Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Big Book Clean-Out!

My college son is not just a book lover, he is also a book hoarder. He loves each book dearly and hates to part with any of them. Yes, a boy after my own heart! Since he went off to college a few years ago, his room here at home gradually filled up - yes, partly with class notes, clothes, and discarded dorm room stuff, but mostly with BOOKS. A visitor to our house looked in his room and said, "He should open a bookstore!" The books were stacked everywhere - on every available surface, triple stacked on the bookcases, and yes, stacked on the floor, too.

Yesterday, before he headed back to campus for a new school year, he and I took the plunge and cleaned up his room. It was a day filled with, "How about this one? Keep or give away?" and both of us fondly remembering the books we both read and loved!

I should have taken some Before pictures, but you'll just have to imagine that part. Here are some of our After pics, though, with his beloved collection now sorted, dusted, and organized. There are still more books than fit nicely on the shelves, but it's a whole lot better. His little kid bookcase (which he outgrew over a decade ago!) is now filled with some of his most beloved series, all in order and together. We cleaned out the closet, and used one of its built-in shelves for more books (I wanted to avoid double rows, but alas, it was not to be).

Then, we moved a bunch of old collections (non-book) into the closet to make room for more books in this stacked plastic unit. Once again, I tried to avoid double layers, but it filled up so quickly. Of course, the solution is that he needs more and bigger bookcases!

On the shelves behind his bed are three of his most beloved middle-grade series: Deltora Quest, Warriors, and Pendragon (those last two we both loved! I read the first in each series to write a review and ended up reading the entire series!).

Finally, we filled two huge boxes to overflowing with books to give away. Many of them we earmarked for younger cousins - we both love passing books along to friends and family!

Despite our best efforts, we still ended up with some stacks on the floor - all of the books he hasn't read yet - 3 tall TBR piles! But at least they are tucked away in a corner and all together. Now, if only he had more time to read during the school year...

Now, he is off to college again, and I still need to sort through the giveaway boxes and divide them into those for cousins, those to sell on, and those for donation to the library book sale.

I said to him, "Isn't it nice to have such a clean room, with everything looking so good?" He sighed and said, "But we gave away so many books..." He needs time to grieve.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday 8/24! What Are You Reading?

Quiet week at home last week, for a change. I wasn't feeling well most of the time, so I tried to take it easy. Both sons were home (in and out) for much of the week. I managed a lot of blog catch-up and plenty of reading:
  • I finished my sixth and final Big Book of the Summer, Anne of Green Gables by H. M. Montgomery. If, like me, you have never read this childhood classic, you should! It is clever, charming, warm, and funny. I just adore Anne and want to read more of her adventures. Really enjoyed it.
  • Next, I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a novel I've been wanting to read ever since its release last year. It lived up to my expectations - I loved it! It's a book-lovers novel, about a bookstore owner. I laughed out loud throughout, cried at one point, and wanted to go read every single book or story mentioned! 
  • Now, I am reading What Waits in the Woods by Kieran Scott, a teen/YA novel that I chose from my overflowing TBR shelves! It's good so far - a spooky story about a group of teens camping in the woods.
  • I finished listening to Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, a teen/YA audio book about a young man agonizing over the disappearance of a young woman who was living with him and his brother. I thought it was realistic fiction, but it turned out to have a fantastical/supernatural element to it. I'm not usually a big fan of magical realism, so I'm still trying to decide what I thought about that, though it was a compelling story to listen to.
  • Now, I am listening to Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, a classic I downloaded from SYNC this summer that I have been meaning to read for years. My husband and I started it on vacation, but he lost interest in the slow pace, so I am finishing it on my own now.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Straight Down the Middle: Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance, and How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing by Josh Karp, a golf memoir. He seemed to really enjoy it - a nice change of pace from his usual thrillers, about his favorite thing!
  • Now, Ken is reading Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, the second book in a series that he and our son have both enjoyed.
  • Jamie, 21, finished The Barrow by Mark Smylie, an epic fantasy novel he's been working on for a while (he wasn't feeling well last week, either so he had more reading time). He enjoyed it.
  • Now, Jamie is reading Malice by John Gwynne, Book 1 of The Faithful and the Fallen series, another epic fantasy novel of the type he loves!
  • Craig, 17, has finally started his required summer reading: Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, a novel I really enjoyed, for his World Lit class. It's slow going for him so far - he's not exactly thrilled to be reading this novel! Not a lot of action.
 Lots of blog posts last week:
Review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, suspense novel

Review of Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lạ, a middle-grade audio book set in Vietnam

What Does Summer Reading Mean To You?

Summary of Books Read in July - not a lot of quantity but great quality!

 Saturday Snapshot - close-ups of flowers

Weekend Cooking - recipe for Fried Rice that is healthy & delicious!

