Monday, January 28, 2013

It's Monday 1/28! What Are You Reading?

We had a very busy week here! We took our sons and two friends up to the Poconos to my mom's house for a weekend of snowboarding, to celebrate my son's 15th birthday. The boys all had a blast, and I finally got some reading time, in front of the fire in the condo!

Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver and loved it even more than the first novel, The Bean Trees. I never wanted it to end, and days later, I am still thinking about Taylor and Turtle. Two of the best books I have ever read!
  • I am now reading I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg, this month's selection for one of my book groups. It's well-written and I am enjoying it, but Pigs in Heaven kind of ruined me for any other novel right now! I did get a lot of reading time in this weekend while the kids were snowboarding, though.
  • I also slipped in a quick little book, Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. I don't quite know how to describe it because it is so unique and quirky. I see that it is officially categorized as a children's/teen book (one review says grade 4 and up; another says grades 7-12), but some of the wit and irony is clearly aimed at adults. I will try to review it this week, so I can describe it more fully. Anyway, I liked it!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Likeness by Tana French. He still thinks the plot of this one is a bit far-fetched, but he's enjoying the excellent writing and sometimes even laughs out loud!
  • Jamie, 18, had a busy week with school and snowboarding, but he continued to read Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of the Soldier's Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. He says it's OK, but the fantasy world in this novel has guns and he prefers fantasy worlds that are pre-gun.
  • Craig, 15, is still reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros for his freshman lit class.
We were so busy last week that I didn't have time to write any reviews, but I did FINALLY sign up for some 2013 reading challenges - check out my choices and let me know what you have signed up for.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Craig and his two friends enjoying the slopes!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Saturday Snapshot 1/26

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

Well, Delaware finally got some snow this week. Just a light dusting Monday night (and some more last night), but it left the world looking like a winter wonderland. I grew up in Rochester, NY, so I like snow in the winter. If it's going to be really cold out, I'd rather have snow on the ground, too.

One of my closest friends grew up in southern California and hates the cold weather, so she called me and another friend to go for a short hike Tuesday morning, with the temperature in the teens. She figures if she can enjoy one of the coldest days of the year outdoors, then she can manage the rest of winter :)

Here's a view of the snowy nature center where we took our walk:

Ashland Nature Center in the Snow
Hope you are enjoying this beautiful (cold) weekend!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2013 Reading Challenges

Well, here it is, January 23, and I still have not signed up for any 2013 Reading Challenges. I only began doing reading challenges a couple of years ago, and I like to stick to those that will help me read the things I want to read, without adding any pressure or extra obligations. It's about time I made some decisions and got off my butt. huh?  So, OK, here we go...(drum roll)...

My Reading Challenges for 2013:

2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge, hosted by Sheila at Book Journey -
This was my very first challenge (in 2011), though I took the no-stress approach and just tracked the locations where my books took place, rather than making any attempt to hit a certain target.  My final tally for 2011 included 20 different states and 11 different countries, and in 2012, I visited 27 states and 6 countries through my books.  We'll see if I can beat that in 2013!

2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, hosted by Evie at Bookish -
Like I said, I like to take on challenges that help me meet my goals, and one of my biggest on-going goals is to whittle down the ever-growing TBR pile! Last year, for another challenge, I had a goal of reading 12 books from my TBR shelf, and I managed to read (almost) 11 (that last one was finished in early 2013). Pretty pathetic to have only read 11 books off my own shelves last year, right? So, I am signing up at the A Friendly Hug level, to read 11-20 books from my TBR piles. I have already read two, so I am off to a good start.

2013 Audio Book Challenge, hosted by Theresa's Reading Corner -
I always have an audio book going on and enjoy them very much, though I am pretty slow with them. My old '92 VW doesn't have a CD player or iPod dock, so since I can't listen in the car, it takes me a while to get through an audio book!  Last year I listened to 10 audio books, so I guess I will shoot for....oh, what the heck, I will go for Going Steady, 12 audio books. I better get listening!

Those Books I Should Have Read 2013 Reading Challenge, hosted by Reading with Martinis -
For years, I have been wanting to read some of the classics my kids are reading for school. At the same time, there are a few really major authors I have never read but really want to (and never seem to get to). So, I went in search of challenges that might help in these goals, and found this one that brings both together! It's perfect for what I want - to read some of those books I have always been meaning to read but never get to, both classics and more modern books. I think I will just start at Level 1 - 6 books.

