Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Monday 2/24! What Are You Reading?

Monday morning - I love the feeling of starting a new week, with new possibilities and a fresh start. We had a busy weekend but with time for fun, too...and everyone was feeling good! This week will be a busy one as well, but we always make time for reading:
  • I finished the teen/YA novel Thin Space by Jody Casella, a story about a twin grieving the loss of his brother and trying to find an opening between this world and the next. It was very good, mostly a realistic story about grief, with a touch of the supernatural.
  • Now I am reading my next book group selection, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier, for my neighborhood book group on Wednesday. I am loving this book and staying up much too late at night reading! It's about a woman who inherits the journals of a good friend after her untimely death and finds out there were a lot of things she didn't know about her friend. It is also about motherhood and self-identity and the way people change over time. The author offered to answer our questions in a personalized video clip, so I am very much looking forward to hearing from her.
  • I finished listening to The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, a thriller on audio. I thought I had it all figured out, but there were still some surprises at the end!
  • I am now listening to Insurgent by Veronica Roth, Book 2 in the Divergent trilogy. We started listening to this on vacation last summer, but my husband and son lost interest (mainly because it had been too long since they read Divergent), so I am finally getting back to it.
  • And I am still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam...but I am finally getting near the end! It's been very good, and there is a lot of advice in it that I want to try to implement.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading John Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, a follow-up to his famous A Time to Kill and a Christmas gift from our son. He's enjoying it and pointed out that it counts as a Big Book!
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (I think) - he had a busy week, finishing up his Calc 3 final from last semester while attending new classes for this semester.
I didn't have as much writing time last week as I'd hoped, but I did manage two posts:

Review of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, a literary novel.

Weekend Cooking, about our new experiences with restricted diets, including healthy, tasty recipes that can be enjoyed by anyone.

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 Unleashing Readers.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Weekend Cooking 2/23

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!

Paleo and Anti-Candida Diets
It's been a while since I've written a Weekend Cooking post because food and cooking have been in a great state of flux at our house lately. First, my oldest son and I went on a sugar-free diet to try to address some of our health problems. I improved, but he was still in bad shape (and spring semester of college was starting), so we consulted with a biochemist/registered dietician who had helped him previously. She put him on a super-strict diet - no grains, no dairy, no sugar... Well, it is easier to tell you what he can eat - mainly just meat, about 10 different veggies, 1 pear a day but no other fruit, and seeds. That's about it! He's been on that very restrictive diet for about two weeks now (plus we made other drastic changes to his medications and supplements) and is doing better.

Although he 's eating at school, except on Sundays when he comes home, my husband decided to start the Paleo Diet, in part for moral support to our son and in part for weight loss. In case you haven't heard of it, the Paleo Diet is all about eating as our caveman ancestors did - no processed foods, a very natural diet - so in many ways, it is similar to my son's current diet restrictions (no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no starchy veggies).

Soooo....what all this means is that I have had to drastically change the way I cook and get very creative! I normally cook with fresh, whole foods and little processed or prefab stuff, so that's no different (and I've been dairy-free for a decade), but leaving out grains and potatoes is a bit of a challenge. I have been relying heavily on homemade soups with meat and veggies in them and on meals with some sort of meat or fish plus 2 veggie sides. Here is some of what I made this week (I really need to try to remember to take pictures!):

One night, I pan-seared salmon filets (and finished it with a simple sauce of lime juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar), and we had roasted asparagus spears and Kickin' Collard Greens for sides. Those are two of our all-time favorite veggie sides, and the salmon was great, so that meal was a hit. The greens cooked this way are absolutely delicious (we cook them a bit longer than the recipe calls for) - my 16-year old son says he is the only kid in his entire school cafeteria who eats greens when they are on the lunch menu!

Another hit was Beef and Cabbage Soup, a reader recipe from an ancient Cooking Light issue (early 90's I think). It was very simple: saute ground beef, onion, and celery; add chopped carrots and cabbage, plus chicken broth, chopped tomatoes, and some seasonings (salt, pepper, basil, oregano), and simmer. I especially enjoyed this soup because its flavors reminded me of a favorite Ukrainian dish my family eats on holidays, holubtsi (aka cabbage rolls). Plus the soup provided two meals (and lunch, too!).

I was able to use a Cooking Light recipe as is, though it was a tiny bit of a cheat for the Paleo Diet: Kung Pao Chicken Tacos. These were SO good! It's basically a fusion recipe - taking Chinese-style Kung Pao chicken and putting it into corn tortillas - and the flavors were outstanding. The corn tortillas aren't technically allowed on the Paleo Diet, but it was a small sacrifice (my husband left the peanuts out of his serving). Great flavors in this dish!

We had another fish plus 2 veggies meal late in the week. And today, we are having the exact same meal that we had last Sunday, for my son who is visiting from college - grilled steaks, green beans, and pureed cauliflower. This strict diet has been very difficult for him, but steak helps, as it is his favorite, and green beans are his favorite vegetable. I've also been creating all sorts of goodies for him, using coconut flour, coconut oil, unsweeetened chocolate (with a touch of coconut sugar and stevia)...but that is a topic for another day.

So, those are our current cooking challenges...and successes! I hope you have been enjoying some good food this week, too.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fiction Review: The Marriage Plot

I’ve wanted to read a Jeffrey Eugenides novel for a long time, since I’ve heard such good things about his writing. My library book discussion group recently chose The Marriage Plot, and I was glad for the chance to read a Eugenides novel. I really enjoyed this literary novel, as did most of the other discussion participants, though a few people said they couldn’t finish it.

The novel opens in 1982, focusing on several characters who are graduating from Brown University, with flashbacks back to earlier in their college days, and follows them into young adulthood. Madeleine was brought up in a well-to-do, happy family in suburban New Jersey. Her father was the president of a small private university, and her mother was a Martha Stewart type who is always perfectly groomed and dressed. Madeleine is an English major, with a focus on Victorian novels. She is writing her senior thesis on the marriage plot so common in those old novels written by the likes of Jane Austen and George Eliot.

In Madeleine’s Semiotics class (check out the link – I had to look it up, too!), she meets an intriguing boy named Leonard Bankhead, a charismatic guy who Madeleine finds both intellectually and sexually thrilling, as the two start a relationship together. And there is Mitchell, Madeleine’s on-again, off-again friend who is actually in love with Madeleine. During his college years, Mitchell developed a fascination with mysticism and spirituality and changed his major to Religious Studies, all the while pining over – and sometimes clashing with – Madeleine.

As the novel opens on graduation day, a very hung-over Madeleine is trying to meet her obligations with her parents while hiding a secret about her relationship with Leonard, and enlisting Mitchell’s help, even though she hasn’t spoken to him in months, because her parents adore him. So, it’s a bit of a tangled web of relationships that propels the three main characters into their post-graduation, real-life world…and it gets even more complicated (as things tend to do in the real world).

True to its literary fiction genre, this is a story all about people and relationships – the process of finding yourself as a young adult and figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life, the struggles and challenges of young love which can feel so compelling in the moment, and the way that things can change over time, as we mature.  It asks the question: have classic love stories changed since the 18th and 19th centuries? Is the happy ending of Victorian novels still the same in modern times or is there a new kind of happy ending?

I really enjoyed the whole journey along with Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard. I found the first part of the novel intriguing because I also went to college in the 80’s, so I enjoyed the pop culture references and the whole college atmosphere of that time period. The one thing I found a bit off-putting, however, was a bit of literary snobbery that I found almost laughable. I don’t know about you, but my friends and I didn’t sit around in college having high-minded discussions of semiotics (which I’d never even heard of before!) or putting one another down for reading one literary icon over another. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to an Ivy League school or because I was an engineering major and not a lit major…but I doubt it. I stuck with the novel through these parts (where the dialogue often went over my head and the literary references included books and authors I’d never heard of) because I could sense a bit of tongue-in-cheek attitude from the author – I think part of his point was that these very young adults were trying too hard to sound intellectual and high-minded. That was a part of their immaturity and growth process. Or maybe kids at Brown really sound like that!

Like I said at the beginning of this review, most people at my book discussion (4 of the 6) enjoyed the novel, and two of us who hadn’t finished it yet wanted to finish it after the discussion. However, two people said they couldn’t get through it (one was ready to give up at about page 100 and the other said she couldn’t get past page 2!). It seems to be the kind of book that people either love or hate.

All of those who liked the novel in our group admired Eugenides’ writing. Although some of his sentences are a bit long and convoluted, he also has a talent for writing about very mundane things in a way that makes you say, “Yes! That’s it! He’s said it perfectly.” One example is this line, thought by Mitchell during the graduation ceremony and probably felt by most of us at some point during our college experiences: “It was possible to feel superior to other people and like a misfit at the same time.” These kinds of That Is So True statements are sprinkled throughout the story.

So, if you are looking for a fast-paced quick read with lots of action, you should probably pass on this one. However, if you enjoy good literary fiction with insights into real life and real relationships and realistic characters who have plenty of depth, all wrapped up with clever , insightful writing, then The Marriage Plot is right up your alley! Now, I really want to read Middlesex.

406 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Monday, February 17, 2014

It's Monday 2/17! What Are You Reading?

Another week with more snow (lots more - check out my pics), more snow days, and more medical urgencies to keep me busy. It is supposed to snow again tonight! We did have a fairly quiet weekend, with one son off at college (home on Sunday) and the other on a school ski trip. Today is a holiday, so my husband and younger son are both home. Please, oh, please, no more snow days this week!

We did manage plenty of reading this week, though:
  • I finished The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides for my library's books discussion. Well, to be more precise, I still had 100 pages to go when I went to the discussion, but I finished it afterward. It seemed to be a love-it-or-hate-it book. Of the six people at the meeting, four of us enjoyed it (including me), and two couldn't finish it. One couldn't get past page 2! I really liked it overall and did finish it after the meeting. I hope to post a review of it this week.
  • My next book group selection isn't available yet at the library, so I decided to squeeze in a short teen/YA novel, Thin Space by Jody Casella, a supernatural tale about a grieving twin who is trying to find a "thin space," a break between this world and the next where he can be reunited with his dead brother. It's very good so far and fast-paced.
  • I am still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, squeezing in a page here or there when I can. This is my waiting room book, so I made some progress last week!
  • On audio, I am listening to The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, a creepy suspense thriller. I didn't love it at first, but I have to admit that it has grabbed my attention now, and I'm having trouble setting it down.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading John Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, a follow-up to his famous A Time to Kill and a Christmas gift from our son.
  • My 19-year old son did the right thing last week, setting down a slow book that he wasn't enjoying much to read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater which I read recently and loved (mom knows best!). He loved it, too, and immediately moved onto The Dream Thieves, book 2 in this fast-paced teen/YA series. I want to read the second book when he is done with it.
  • Our 16-year old son is reading MacBeth for his British Literature class.
 Despite best-laid plans, I didn't have any time for writing reviews last week, though I did finally post my Summary of Books Read in January. I am catching up, little by little, after a rough start to the year!

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 Unleashing Readers

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Snapshot Saturday 2/15

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

We had yet another big snow storm here (big by Delaware standards) on Thursday with yet another snow day at school. Here's a fun look back at big storms, then and now...

(Anyone else live in western NY in the late 70's?  The Blizzard of '78 was a BIG one - some people had to climb out second-story windows onto snowbanks to get out of their houses!)

This is the house I grew up in, in Rochester, NY - the renowned Blizzard of '78

My Dad trying to dig our cars out from under many feet of snow! 
Even my little sister pitched in! Good thing we had a 2-story split-level.
This week's big snowfall in Delaware, with about a foot of heavy, wet snow.
My husband shoveling the driveway, much as my Dad did 35 years ago!

And my teen son helping

Quite a difference between western New York and Delaware, huh?

Hope you are enjoying a nice weekend and staying warm!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Books Read in January

It's a little late, but I am finally posting my January summary. It was a COLD month, filled with waaay too many snow days with my kids home from school! Plus a few family medical problems thrown in for fun! So, I only read 4 books in January, but they were all good (and they were all fairly long, too):

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, a teen/YA novel (Virginia)
  • The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, a middle-grade novel on audio (fantasy location)

So, not a lot of books, but a nice variety, with one adult novel, two teen/YA, and one middle-grade (and an audio). It was an all-fiction month! Tough to pick my favorite - they were all good - but The Raven Boys probably grabbed me the most.

Update on 2014 Reading Challenges:
I added just one state and one country to my Where Are You Reading Challenge 2014 - I couldn't believe that two of my four books this month took place in the same state!  I read just one from my TBR shelves, The Raven Boys, for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. And I listened to one audio book for my 2014 Audio Book Challenge. No nonfiction or classics yet.

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's Monday 2/10! What Are You Reading?

Another busy week - more snow and ice (check out my ice storm photos), my older son still horribly sick with his chronic illnesses, and my husband out of town. This morning things are looking up a bit. Our son did move back onto campus last night, but he's still not in good shape, and we are very worried about how he'll manage. We spent a lot of time last week and this weekend consulting with various medical professionals and are trying some new, fairly radical changes to diet, medicines, and supplements this week in the hopes that it will help him.

BUT, for now, I am blissfully alone in a quiet house this morning (still worrying, but one step at a time!). As always, our books provided distraction and comfort last week:
  • I finished Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, the February choice for my online family book group. I was captivated by this compelling fictional story based on historical fact about a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. Here's my review.
  • Next, I picked up another book group read, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, for my library's book discussion on Wednesday. There's no way I will finish it in time, but I am enjoying it so far - the first of Eugenides' novels I've read.
  • I finished my audio book, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, a middle-grade novel about a young girl and a poetry-writing squirrel superhero. Yes, I said squirrel. It was fun and silly and warm - classic DiCamillo.
  • I started a new audio book, The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, this one a grown-up novel. I'm only on the second chapter, but it seems to be about family secrets.
  • And I am still making my way - slowly but surely - through 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It's been interesting so far, but I have been focused on my book group novels.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Jo Nesbo's The Bat on his Kindle and enjoyed it.
  • Ken has now started Sycamore Row by John Grisham, a Christmas gift from our son. It's a follow-up novel to Grisham's A Time to Kill, which we both read about 20 years ago and barely remember!
  • Our oldest son, Jamie, 19, was still reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy this week but was struggling with it. He said it was very long and fairly slow-paced, so it wasn't keeping his attention, especially given how sick he was. I finally convinced him that it was OK to set it aside and read something else!
  • I suggested a fast-paced teen/YA novel to him, so he picked up The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater which I read recently and loved. He needed some comfort reading!
  • Craig, 16, just started reading MacBeth by Shakespeare for his Brit Lit class.
Despite the hectic, stressful week, I actually managed quite a few blog posts:

Coming Soon: Your Favorite Books as Movies 2014, about some of this year's most hotly anticipated book adaptations on the big screen.

My 2014 Reading Challenges - yes, I finally found time to sign up for some challenges!

Review of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, a wonderful historical novel set in Hawaii

Review of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, a teen/YA novel

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 Unleashing Readers.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Snapshot Saturday 2/8

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

We had an ice storm this week that produced a lot of damage (broken tree branches for us, plus power out for about 12 hours)...but the ice-covered trees and bushes were beautiful in the morning!

All of the trees & bushes - including our Japanese Dwarf Maple - were coated with ice

Amazing how every little twig was covered with tiny icicles dripping off!

Even the evergreen needles were coated and sparkling.

This string from a spider's web was coated with tiny droplets of ice!

Every needle on the pine trees was covered

Some of the damage to our pine trees
Brrrr...we lost power for 12 hours but tried to stay warm!

Hope you are enjoying a lovely and relaxing weekend!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Fiction Review: Moloka’i

Last year I started an online family book group for my far-flung cousins and aunts. We have read some wonderful books so far! Our latest, chosen by my cousin, was Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. I had heard good things about this novel, but even so, it far exceeded my expectations. The novel gripped me from the very first pages and never let go.

Moloka’i is based in fact and tells the story of a leper colony called Kalaupapa established on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i in 1873. More specifically, it focuses on the fictional story of a single resident: Rachel, who was torn away from her loving family and exiled to the remote island village when she was only seven years old. The book opens in 1891, and its first pages give you a picture of Rachel’s life as a normal, active, happy five-year old living in Honolulu with her parents and three siblings. Everything changes when her mother notices a red sore on the back of Rachel’s thigh that is insensitive to pain. Guessing what it is and knowing the consequences, Rachel’s mother tries to keep it a secret as long as she can. When another spot appears on her foot and her mother tries to cover it up by making her wear shoes (unheard of at their school!), her classmates’ teasing leads to Rachel’s secret getting out.

Since it is an almost 400-page book, it gives nothing away to tell you that Rachel lives a fairly long and interesting life with many unexpected twists and turns. Rachel herself is an immediately likable and compelling character who pulled me right into the story. I also loved the backdrop of Hawaiian culture and language. In addition, I found the historical context fascinating. Leprosy was surrounded by an aura of fear and prejudice which was, while somewhat understandable, horrifying. To exile people from their families like that for their entire lifetimes – even taking young children away – is unthinkable now, but it really happened (the mandatory exile only ended in 1969).

I was so taken by this story that I wanted to learn more about the history of leprosy and of Kalaupapa in particular. This wikipedia page gives some historical background on Kalaupapa, plus the photo (which I included here) of the settlement and the towering cliffs that made it naturally isolated. This site is a memorial to some of the resilient people who lived their lives in Kalaupapa and includes some photos. Leprosy is now known as Hansen’s Disease and is caused by a particularly tenacious bacterium. Though the bacteria were discovered as the cause way back in 1873, no one knew how to treat it back then; it is now treated with a variety of antibiotics, though there is still no cure.