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey (who is currently on hiatus), with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers

Remember if you signed up for the Big Book Summer Challenge, you can add your reviews of Big Books to the review list at the link (the second links list). Just 2 weeks of summer left, so finish those Big Books!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Weekend Cooking 8/23: Healthy Fried Rice

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

We ate a lot of typical summer meals this week, taking advantage of the bounty from our local farm's CSA. My son turned 21 last Sunday, so we had all of his favorites: steak, green beans, and Caesar salad with banana cake for dessert! Later in the week, we made a simple chicken and vegetable stir-fry and had some seared Mahi-Mahi with a fresh salsa on top.

We had a lot of bok choy this week from the farm, so I decided to make a family favorite: homemade Pork Fried Rice with fresh watermelon from the farm on the side. This is a healthy and delicious alternative to Chinese take-out, and our family loves it (as have many visiting kids over the years!). Best of all, it is super-simple so you can get dinner on the table quickly. You can vary the exact combination of vegetables, though this is our favorite, and use chicken instead of pork or even leave the meat out for a vegetarian meal. It is gluten-free (if you use gluten-free soy sauce) and dairy-free (though not Paleo with the rice). My recipe is included below - hope you enjoy it!

Healthy Chinese Fried Rice
(Serves 4 - 6)
A healthy & delicious alternative to take-out!

1 cup 30-minute brown rice (or enough pre-cooked or instant brown rice to make 4 cups cooked)
2 eggs
1 egg white
2 tspn sesame oil
1 package (about 1.25 pounds) boneless pork chops or chicken breasts, cut into thin 1-2 inch long slices
1 Tbl sunflower or peanut oil
1 head bok choy, sliced
4 ounces white mushrooms, chopped
3/4 cup frozen peas
1 bunch scallions (green onions), chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Low-sodium soy sauce, to taste

  1. Cook rice with water according to package directions (we like Uncle Ben’s 30-minute brown rice, but you can use pre-cooked or 10-minute brown rice if you are in a hurry – you need a total of 4 cups of cooked rice so read the package). When rice is fully cooked, move it to a bowl and chill in the refrgerator. If you are using pre-cooked rice, you can just use it at room temperature.
  2. Beat eggs with sesame oil in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a wok, stir-fry pan, or large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté pork or chicken until no longer pink and dump out of the pan. Keep warm.
  4. Add bok choy and mushrooms to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes. Add peas and scallions and sauté until bok choy is tender.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Make a hole in the center of the pan, pushing vegetables to the sides and add egg mixture to the center, moving eggs constantly to cook and scramble them.
  6. When eggs are cooked, mix together with the vegetables, add cooked meat back in, and add cooled rice. Mix well. Season with soy sauce and freshly ground black pepper (we like a lot of soy sauce in this dish because the rice absorbs it).

Serves 4-6 (depending on amount of meat and vegetables used) as a main course.

© Suzan L. Jackson 2015
(Do not reprint or publish without written permission from the author)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Snapshot

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

During a walk around my neighborhood last week, I decided to focus on some close-up photos:

Didn't notice the insect at first - bonus!

Now do you see it?

A neighbor's shrub up close

Red flowers on a vine

My namesake: Brown-eyed Susans

Blue Flowers
Hope you are enjoying a great weekend!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Books Read in July

Slowly but surely, I am catching up from all my time away in July. So, here, in the third week of August, is my summary of the books I read in July. Hey, that's progress!

I only finished 4 books in July, but 2 of them were Big Books for my Big Book Summer Challenge (and we were traveling a lot, in hospitals, my dad's memorial service, etc. so less reading time than usual). On the bright side, they were all very good books:

These were all excellent, and though there were only four and all fiction (I needed escapism in July!), there was still a nice mix of middle-grade, teen/YA, and adult fiction. I loved them all, but I think that One Thousand White Women was my favorite of the month.

Update on 2015 Reading Challenges:
For my 2015 Where Are You Reading Challenge, I added 2 new states and 1 new country to my list. I read two books from my own shelves for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2015 - finally a bit of progress! I listened to one more audio book for my 2015 Audio Book Challenge, and added no books to my 2015 Nonfiction Reading Challenge. No classics last month, either (need to work on that one, too). I added Vietnam to my Travel the World in Books Challenge. And I read two more big books for my own Big Book Summer Challenge - hey, that's the important one, right?

What was your favorite book(s) read in July?

What Does Summer Reading Mean To You?

