So, obviously, there was a lot at stake and plenty of financial motivation to make the harrowing journey.

The book tells this story chronologically, from the first European voyagers to the Spice Islands. Unfortunately, most of us found the litany of names, dates, places, and journeys a bit repetitive and dull. It reminded me of why I disliked history when I was in school! The story itself is fascinating and we had a lively discussion about the value of the spices, the extreme challenges endured, the European’s disregard for natives, and more. My book group members agreed, however, that the book’s subtitle was a bit puzzling and over-stated; I read more than half of the book, and Nathaniel was barely mentioned!
Drawing from Nathaniel's Nutmeg

A couple of people in our book group did enjoy the book and gave it a 7 or 8 rating, but most of us rated it lower and quite a few – like me – did not finish it. Still, I’m glad I read the half that I did because it was a part of history I knew nothing about and some of it was interesting; I particularly liked the chapters about searching for a northern route through the polar ice. The book also includes illustrations and maps that were drawn during the time period that the book covers, like the one I;ve included here. I just wish the book had been written in more of an engaging narrative style, like my favorite kinds of nonfiction books. This book, filled with little-known facts, is best suited for those with a keen interest in history.

373 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Monday, November 07, 2016

Movie Monday: Eye in the Sky

Last week, my husband and I got another movie at Redbox (we've had lots of coupon codes lately!), a 2015 military thriller called Eye in the Sky that is all about the challenges of modern warfare.

Wow. Just wow. This is an emotionally powerful movie with far-reaching, complicated moral implications that you won't soon forget. This is about war in its new, futuristic form, with armed drones, where the people controlling them are often many thousands of miles away. The military personnel are nowhere near the site they are targeting nor near each other. In this case, the target is the top leaders of a major terrorist group, whom intelligence has revealed are meeting in a home in Kenya today.

Helen Mirren stars as a military commander in the British armed services, Colonel Katherine Powell. The late Alan Rickman, in his last role, is Powell's superior, Lieutenant General Frank Benson, who is sitting in a conference room in London, along with other high-level government officials, watching the operation unfold on video. Across the ocean, in Las Vegas, American drone pilot Steve Watts, played by Aaron Paul, and his partner are awaiting instructions. Another local Kenyan military team is near the site where the terrorists are, hiding undercover in a beat-up old van and handling close-up surveillance.

The operation begins as a capture mission but changes to a kill mission when certain facts are uncovered by surveillance about the terrorists in the house. The military personnel - on three different continents - confer with each other through audio and video feeds, and, as this is a British-led mission, every change to the operation must go up the chain of command in the UK before it is approved. It's a fascinating process to watch.

Unfortunately, there is the potential for civilian casualties. That seems like such a euphemistic way to put it after watching the movie! There is a happy Kenyan family, the Mo'Alim family, who lives around the corner from the house where the terrorists are meeting. They are poor but making ends meet: Mom and Ed work hard and love their beautiful little daughter, Fatima. Fatima is an ebullient child who loves to dance and play with the hula hoop her father made her. Every day, she puts on a head scarf and takes a basket filled with loaves of bread that her mother baked and sets them on a table near the street to sell them. You guessed it - her table of bread is right in front of the terrorists' house.

We watch as the group of military and government officials tries to decide what to do. It might seem obvious to wait until the little girl has left the scene, but it's not that simple. Many more hundreds of people will die - today - if these terrorists are allowed to leave the house. It is an impossible decision that requires a fast resolution.

Eye in the Sky is a suspenseful movie that illuminates this new world of remote warfare. You would think that unmanned drones that can kill terrorists from the sky would make things simple and clean, but this film shows that it is anything but. It brings these impossible moral and ethical questions to the forefront and educates viewers about the real-life tolls of such remote actions, where those carrying out the action are in no danger themselves. In fact, the movie opens with each of the main characters waking up in their comfortable homes to a perfectly normal day. It's a twisty, tense story that had me yelling at the TV, though not sure what the right decision was. This is one of the most powerful movies I've seen in a long time...and one of the most important, too. Everyone living in our modern world should watch this. It will stick with you for a long time.

Eye in the Sky is currently available on DVD, at Redbox, and free for streaming on Amazon Prime (link below).




It's Monday 11/7! What Are You Reading?

Monday morning! I was wide awake at 6:30 am this morning, thanks to the time change. I actually like the shift in the fall because it gets me up earlier, so I can get more done before I run out of energy in the afternoon...though I know I will hate it this afternoon when the sun is going down at 4 pm! But for now, I am enjoying my productive morning!

Nice, quiet week here, with no major emergencies (though one son had an MRI and the other got bronchitis again) and a quiet weekend at home, catching up. We even got some yard work done!

