Holiday Wish List 2018

It's that time of year where I share my holiday wish list because I have given up the pretense of a gift guide - I love looking at holiday lists for MYSELF. If you love them, too, check it! And here's 2014, 2015 and 2017 for more listy goodness. Pictures are via the websites linked below and some Amazon affiliate links are included. 

We found this gem of a chocolate shop on our trip to San Diego and I can't recommend Nibble chocolate enough. So, so, delicious. I have been craving some ever since.
This year, one of my 'to-do' items was get a little more art in my life and that never happened. Paint this Book: Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered might be just the impetus I need.
We put up the tree every year the day after Thanksgiving and I noted that we have ZERO Harry Potter ornaments. This Harry Potter ornament trio from Boxlunch is tempting me...
I love unique studs that can go with pretty much anything and these opal studs from Amour Vert fit the bill.
I've contemplated wireless headphones for a long time, but I just can't stand the rubber ones that go IN your ear. I love my iPhone earbuds and am now coveting Apple AirPods.
This Rifle Paper Co Chicago print from Pottery Barn is too cute for words.
I actually already picked up 300 Writing Prompts during a recent trip to Half Price Books, but it's too fun of a gift idea and I had to share. Debating whether I'd put some of those writings here or keep them in the book!
The running section of my sock drawer is so sad. I am terrible about replacing them and may actually ASK FOR SOCKS this Christmas. But when it comes to the awesome Feetures socks, they are rather indulgently priced and gift-worthy.

Happy holidays y'all!


A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (NetGalley Review)

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Publisher: Hogarth (November 13, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for fame. The one thing he doesn’t have is talent – but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don’t need to be his own. 
Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful – but desperately lonely – older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice’s first novel.
Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall…

Holy moly, y'all! This book was absolutely crazy, crazy good. John Boyne has solidified himself as one of my auto-buy authors, and I definitely want to catch up on his backlist. I was nervous going into this, seeing as how The Heart's Invisible Furies was my favorite book last year, and even in the last ten years. This novel also sounded so very different than his previous works. Yet his ability to create a character study with an utterly compelling plot is spot on.
Each section of the book is told from the point of view of a character that (unwittingly) helps the single minded Maurice move up the ladder of literary fame - including an entertaining interlude with Gore Vidal. The chapters start out quietly absorbing, with witty dialogue and dry humor that begins to take a dark turn with excruciating foreshadowing. The section from his wife Edith's perspective, written in the second person, is utterly haunting and I literally could not put the book down until I finished her story. Then I was riveted until the very end as Maurice narrated the final chapter, and I guffawed at the satisfying and darkly humorous end.
A Ladder to the Sky would make for a superior book club discussion, with a lot of themes to chew on. What are the consequences of our actions when we are young? Should our mistakes color our lives and work as an adult? What kind of mistakes? (Rather timely, no?) Or the concept of ownership and plagiarism - what stories are ours to tell? There was a good deal that was reminiscent of Ann Patchett's Commonwealth in this regard. 
Some readers are turned off by unlikeable characters, and oftentimes I can understand why - I wrote a bit about this subject awhile ago here. But when it comes to a suspenseful novel, they totally work for me and Maurice is a deliciously evil villain that one can't help love to loathe. If this is a stumbling point, I would still wholeheartedly endorse this book, as I do not believe anyone would regret the experience.
Thank you so very much to the folks at Hogarth and NetGalley for a complimentary digital galley in exchange for my honest review!


Cook it in Cast Iron by Cook's Country and Recent Eats

In my most recent meal wrap up post, I put out a call for good cookbook suggestions. I feel like most of the ones I've flipped through lately are the same ol' thing and that nothing has come close to the unique options of Healthyish. And, boy, y'all delivered! I have a stack of at least five from the library and we started experimenting with some dishes from Cook It in Cast Iron (thanks to a suggestion from my friend Lauren, who is the friend from this fun book story).

