26 Books is 2016

51rahiqp-pl-_sx327_bo1204203200_The holidays are rapidly approaching, and instead of getting smaller, I think my to-do list grows longer every day.  With so much to do, I have less time to read, and there are still books I need to read on my book challenge list.  Not to mention finals next week!!!  I’m hoping with the holiday break I’ll have more time to read, craft, and finish up my Christmas shopping.

I’m currently reading The Morning They Came For Us and am really loving it.  The subject matter is dark, and reading the details of what has been happening in Syria over the past few years is heartbreaking.  But I feel it’s something I should read, and when I’m done, I’ll be passing the book along.

Since I last checked in on 26 Books in 2016, I have checked these categories of the list:

A book with water on the cover – All at Sea

A book written in the decade you were born – Breakfast of Champions

A book with food in the title – It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

A book about a vacation or a road trip – Siracusa

An autiobiography or a memoir – The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo

A book set in the future – The Invoice

A book with magic in it – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

An NYT bestseller – The Woman In Cabin 10

There are still 3 more categories I need to check off my list, and I plan on checking those off in the next few weeks.  I just picked up Gone With the Wind at the library, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to read for years and just haven’t done it.  Hopefully, if I can finish it in time, I can mark one more thing off the list!



My Reading Life

51nejrpxnol-_sx343_bo1204203200_Over the course of my life, I think I’ve read thousands of books. No official count though. Some have been good, some have been not so good. Some were quickly forgotten, some have made quite an impression. Pat Conroy wrote several great books in his lifetime, including Beach Music, and The Prince of Tides. He passed away earlier this year, and left the world with a great body of work.  My Reading Life is a long list of books that meant something to him. It was so interesting reading through the list of some of his favorite books, and it also made me want to read Gone With the Wind (which I just picked up at the library).

Conroy grew up the son of a decorated Marine fighter pilot (this upbringing was the basis of one of his most popular books – The Great Santini). This hero was celebrated seemingly throughout the military, and at every base they lived at during his service. Behind closed doors, at home however, his father was an abusive drunk, something his mom tried so hard to keep secret from the outside world. He was one of 7 children, and the family of 9 traveled all over the south during his father’s time in the service.

The transient life of a military family can be hard, and he describes this well.  He never really had “roots”, or a permanent home, but felt so connected to every library he visited.  Whatever chaos raged in his life, he and his mother always connected through books.  He clings to these books, each one in the book he describes lovingly, and talks about when and where he first read them.  He also describes what the books, the words themselves, meant to him.

He describes his Mom as very brave, and strong, despite the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of his father. She was the one who took him to the library, inspiring his love of reading and writing. They both loved Gone With the Wind, and he has a way of describing the book in a way that I don’t think anyone else I’ve ever read has.  He talks quite a bit about a teacher he had in high school. This teacher he kept in touch with for many years.  Gene Norris was an English teacher who inspired understanding – not only of the books he prescribed in class, but of so much of the changes taking place in the 1960s.

He also talks quite a bit about his favorite librarian. Not one in a libriary he frequented, or visited as a child.  This is a librarian that worked in a school he taught in. She was more concerned with preserving the books and protecting them than she was with encouraging students to read them.  Their interactions that he recounts are hilarious – he loved to get a rise out of her.  For someone who has lived in the south for most of his life, and though my daughter was born in the south, I’ve never really connected to – or understood – the spirit of the south.  He does that in this book, and in his writing.  He was an important southern voice, representing only the good parts of the old south.

I loved reading this book, and hope that one day I can remember my favorite books as fondly as he does here.

New Fiction Friday: The Invoice

51osjhvtavl-_sx336_bo1204203200_If you’ve ever felt unlucky, or really lucky in life, you’re not alone.  I’ve always felt unlucky – and whether it’s true or not, it probably all depends on perspective. That’s exactly what Jonas Karlsson tackles in The Invoice. It’s not at all philosophical, it’s a story that lightly tackles one of life’s biggest questions; but the underlying idea is that there a price to pay for happiness. In this case, it comes in the form of a bill sent out by the government. In the beginning of the story, the main character (who remains nameless) gets an invoice for $5,700,000 kronor and has no idea why.

At first he just throws it away, thinking that it has obviously been sent to him by mistake. A few weeks later, he gets another invoice. Same amount, yet this time he actually looks a little closer and decides to call the number that is listed on the bill. It turns out that the invoice was not sent to him by mistake. What could the bill possibly be for? He really doesn’t understand, though it seems as if there has been a huge campaign by the government (that he has been unaware of) that everyone would be receiving a similar invoice – though not necessarily for the same amount.

