Monday, December 30, 2013

My Top Reading Picks of 2013

Like all of my posts relating to reading and books, this one contains Amazon affiliate links.  If you enjoy book discussions, consider joining my Facebook community!


For the second year in a row, I kept a rudimentary reading list, jotted and scratched on a sheet of notebook paper.  My reading list is a dumping ground for books I don't want to forget-- books I see on the library shelf, books recommended by friends, or books mentioned on other blogs.  My reading list  is an informal record sheet, too.  As I complete a book, I pencil down the completion date next to the title and at the end of the year I type up a neat list of all the books I finished.  

I love taking a look back at my reading year. 

First a few stats:

I read 65 books this year.

That's up 8 books from last year.

That number doesn't include the 33 books I read aloud with the kids for fun... or what we read for history, science, and art in school... or the myriads of picture books we consumed!

I read 27 non-fiction titles and 38 fiction titles.

First book I completed in 2013: Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breatheby Sally Clarkson and Sarah Mae

Last book I completed in 2013: Okay for Nowby Gary D. Schmidt

I thought it would be fun to give a few highlights from the year, too.  And please, if you are a reader, consider chiming in!   

Best Overall Book of the Year was The Secret Keeperby Kate Morton.  I don't remember who recommended this book to me, but I put it on hold at the library and had to wait a bit for my turn.  When it finally did come in, I got cold feet about the thickness of the volume and considered returning it unread.  I am so glad I didn't because when I opened it, what happened in the first few chapters had me hooked.  

Don't let the cover fool you.  It may appear to be a quiet and serene sort of book, but inside the pages unfolds an intriguing tale of mystery and unanswered question, set in World War II and the present day.

You must know, it was a literal can't-put-this-down kind of book.  The suspense nearly killed me and I  read during every free moment so I could figure out how it was going to resolve.  I read in bed.  I read at the stove.  I read while the kids and Brian tried to talk to me.  Ooops!

It's not one of those scary suspense novels, but it did keep me up at night and entered my dreams.  I was that into it! I read  another of Morton's book, The Distant Hours, this summer and while it was good, it had a darker mood. 


I could call this year The Year of the Memoir because I read so, so many of them.  I read a few biographies, too, but mostly memoirs and mostly of the medical genre.  Can you tell where my interests lie?

I love reading about people and their stories.  It's like reading a novel, only it's true!

Best Memoir was Call the Midwifeand both of its sequels by Jennifer Worth.  The first book has 1 chapter-- "Cable Street"-- that I have to warn anyone about before I give a full recommendation, but otherwise it is a fascinating book. Even if the midwife/birth genre is not your thing, the second book in the serieshas a broader appeal as it delves into Worth's time as a community nurse.

With the memoir playing such a huge role in my reading life this year, it would be unfair to leave out a few other highlights:


Best Classic was The Wind in the Willowsby Kenneth Grahame. I have a difficult time motivating myself to read "classics."  In fact, I had made two attempts at The Wind in the Willows before my sister recommended it for our Sister's Book Challenge. This time I was determined to see it through to the end and I truly loved it. It was funny and intelligent, not your average silly animal story.  I lost myself in the characters and even forgot that they were animals, not people.  Maybe not so intelligent on my part.  It should be noted, too, that this particular edition had beautiful illustrations.

Runner-up for best classics were The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Best Re-read
was All Creatures Great and Smallby James Herriot.  Okay.  So this could fall into the memoir category and even slip under the medical memoir genre, but I want to include it separately.  I read this book and its companions in high school, but when my sister listed this one in her Sister's Book Challenge, I thought it was worth a re-read 18 years later.  Still just as good as I remembered!


Best Non-Fiction
(non-memoir) was The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Lessby Terry Ryan.  I loved the movie about a mother who earned money for her family by entering jingle and poem contests. I was glad to find that the book had far less language and I was also glad to find that though the story was similar to the movie, it was interesting enough to read anyway.

Runner up was Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line - and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanityby Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea.  In 2013, I used my #1 hobby (reading) to learn about my #2 hobby  (running). 


The Two Books I Quit were The Silent Wifeby A.S.A. Harrison and Signs of Lifeby Natalie Taylor


My 2014 list looks a lot like my 2013 list and includes books like:
What did you read this year?  What are you planning for next year? 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Parties and Party Sweets

My fingers have been oh-so busy in the kitchen this Christmas season.  Why are there so many tantalizing options at this time of year?!  I'm glad for the many, many Christmas events we have attended and a few that are still coming up.  Otherwise I would either a) be tempted to eat all this food myself or b) have to shelve a few of the recipes until next year (and who wants to do that?)

What follows is part-photo dump, part-peek into our family life, and part-recipe inspiration. Maybe you'll find a treat among my chit-chat. 

1) When we hosted some friends for a Christmas craft project, we made what my kids like to call Grinch cookies.  In reality, they are sweetened and colored with lime Jello, but they do turn out quite vividly green and kid appealing! The consistency reminds me of a shortbread cookie, but with a fruity flavor twist. 

2) Brian's Christmas party at work was a breakfast event so I sent along some bread machine cinnamon rolls
for the guys (and two girls) to enjoy. 

I did most of the prep work the day before, refrigerated the dough overnight, and popped them in the oven first thing in the morning.  I fixed them up on a pretty tray (sorry, forgot the photos), but the kids and I saved a few for our breakfast at home.  I do not pass up a warm cinnamon roll! 

late night (blurry) preparation of the cinnamon rolls

3) Event #3 was our annual Survivor finale viewing party.  Go, Tyson! This year was a small affair with only one guest, but it's not a party without good food.  We did take-out subs, but this chocolate chip cookie pie came out of the oven piping hot, just in time for dessert.  I served it with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Word to the wise: cut small slices because this pie is rich!

4) We made a few batches of cookies this year to keep in the freezer for drop-in company.  Of course, I've not frozen them all.  I've left some out for the kids to nibble on, too. The highlights this year have been chocolate cut-out cookies and our very best chocolate chip cookies.  This time we added a mixture of semi-sweet chocolate chips and mini-M & Ms.

5) Our next Christmas event was an easy one for me.  Maddie was invited to a Christmas luncheon at my grandmother's house.  It is an annual event for these girls.  Maddie did not have to contribute any food to the party, but says that Gammy's "famous" grilled cheese sandwiches and the strawberry cheesecake ice cream were scrumptious. 

Bekah, Gammy, and Maddie
Note the unplanned coordinated party attire!

5) Because we spend Christmas Day mostly away from home, we set aside an evening before Christmas for a special dinner with just the seven of us.  This year, Gavin took charge of the chicken, Maddie made the corn pudding, Owen baked the sweet potato biscuits, Brian peeled and mashed the potatoes, and the microwave steamed the peas.  That left me with dessert prep.  I made a version of this chocolate pie in mini-graham cracker crusts.

6) We have a Christmas dinner party to attend tomorrow evening.  I thought about throwing together a platter of cookies from the freezer (see #4), but Owen requested a chocolate cake so I'm putting him in charge of making it.  He's using this chocolate cake recipe which starts with a basic cake mix, but has enough add-ins that it doesn't taste fake when you're done. 

7) The next day we are going to my parents' house for an annual before-Christmas tradition.  Every year on the Sunday before Christmas, we make hot lunch meat wraps

I'm in charge of dessert and I'm planning to whip up some 3-ingredient Oreo cheesecake truffles.  Actually, I asked if I could be in charge of dessert just so I could have an excuse to try them!

8)  I plan to take a kitchen break the week of Christmas (aside from our Christmas morning cinnamon rolls-- see #2), but we are having guests on New Year's Eve.  I haven't come up with an easy dinner menu yet, but I do know I'm making  Reese's fudge

Have your been crazy in the kitchen this year?  Any star recipes to share? 

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