Monthly Meal Wrap Up for September

We kicked the month off with a brunch outing the weekend before the school craziness set in. Mmmmm, huevos rancheros.

And it has indeed been a bit busy this month with school commitments and evening soccer practice times that necessitate tried and true easy recipes. So, I didn't get around to many new ones, however the few new things I DID try were delicious! 
Muffins (or a cookie variation) are a go-to breakfast for me: I like to make a huge batch to store in the freezer and pop in the microwave in the morning. I was looking for something new and seasonal - these Sweet Potato Date Muffins were PERFECT. It's from Sarah Britton's book Naturally Nourished, and you can find the recipe here
Also great this time of year are my lightened up version of Pumpkin Snickerdoodle Muffins!
As the days get colder, I'm always craving comfort soup recipes and this Coconut Curry Soup from Pinch of Yum was super easy (I highly recommend an immersion blender) and delish. 
I added shredded chicken in lieu of tofu and cooked veggies, but plan to give it a whirl with tofu another day. Also a great easy meal I usually rely on for lunches this time of year:
The Tomato Feta Soup from Trader Joe's has been a favorite for awhile, but this new Pumpkin Butternut Squash Bisque is equally delicious.

We ended the month with a trip to our favorite restaurant in celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary! Daniel's steaks can't be beat, plus the view of the sun setting on Seattle and the Olympic mountains isn't too shabby either.


Books I Read in September

Eight books this month!! Several factors contributed to this level of reading. First, this season of Game of Thrones ended and the current season of Better Call Saul is unavailable on Netflix. The only show we're watching right now is (the much shorter) Master of None once or twice a week. Second, there is a gaggle of younger siblings that come and play along with my daughter during my son's soccer practice. So I've got a built in two hours a week while I hang at the park! Third, I read six of these in print format, which always goes faster for me. And lastly, they were almost all excellent books this month! Okay, on to the reviews...

Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi
This was the first review copy I read provided by Little Brown as part of their ambassador program, and it was a lovely surprise. I was a little wary about what seemed like a lack of plot - yet I immediately identified with the protagonist Barbara, as she navigates life with her five children (one still in the womb) after the death of her husband. It reminded me a great deal of Commonwealth - just an engrossing, intimate portrait of a family and how seemingly small events, and our perceptions of events, have such a huge impact on generations to come. The point of view shifts between Barbara and her prodigal son Francis to give the full picture of the family as it evolves over a generation. There was a section in the middle of the book dedicated to Francis' journey that felt a bit long, especially since I loved Barbara the most. Overall though, the narrative moves quickly through time, sometimes jumping nearly a decade forward, and still feels well paced. I really enjoyed this one, and will be thinking of these vivid characters for some time.

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett
This story of a girl navigating her mother's death, along with her father and troubled older sister, was equal parts melancholy and hilarity. Elvis Babbitt is one of the more endearing characters I've ever read and her twisted story of love, loss, family and coming of age (including a Guinness attempt of the most rabbit shaped cakes, escaped animals from the zoo, and cross-dressing for comfort) was wonderfully told. "Maybe a spirit evaporates like a vapor off the bag of frozen peas you steam in the microwave: the droplets go everywhere, settle wherever they land." 

Castle of Water by Dane Hucklebridge
The premise of this story was total catnip for me: two strangers stranded on a remote deserted island after a plane crash. It's like Castaway but the added dynamic of immediate intimacy with another person with whom you'd have to collaborate to survive. The literal and emotional journey of Sophie and Barry was a roller coaster that I burned through in nearly 48 hours. The banter between the two is written with great wit and tenderness, and I definitely held back a few tears at the end.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
I did not intentionally pick a second stranded on an island narrative when choosing my Newberry read for the month! However, it was an interesting contrast after reading Castle of Water. This was one I don't recall reading as a kid, but I can see the allure it would hold for young readers. Much in the same way The Boxcar Children held my imagination: you can't help but romanticize the idea of being alone, independent and running the show. But after reading the previous novel, the lack of emotional writing felt stark, as if it was a survival manual, rather than a story about a girl who survives. But I also appreciated the nuance of her relationship with the dog Rontu and fleeting relationship with Tutok.
Side note: both books made me fear encountering an octopus...

The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann
You can read my (favorable!) review here.

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta
Not since Where'd You Go Bernadette have I enjoyed such uproarious satire! I have had some of Perotta's books on my TBR for years, and when Mrs. Fletcher appeared on the lucky day shelf at the library, I had to grab it. This story, told in alternating viewpoints of single mom Eve Fletcher and her son Brendan as he flees the nest for college and they both try to navigate their new normal, captures the zeitgeist perfectly. 
"Young mothers in the schoolyard, on the sidelines at soccer games, at school plays and award ceremonies and graduations, a whole era of their lives - it had felt so permanent while it was happening - suddenly behind them. Just a chapter, and not the story itself."
I laughed out loud A LOT, while also cringing a lot. Both Eve and Brendan make some really questionable decisions and suspending my disbelief was challenging in some portions of the book, but it added to the urgency - oh my God, what will happen NEXT? I look forward to checking off more of his work from my TBR now.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
I had really high hopes for this one, given all the positive reviews and hype. Alas, it didn't work for me. It started off really strong, a story about culture, family, belonging, expectations amidst compelling viewpoints on arranged marriages within the Indian culture. I hope to read other work that might further explore this topic, because this book did not. Pretty quickly, it went from a fascinating situation and character development to formulaic boy meets girl/loses girl YA territory, with an added round of girl loses boy and dragging out storylines of peripheral characters. It became tedious and I just kind of wanted it to end. It held a great deal of promise, so I hope to see more from this author!
Side note: I saw The Big Sick this month and it filled a hole that this book left - FANTASTIC film.

The Futilitarians by Anne Gisleson
This was another review copy provided by Little Brown, as part of their ambassador program and it's not the kind of book I would have normally sought out, since I'm not big on memoirs and I figured the existential talk would be over my head. Admittedly, some of it is, yet Gisleson can compare Dante to Hot Tub Time Machine (!) and she intersperses the existential with such accessible thoughts on motherhood, sisterhood, marriage and life. And at it's heart, it is a beautiful and raw ode to her sisters who committed suicide years ago, the death of her father, and the city of New Orleans. It was very surreal to read it during hurricane season and all of the devastation that is happening right now. A memoir that reads like an atmospheric novel is impressive stuff. I haven't been back to New Orleans since Katrina, but The Futilitarians has me absolutely itching to return.


Thoughts on Planning a Reading Schedule (and September Library Haul)

It's been awhile since I did a library haul update! It's partly because I purposely downshifted posting over the summer, and partly because I became a Little Brown and Company book ambassador - YAY! In the last month or so, they have graciously added EIGHT complimentary review copies to my never ending TBR pile. 
(To be clear, this is NOT a complaint! Look at all the bookish goodness!) So I picked up a little less from the library last month and have read two of these, so far, that will be included in my monthly reviews.
Since I was feeling a little overwhelmed, albeit in a good way, I took a spare moment during my kid's soccer game warm ups the other day and nerded out with a SCHEDULE. (Please do not dwell on my left handed scrawl. Handwriting is something I think about trying to improve upon quite often...) 
With the exception of advance copies, I really don't plan my reading or posts ahead of time. Just thinking about it gave me the heebie jeebies. Which is funny, because in all other aspects of my life, I am a type A, organizational, habitual freak (see also: menu planning). But when it comes to books, it's about what is speaking to me RIGHT NOW and my mood. Yet, with the influx of Little Brown books, the new 'Lucky Day' shelf at the library, and the Net Galley requests that can get out of control, I thought I should at least experiment with some planning.
My very simple method was to write down every single book that I hope to read before the end of the year and try to shoehorn them into the remaining months of 2017, with my average of six books per month. I started by looking at ARCs to review and realized that, since reviewing The Trick, I only have one in the queue: ARTEMIS by Andy Weir (of The Martian fame) squee! It's always so very tempting to request new books to review, but I shall refrain until the new year and I scheduled Artemis for November - the month of it's release. 
Next, I went by what I felt were seasonal reads, like First Frost and Winter Solstice and scheduled them for October and December, respectively. Lastly, I went through and tried to evenly schedule backlist titles and this year's releases into some remaining slots. I assigned four specific titles per month total to read, plus a TBD Newberry Honor book and left the sixth slot (perhaps more) for a mood read from the master list. I may also try to do one or two on audio, or add in an audio book not on the list. I figured this is a good compromise to hopefully get through my current stack, but also keeps things from feeling too structured.
In general, this was a really fun exercise and I can't believe I haven't done it before! I spend a great deal of time looking back on books (with every year end favorites list, or Goodreads challenge) but hardly any time looking forwards in such an organized way. I can't imagine doing this as a yearly endeavor, but perhaps quarterly... Fellow book nerds, do you do this? How do you plan? How far out do you plan? Or do you shun the idea completely? 
Here are the books on zee big list, I won't go into the minutiae of each month, because it can/will probably change. And as for the library stack, I will have some of those reviews in the monthly wrap up. But I can quickly say that Castle of Water was worth the hype, When Dimple Met Rishi was not quite worth the hype, and I found Mrs. Fletcher to be highly entertaining satire.