(NOTE: This post is reprinted from my monthly book column in Vital! magazine, July issue)

Back when we were in school, “summer reading” meant having to read whatever was required by your teachers. Now, as adults, summer reading means whatever we want it to mean! Different people have different ideas about what makes an ideal summer book, but there are lots of good choices to help pass those lazy days of summer:

Light, Funny Books
Lots of people like to keep their summer reading light and fun. Here are some great choices:

The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich – you can rely on Evanovich for fast-paced suspense with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Her latest in the series, Top Secret Twenty-One, was released in May.

Author Bill Bryson’s nonfiction books are always good for a laugh, and his childhood memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, is one of his best, both amusing and informative.

If you like irreverent, slightly silly humor with a heart, then you will probably enjoy Christopher Moore’s novels. I liked the hilarious A Dirty Job, about an ordinary, slightly neurotic dad whose new job title is Death (this one contains profanity).

Mysteries & Suspense
Some people like their summer reading with a hefty dose of suspense and mystery. A few series to try:

The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is my husband’s absolute favorite suspense/thriller series. Personal was his latest book.

If you prefer your protagonists younger (and precocious), you might enjoy the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley featuring the adolescent amateur detective. The series begins with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

My husband and I are both hooked on Tana French’s award-winning series featuring the Dublin Murder Squad that begins with In the Woods. Her latest novel is The Secret Place.

Big Books
For me, summer is the time to lose myself in the big books that I don’t have time for during the rest of the year. Some to try:

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett was the first big book I tackled a few summers ago that started my tradition. He has also written The Century Trilogy that starts with Fall of Giants – all are long but engrossing books.

The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (recently made into a TV show) about a young woman in 1940’s Scotland sent back in time – adventure and romance in very big books.

My husband and son love the A Song of Ice and Fire series that begins with A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin – massive, epic fantasy tales set in a Medieval-type world.

Whatever your preferences, enjoy your summer reading!

Suzan Jackson is a freelance writer who lives in Delaware with her husband and two sons. She writes a blog about books, featuring reviews, book news, and more at You can find reviews of all of the books listed here on the blog.
(This article is reprinted from my monthly book column in Vital!, The magazine for Active Older Adults, available free in public places like libraries and drugstores in Delaware and North Carolina)
Which kinds of books do you like to read in the summer?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Middle-Grade Review: Listen, Slowly

I recently listened to Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lại on audio, a middle-grade novel about culture clash set in Vietnam that kept me captivated.

Twelve-year old Mai has Vietnamese parents, but she was born in southern California and goes by Mia at school. Her family may be Vietnamese, but Mia is 100% California girl. She’s looking forward to spending the summer at the beach with her best friend, Montana, and working up the courage to talk to Him, the boy she secretly has a crush on. Her plans for the perfect summer are ruined when her parents tell her she must accompany her grandmother to Vietnam.

For 40 years, Mai’s grandmother has been searching for information on what happened to her beloved husband during the Vietnam War. Finally, a private detective says he has information for her, but she must come in person. Mai’s father travels to Vietnam every summer, but he’ll be busy doing pro bono surgery for kids with cleft palates, so it is up to Mai to accompany her grandmother to her home village to discover what happened to her grandfather all those years ago.

As you can imagine, Mai is not at all happy about this turn of events. She tells herself she will help her grandmother find out what happened as soon as possible, then be on the next plane back to California to recover what is left of her summer. Life in the small rural Vietnamese village is more different and strange than Mai could ever have imagined.

It is hot, humid, and very buggy in her grandmother’s village. The air is filled with weird smells, and Mai is surrounded by family she’s never met, and she can’t understand what anyone is saying. Worst of all, there is limited electricity and no internet!

Mai is sulky to begin with, thinking only of getting back to California as fast as possible. Slowly, though (very slowly!), she begins to adjust to the new culture, remembering bits of Vietnamese she learned as a child, recovering some of the closeness she used to share with her grandmother, and even getting to know some of her new-found cousins. She and her cousin even find an internet café in a nearby town. Meanwhile, Mai is getting impatient with how long the detective is taking to provide any solid information to her grandmother.

This novel is a feast for the senses, immersing the reader in life in Vietnam, both in the rural village and, later, in the big cities that Mai visits. It is absolutely spectacular on audio, with Vietnamese words and phrases sprinkled in so that it feels very authentic. But this isn’t just about the exotic setting. The mystery of what happened to Mai’s grandfather adds suspense to the story, while Mai’s adventures and growth create a believable, compelling, and sometimes funny coming-of-age story. Add to that the historical backdrop of the Vietnam War and the exotic setting, and you have a full, rich, engaging novel that is captivating from beginning to end.

HarperChildren’s Audio

NOTE: Though this novel was written for middle-grade readers, its quality and complexity will be equally enjoyed by teens and adults. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fiction Review: The Girl on the Train

I thought I was the last person on earth who hadn’t yet read the best-selling novel The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, so I was excited when my cousin chose it for our family book group (and I found out none of my cousins had read it yet either!). It is a convoluted, suspenseful story that kept me guessing right until the last pages.