And, of course, we all enjoyed our books:
  • I finished a slim paperback of Edgar Allen Poe short stories, Tales of Mystery. To give you an idea of how old this falling-apart paperback is, my husband bought it for 10 cents in a used bookstore in his hometown...and it's original price, new, was 50 cents! I had forgotten the details of most of Poe's stories, so I enjoyed it and was surprised by his breadth.
  • Before I chose my next book, I remembered to check my 2016 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge to see what November's theme was (lately, I've been forgetting to check until the month is over!). The theme for this month is nonfiction, so I started reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, the best-selling memoir that everyone's been raving about. I rarely read a book the same year it's released, but I treated myself to this one when we were in our favorite little bookstore at the beach last month. It is already moving and completely engrossing.
  • I finished listening to an audiobook, Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman, an adult novel about teen good girl, Hannah, who becomes friends with the wild and dangerous Lacey, and the havoc they wreak in their town together. It was chilling and suspenseful, a perfect end to my October reading.
  • Today, I plan to start a new audiobook, a teen/YA novel called Vivian Apple At the End of the World by Katie Coyle. It's about a teen girl whose parents disappear in a supposed "Rapture" event and the panic that ensues in the world, as Vivian searches for answers. It was one of my free downloads from SYNC - if you didn't participate in the program last year, sign up now for reminders for next summer - dozens of free audio books!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. Last year, we inherited my dad's collection of Stephen King and Dean Koontz books, but the first book in this series was missing. So, Ken bought a copy on our vacation last month and enjoyed reading this novel that my dad liked so much. We both miss him a lot, and reading his favorite books helps us feel close to him.
  • Now, Ken is reading Subject 375 by Nikki Owen, a thriller that I gave him for his birthday last month. It's narrated by a woman with Asperger's who has been accused of murder - sounds like an intriguing story!
  • With bronchitis knocking him down last week, Jamie, 22, had more reading time and finished book 3 in the Scott Lynch series Gentleman Bastards, The Republic of Thieves, which he bought this summer. He loves this series (so does my husband) and says it is about con men in Medieval times. 
  • Now, he is reading another book he bought this summer, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. This is Book 1 in the renowned Wheel of Time sci fi series. He and I have both heard great things about this series, so he is thrilled to finally start it!
Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Bridge of Spies - Tim Hanks stars in a real-life spy exchange story

TV Tuesday: Designated Survivor - we are loving this new series starring Kiefer Sutherland

Teen/YA Review: The Drowning by Rachel Ward - a tense ghost story by a favorite author

Fiction Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman - a dark & chilling story of teen girls gone bad

Saturday Snapshot: Halloween 2016

Weekend Cooking - 3 Tasty, Easy, Healthy Fall Dishes

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Weekend Cooking: 3 Tasty, Easy, Healthy Fall Dishes

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

Despite my love of cooking and food, sometimes I go through phases where I just stick with old favorites, easy stand-bys I don't have to think about. But that gets boring! The past few weeks, with a fridge full of veggies from the last of our CSA season, I got a bit more creative and tried some new recipes. Here are some of the delicious, simple, healthy recipes we made and loved the past couple of weeks:

Last night, I tried another recipe from my favorite cookbook, Curtis Stone What's For Dinner (my review at the link), Succulent Pork and Greens (sorry it's not available online). As I mentioned in my review of the cookbook, we have found that all of Curtis' recipes are simple, made with fresh ingredients, and filled with flavor. This one was no exception - we gobbled it up last night! I made a few minor adjustments (as always!). I used collard greens in place of kale because we had some from our farm CSA, and (more importantly) we really love cooked collards and aren't all that fond of kale. I wasn't able to find a ham hock, so I added a couple of strips of chopped bacon instead for that smoky, salty flavor. I'd never made collard greens with meat in them before, and this dish was absolutely delicious! I wish my sons had been home for it - they would have loved it. We served it with black-eyed peas on the side (simply heated with sauteed onions) for a complete Southern meal. Yum!

Last week, I tried a Cooking Light recipe (my other favorite recipe source) that sounded tasty: Green Curry Fritters. These are made with ground chicken and full of flavor! The only change I made was to reduce the amount of panko by half (I eat Paleo and normally don't eat any grains). Green Chicken Curry is our favorite Thai dish, so we loved these! They were super-easy, too. We served them with two veggies from our CSA: roasted cauliflower and spaghetti squash. It was a delicious meal, and I froze the left-over patties so that we could enjoy the rest this week!

Finally, I wanted to use some bok choy from our CSA last week. This wasn't a totally new recipe, since we made it once before, but still mostly new to us: Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Lettuce and Mushrooms. I made it with fresh shiitakes instead of dried but otherwise followed the recipe (using chicken stock for the mushroom water). It's full of flavor and very different for us - I'd never thought of cooking lettuce before! We ate it with sauteed salmon filets and roast cauliflower.

All in all, some delicious meals recently, utilizing the fresh veggies from our CSA, and adding some variety to our meals!

Hope you are enjoying your food this week!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Saturday Snapshot: Halloween 2016


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Our "kids" are grown, but here are some fun Halloween photos from the past two weeks - they still like to carve pumpkins with us & came home for a trip to the pumpkin farm and for carving!


Halloween decorations with fall leaves in the background

More Halloween decorations - lots of mini spiders!

Great selection of pumpkins (I like the warty ones on top)

My family - husband, sons, and father-in-law

Our finished jack-o-lanterns

Our front door, ready for trick-or-treaters!

Hope you had a spooky fun Halloween!

Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend!