Hello Stranger!

Goodness, it’s been quite a bit since I’ve blogged. Working and handling everyone’s summer schedule kept my hands full for a bit there, so blogging took the back burner. I haven’t stopped reading, crafting and cooking by no means.

I will start with summer reading, because I have read many excellent books since May. Here goes…

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon- Wow guys, this series is heavy, and I tried to read them back to back, but had to pause for a bit after the second one. Heavy in content, in detail, and in length, and heavy in LOVE. Romantic, heart-wrenching, laugh out loud, LOVE- in it’s very dark and light goodness. This series is a must-read, in my opinion.

Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon- see above, stick with it, it’s worth it to keep going, just take a break between novels…

In the Dark Dark Wood, Ruth Ware- The title is much scarier than the story, but very entertaining, even if it’s a bit predictable. Excellent descriptive writing, I felt like I was THERE.

The Curated Closet- Fun, and helpful, if you’re stuck in a style rut and want to make more calculated wardrobe decisions. While I can appreciate minimalism in theory, it is difficult for me in practice.

A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline- Inspired by Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, this story is dynamic, interesting, and lovely. Kline captures so well the human need for connection. A little depressing though, fair warning.

The Dollhouse, Fiona Davis- This was fast, fun and very twisty. I thought I knew the ending, but was pleasantly surprised.

Short Stack Cookbook: Ingredients that Speak Volumes, Nick Fauchald- I drooled over all the photos, but did not make anything at all before I had to return it to the library. Inspired by good and simple ingredients, and yummy photos, I think it could be a pantry staple. But all it was for me was an excellent escape flip book.

The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware- So THIS one was better than her first. It was twisty in a way I could not predict. And the description of the scenery was most excellent. I felt trapped right there with her, freezing and feeling paranoid and set up.

I Found You, Lisa Jewell- Wow, now if I had to tell you to read one mystery from this list- this would be it. Her characters are so real, so knowable, and the mystery is not predictable. You follow a young foreign bride, a single mother, and a man with amnesia found on the seashore. Great, great twisty book.

Every Wild Heart, Meg Donohue- It was a little vanilla and boring at times. Maybe because I was reading some good, darker mysteries for a bit there, but I kept wanting this one to get darker.

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy- I listened to the audio version of this one. It made my heart ache for her. For love that she needed, for forgiveness, and the experiences she had to endure, just tough. But I guess we all follow our counterfeit gods in one way or another.

The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley are Changing the World- This one is kind of factual and boring. The investor process was a little shocking to me, but ultimately I read this as the news of Uber’s founder & CEO, Travis Kalanick, resigning over allegations of the company culture of sexual harassment. I lost interest.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe- I don’t (or I should say, didn’t) know very much about Rob Lowe, only that he’s my favorite actor in St Elmo’s Fire. I didn’t watch the West Wing, but reading this makes me want to binge-watch it. While it is not a tell-all, it’s a fun little Hollywood glimpse at what some well-known actors are really like off-screen, and the Hollywood process in general.

A Perfect Obsession, Heather Graham- Good, but a little too much “weak female, strong rescuing man” characterization.

Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepytys- This fictional story is based on the real-life tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, and follows four refugees trying to escape war-torn Germany 1945 in the midst of a Soviet advance. It is engaging for both young and old readers, and I would highly recommend. If you like The Book Thief or Echo, you will love this.

Dreamland Burning, Jennifer Latham- Another fantastic and engaging mystery that also explores racial prejudice and entitlement from a teen point of view. Modern-day Rowan discovers skeletal remains during a home renovation and starts digging into the past to solve the mystery. Enlightening the journey is the story of 17-year old Will, and his experiences in a segregated town, leading up to the 1921 Tulsa race riots.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Jenny Han- I love this series. The goody-goody high school student in me loves this, because goody-goody Lara Jean can break out with some bold decisions from time to time and it’s so fun to read. Start from the beginning with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and enjoy every sweet second.

The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis- I think this is a school read for most kids who have a religious education, so I’m probably the world’s oldest reader of this. It’s Satan talking to an apprentice on how to defeat Christianity, and it makes you think. It goes to some pretty dark, surprising places. If you are praying for a closer walk with God, this would be interesting to read.

The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes- Very factual and boring, and the way he presents it makes it sound like we’re doomed and have already doomed future generations.