Rachel is a mess. Her life has spun out of control, and she drinks way too much. Each day, she rides the commuter train to London from the suburb she lives in and back home again and stares out the window (and often drinks). She likes to look at the houses she passes and daydream about the people who live there.

One house in particular has caught her interest, right where the train stops most days. The couple living there look perfect to Rachel: a beautiful woman and a beautiful man with a beautiful relationship. She makes up names for them - Jess and Jason - and lives vicariously through them, watching through her window twice a day, as they relax on their back patio and live their lives.

One day, though, Rachel sees something in their backyard along the tracks that shocks her. It shatters her ideal picture of the couple. Soon after, she hears that Jess, whose real name is Megan, is missing. Rachel thinks that what she saw is important information for the police, though they don’t consider her a very reliable witness, and bit by bit, she entangles herself in the investigation. To make matters worse, Rachel drinks so much that she blacks out one night and she fears that something awful happened that night, as she tries to piece together where she was and what she did.

This is a novel that keeps you guessing, as secrets and lies are gradually revealed, and each one further complicates the story. By the end of the book, I think I had suspected almost every single character of something horrible! It’s a riveting tale of psychological suspense, where you don’t know who to trust. It easily kept my attention, which was quite a feat since I was going through some difficult times while I was reading it. This psychological thriller is perfect escapism, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

336 pages, Riverhead Books

P.S. As you might expect from its popularity, The Girl on the Train is being made into a movie! This article talks about some early casting decisions - this should be a good one!

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Monday 8/17! What Are You Reading?

Whew....what an exhausting, hectic week, weekend, and Monday morning! Now the house is finally empty, and I can start to recuperate and catch-up. Our oldest son turned 21 yesterday (how on earth is that possible??), and I was scrambling all week to finish a DVD of his entire childhood - thousands of photos organized into slideshows (one for each year) with accompanying songs to match what he liked at each age. I actually started this project for his 18th birthday and just finished it yesterday! Yeah, I vastly underestimated how long all that scanning would take. So, I finally finished adding the last photos and songs yesterday afternoon, ready to burn it onto a DVD before he came over for his birthday dinner...and it wouldn't fit on the DVD! I ended up having to delete the past 3 years from the DVD (after all that hard work!!), so it's just his childhood, his first 18 years. I guess I'll be working on another DVD of The College Years when he graduates from college!

Everything took a backseat to the DVD project and the birthday celebration (11 people for dinner last night), including writing and blogging. Escaping into a bit of fiction was a welcome relief last week and saved my sanity more than once! Here's what we are reading:
  • I am almost finished with my sixth and final Big Book of the Summer, Anne of Green Gables by H. M. Montgomery. If, like me, you have never read this childhood classic, you should! It is clever, charming, warm, and funny. I just adore Anne and want to read more of her adventures.
  • I finished listening to Crows and Cards by Joseph Helgerson, a free download from SYNC this summer. It is a middle-grade audio book set in 1849 about a twelve-year old boy who gets involved with riverboat gamblers. It was a lot of fun, with a great audio production.
  • Now, I am listening to Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, a teen/YA audio book about a young man agonizing over the disappearance of a young woman who was living with him and his brother. It has been absolutely riveting from the very start, with interesting characters and an intriguing plot.
  • My husband, Ken, set aside Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch after only a few pages, feeling more in the mood for some light nonfiction about his favorite thing, golf. He has been reading and enjoying Straight Down the Middle: Shivas Irons, Bagger Vance, and How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Golf Swing by Josh Karp, a golf memoir. This was a book I picked up years ago in a bargain bin at a bookstore, and he's really enjoying it so far.
  • I think that Jamie, 21, is still reading The Barrow by Mark Smylie, an epic fantasy novel that he's been enjoying.
By Wednesday, I had to ditch blogging completely in order to finish my son's DVD, so just 2 posts last week:
Top Ten Authors I've Read the Most - this was a fun list to make!

Review of UnDivided by Neal Schusterman, final book of the fabulous YA Unwind series

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey (who is currently on hiatus), with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers

Remember if you signed up for the Big Book Summer Challenge, you can add your reviews of Big Books to the review list at the link (the second links list). Just 3 weeks left, so finish those Big Books!

How did 21 years go by so fast?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Teen/YA Review: UnDivided

I was eager to read the fourth and final book of Neal Schusterman’s Unwind series, UnDivided, and I wasn’t disappointed. The entire series highlights a freaky future world not so different from our own in many ways, and this final book wraps up the fast-paced, intricate story beautifully.

I’m going to once again stick to a very vague and brief plot summary, for those people (poor souls) who haven’t yet read any of the series, so you can start at the beginning with Unwind, with no spoilers. The series takes place in the future, when a great war, The Heartland War, was fought over reproductive rights and settled with a document called the Unwind Accord. It states that life begins at the moment of conception, but that during the turbulent teen years, parents have the ability to “unwind” their unruly teens. New technology makes it possible to transplant every part of the human body so that technically, an unwound teen isn’t dead; they’ve just been redistributed. The novel is sprinkled with advertisements and paid political ads that give you an idea of just how far this society has gone: the latest law up for vote is designed to allow criminals to be unwound. You can see what a slippery ethical slope it all is.

Within this chilling future landscape, the main characters of the series are all teens who were designated for unwinding but managed to escape and band together. Connor, Lev, and Risa are all familiar characters from the very first book, with other kids highlighted in this book who were introduced in books 2 and 3 (UnWholled and UnSouled), as well as Cam, a very unique teen who is a product of this brave new world. They are all still being chased by the authorities and are looking for places where they can stay safe, though the focus in this final book is on trying to figure out how to bring about the demise of unwinding once and for all. Many of the main characters are separated at the start of this novel, but they are each working toward these same goals in their own ways.

UnDivided is just as chilling, compelling, and suspenseful as the first three books in the dystology (a new literary term was invented just for this series!). The action is nonstop, as you root for the kids (the good ones anyway) to somehow prevail over the all-powerful Proactive Citizenry corporation and somehow change their whole twisted society. The odds are against them, and there are moments in the novel that made me gasp and yell, “Oh, no!” (much to my husband’s amusement), but the ultimate ending is a satisfying and real-feeling one. Yes, this is exciting, fast-paced, action-packed suspense but it is also thoughtful and thought-provoking. My husband, son, and I have loved the whole series. Highly recommended not only for teens but for adults, too.

464 pages, Simon & Schuster


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top Ten Authors I've Read the Most

It's Top Ten Tuesday, so head over to the Broke and the Bookish and join the fun!

I don't really have time for a post today, but the topic intrigued me: Top Ten Authors I Have Read the Most. This will be my best estimate - not an accurate accounting - but these are definitely up there:
  • Janet Evanovich (20) - I don't read many series but I have mostly kept up with her fun Stephanie Plum series - perfect light summer reading!
  • Stephen King (10-15? 20?) - I haven't read much King in the past two decades (other than his fabulous 11/22/63), but I devoured each of his novels as it came out in the 70's and 80's, along with my mom and dad - we were addicted!
  • D. J. MacHale (12) - again, I don't often get hooked on series, but his Pendragon series for teens kept me captivated through all 10 books, plus I read some of his Morpheus Road series, too.
  • Jodi Picoult (8 - 10?) - I haven't kept up well with her in the past 5 years or so (though I have her latest on my shelf), but I have read and loved many, many Picoult novels - I love how she shows you the shades of gray in complex situations and makes you think.
  • Suzanne Collins (8) - Long before The Hunger Games made her a household name, our family was totally hooked on her Gregor the Overlander series for middle-graders - we read all five books out loud - fabulous!
  • Neal Schusterman (9) - If you've never heard me rave about Schusterman, you must be new to my blog! Our whole family loves his books, especially the Everlost series and the Unwind series.
  • Barbara Kingsolver (6) - One of my favorite authors. The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, and Pigs in Heaven are among my favorite books of all time, and I just finished Prodigal Summer (I also read Flight Behavior and Low Tide in Tuscon).
  • Geraldine Brooks (5) - Another of my favorite authors, with amazing novels including March, The People of the Book, Caleb's Crossing, and Year of Wonders. I was thrilled to hear her speak in person.
  • Maggie Stiefvater (6) - and counting. I loved Shiver, Linger, and Forever, and am enjoying The Raven Boys series. I still have The Scorpio Races waiting on my shelf.
  • Chris Bohjalian (5) - I have read The Double Bind, Skeletons at the Feast, Midwives, The Night Strangers, and Before You Know Kindness and have Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands waiting on my TBR bookcase.
Wow, so many great authors and books and so many more still to read!

Which authors do you read the most?

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's Monday 8/10! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another super-busy week. I finally had some time to work on catching up after our month away in July - writing, picking up the house, household management, etc. Lots of urgent must-do's last week!