Some of the books I hope to finally read as a part of this challenge:
  • A Margaret Atwood novel
  • A Jane Austen novel
  • An Ian McEwan novel
  • The House on Mango Street (my son is reading it for freshman lit now)

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's Monday 1/21! What Are You Reading?

It doesn't feel like a Monday with my sons home from school - I'm getting a late start here!

We had a really great reading week last week - lots of outstanding books and we continued our sequel mania:
  • I finished The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman for my neighborhood book group and absolutely loved it, as did most of the others in the group. It was my first-ever e-book, and I enjoyed the experience - especially being able to highlight quotes and look up words in the dictionary with just a touch of a finger. Read my review here.
  • As soon as I finished that book, I went back to Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede, but I had been squeezing in a page or two here and there, so I was almost done by then and finished quickly! It was just as good as the first book in the series, The Thirteenth Child, and now I am ready to read book #3!
  • I am now reading Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver, another highly anticipated book. I read the first book, The Bean Trees, over New Year's and couldn't wait to get into the sequel. It is excellent so far - a compelling story but it almost doesn't matter because Kingsolver's writing is so vibrant, clever, and witty and her characters so real and likable.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Meg Gardiner's Ransom River and enjoyed it very much. He said he would definitely read more of her novels.
  • Then, Ken returned to Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy and quickly read book #3, Monsters of Men. He loved the entire trilogy, as did our son - now I need to read it!
  • Ken is now reading Tana French's The Likeness - he very much enjoyed In the Woods a few months ago. He says the premise of this one seems a little unbelievable to him so far, but she's a good writer.
  • Jamie, 18, has been reading like crazy this week, enjoying the extra free time during Winter Session (he's just taking one class and living at home). He blew through re-reading the entire Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, finishing book 2, The Exiled Queen, re-reading book 3, The Gray Wolf Throne, and reading the latest #4, The Crimson Crown. Jamie says this is one of his favorite series, and he just got a friend at college into it, too!
  • Now, Jamie is reading a new book he bought with a Christmas gift card, Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of The Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb. This is one is grown-up fantasy rather than YA - he's at that age where he still enjoys teen and YA books but is starting to cross over into adult fiction. We started him a few years ago on authors like King, Crichton, Ludlum, and Heinlein. He is also having fun with his new Kindle Fire - he "bought" 11 new e-books yesterday, 10 of which were free! He does love a bargain.
  • It was mid-term week for Craig, 15, so he did no reading other than studying for exams.
I wrote one review last week, of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. I also wrote my weekly Weekend Cooking post. I am determined to finally commit to some 2013 reading challenges this coming week!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.) 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weekend Cooking 1/20

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!

I got back into the cooking routine this week with less take-out and lots of simple meals - better for our bank account and our waistlines!  I'll just list links here to some of the recipes I made that I haven't mentioned previously. Pork was on sale last week at our local grocery store, so it featured prominently in this week's meals!

I tried a new recipe - from the 12 years of Cooking Light magazines lined up on my shelves - for Spicy Pork and Vegetable Stir-Fry. This is an older recipe from Cooking Light (I was surprised to find it online). I made a few changes: my husband and older son hate ginger, so I left it out; my younger son doesn't like rice and loves pasta, so I served it over noodles (high fiber thin spaghetti). It was very good, but next time I would sub OJ for the apple juice.

Another night we had a delicious Cooking Light recipe we've had once before, Cider-Glazed Chicken with Browned Butter Pecan Rice, with cauliflower on the side. Everyone liked it. The chicken is tender and tasty (and the kids love the cider flavor), and the Browned Butter Pecan Rice is delicious! I actually like it better than most of the rice mixes we use, and it is very easy.

We also had fish this week: Crispy Fish with Lemon-Dill Sauce and Sauteed Zucchini. We've had this recipe many times before, but last time I made it, the cod came out very tough, so I decided to try pan-frying it rather than using the broiler. Then, I realized I was out of panko, so I used a mixture of white whole wheat flour and cornmeal instead.  So....yeah, it was a bit different, more of a traditional catfish-type preparation. But it turned out well, and everyone enjoyed it. Sometimes you have to wing it!

Friday night, we had Pork Tenderloin with Maple Pan Juices. This one doesn't seem to be online which is too bad because it was wonderful! A real hit - my sons loved it and so did their friend who was here for dinner.  We had a simple rice mix and sauteed sugar snap peas with it.

We went to a potluck dinner with good friends last night, and I brought one of our favorites - both at home and to share with friends - Tuscan White Beans. This dish is super easy and absolutely delicious!  I also made Sugary Spice Pecans to share as a snack. These were sooo good - absolutely addictive! I could have polished them all off myself before we left the house.

So, all in all, a good week of cooking and some yummy meals. Pork roast with potato pancakes and homemade applesauce is on the menu for tonight (with leftovers for tomorrow).

I hope you have enjoyed some good food this week, too!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fiction Review: The Light Between Oceans

After hearing so many rave reviews of The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman, I was thrilled when my neighborhood book group chose it for our January book. It lived up to my high expectations – I really loved this in-depth character study centered on a moral dilemma and set in a unique place.

The Light Between the Oceans takes place mostly at a lighthouse on an isolated square mile of land, 100 miles off the coast of southwestern Australia. Tom, a kind man who has been permanently emotionally scarred by his experiences in World War I, is the lighthouse keeper here, healing his wounds in the isolation and quiet of the tiny island. His isolation doesn’t last too long, though, because on shore leave and through letters, he becomes close to Isabel, a young woman who is full of life but who also suffered loss during the war when her two brothers were killed. The two eventually fall in love and marry, and Isabel comes to live with Tom on Janus Rock.

The moral dilemma (well, there are several, but the main one) comes when a grieving Isabel and Tom, who have lost 3 babies to miscarriage and stillbirth, find a baby who has drifted to their shores in a dinghy. The baby is alive, though the man with her – presumably her father – is dead when the boat arrives. Isabel sees the baby as a miracle, a gift from God, but Tom’s sense of duty tells him they must report the baby and the dead man to the authorities. Against his better judgment, he agrees to keep the child as their own when he sees how quickly his brokenhearted and beloved wife has bonded with her. But, of course, their actions have consequences.

All of us in my book group agreed that this novel is beautifully written, with descriptive prose that makes you feel the wind on your face:
From this side of the island, there was only vastness, all the way to Africa. Here, the Indian Ocean washed into the Great Southern Ocean and together they stretched like an endless carpet below the cliffs. On days like this it seemed so solid she had the impression she could walk to Madagascar in a journey of blue upon blue. The other side of the island looked back, fretful, toward the Australian mainland nearly a hundred miles away, not quite belonging to the land, yet not quite free of it, the highest of a string of undersea mountains that rose along the ocean floor like teeth along a jagged jaw bone, waiting to devour any innocent ships in their final dash for harbor.
I also loved this story’s real and likable characters and its thought-provoking nature – we had plenty to talk about in book group! Even though you know that what Isabel and Tom are doing is wrong, a part of you is happy for them and wants things to work out for them. I love that kind of moral ambiguity in a novel because it is real. As one character says, “Sometimes life turns out hard, Isabel. Sometimes it just bites right through you. And sometimes, just when you think it’s done its worst, it comes back and takes another chunk.” In fact, that was the only complaint among our group – two people felt the book was too melodramatic and that too many bad things happened. The other twelve of us, though, got swept up in the flow of the story and went along for the ride…and a wild, exciting ride it was.

352 pages, Scribner


Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Monday 1/14! What Are You Reading?

Another busy week...when are they not busy?  I devoted much of my writing time to a project I am working on but did fit in some blog posts here and there.

And we all enjoyed our reading time - it was Sequel Week at our house!
  • I continued reading Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede, sequel to The Thirteenth Child, and was totally engrossed in it but had to set it aside mid-week to start a book for this week's neighborhood book group. I never read two books at once (especially two novels), but I admit I have been squeezing in a few pages here and there!
  • I am now reading The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman in preparation for my Wednesday book group discussion. I waited for the library as long as I could, but I was #150 on the waiting list when I signed up weeks ago! I finally gave up waiting. To save money (and time), I bought the e-book on my husband's Kindle and have been reading it that way - this is my first ever e-book! I prefer the feel of a real book, but I really love being able to look up words in the dictionary without setting my book aside, especially with all the unfamiliar Australian words in this book. The novel itself is excellent so far.
  • I also read a short story, "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu. It was the January selection for Books on the Nightstand's new Project Short Story. I haven't read short stories since high school and really enjoyed this first one. Check it out and join in the discussion!
  • My husband, Ken, quickly finished The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go, and is now eager to read the last book of the trilogy!
  • He decided to take a break from that story, though, just to keep things interesting, and is now reading Ransom River by Meg Gardiner, one of my Christmas gifts to him. I chose this novel because it was recommended by Stephen King who says Gardiner is one of his favorite authors! On the very first page, Ken read me a passage, saying Gardiner definitely has a way with words.
  • Jamie, 18, read Ruins by Orson Scott Card, sequel to Pathfinder which he and I both loved. He was completely deaf to anything we said while he read the last chapters of the book and said it was amazing!  I'm next in line for this one.
  • Now, Jamie is re-reading a favorite series, Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima. He lent the first book to a friend at college last week, who read it in a single night and begged for more! He inspired Jamie to re-read the series and then read the newest book. So far, Jamie has read book 1, The Demon King, and has started on book 2, The Exiled Queen. He bought #3 and 4 on his new Kindle last week and shared them with his friend, so he is all set to read the entire series (so far). Jamie says this is one of the best series he's ever read (and that is saying something!)
  • Craig, 15 (as of yesterday!), is still reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros for his freshman lit class. He says it's OK, but he doesn't like the way the chapters are on random subjects, rather than following a chronological order. I want to read this one when he is finished.
I wrote one review last week, of The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. I (finally) posted my 2012 Year-End Summary, including Best of 2012 List. I posted a similar summary and Best of 2012 List for kids/teen/YA books. And, I wrote a Weekend Cooking post yesterday, with a few recipe links from this past week.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.) 

Happy 15th Birthday to my son yesterday!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Weekend Cooking 1/13

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!

I actually did embarrassingly little cooking this week! Despite my resolve to cook after eating so much take-out at my father-in-law's over New Year's, we ended up getting take-out twice this week! First, we discovered our oven was broken, then we started the week with a couple of days of left-overs, and then my chronic illness flared up, so on a busy day, I gave in and we got 5 Guys for dinner. Oh, I know how unhealthy it is, but IT. IS. SO. GOOD! Especially those fries. Then my son had several friends sleep over Friday night, so we ordered pizza.

I finally got cooking this weekend (a bit). We had one of our favorite dinners last night, Cajun Salmon Cakes - so yummy! We had roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus on the side.

Today is my youngest son's 15th birthday (15? how is that possible?), so I will be making him a cake. Both of my boys ask for the same cake for their birthdays every year - Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. I use the linked recipe but leave out the coconut and pecans (which they don't like) and instead decorate it with sliced bananas and strawberries, like my mom did when I was a kid (photo is from my older son's birthday this summer).

And that's it for this week! We are going out to dinner for my son's birthday, but I plan to do more cooking this week. Hope you are enjoying your food and cooking this week!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Snapshot 1/12

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

I didn't have time to take many photos this week, but I did grab my camera on Wednesday when I was lying out on my deck (wrapped in a big blanket!) and noticed how cool the clouds looked:

Hope you are having a great weekend! It's supposed to be 60 degrees here today!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Best of 2012 & Year-End Summary

I finally sat down and took a look back at all the books I read in 2012. It was definitely a good reading year!

I read a total of 64 books in 2012, plus 2 that I did not finish (one of which I spent a week on!). The type breakdown is:
  • Adult Fiction = 26 books
  • Memoir =3
  • Nonfiction (not memoir) = 1
  • Middle-Grade Fiction = 15
  • Teen/YA Fiction = 18
  • Picture Books = 1
Of those 64 books, 10 of them were audio books.

That's a few less books overall than last year, but 3 of the 64 were more than 800 pages and each of those took me more than 3 weeks to read!

Now comes the tough part - choosing my favorites! I enjoyed everything I read this year (except for one of the books that I did not finish). You might conclude that means I like everything, but really, that's just because I tend to choose what I read carefully, based on what I like and reviews from people whose tastes are similar to mine. My book groups make sure I don't get stuck in any ruts!

So, my Top Ten Grown-up Books Read in 2012 are (not in order):
With Honorable Mentions for (no it's not cheating!):
 (you can check out my top ten list of kids/teen/YA books read in 2012 at Great Books for Kids and Teens).

And, for a little extra fun, here are a few superlatives (thanks for the idea, Tanya!):

Best Book of the Year and Best Book by a New-to-Me Author:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline 

Best Book from an Old Favorite Author:

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Best Audio Book of the Year: 

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, an award-winning middle-grade audio book.

Best Memoir of the Year:

Best (and Only!) Nonfiction Book of the Year:

The Big Burn  by Timothy Egan

You can also check out how I did on my 2012 Reading Challenges.

What were YOUR favorite books read in 2012?

Monday, January 07, 2013

It's Monday 1/7! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh....Monday morning - a new week in a new year, and I am (almost) alone in the quiet house (college son is still asleep) and ready for a fun and productive week!

Lots of great reading lately - it was a week of sequels for our whole family!
  • I finished The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, an inventive middle-grade/teen novel that offers an alternate history of pioneer times in the U.S. in a world where magic and magical creatures exist. It's like a cross between Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter!
  • I was enjoying the story so much that I am now reading book #2 in the series, Across the Great Barrier, which follows the adventures of young Eff as she graduates from school and goes along on an expedition to catalog the wildlife in the Far West, past the Great Barrier Spell (which keeps wildlife, both natural and magical, away from the established towns and cities east of the Mammoth River). It's fun to just jump right into a sequel when you've enjoyed a book, instead of having to wait for it to be released.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (a dystopian YA novel recommended by our son) and loved it so much that he is now reading book 2, The Ask and the Answer. Now both of them are telling me I have to read this series!
  • In between, while traveling home from Oklahoma, my husband read West of Sheridan by Dean Ross, a post-apocalyptic novel, on his Kindle.
  • Jamie, 18, finished City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare, after first re-reading the first 4 books of the Mortal Instruments series! This is one of his favorite series.
  • Now he is reading a sequel that he and I have been eagerly awaiting for over a year: Ruins by Orson Scott Card, the sequel to Pathfinder which he and I both loved.
With some time off, I was able to post quite a bit on my book blogs last week. I wrote two reviews, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I LOVED both of these books, so check them out.

I also posted my December Reading Summary and my 2012 Reading Challenge Wrap-Up. Finally, I wrote a Weekend Cooking post about the quick and easy comfort foods we had this past week.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Weekend Cooking 1/6

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!

This week our focus was on quick and easy comfort meals. We returned from a trip to Oklahoma late Tuesday night and jumped right into a hectic schedule of school, work, and evening appointments, so we stuck with old favorites.

Wednesday, with no fresh food in the house, we just had a favorite Trader Joe's meal, Chicken Serranada. Eight minutes in the microwave, and it tastes like a restaurant meal! We added some couscous with peas and fruit and had a complete meal.

Thursday, my husband made good old basic spaghetti with meat sauce while my younger son and I got haircuts. It was wonderful to come home to a delicious meal, hot and ready to eat! And spaghetti is such a comfort food.

Friday, I tried a quick favorite of ours, Roasted Italian Sausage, Potatoes, Onions, and Bell Peppers...but it took over an hour to cook a meal that usually takes 20 minutes. Well, at least that explains our undercooked turkey disaster on Christmas Day - looks like our oven is not working (we think maybe the bottom heating element is out). I'll have to call the repair service tomorrow, but this could get expensive - the oven is about 25 years old!

Last night, we had our all-time family favorite and the ultimate in comfort food, Red Beans and Rice, a recipe I created after we lived in New Orleans. I made a double-batch, so now we have dinner for our busy Monday evening, too (which is when Red Beans and Rice is traditionally eaten in Louisiana).

And, tonight, we will have a delicious Cooking Light recipe, Chinese Hot Pot of Beef & Vegetables, which we've enjoyed before. That should be just right for a day that began with a surprise dusting of snow on the ground!  And, more importantly, it doesn't require an oven.

That was our week of quick meals...what have you been cooking and eating this week?

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Saturday Snapshot 1/5

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

For many years, we have spent the week after Christmas in Oklahoma, visiting my husband's parents. We always have a festive little New Year's Eve celebration, complete with hats, horns, streamers, English crackers, and sparkling juice. When our boys were young, we would do our countdown and celebration at 8 pm! This worked out well for my mother-in-law and I, too, since she had Parkinson's and I have my own chronic illness, so we couldn't always make it until midnight anyway.

Our boys are now 14 and 18 and much, much taller than I am! My mother-in-law passed away two years ago, so it's just the five of us now on New Year's Eve, but we still enjoy our celebration tradition. We can now stay up to watch the ball drop in Times Square on TV (thank goodness Oklahoma is in Central Time, so I can still get to bed by 11:30!).

Here are some pictures of then and now. We love our little celebration!

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve 2004 with Grandma and Grandad

New Year's Eve 2012 with Grandad

Friday, January 04, 2013

2012 Reading Challenges Final Tally

2012 was the first year I tried joining year-long reading challenges. I chose 5 challenges, based mainly on not adding any pressure to my reading life! I belong to two book groups (and sometimes attend a third at my library), so I like to have plenty of freedom in between those books to choose what I want to read.  I did pretty well with the challenges I chose and had fun with them, so I plan to sign up for some again this year, though I haven't decided which ones yet (I know, I am a bit behind).

