Books I Read in January

Overall, January was a great month of reading.  I think, like last January, there might be a contender for best of the year...

Winter by Marissa Meyer
I'm always impressed with how Meyer incorporates fabled characters into these stories, and to end the series (you can click on the links for my reviews of: Cinder, Scarlett, Cress and Fairest) she wove another great tale.  It was, however, a little long in the tooth - clocking in at 832 pages.  I suppose she didn't want to make it seem like an easy battle for Cinder and her counterparts, but she could've edited out one or two skirmishes.  That being said, I did like that she took a few twists and turns to get to a satisfying and not cookie-cutter ending. 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
This was one of the most unique books I've ever read, and I ADORED it.  Stradal tells the engrossing story of Eva Thorvald, chef-savant with a one in a million palate, but not from her point of view.  Each chapter is about a particular dish that pertains to someone in Eva's life in one way or another, and it really is like a collection of short stories.  But one by one, they piece together the puzzle of her life in the most deft and subtle way.  I was blown away by how I felt as if I knew the main character, without ever hearing her inner dialogue.  There seemed to be a hint of magical realism, which I enjoy, and I loved that the author trusts the reader to fill in the gaps to find the story.  It is one of the very few books I would re-read to learn more, knowing how it comes together - just fantastic stuff.   

I think I checked the cover once or twice to make sure that this wasn't a Rainbow Rowell novel - which is high praise, in my opinion. Like Rowell, Albertalli, can do achingly sweet YA romance juuuust right, with characters so full of life, great relationships between friends and family, and spot on dialogue.  There are f-bombs as well as freakin' in all the right places, and simple passages with some heft.  My favorite:
But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.
You can check out my answers, as well as quite a few others, to some discussion questions over at the Ladies Literary Society!

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Link is to my NetGalley review.)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This was a nice little story, but I don't know if the crusty old man with the heart of gold is my kind of literary trope (unless that man is A.J. Fikry).  It's like the movie 'Up' but much slower paced and, unfortunately, no talking dogs.  To give us the background on Ove's grumpiness, we get glimpses into his past which begin as enlightening, albeit tragic.  And then the horrible just. keeps. coming.  As if the author was rubbing his chin and thinking 'how can I make sure that Ove was dealt the worst possible life, so as to explain the grump factor.'  One or two of those flashback situations would have sufficed to make me that grumpy.  And the stubborn interactions with his present-day neighbors felt like Groundhog Day, not as funny as the first couple times around.  However, I did enjoy the characters (yes, including Ove and especially the pregnant new neighbor) and the non-repetitive interactions between them all (especially Ove with his longest neighbor and rival).  I can definitely see why people liked it, because it goes out on a high note of lovely and bittersweet.


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 1.31.16

It was definitely a fun-filled week around these parts!  Including the best kind of day: haircut day!

Since I usually do a big chop and then let my hair grow, it'd been over FOUR MONTHS since I did anything with my hair.  I feel so refreshed.

And I try to plan date nights on hair nights - one less thing to do while getting ready.  So we went out for margaritas at our favorite tex-mex joint.  I'm not doing so great on my goal of trying new restaurants out of the gate in 2016, but I DID try a new margarita (the blood orange) and two new dishes: the enchiladas poblanos and spicy-sweet brussels sprouts (ZOMG) from the specials menu.

It was also school conference week, which meant lots of half days and even a full day off when a transformer blew near our school.  No power and school was cancelled, on the day of our conferences, of course.  Thankfully we were able to get on BOTH teachers schedules the following day and, as usual, my kids make me really proud.
There was a LOT of crafting, going out for ice cream and even a little movie viewing.  

Now we have one nice full week until mid winter break the following week.  So many breaks!

This week's menu:

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Books I've Read, Movies I Probably Won't See

A recent Twitter conversation about whether I could watch Brie Larson's (surely amazing) performance in Room got me thinking about other books that I've read, yet don't think I can handle the film version.  When I'm reading, I can take breaks, compartmentalize difficult things and even try to picture things in a positive light.  In a movie, these things are laid out for you and there's no escape for the duration.  It's funny, my husband is sort of the opposite.  He ditched The Hunger Games less than halfway through because it was just 'too awful.'  But he was fine to watch the film; his reasoning is that you can imagine the worst when reading, and that the movie version is usually made more palatable.  In some instances, I agree.  And normally I'm chomping at the bit to see the movie version of a book.  But, to me, certain movie adaptations are VERBOTEN.  These five books immediately popped into my mind (title links are to IMDB).

The Road
This story of a man and his son in a very scary and depressing post apocalyptic world is pretty horrifying.  I read it so long ago and there are images burned on my brain that STILL cross my mind from time to time, and I really wish they didn't.  
I really enjoy Chris Cleave's novels and highly recommend Gold and Little Bee.  (I also have a NetGalley of his upcoming novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven which I'm SUPER excited to read.)  Yet, this story of a young mother who loses her son and husband while she's conducting an affair is tough stuff.  A good read, but as much as I adore Ewan McGregor and Michelle Williams, not the stuff of a good film, methinks.

The Book Thief
When I saw that this was being made into a film, I thought, NO.  Just...  no.  The way this story of a German girl with a Jewish man hidden in her home during WWII unfolds is just so beautifully written and didn't need to be messed with.

Sarah's Key
Speaking of WWII, Sarah's Key mainly deals with children in concentration camps.  It was probably the hardest book I've ever read.  I could NOT believe they made it into a movie.  Who?  What?  Huh???  No.