But we always have books to help us slow down and relax. Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, which was my fifth Big Book of the Summer! Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and I enjoyed this novel very much - it was a perfect summer read, set in the hills of Virginia.
  • Now I am reading my sixth and final Big Book of the Summer, Anne of Green Gables by H. M. Montgomery. Can you believe I have never before read this childhood classic? I am enjoying it very much so far and am totally in love with the precocious, talkative Anne!
  • I am almost (not quite) finished listening to Crows and Cards by Joseph Helgerson, a free download from SYNC this summer. It is a middle-grade audio book set in 1849 about a twelve-year old boy who gets involved with riverboat gamblers. It's been a lot of fun, with a great audio production (it's hard to set that down and then switch to reading a regular book because I still hear that southern accent narrating in my head!)
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Third Option by Vince Flynn last night. I think I may have gotten this suspense novel in last summer's reading program at our local library (we are both raking in the free books again this summer!).
  • Now, Ken has started Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora (in the Gentleman Bastards series!) Our son loved these books and now Ken is enjoying them, too.
  • Jamie, 20, is reading The Barrow by Mark Smylie, an epic fantasy novel that he's enjoying so far.
Lots of catch-up on the blog last week, too:
Choose Your Next Book From Awards Lists! a summary with links of the major book awards

Review of One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus, historical fiction

Saturday Snapshot 8/8 - August in bloom in my neighborhood

Weekend Cooking 8/9 - Easy, Tasty Meals with Paleo Options

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers

Just 3 weeks left of summer, but you still have time to join the fun with the Big Book Summer Challenge! You only need to read 1 book (though you can read more if you want) longer than 400 pages to participate. And this year, for the first time, there'll be a Big Book Giveaway at the end of the summer for participants!

And if you are already signed up, remember to add your reviews to the review list at the link (the second links list).

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Weekend Cooking 8/9 - Easy, Tasty Meals

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

This was a typical busy summer week here. On some evenings, it was only my husband and I for dinner and on others, both sons, plus friends and my father-in-law joined us. In all cases, I tried to make good use of the bounty of summer produce fresh from our local CSA farm, including 5 pounds of fresh, local, organic tomatoes this week! Even my son (who is not a huge tomato fan) tasted the tomatoes in his salad last night and noticed the difference! I made his favorite, Caesar Salad, with a homemade dressing. I discovered this very easy no-egg Caesar Salad dressing last month, and the 3 Caesar-loving men in our house absolutely love it!

We had friends over one night this week, and I made several of our favorite summer dishes: Italian Balsamic Chicken, Tuscan White Beans, and a Tomato-Cucumber Salad. The first two dishes were made with Cooking Light recipes (my favorite recipe source!), but they are from a 1999 issue so are not online. Both are super-simple, though. The chicken breasts are marinated in a mix of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper, cooked on the grill, then sliced. They can be served as is or with lettuce in a wrap. The Tuscan White Beans is an all-time favorite of ours - everyone in the family loves it. Again, it's pretty simple: cook two strips of bacon in a skillet, saute chopped onion and fresh rosemary in the drippings, add 2 cans of cannelini beans (rinsed and drained) with lemon zest, salt and pepper, 1 cup of white wine, and a half cup of water. Simmer for 30 minutes on medium-low and then add the crumbled bacon and fresh parsley. Soooo good! The Tomato and Cucumber Salad uses super-fresh ingredients and is simply dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. This whole meal - with all the fresh herbs - tastes like the very essence of summer.

My husband and I had a Cobb salad one night (my favorite!), and we set out fixings for make-your-own soft chicken tacos the night we had a crowd (perfect summer dinner for a large group).

Friday night, I made a flavor-filled meal for my husband and I: Simmered Cabbage with Beef, Shan Style, a dish from Northern Thailand and Myanmar. The recipe calls for only a quarter-pound of ground beef in a dish that serves 4.  That would never fly with my husband, so I used a whole pound of ground beef, and we enjoyed delicious leftovers for lunch the next day. Whichever way you cook it, this dish is filled with flavor and would work well any time of year (I had a red cabbage from our farm, so that's why I chose it). For a Paleo version, just substitute cashews for the peanuts.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Saturday Snapshot 8/8

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Nothing too exciting this week, just a walk around my neighborhood and a few pics of my neighbors' beautiful flowers. I love the bursts of color:

Blue sky! Temps & humidity dropped this week - relief!

Brown-eyed Susans - my namesake!

Brown-eyed Susans and lavender (I think)

Like these but don't know what they are called

Hope you are enjoying your weekend!

Friday, August 07, 2015

Fiction Review: One Thousand White Women

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus has been on my want-to-read list for many years, and I was thrilled to buy a copy of it one summer in a small shop during a trip to South Dakota. But then, it sat on my bookcase for a year, two years, and more, languishing there as so many books do, while I tried to find time to read it. This summer, looking through that big bookcase of TBR books for any with more than 400 pages for my annual Big Book Summer Challenge, I finally made the time to read it. Why did it take me so long to read this unique, riveting historical novel?