When he finally reaches someone at the number listed on the invoice he has waited for hours on hold – literally overnight. What he finds out is completely shocking. He’s actually being charged for happiness, or what the government seems to be calling “experienced happiness”.  And she goes on to explain how the amount is calculated:

“It’s calculated according to a formula that takes account of age, place of residence, particular experiences, success, proximity to the sea. That sort of thing. Quality of home and relationships, et cetera. Taken as a whole, that constitutes your personal quantity of Experienced Happiness. Your levels will be constantly updated, provided that all information can be verified. It’s all officially administered, of course, but I’m afraid I can’t make an estimate as things stand … Have you had any notable setbacks?”

The formula is interesting, making me wonder how much my bill would be. He is quite surprised that his bill is so large, after numerous calls to Maud, he realizes that his is actually the largest of all of the invoices. Which is crazy, because he’s just an unmarried video store clerk, not a millionaire. After his phone calls, I really felt for him. What the money was actually meant for was sort of a redistrubition – in which those with the lowest ammounts charged (meaning the unhappiest lives) would get the money.

I don’t think money buys happiness but this compensation plan seems to suggest that it might.  That’s not Karlsson’s idea – but it is the idea behind the government’s plan.  I was so surprised by this story, and though there’s no real conclusion at the end, I really loved reading it.  I didn’t need closure, but I think he did.  The story is somewhat futuristic, and like other futuristic/post-apocalyptic stories, it’s something impossible to imagine.

New Fiction Friday: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

9780544612310_p0_v2_s192x300Starting at a new school can be really hard when you’re a kid. I did that in high school – and it was actually the first day of high school that Kelly and I met. We were both kind of new, having not gone to the same middle school as most of our classmates. Being the new kid is scary, and on that first day of high school I was terrified.  This is the heart of Firoozeh Dumas’s story, It Ain’t So Awful Falafel. Zomorod and her parents have moved to California from Iran. It’s much more than just moving from one school to another.  She honestly couldn’t be more different than her classmates.

Her father is an engineer and had accepted a job in southern California. It’s the late 70s, and unluckily, they are in the U.S. during the Iranian hostage crisis. Her family is stuck in the U.S., and even if they wanted to return home to Iran, the country that they once loved and called home is gone. They become further alienated from the neighborhood and those around them, and Zomorod (who decides to go by Cindy) is struggling more than ever.

Cindy starts junior high with no friends, and not the right kind of clothes.  It’s hard to fit in in Newport Beach (that hasn’t changed much!), especially when you’re from Iran. Her dad speaks English well, but her mother refuses to learn. This keeps her cooped up at home, and whenever they venture out together – or someone comes to the door – Cindy acts as her interpreter. This is a role she does not enjoy. Her mother misses home terribly, and in addition to her not learning English, she basically refuses to leave the house, and makes no friends while they are in the U.S. Cindy is trying to fit in desperately, and her mother is doing the opposite.

I was really surprised by this story. Pleasantly surprised. I feel like I’ve been in Cindy’s shoes – but I haven’t. I’m thankful for that. Although it’s not a memoir, and is just a work of fiction, the author herself is Iranian, and I have to think that part of her own experiences have shaped this story. I know there are so many kids like Cindy – and adults too. She can’t fit in, even though she tries, living in in a new, strange place, she remains an outsider. Her family faces discrimination, even though kids at school and neighbors in thei community have done almost nothing to get to know them.

She eventually finds a best friend.  Part of this story seems so timely.  Reminding readers to accept and appreciate others’ differences.

New Fiction Friday: The Woman in Cabin 10

518wwd6sorl-_sx329_bo1204203200_I really loved The Girl on the Train – and since reading it have been looking for another great mystery. The Woman in Cabin 10 is just that. Both books were impossible to put down, and once I started Cabin 10 I couldn’t stop reading. Obsessed! I love a good mystery, or a good story full of suspense. These books satisfied that love.  The two stories start out similarly, Lo Blacklock is a journalist who in the beginning of the story is followed home after an evening out. She is attacked, her attacker had followed her into the house and stole her purse. She is terrified and terrorized. The next morning – after barely any sleep at all – she tries to put the fuzzy pieces together. She admittedly had been a bit tipsy, and struggles to recall all the details of her attack.

After trying catch up with work, her relationship with boyfriend, and filling in her Mom with minimal details of the attack, she has an unexpected opportunity at work. She writes for a travel magazine and has the opportunity to take a luxury cruise on the cruise ship Aurora, on its maiden voyage. Still shaken by the attack, she is grateful for the opportunity at work, and for the opportunity to relax.

The first night out at sea, wanting to relax, and after a few drinks and an evening at one of the ship’s restaurants.  She hears a woman scream in the middle of the night and a splash. Fearing the worst, she alerts the crew that a woman may have gone overboard.  The mystery deepens when she discovers that everyone is accounted for – guests and crew. There had been a woman she saw earlier in the day, after the ship had set sail, yet she had been in the cabin next door, cabin 10.  Yet, the captain’s confirmation that no one had actually booked that room is puzzling – and can’t possibly be true. There had been a last-minute cancellation, so the room should have been empty.