I mean, I think Brie Larson is awesome - she's one of the best parts of Trainwreck, she's in Scott Pilgrim vs the World (one of my all time favorite movies) and does a bang up job of singing one of my all time favorite songs in said movie.  Yet this story of an abducted girl who raises her child (and the child of her captor, if you catch my drift) in the room in which she is confined is just too much for me to take.  Maybe I could watch 20 minutes every month or so?  I do want to see her performance...

If I'm missing out on a really great movie, do tell!  I'd definitely recommend the books, but you might have to put them in the freezer for a bit...


Everyday Life and Menu Plan 1.24.16

Another week, another two trips to the Y on the same day for swim lessons.  I go in the early afternoon with my 5 year old, and in the evening with the 8 year old.  He loves that he's old enough to hit the hot tub.

Meanwhile, I hear Eddie Murphy doin' James Brown in my head. 

And, this week: another trip to see The Force Awakens, this time with the kids!  My boy loved it, of course, but I think my daughter got a little bored - what!?  We'll keep working on her...
This Vlog Brothers video pretty much sums it up for me.  The movie is just so great.

This morning started out leisurely, and I would have loved to do this all day:
But, as all Pacific Northwest folks know, if the sun is out: then you MUST get outside.  We do not squander our sunny days.  It was a perfect day for the zoo.

This week, we're trying out some Mediterranean bowls and getting out for a date night!

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (a NetGalley Review)

I wasn't quite sure where to begin in my review on Sleeping Giants (to be published in April 2016 by Del Rey), so I'll start with the description from the publisher: 

World War Z meets The Martian. This inventive first novel will please devoted fans of sci-fi as well as literary readers hoping a smart thriller will sneak up on them.
17 years ago: A girl in South Dakota falls through the earth, then wakes up dozens of feet below ground on the palm of what seems to be a giant metal hand. Today: She is a top-level physicist leading a team of people to understand exactly what that hand is, where it came from, and what it portends for humanity. A swift and spellbinding tale told almost exclusively through transcriptions of interviews conducted by a mysterious and unnamed character, this is a unique debut that describes a hunt for truth, power, and giant body parts.

Regarding that first statement: other than the fact that this is told using scientific files and interviews, I don't believe it has anything in common with either The Martian or World War Z.  I just didn't feel any emotion towards the characters, or even just one character - there was no real hero to root for (like the FANTASTIC Mark Watney of The Martian) or a villain for that matter.  The 'mysterious and unnamed character' as interviewer does this novel a disservice.  Not knowing his angle made all the interviews seem lifeless and completely erased my suspension of disbelief.  How exactly is this 'nameless person' able to work with the President and our military without anyone knowing who he is??  As for the World War Z comparison, there was no real edge-of-my-seat tension.  Which was a real missed opportunity, because the story is pretty original and slick.  The idea that thousands of years ago, alien beings (perhaps?) left parts of a giant robot scattered around the globe for us to discover is kind of interesting.  It did read pretty quickly, and the plot went in some unexpected directions.  I just don't think it was executed as well as it could have been.


Crock Pot Nuts n' Bolts - Our Family Chex Mix Recipe (Plus Everyday Life and Menu Plan 1.17.16)

Our everyday life wasn't too terribly exciting this week - precisely the way I like it!  We did have the kids science fair (well, they call it STEM/STEAM night for Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) and it was lots o' fun.

We did some nail painting.

And, book reading, of course.

Now on to my family recipe!  My mom's Salami Stacks and Nuts n' Bolts are the stuff of legend.  They were an absolute staple for every Thanksgiving gathering.  I kept up with the Salami Stack tradition, because they are my favorite and because they are easy to make.  The Nuts n' Bolts required huge baking pans, garbage bags for mixing...  Just a big operation that I didn't have the gumption for, especially since our holidays are just the four of us nowadays.  So I put it off for many years.  This year, though, I felt as if there was a resurgence in the number of recipes for Chex Mix floating around and my craving got the better of me.  So, I researched a SMALLER and less hands on recipe to doctor like our family recipe.  And I was successful!  Here it is! (I basically followed the amounts and cook time from this recipe from Gimme Some Oven, but used different seasonings/ingredients.)  I'm thinking it will be good Superbowl fare, and might just make another batch...

Nuts n' Bolts


2 cups wheat Chex cereal 
2 cups rice Chex cereal
2 cups corn Chex cereal
3 cups original Bugles
2 cup Cheerios
1 cup French's fried onions
1 cup peanuts
1/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3/4 package of taco mix


Add cereals, Bugles, onions and peanuts to the bowl of a slow cooker.
In a separate bowl, whisk together oil and seasonings until dissolved.  Stir in the Worcestershire sauce until combined.
Drizzle the sauce evenly over the top of the cereal mixture.  Toss for about 1 minute, or until the mixture is evenly combined.

Cover and slow cook on low for 3 hours,  stirring at the 1 hour, 2 hour and 2.5 hour marks so that the mixture does not burn.  Then spread the mixture out onto a few baking sheets or parchment paper in an even layer until it cools to room temperature.

This weeks eats:

As always, I'm linking up with Org Junkie, Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers - be sure to check out all the great weekly menus!


The Stack - January 2016

Aw, this January is such a sad little stack from the library...

As most library power users know, it can be a feast or famine situation when it comes to the timing of holds.  I've mostly worked the system on this, though, and my stack of ebooks that I have to choose from is SKY HIGH.  Currently, I'm #1 in line for the following:

The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Happy Again by Jennifer E. Smith
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

PLUS I have two NetGalley books!  So, yeah, I've go my reading mapped out for a bit.  But so many interesting ones cross my path and... SQUIRREL! MUST READ!  The TBR list just gets longer and longer.

Until next time!  As always I am very much open to suggestions of what I need to move up in my queue.