Rather than focusing on an event from history, as most historical fiction does, this novel takes an event that almost – but didn’t – happen and asks, “What if?” In 1854, at a peace conference between Native Americans and the U.S. Army, a Northern Cheyenne chief requested a gift of 1,000 white women to be brides for Cheyenne warriors. Since children belong to the mother’s tribe in Cheyenne tradition, this seemed to be a reasonable request to the chief and an ideal way to help the Cheyenne assimilate into the white world. Of course, in real life, the U.S. authorities said no to this request, but in this novel, they say yes.

In order to rationalize the propriety of such an unheard of “gift,” the U.S. officials seek out volunteers for their secret Brides for Indians program from among women in prisons and mental institutions, as well as others who volunteer for their own reasons. One of these women is May Dodd, a young woman in Chicago who’d been wrongly imprisoned in a mental institution by her wealthy family because she’d fallen in love with a man “beneath her station” and was an embarrassment to the family. Compared to a life inside the walls of the asylum, where she was abused and mistreated and had little chance of ever leaving, a required year spent being a wife to an Indian seems like a small price to pay.

As the train fills up with other Indian brides, May meets her new female companions, who are each escaping their own problems. The women are moved across the West from one Army fort to another, until finally, their new husbands come to meet them and take them home. Home for these Cheyenne is a village of tipis in the remote grasslands of Wyoming, and the women begin to settle into their new lives.

Life with the Cheyenne is far more than just foreign to these women used to living in towns and cities across America. It is wholly unlike anything they have ever experienced or could have imagined. The entire novel is told from May’s point of view, from journals she keeps during that time that were then saved by the Cheyenne for generations. May describes not only the details of everyday life but also the special occasions and more unusual events that unfold. The reader is carried along on this adventure, as May is caught between two very different worlds and falls in love with two very different men.

I was captivated with every aspect of this novel – the historical background, the experiences of the women, and the details of life with the Cheyenne. Although the triggering event didn’t really happen, the novel is set against a historical backdrop, with extensive research to back it up, so the details of the Cheyenne’s daily life, the external events happening between the Native Americans and the U.S. government, and even some of the characters in the Army and the Cheyenne tribe are all based in historical fact.

Further, Fergus has created a fascinating and engaging fictional world, peopled with real-feeling characters. The Native American characters and the white brides are all unique and fully drawn. The women, in particular, feel like old friends by the time you finish the book. In fact, the author has created a world so real that people sometimes look at the subtitle of this novel and think it is based on the real journals of a real woman named May Dodd!

I was spellbound by this novel, from beginning to end, transported to a different place and time. The story is realistic, suspenseful, heart-breaking, and sometimes even funny (I was particularly fond of Gretchen). I read the 400+ pages in no time at all and wished there was more. I guess a lot of people felt that way because according to his website, Fergus is hard at work on a second book in a planned trilogy that starts with One Thousand White Women (the tentative publication date is in 2016). I can’t wait to read more of this story!

434 pages, St. Martin’s Press

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Choose Your Next Book From Award Lists!

Looking for your next great book to read? A great source for lists of top-notch books are the various literary/book awards. Each year, most of these awards choose a Long List of excellent books published that year (think of these as the semi-finalists), then winnow that down to a Short List (the finalists) and finally, award the winners. You may hear about the award winners in the news or on your favorite book podcast, but the entire list of books that were being considered were deemed worthy. And these aren't just literary fiction - each award has its own criteria and types of books they consider. There is something for everyone!

Most of this year's book & literary awards have already been awarded, but you can still find their long lists and short lists online. Find your next book among these:

National Book Award - this award focuses solely on American books and includes a variety of categories, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and YA books. You can see the list of winners, finalists (short list), and long list nominees for 2014 on this page - some great books here! That page also includes some video clips of the awards ceremony, in case authors are your favorite kinds of celebrities.

Man Booker Prize - this started out as the British equivalent of our National Book Award, though it was recently expanded to include any author publishing in the English language, regardless of country of origin. The award is specifically for fiction. The long list for 2015 was just announced.  And here are the long list, short list, and winner for 2014.

Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction (previously called the Orange Prize) - noticing a lack of women authors represented in the Man Booker Prize in 1991, a group got together to launch this new prize in 1992 that focuses solely on women authors. Here's the 2015 long list, the short list, the 2015 winner recently announced, and the list of previous winners.

Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize - this newer prize focuses solely on British fiction and is in its 5th year. Here is their list of 2015 nominees (long list) and the eight 2015 winners. You can find past lists of nominees and winners in the Archive section of their website.

Pulitzer Prize - this well-known, venerable prize recognizes books in several different categories. Here is their list of 2015 Finalists and the 2015 winners. And here you can look at past lists of winners in each book category, going back to 1917 - how may have you read?