Current/2017 Releases
Artemisby Andy Weir
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Killers of the Flower Moon Moon by David Grann 
The Party by Elizabeth Day
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
Fierce Kingdomby Gin Philips
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
My Absolute Darling by 
Unbelievable by Katy Tur

Backlist I've been putting off for too long/really want to read:
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
A Darker Shade of Magic V.E. Schwabb
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
11/22/63 by Stephen King


The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann (NetGalley Review)

The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann
Publisher: Atria Books - an imprint of Simon & Schuster (September 19, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
In 1934, a rabbi’s son in Prague joins a traveling circus, becomes a magician, and rises to fame under the stage name the Great Zabbatini just as Europe descends into World War II. When Zabbatini is discovered to be a Jew, his battered trunk full of magic tricks becomes his only hope of surviving the concentration camp where he is sent.

Seven decades later in Los Angeles, ten-year-old Max finds a scratched-up LP that captured Zabbatini performing his greatest tricks. But the track in which Zabbatini performs his love spell—the spell Max believes will keep his disintegrating family together—is damaged beyond repair. Desperate for a solution, Max seeks out the now elderly, cynical magician and begs him to perform his magic on his parents. As the two develop an unlikely friendship, Moshe discovers that Max and his family have a surprising connection to the dark, dark days the Great Zabbatini experienced during the war.

Recalling the melancholy humor of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the heartbreaking pathos of the film Life is Beautiful—this outstanding first novel is at once an irreverent yet deeply moving story about a young boy who believes in magic and a disillusioned old man who believes in nothing, as well as a gripping and heartfelt tale about the circle of life.

I normally limit myself to one or two World War II novels per year, so this description really got me! However, in this dual timeline narrative, the past is mainly centered around the time leading up to the war. You will not be thrust into the day to day of Auschwitz, plunked down in London during the blitz or thrown into Paris during the Vel' d'Hiv. It is not just a story about war, but about the reverberations of war, or any actions of our lives on the future.

Some of the actions of Moshe throughout his very complex life are quite despicable, but I couldn't help but find him an endearing, hilarious and heartbreaking character. Equally endearing is Max's story in the present day timeline, attempting to prevent his parents divorce by finding Moshe to perform the 'eternal love' trick. The juxtaposition of the young and 'magical thinking' boy, set against the curmudgeon-y old man is rife with moments of great humor and heart. There are many laugh out loud moments that balance out what could have been too saccharine on one hand, or horrific on the other. The final scenes from both narratives had my heart pounding for vastly different reasons. Bergmann must have children to convey with such hilarity and accuracy a visit to a thinly veiled version of Chuck E. Cheese, and the way he depicts Moshe/Zabbatini's performance of the eternal love spell there had me RIVETED. Then as I went back in time to Auschwitz to finally discover the plot connection to the present day, I was biting my nails in fear and hope.

If you enjoy dual timeline historical fiction, family drama, plot driven narratives, witty writing, I would highly recommend The Trick. It is also a perfect transition from super light summer reading, to something with a little more heft, but not too much. Many thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for providing an advance copy for my honest review!


Summer Reading 2017 (Plus the Kids Favorite Books of the Summer)

Summer reading is not something I have ever put on the bucket list, because it is just implied that the kids are going to participate in ALL the summer book fun. The program through our library system is a highlight, as my kids are always chomping at the bit to see what the yearly prize will be (in addition to Storm tickets which we will hopefully carve out time for one of these days). This year they got awesome backpacks, which worked out great for containing all of their car entertainment on our annual summer road trip!

We also participated in the Scholastic Summer Road Trip event at our local independent bookstore.
My son finally got to meet Kazu Kibuishi, local author of the Amulet graphic novels (which I gush about here). 
There were prize wheels and activities to take home, as well as a Captain Underpants sighting.

Later in the summer daughter FINALLY got to attend an author event. She'd been jealous that her brother not only got his Amulet books signed, but his Diary of a Wimpy Kid's as well. Meeting Asia Citro (also a local!) who wrote the adorable science/magical creature Zoey and Sassafras series, as well as 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, was a highlight of the summer. 
There was a super cool activity where she was tasked with 'freeing a dragon' from ice!
They were given salt, a cup of water and a dropper to experiment with the fastest way to unlock the dragon from it's icy prison. 
As for the books that dominated the piles next to their beds this summer, it was ALL about books in a series for BOTH of them:

My son (10) burned through James Patterson's House of Robotsseries. Highly recommend!
He also swears by these Dragonbreath books.
And the John Scieszka Frank Einstein series.

In addition to the Zoey and Sassafras books, my daughter (7) read every Stick Dog (and Stick Cat) book she could get her hands on this summer.
She is also loving Owl Diaries, which are right in line with her Sophie Mouse and Critter Club sensibilities  - i.e. animal loving.
Even though she normally shuns the princess stuff (I have no idea how I dodged that bullet), I convinced her to try The Princess in Black because I heard good things - and now she's gobbling them up.
Now it's time for back to school reading and I can't wait to see what they bring home from the school library... As always, I love to hear recommendations for early middle grade readers!