Funny thing, though - we don't actually own a cast iron skillet! I know. We do however have a Le Creuset Dutch oven and I figured that would work fine for the time being. The first dish we tried was Curried Chicken and Rice which was pretty easy and tasty. WIN!
I'm a little wary of one pot pasta dishes. Getting the pasta to water ratio juuuuuust right is kind of a pain and you have to babysit the pot. I did have to do a lot of stirring for this Baked Ziti with Charred Tomatoes, but the water to pasta measurements were perfect and it was quite tasty, if a little sweet. I might add some spicy turkey sausage to balance it out next time. I also kicked it up with fresh mozzarella instead of shredded. 
We're looking forward to trying a few more recipes from this one, perhaps even a DEEP DISH PIZZA. Will report back.
I also whipped up this Ceasar Chicken recipe from The Cookie Rookie and is was really easy and tasty. 
It seemed rather rich, with just Ceasar dressing, sour cream and Parmesan cheese. But it cooked down quite nicely and was perfect with some rice and veggies.
Oh, and last but not least - new favorite Trader Joe's finds:
This is now one of my go-to lunches. Just heat up some olive oil, toss it in the pan, and once it's mostly cooked through, add an egg and you have cauliflower fried rice! And these ABC bars are SO GOOD. 
Something about the almond butter filling gives them a marzipan like taste. They're also pretty low in sugar - the perfect sweet, but not too sweet snack. 


Books I Read in October

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This one absolutely lived up to the hype! I loved how it was a fantastic take on the boy meets girl, boy loses girl framework. And this was not at all what I expected to rise to the surface - a love story. It is that, as well as a mystery, beautifully written. 
"She laughed for his sake, something she'd never done. Giving away another piece of herself just to have someone else."
The evocative poetry interspersed throughout was lovely, and the descriptions of the marsh. Kya was such a vulnerable, yet tough as nails, character that I just ached for as she dealt with the hand life gave her. I had to suspend my disbelief at HOW clever and capable she was given the circumstances, but that was an easy sacrifice to enjoy Owens' excellent fiction debut. 

Interpreter of Maladies Jhumpa Lahiri
Since I realized back in April that I actually quite enjoy short story collections, I've been meaning to pick up another. I loved The Namesake and had heard good things about Interpreter. It definitely scratched that short story itch - quick read, full of intense and thought provoking emotions. I loved how the stories were about Indian Americans, but that that their culture wasn't necessarily the focus. The stories were about everyday lives of everyday people that just happen to be Indian. I didn't adore every single story, but each had some interesting food for thought - favorites were A Temporary Matter, Mrs. Sen's and the title story. 

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
I love this author, but her latest was not my favorite. Full review here.

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Oof! I went into this one totally blind, and it's stomach churning true crime stuff. If you have any triggers whatsoever, this book seems to hit on all of them. Though I thought that the author crafted an impressive narrative of how the events in her life mirrored those in the life of murderer Ricky Langley, at times I felt like the shift between her story and Langley's confusing and it didn't seem to flow well. Perhaps because I listened to the audio book. Overall I found it to be highly provocative, thinking about the root cause of a crime and how our life experiences can contribute to our future actions. 

Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
The writing team that constitutes Christina Lauren seems to be all the rage on social media, and I felt like I was due for a romantic read. This love story was so completely adorable, bittersweet, addictive, and so totally unbelievable. Ha! But, in a good way. I think it ought to be categorized in YA, with it's 'ideal boy next door of your dreams' and all of those first love vibes. Though, it gets a little too steamy for the younger crowd, which I guess is their specialty and this was Christina/Lauren's first 'women's fiction' (whatevs that means) novel. They also totally preyed on all of our bookish hearts with a dream book nook in Macy's room, and book nerd bonding with Elliot that brought them together. Of course I loved it, and gobbled it up in a few days. I for sure plan to read Roomies the next time I need a hit of syrupy romance.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
When I learned that the majority of this story was set in the neighborhoods of Chicago's North side, mostly Boys Town, it put me over the edge and I HAD to read it - my old 'hood! Of course, being a finalist for the National Book award is a pretty glowing endorsement. I must confess that it took me awhile to get into the story. There are so many characters and the dual timeline felt confusing at first. The main character of the past set in Chicago is Yale, and I adored him from the get go. His friend Fiona is the main character of the present day timeline set in Paris, but we don't get a good sense of her character in the past until at least halfway through the book. It was excellently plotted, so I could see why we had to wait to get her full story, and it all came together in a beautifully heartbreaking way. It was just hard for me to care as much about her for most of the book because I felt like I didn't know her. By the end, though, she was so relatable and I was absolutely moved to tears by this magnificent portrait of friendship and love.
"How this show might begin to convey it all, the palimpsest that was her heart, the way things could be written over but never erased. She was simply never going to be a blank slate."