All in all, Moloka’i is a captivating and engaging read. Rachel’s story stole my heart and held my attention; she now feels like an old friend. Though the plot description may sound as though it is a depressing book, Rachel’s positive attitude toward life (and that of many of her fellow Kalaupapa residents) lends the story an overall feeling of hope and overcoming the odds to find happiness. It is a remarkable book and highly recommended, especially for book groups.

384 pages, St. Martin’s Press


Thursday, February 06, 2014

2104 Reading Challenges

2014 Reading Challenges

Yes, I finally found time to join some challenges for 2014! I spent a lot of time searching for just the right challenges, plus a few old favorites. You can follow my progress on my 2014 Challenges page.

I sign up for this one every year and love keeping track of where my reading takes me! Last year, I read books that took place in 27 different states and 13 different countries. We'll see how I do this year!

I participated in this challenge last year - it is perfect for me, as I don't have a TBR pile - I have an entire TBR bookcase! Last year, I read 26 books from my TBR shelves, and I hope to top that this year, so I guess that puts me in the First Kiss (21 - 30) category.

2014 Audio Book Challenge, hosted by The Book Nympho

Last year, I listened to 14 audio books, so I will sign up for Stenographer (10 - 15) level.

Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014, hosted by The Introverted Reader

I was looking for a memoir challenge and came across this one, which includes memoirs as well as other nonfiction. I love memoirs and only read 4 memoirs last year plus 4 other nonfiction books, so I look forward to reading more this year! I am signing up for the Explorer level (6-10).

The Classics Reading Challenge 2014, hosted by Thoughts At One in the Morning

 This is just what I was looking for! Some classics challenges are too restrictive. I want incentive to read some of the books my kids are reading in school, some "modern" classics that I missed, and even re-read some classics that I read decades ago. This challenge includes all that.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Coming Soon: Your Favorite Books as Movies 2014

I had fun perusing this list of 11Most Anticipated Book Adaptations in 2014, published in Publisher's Weekly last week. It looks like the trend of mining popular books for movie ideas is going to continue!

Of the 11 books listed here, I've read:
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - amazing true story that will make a heart-breaking movie!
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - the one everyone is waiting for.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - I didn't love it as much as some people did, but the casting should make this a good movie (and the list also notes that Flynn's Dark Places - which my hsband liked better - will also be adapted to the big screen this year).
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry - can't wait for this one! Especially with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep starring.
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - yikes, we still need to see Catching Fire!
Sounds like a good year of movies, doesn't it?  And those are just the ones I have read. Maybe all these great books as inspiration will get me to the theater more often.

Which book adaptations are you looking forward to seeing on the big screen?

Monday, February 03, 2014

It's Monday 2/3! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday...and it's snowing again! It was no surprise that the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday. My son already had a scheduled day off school today, so at least its not another snow day, but I do need to figure out when to pick him up from his friend's house in this storm.

Anyway, we had a pretty good week here last week and enjoyed our little family Superbowl party, even though the game itself was incredibly boring! And we enjoyed our books:
  • I am still reading Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, the February choice for my family book group (I started an online family book group last year on Facebook - it is so much fun sharing books with my far-away cousins and aunts!). It's a novel about a little Hawaiian girl who is exiled to a leper colony on Moloka'i in the 1890's. It is a wonderful and captivating book - I need to hurry up and finish it for our discussion.
  • I am also still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It's very good, but it's taking me a while to get through it just because I don't normally read two books at once. 
  • I started a new audio book, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, a middle-grade book I've been meaning to get to for a while. I finally figured out how to keep the non-titled tracks in order on my iPod! It's good so far - a lot of fun, with DiCamillo's famous sense of whimsy.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Bat by Jo Nesbo, the first book in the Harry Hole series, on his Kindle. He's read several other Harry Hole novels and enjoys this renowned Scandinavian crime writer.
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy. He says it's good (and very long!), but not one of his favorites. He has one more week at home and then heads back to college for spring semester.

I posted nothing at all here in between my Monday posts last week! That gives you some indication of how hectic things have been here, with both sons at home, lots of medical appointments, too many snow days, and a busy weekend. I did manage to write one review for Great Books for Kids and Teens:

Review of The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, a middle-grade audio book.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?