Lamda Literary Awards (also known as the Lammys) - celebrates the best in LGBTQ books and includes 24 different award categories, covering all genres and types of books. Here is the extensive list of 2015 finalists in each category and the winners (listed in bold).

The Edgar Awards - this series of awards is presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America to the best in mystery, suspense, and thrillers, including nonfiction, short stories, books for kids, TV screenplays, and more. I often peruse the lists of Edgar Award nominees and winners to find new books for my husband as gifts. You can find the full list of 2015 nominees and winners here.

Wow, so many great books! Maybe your next favorite is among these lists.

Which are your favorite awards? Do you follow award news for any of them or read from the lists?

Monday, August 03, 2015

It's Monday 8/3! What Are You Reading?

Wow, it has been a month since I have been home long enough to write a Monday post. We are back home now and trying to get back into our normal routines, and that includes my blogging routines! We did a LOT of reading this past month, so I will update you here (and try to keep it short!):
  • I finished One Thousand White Women: the Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus, a historic novel I have been wanting to read for years and my third Big Book of the Summer. I loved this riveting, action-packed, and emotional novel.
  • Next, I read UnDivided by Neal Schusterman, the fourth and final book in his amazing YA Unwind dystology (yup, they created a new word just for him!) and my fourth Big Book of the Summer. My husband, son, and I have all loved this series, and it was wrapped up beautifully, with plenty of surprises in this last novel. If you like dystopian stories, you must read this series - it is filled with action and suspense but is also very thought-provoking.
  • I also read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Am I the last one on earth to read this? I enjoyed it very much - the fast-paced suspense was just what I needed last month to escape. By the end of this novel, you have suspected every single character of horrible things. It was a page-turner.
  • Now I am about halfway through Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, which will be my fifth Big Book of the Summer! Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and I am enjoying this novel very much so far - it's a perfect summer read, set in the hills of Virginia.
  • I finished listening to Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai, a middle-grade audio book about a Vietnamese-American girl who is an all-American Southern California girl. She accompanies her grandmother on a trip to visit her home village in Vietnam and experiences some serious culture shock! It was excellent - a wonderful, moving novel and very good on audio especially.
  • During our travels, my husband and I started listening to Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, a classic that I downloaded this summer free from SYNC. I'd been wanting to read this novel for a long time. It's good so far (we are about halfway), though it was a bit slow getting started. We'd heard it was suspenseful, chilling, and haunting, but it seems to be building much more slowly than modern novels do. Now we just need to find some time alone together to finish it! Hopefully, there will be no more long car rides in August.
  • On my own, I have started another audiobook, Crows and Cards by Joseph Helgerson, a another free download from SYNC this summer. It is a middle-grade audio book set in 1849 about a twelve-year old boy who gets involved with riverboat gamblers. It's good so far.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Seeker by Jack McDevitt, a book I gave him for Father's Day, a science fiction novel by a multiple Nebula Award nominee. He enjoyed it and said the classic sci fi novel was a nice change from the thrillers he usually reads.
  • Next, Ken read another Father's Day book from me, Black Fridays by Michael Sears, which was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. It's a mystery involving the financial industry and introduces a new character, Jason Stafford. He liked this one, too (I did well with Father's Day gifts this year!).
  • Now, Ken is reading The Third Option by Vince Flynn. I think I may have gotten this suspense novel in last summer's reading program at our local library (we are both raking in the free books again this summer!)
  • Jamie, 20, finished Winterbirth, book one in The Godless World series by Brian Ruckley, a fantasy series of the type that he loves. He said it was OK but didn't have as much action as he likes.
  • Now, Jamie is reading The Barrow by Mark Smylie, another epic fantasy novel that he's enjoying so far.
Not too many blog posts last month because I was offline most of the time, but here are a few that I managed, mostly from this past week after we returned home:
Review of Revolution by Deborah Wiles, a middle-grade novel that everyone of all ages should read!

Review of The Baby-sitter's Club: Kristy's Great Idea by Ann B. Martin and Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel adaptation of the popular series.

Summary of Books Read in June (yes, finally!)

Saturday Snapshot 7/18 - Photos of waterfalls, creeks, and gorges in upstate NY

Saturday Snapshot 7/25 - Photos from an Adirondack trip, Part 1

Saturday Snapshot 8/1 - Photos from an Adirondack trip, Part2

Weekend Cooking 8/2 - 3 Easy, Tasty Summer Meals

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers

There is still one full month left of summer, so you still have time to join the Big Book Summer Challenge and join the fun! You only need to read 1 book (though you can read more if you want) longer than 400 pages to participate. And this year, for the first time, there'll be a Big Book Giveaway at the end of the summer for participants!