Best of all, I ended up starting my very own reading challenge for the first time, Big Book Summer, and I even figured out how to make a logo (very big step for me)!

Here is a summary of how I did:

Big Book Summer, hosted by ME:
I read a total of four Big Books (more than 400 pages) this summer, including two of more than 800 pages:
Some of these had been on my TBR shelves for a long time, so I am glad I finally made the time to read them and will definitely plan to host this challenge again next year. 

2012 Where Are You Reading Challenge, hosted by Book Journey:
This is the only challenge I had done before because it allows me to just track what I am reading anyway...and it is fun to see all the varied locations where the books I am reading take place.

I read books set in 27 different states last year (7 more than in 2011!) and 6 different countries outside the U.S. (11 countries in 2011). I also discovered that LOTS of books take place in New York, Massachusetts, and England. I didn't keep a Google Map for the challenge this year - it just seemed like too much work! - but you can read my list of locations and books on my 2012 Challenge page. I will definitely sign up for this one again in 2013.

2012 Dystopian Challenge, hosted by Book Journey:
This challenge was also hosted by Book Journey. This was an easy one, given the prevalence of dystopian novels this year!  I read 7 dystopian novels in 2012:
  1. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  2. The Whisper by Emma Clayton 
  3. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bagocalupi 
  4. Blood Red Road by Moira Young  
  5. Sharp North by Patrick Cave
  6. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  7. Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch
That makes me Leader of My District!  Definitely a successful challenge.

12 in '12 Challenge, hosted by Books on the Nightstand:
 Hosted by my favorite book podcast (and I listen to a lot of them), this challenge allowed each reader to decide on her own 12-book challenge for the year. I chose to read 12 books from my TBR shelves, since they are overflowing. Sadly, I only managed to read 10 books off my TBR shelves this year (though I started #11 on 12/30)...crazy, right? Just too many good new books constantly coming out. How do you ever catch up?? I am really glad I did this challenge because it gave me extra incentive to finally get to some books languishing on my shelves that were excellent. You can see the list of 10 that I read on my 2012 Challenges page.

Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge, hosted by The Betty and Boo Chronicles:
I signed up for the Diarist Level, to read between 1 and 4 memoirs. I love memoirs and ended up reading surprisingly few this year - just 3 - so I was glad I had signed up for the challenge and would definitely like to do it again this year. The memoirs I read were:
  1. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
  2. The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez 
  3. Rule Number Two by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft  
What's In a Name 5, hosted by Beth Fish Reads:
 This one was just for some whimsical fun, reading books with titles in the following categories:
  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title: The Night of the Spadefoot Toads by Bill Harley
  4. A book with a type of house in the title: Great House
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Cardboard by Doug Tennapel, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  6. A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title:  Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich, The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
Yeah, Bean Trees might be a stretch as a topographical feature, but hey, it was fun!

So, that's my 2012 Reading Challenge Recap - I defe\

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Fiction Review: The Bean Trees

One of my favorite books of all-time is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, but I hadn’t read any of her other novels, despite the urgings of my closest friend. I picked up copies of The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven at our local used bookstore, but they languished on my shelf for years! In an effort to read from my TBR shelves at the end of the year, I finally picked up The Bean Trees the day before Christmas. I can’t believe it took me so long to get to this wonderful novel!

The story begins in rural Kentucky with young Missy Greer, who grows up in a loving but poor home with a single mom. Missy has a happy childhood but is seen as an outcast – along with the other farm kids – by her classmates who live in town and are the football players and cheerleaders. She is determined to get away, and finally, in her early 20’s, she buys a ’55 Volkswagen bug with no windows or backseat, and she heads west and renames herself Taylor.

Before finally settling in Tucson, Arizona, Taylor ends up with an abandoned little American Indian girl she calls Turtle. Taylor and Turtle gradually make some new friends in Tucson: kind Mattie who runs a tire shop called Jesus is Lord Used Tires and helps Central American refugees and timid Lou Ann, a fellow displaced Kentuckian. Despite her youth, Taylor finds reserves of strength and draws support from her new-found family.

The Bean Trees is a warm novel about friendship and life, with all its ups and downs.  Kingsolver has a talent for creating quirky characters with emotional depth, and she writes with a gentle sense of humor, even while tackling difficult subjects. The characters all feel like good friends, and I never wanted the story to end. Fortunately, I have the sequel, Pigs in Heaven, waiting right here. I can’t wait to dive back into Taylor and Turtle’s world.

232 pages, HarperPerennial

Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.


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