The Residence, Kate Andersen Brower- Stories about the White House, how it’s run, and the families that reside there are endlessly fascinating to me. I loved this insider look and detailed description from so many staffers during so many decades. I listened to the audio version and especially enjoyed new accounts of the Clinton, George W Bush, and Obama eras.

What have you read this summer? Anything I need to add to my already-packed holds list?

 

April Reading

As spring blossomed, I heeded the call to be outdoors this month (allergies be damned, ha). We spent several weekends at the lake, adjusting the dock and cleaning up after the flooding, and just enjoying some longer evenings spent with friends, riding bikes and playing in our neighborhood.

I had running on the brain, with the half marathon, and read a couple of cookbooks about running nutrition and whole foods- Run Fast/ Eat Slow and Nourishing Meals.

I also listened to Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli on my walks. It was narrated by John Ritter, a voice I adore. Stargirl is a girl who is misunderstood, who marches quite literally to the beat of her own drum. I loved it and can’t wait to enjoy this one again with my soon-to-be-middle-schooler.

I’ve been wanting to read When Breath Becomes Air for awhile now. Being so popular when it came out, it was hard to pick up at the library. And in forgetting to reserve it online, completely forgot about the book. A couple of months ago, when reading yet another glowing review, I finally pulled the trigger and got on the wait list at the library. Of course, the advantage in waiting is that the library has many, many copies now and the wait was not long. The book was hopeful, and sad, and lovely, and just everything I wanted it to be. (Well maybe not, I knew the ending, but if I didn’t- I would hope for some magical cure, happy-ending optimist that I am.) The medical jargon was a little over my head, but broken down enough that I got the gist of what was happening to Paul. I certainly read it more with the focus of Lucy and how she must feel to navigate this journey, rather than Paul. A true must-read, as many reviews have advertised.

I also read Running by Cara Hoffman. I had mixed feelings about this one. The story is centralized around a young girl orphaned very young, and raised unconventionally. She ends up hustling for money and squatting around Europe. Parts of the story were shocking, and seemed to amount to a miserable existence. Just when you think the abandonment and hopelessness would triumph, hope peeked around the corner and you realized that she was living the life she wanted. So maybe as an observer, I just don’t understand the appeal of the lifestyle, and that’s why I was a bit distracted and uninterested as a reader.

Have you read anything wonderful lately?

 

Summer Reading Plan

With the school year ending, I’m not going to lie- I am very excited to see the end of the reading log for the kiddos. We love to read! However, the requirement to log in a certain amount of time a day truly steals the joy.

So this summer, the reading plan is very loose. I am taking them to the library on Fridays, to let them pick anything they want. They have their own library card, and I let them usually choose 5-10 books. And together (bedtimes and car trips mainly) we will try to read a few chapter books.

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These are some of the ones I’m looking forward to sharing this summer:

The Boxcar Children

The Courage of Sarah Noble

Red, White, and Blue

Hattie & Hudson (not chapters but so beautiful)

Bellyache

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And for me-

The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a dark, dark wood, in thriller preparation for The Lying Game (coming out July 25!)

More of the Outlander series

Pure, White, and Deadly 

Always and forever, Lara Jean 

Echo

And some other new releases that I heard about on Bookpage: How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays and Mrs. Fletcher: A Novel

Do you like to make a plan for yourself and your kiddos?

Reading Phases

I don’t know if this is common with others, but I go through reading phases. My interest will go heavily into nonfiction, fiction, biographies, magazines, cookbooks, or juvenile novels, for several months. Because I am actually recording what I read these days, there’s a certain effort into spreading it out. But what happens now, instead of enjoying that rabbit hole, it results in me just not reading and picking up my knitting or focusing on running, if I can’t get into what I’m telling myself I should be reading (instead of what I want to be reading). Which is a long way of saying, I haven’t been reading very much.

But I did pick up two excellent cookbooks that were new on my library’s shelves this past month (and disheartenedly, they are due tomorrow and reserved, so there’s no option of renewing).

Nourishing Meals by Alissa Segersten & Tom Malterre

Nourishing Meals was excellent, and would be a top notch resource if your meal planning involves sidestepping gluten, dairy and soy. You should have seen how many recipes I sticky-noted along the way! I made the grapefruit and radish salad a few weeks ago, and have so many more plans to incorporate these recipes into my daily routine. There’s practical advice on lunch planning, creating balanced family meals, and incorporating smart snacking into your diet.

Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalene Flanagan & Elyse Kopecky

I heard about Run Fast. Eat Slow. on the podcast, Another Mother Runner. The half marathon training was in full swing, and I was struggling with the energy to get out the door for the longer runs and trying to figure out what to eat (& when) to maximize my energy levels while also being realistic about balancing my busy work & kid schedule. With the help of this book, I roasted beets for smoothies, garlic and sweet potatoes, and batch cooked whole grains. This book was endorsed by some pretty impressive athletes- Joan Benoit Samuelson, Meb Keflezighi and Allyson Felix. I want to be running in ten or twenty years, and it is conclusive that getting nourishment from whole foods is the key to long-term success.

If you are into the whole foods movement or need help avoiding certain allergens, both of these books would be recommended.

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March Reading

It was another quality over quantity month for the reading list this past month.

My favorite was Long Man by Amy Greene, and you can read about it here. It’s everything I want to hear from a local voice.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey was another excellent book, almost magical, like a fairy tale. The delicate details of the Alaskan scenery are like Jack and Mabel’s love, not always confident but always complicated and beautiful.

Jack and Mabel are grieving the loss of a pregnancy and hopes of creating the family they want so badly. They move and pour their energy into homesteading in the 1920’s Alaskan wilderness. Faina, the snow child, comes to their homestead fantastically, in a blizzard. She arrives when their relationship is failing, and they are challenged with discerning if she is real or imagined. Jack and Mabel are looking for a new beginning together and Faina provides that foundation, even if it is fractured and slippery.

A brassy and bold neighbor of Mabel says earnestly, “We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?” {Drop the mic, as my daughter would say}

365 Thank yous by John Kralik. It was inspiring and humbling to read his story. He is self-admittedly arrogant and depressed, and hears a voice in the wilderness calling him to be a better version of himself. Through the process of writing a thank you note every day, his outlook changes from grumbly hateful to humbly grateful for the people around him, at work, on the street, and his family. It reminded me of the message of our church retreat, about allowing God to break in to our every day lives. (Perhaps try to put Philippians 4:8 into practice, if you that is something you feel lead to do.)

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby was mysterious and fantastical (and maybe a little too mysterious and fantastical for the audio version I was trying to listen to as I ran this past month). It was less confusing once I checked out the actual library copy, but I loved the narration of the audio version. The story moves around a high school boy, who witnesses a crime and wrestles with his role in the crime, as well as discovers love and his identity in the process. (And now that I know the ending, I’d like to reread it; it’s that kind of book.)

What are you reading? Anything inspiring or hard to put down? I’d love to hear!

Long Man: A Novel

I wanted to feature Amy Greene’s latest novel #1 because she is an East Tennessee local author, #2 because she writes so beautifully about this region, and #3 her stories are so real they will have you googling for more information to unearth the fiction from the truth.

Long Man is set in 1930’s East Tennessee, during the height of TVA’s progress building dams and bringing electricity and modernity to many rural parts of Tennessee. The fictional town of Yuneetah rings like Loyston, a real town that was uprooted during the creation of Norris Dam. The book centers around a family whose little girl goes missing in a bad storm, just moments before they are set to evacuate and the flood waters are rising. She uses those family members and extended family, a drifter returning to the area, many townspeople, and TVA representatives to paint this picture of a town on the brink of extinction and the indecision in the face of the unknown.

Greene perfectly captures the pride of these impoverished people and the Cherokee influence on the region. Through the voice of Ellard Moody, the town sheriff who is investigating the lost child, her description of how he plans to move forward and what he wants to remember of the town of Yuneetah rang so beautifully true to me. She writes that he wants to remember “how a fresh crewelwork of snow dressed even the dustiest of their farmyards. How leaves shaped like hands of their babies sailed and turned on the eddies of the river. How an open meadow sounded when they stood still. How ripe plums tasted then they closed their eyes. How cucumbers smelled like summer. How lightning bugs made lanterns of their cupped palms. How it felt to come in from the cold to where a fire was built. These things they hadn’t lost. But, like Ellard, they had grown too weary to see them anymore.”

The narrator in the audio version has a Southern raspy accent, and it helped shape the story at first, but I grew frustrated near the end because it felt too slow. Just as TVA wanted to ignore the voices of the town of Yuneetah in the name of progress, I too wanted to see progress in the narrator’s accent. I ended up returning the audio version and getting the actual library copy so I could read faster.  If you like reading about East Tennessee, both Amy Greene’s Long Man and Bloodroot are excellent books to add to your reading list.