Earlier in the day she had seen a woman in that room, yet no one knows who it was, or is willing to admit knowing a woman was in the room. The real mystery unfolds then. She has to continue on the trip, in the middle of the ocean there are no other options available. The captain seems to be cooperating in the investigation – but while at sea there are no authorities she can contact. Everyone around her seems to not believe her, and instead everyone on board becomes almost a suspect in her mind. Reading the story, I started to doubt her too. But only because I read Girl on the Train, where Rachel is unclear on so many details, and as the story is told from her perspective, the disappearance of Jess remains a mystery.

I really loved this book, and I think this may be my new favorite genre. A genre that has yet to be fully defined, and in my own words, is hard to describe. Maybe there are more books of this type (that are this good) out there that I just haven’t seen yet. I’m looking forward to more books by by Paula Hawkins, or Ruth Ware!


TLC Book Tours: The Dude Diet

9780062424389_p0_v2_s192x300Most “dudes” aren’t known for their healthy, balanced diets. The Dude Diet is meant to introduce ways to get “dudes” to eat a little healthier – to clean up their favorite foods.  Offering options – not drastic changes.  Serena Wolf is a chef – an accomplished chef, who as a Harvard grad, seems a bit overqualified as a chef.  Yet, she’s on a mission to deliver delicious foods, delicious recipes, ones that anyone can enjoy – “clean(ish) food for people who like to eat dirty”.

The idea for the Dude Diet came from her boyfriend, Logan. It’s a story that sounds so familiar to me – trying to get my husband to eat healthier is a losing, uphill battle. Now that we’re parents it’s a little easier, but I know he eats nothing but junk when he is on his own. She has a similar unnamed-1challenge – and while my husband claims to be allergic to vegetables, her Logan had no clue about calories, ingredients, and nutrition. This was her mission – to make healthier versions of his favorite dishes, eliminating certain ingredients, bringing down the fat and calorie counts, and in some dishes, sneaking in some veggies.

When I got the book my husband saw it laying out. On the cover is a pile of amazing – looking nachos. Thumbing through the book he pointed to several dishes he seemed really excited about. This is a sign!!! If only I can make these dishes without him seeing the all of the ingredients.  One of the first recipes I tried was her recipe for apple pie overnight oats.  I love overnight oats – and we tried this recipe right away and it was super easy and yummy! Anything between two tortillas is a hit in this house – so unnamedher ultimate breakfast quesadillas (with chopped broccoli snuck in) I know will be trying soon.  Her breakfast recipes would be a hit any time of the day – especially her English muffin French toast with berry compote.

A few great recipes sneakily hide servings of veggies – cauliflower mad and cheese with chicken sausage, super sloppy joes, and Italian herb meatballs with spicy marinara.  With big chunks of tomatoes and squash I don’t think anyone in my house would be interested in the summer spahhetti – but I think it looks delicious. I can’t wait to try the fiesta BBQ chicken nachos – perfect for football season!

thumbnail_tlc tour host.jpg.pngAfter the overnight oats, I wanted to try her meatball recipe.  Instead of using breadcrumbs, the recipe calls for cauliflower.  They are gluten free, which makes it a great option for some.  I was nervous about trying the recipe and wondering how this swap would affect the taste of the meatball.  No need to  worry though, they were delicious!  I really loved them – and so did my daughter!

Using the same meatball base I made BBQ ranch meatballs.  With 1 lb of ground beef, the cauliflower, 1 cup of finely grated cheddar cheese and a packet of ranch dip seasoning.  Both meatball recipes turned out great!

Italian herb meatballs with spicy marinara

1 C cauliflower florets

1 lb lean ground beef

½ C grated parmesean cheese

1/3 C basil leaves, finely chopped

1/3 fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 t drid oregano

1 t kosher salt

½ t freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 large egg

For the spicy marinara

1 ½ T EVOO

½ medium yellow onion, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ t kosher salt

One 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray a wire rack with cooking spray and place it on top of the prepared baking sheet.
  2. Put the cauliflower florets in a food processor or blender and pulse several times until the florets become small granules. (The cauliflower should look sort of like couscous here.) Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients for the meatballs to the bowl with the cauliflower. Using your hands, mix gently just unil all the ingredients are combined. Try not to overmix, or you’ll end up with dry, dense meatballs.
  4. With lightly oiled hands, gently roll the meat mixture into 16 balls, and place them an inch or so apart on the wie rack. Bake to 20 minutes or until cooked through.
  5. Meanwhile, get gogin on the marinara. Heat the olive oil in a medium Dutch oven or sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the onion, garlic, and salt and cook 5 to 6 minutes or until the onion is very soft and the garlic is fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and sugar. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes until slighltly thickened.
  6. Add the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes more, then stir in the basil. Serve warm.