Monday, December 29, 2014

My Top Reading Picks of 2014

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It's been 3 years now since I started keeping a rudimentary reading list, jotted and crossed off on a sheet of notebook paper.  My reading list is a dumping ground for titles I don't want to forget, but I also employed my library's list feature this year,  too.  Either method gets the books out of my brain space so I don't waste time and energy trying to remember numerous titles. My reading list  is an informal record sheet, too.  As I complete a book, I record a 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. 

This year I took it a step further and made a visual record of every book I read this year.  Here's a quick peek, but you'll need to click here or on the photo below to see the whole shelf.


A few statistics:

I read 83 books this year. That's up 18 books from last year.

Here's my dilemma.  That number doesn't include the 29 books I read aloud with the kids for fun.  I feel like it's "cheating" to include those books, but why?!  I still read them!  And that number doesn't include the scads of books we read aloud for history, science, or art...or the endless stacks of picture books we consume weekly!

I read 27 non-fiction titles and 56 fiction titles.

First book I completed in 2014: Stones for Breadby Christa Parrish: deep character-driven story with great bread recipes
Last book I completed in 2014: Shopaholic to the Starsby Sophie Kinsella: fluffy chick lit for a busy last-week-of-the-year


 A few specifics:

Overall Favorite: Still Aliceby Lisa Genova
It was almost impossible to narrow it down to one single favorite, but I tried to consider what book stayed with me after I put it down or entered my thoughts even after I returned it to the library.  Still Alice about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's was a hauntingly well-told story, written from the perspective of the woman herself.  Try reading this book and not questioning yourself every time you can't recall a name or you forget what you were about to do.

Most Disappointing: Me Before Youby JoJo Moyes
I heard marvelous things about this book, but I knew almost nothing about the plot.  Somewhere near the middle of the book, I started guessing where it was all going to end up and I dreaded the conclusion.  To summarize, the book tells an intriguing tale, but the worldview was vastly different from my own.  I've read reviews the heartwrenching ending, but I didn't cry.  I went away let down and a tad angry. I gave another Moyes book a try, but the language was grating and I doubt I'll pick up any more of her books.

Favorite from Sisters Book Challenge:
(tie)  Ordeal by Innocenceby Agatha Christie  & The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
This year, I read all ten books from the Sisters Book Challenge. Kati's book recommendations covered a variety of genres from historical fiction to Christian fiction to classics, kid lit, and non-fiction. My two favorites were wildly different, but Ordeal by Innocence(read full review here) was the best Agatha Christie book I've read since And Then There Were None. Plus I had been meaning to read The Yearling(read full review here) for years, starting (and quitting) twice before. Now I can say it was worth the effort.

Best Classic: I challenged myself to read classics this year.  I chose four (one for each season) and read a few others that would probably count as classics, too.  To Kill a Mockingbirdby Harper Lee which I read in the winter was hands-down my favorite.  I could not put it down.  There was depth of character, suspense, and relatable dialogue-- all things I love in a book.  I've still not seen the movie, though!

Best Memoir: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Bookby Wendy Welch
I picked up this book from the library shelf on a whim.  I brought it home, but had so many other books to read at the time that twice I picked it up to return and twice I put it back in my stack. When I finally made time for it, I fell in love.  I loved the story of how the author left her desk job to start a book store in a small non-bookish Appalachian town.  I loved the anecdotes about people who visit the store and I loved the book talk.  Isn't it fun to read a book about books?!   It was a fun, intelligent, and read as smoothly as fiction!

Best Kid Lit That I Read on My Own: A Year Down Yonderby Richard Peck
This is the middle book of a 3-part series, but each book stands alone.  I actually read this one first.  Mary Alice goes to live with her grandmother in the country during the Depression.  Grandma is not your typical grandmotherly-type but instead a hunter, gardener, trickster, tough-as-nails, no-nonsense woman.  The book is funny and touching, a superb easy read.


My 2015 list already numbers over 20 books and includes picks like:

Did you have a favorite or stand-out read this year?  What are you planning for next year?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Glimpses of Truth

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My tenth and final book of the Sisters Book Challenge was Glimpses of Truthby Jack CavanaughTo complete the the challenge, I needed to read 5 of the 10 books on the master list, but it was my personal goal to complete all 10.

Glimpses of Truth is historical fiction set in the 1300s during the Middle Ages.  That time period always scares me because I imagine it to be so dark and dismal.  I dreaded  teaching this time period when we reached it in history last year, but it's never as intimidating once I delve in to the era.

This book is neither dark nor dismal, though it does picture real life in a time of rough survival, a time when it was a struggle to provide for daily needs and when religious freedom was tenuous. The plot focuses on Thomas, a young scholar who works with John Wycliffe, translating the Bible from Latin into English. After Wycliffe's death, Thomas is caught in a battle for freedom that puts his life in danger and endangers some of the people he loves.

I'll admit, the Sisters Book Challenge brought me out of my comfort zone this year. I was challenged to read books in genres I rarely consider and revisit books I struggled to read in the past.   It was fun to stretch my possibilities and read and enjoy literature I may have never attempted on my own.

I'll be back on Monday for a year-end book talk where I round up my favorites and talk about the disappointments, too.  Until then, here is last year's book post.

Friday, December 19, 2014

a list on Friday

1) As of tomorrow (Saturday), there are 5 days left before Christmas.  Even if I forget, Benjamin (6) will remind me.  The first thing he says when he gets up every morning is an exuberant: 
"It's {fill-in-the-blank} days until Christmas!"

2) Yes, he is a morning person, as are all of my boys.  (They get it from me.)

3) My girls enjoy staying up late and sleeping a little later in the morning.  (They get it from Brian.)

4) Today is our dog Finn's 3rd birthday.  We are still waiting for him to settle down and lose some of his puppy-ness.

5) We completed our 20th week of school.  We've been going hard since August and now it's time for our 6-week break.  Of course, my kids don't realize that I always sneak learning into our breaks!

6) Earlier this week, we drove to the beach to see the Christmas lights.  I forgot to charge the camera batteries so it was Brian's smartphone to the rescue!  The picture quality is "meh," but at least we have something to document the night.

7) I love wrapping gifts.  This year, I've been listening to podcasts while I work which equals double the fun!

8) I haven't sent in my registration yet, but I'm about 90% committed to running a half-marathon again this spring.  I'm also planning a 10-miler in March.  That means I need to start serious training in mid-January.  There's a mix of excitement and dread surrounding that.  Brian asked me why I would do it at all if I find it so scary.  I find it hard to put into words, but I guess I love the challenge and the sense of accomplishment. 

9) We made our annual before-Christmas dinner last night. Owen and I did most of the cooking and we spread the work out through the day.  We wanted Christmas music while we stirred and mixed and basted so we picked out 5-6 CDs, put them in order, and as soon as one finished, we popped in the next.  Yes, Owen (8) and I share an affinity for organization.

10) We spent a few hours last Saturday doing nothing but looking at old December photos that are stored in folders on the computer. Photos like this one:

and this one:


Monday, December 15, 2014

Books to Make Your Mouth Water

{The following post contains Amazon affiliate links.  If you choose to make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.}

Sometimes I look back on the year and notice a trend in my reading choices.  Last year, memoirs filled my list of completed books. This year I found myself gravitating toward books about food.  I plan to share a detailed post later in the month, devoted to what I read in 2014, complete with thoughts on my favorites and disappointments, plus a visual peek of every book I read this year. (Updated to include the link to my year-end post here.)

Until then, here's a look at a few food highlights from the year:

Lizzy & Janeby Katherine Reay

I loved this fictional story which wove food into every chapter.  Two sisters who chose different life paths find themselves pulled back together when one of them is diagnosed with breast cancer.  The younger of the sisters is head chef at a New York City restaurant so food permeates the plot, analogies, and lessons. Like Katherine Reay's first book, there are scads of references to great works of literature and quotes from well-known classics.  Book nerds rejoice! 

Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish

I read this way back in January and it started my obsession with sour dough bread this year. The plot was excellent storytelling, but the recipes interspersed throughout the pages competed for my attention.  I obtained a sour dough starter from a friend last winter, but I make the chocolate cherry sour dough from this book at least once a month.  (I make a plain sour dough at least twice a month, too, but the recipe came from elsewhere.)

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchenby Laurie Colwin

The essays in this book are short and contain an enjoyable mix of anecdotes, kitchen hints, and recipes. This one is written in a memoir style which may be what attracted me most of all.

Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide: Feed Your Family. Save Your Sanity. by Sally Kuzenchak

I love cookbooks with bright colorful photos and I love recipes that are simple and use everyday ingredients.  We liked the garlic fries and the lasagna rolls, and  the sauteed apples have become a go-to side dish because they can be prepared in less than 10 minutes.

Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces by Marisa McClellan

I tried my hand at canning for the first time this summer.  This book made the process very doable and un-scary because each recipe made onlyenough to fill 2-4 small jars.  We enjoyed sampling pear caramel, salted peach jam, and Anaheim pepper sub spread and we're giving a few jars away as gifts this Christmas.

This book is on my personal Christmas list so I can't testify to its goodness, but it looks like a winner!

Do you gravitate toward a certain genre of book? 
Do you have any food-type books to recommend?

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