Thursday, December 31, 2015

My 2015 Favorites

What a remarkable year 2015 has been. The highlight, of course, was our #6Barsets project. Reading Anthony Trollope's six Barsetshire novels with friends was simply the best! But 2015 will also be remembered as the year many of my reading habits were turned upside down. Particularly...

  • Series - I usually avoid them at all costs, but this year started and (remarkably) completed two... Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles  and Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Novels... for a total of ten, mostly very long, books.
  • Cozy Mysteries - I've never been a big mystery reader, but this year discovered that cozy series are great escapist reading... and a lot of fun.
  • Translated works  - For the first time ever, I hit double digits for books in translation.

Despite these oddities, and last winter's massive reading slump, I exceeded my goal of reading 52 books, or roughly one per week. Not especially impressive numbers for a book blogger, but I'm happy with that.

Now for the list... links are to my reviews.

Fiction  Favorites: Classics

The Barsetshire Chronicles by Anthony Trollope
My favorites: Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, and  The Last Chronicle of Barset

Emma by Jane Austen

Fiction Favorites: Contemporary

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Honorable Mention:

  • Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Novels : My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child
  • Julie Mulhern's cozy mystery series The Country Club Murders: The Deep End, Guaranteed to Bleed

Nonfiction Favorites

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Happy New Year 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Fond Farewell to Barsetshire

... or #6Barsets, The Best Reading Experience Ever!

Sometime toward the end of November, I finished The Last Chronicle of Barset... the final novel of our year-long #6Barsets project. It all began in January... Audrey got us organized, set the schedule (one novel every two months), made a lovely button, and we never looked back.

We read. We chatted on twitter... comparing notes, sharing quotes, and tempting each other with books for further reading. We even posted on our blogs... though in my case, not very faithfully.

And what a journey it has been. Every moment in Barsetshire was a pleasure!

The Last Chronicle of Barset was the culmination of our project and, in many ways, our just reward. After spending an entire year with these characters, they seem like old friends. I developed a cumulative love for many of them ... and for Anthony Trollope, our narrator, who interjects his thoughts and opinions from time to time. I laughed, I cried, and I gasped in surprise as he skillfully brought so many story lines to a close.

I'll wrap up our project by giving you my awards for....

The Best of Barsetshire

Favorite novel
It is impossible for me to choose a favorite from this series! I'm calling a three-way tie between Barchester Towers, Dr. Thorne, and The Small House at Allington. All were 5 star reads and have been added to my list of all-time favorites.

Favorite character
Mr. Harding, of course, is my sentimental favorite. But I also grew very fond Archdeacon Grantley, loved to hate Mrs. Proudie and Mr. Slope, and quite enjoyed Mary Thorne and Miss Dunstable, too.

Favorite word
An easy choice... hobbledehoy! There should be a picture of Johnny Eames next to the definition. Hobbledehoyhood and hobbledehoya also made me smile.

Favorite coined expression
"Trolloping with friends" ... with credit to Audrey. I love that she made Trollope into a verb!

Biggest surprise
You don't think I'm going to spoil it, do you? Let's just say there was an unexpected death in The Lasr Chronicle of Barset  and leave it at that...

The silver lining
Though I am sad to leave Barsetshire behind, there is already talk of a #PalliserParty... possibly in the  fall, or probably in January 2017. Maybe you'd like to join us?

Bottom line...
I have another favorite author. To my mind, Trollope is infinitely more readable than Dickens and similar in style to Jane Austen. I am thankful he has such a large body of work to explore.

Thank you, Audrey for inviting me to read along with you. #6Barsets has been my most enjoyable reading experience... ever!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Emma ... at last

Now I have read them all...

That's it. No more new Jane Austen novels to discover... and that makes me a little sad.

Jane and I go way back. I fell in love with her novels decades ago after reading Pride and Prejudice, went on to read Sense and Sensibility,  Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park. About ten years ago, after finally reading Persuasion, I realized I was on the verge of running out of her novels and made the decision to "save" Emma.

So I began to read Jane's minor works (Sandition, The Watsons, and Lady Susan) and reread my favorites Pride and Prejudice (yet again), and Northanger Abbey (Jane at her funniest).

Finally, a few years ago I started to wonder what, exactly, I was saving Emma  for.  My 50th birthday had come and gone and the whole idea was starting to seem a little foolish. I decided to read Emma and added it to my Classics Club list... that was four years ago.

Sometime last summer or fall, in anticipation of the 200th anniversary, talk of an Emma  readalong began. Penguin released the gorgeous commemorative edition you see pictured above, and I knew the time had finally come.

I approached Emma as a read/listen combination - my favorite way to read classics these days. I listened to Juliet Stevenson's narration on my walks, in the car, in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, and then read whenever possible.

I fell into the story very easily and comfortably, found Emma herself to be endlessly annoying, and yet enjoyed everything about this comedy of manners. Very fitting, and totally coincidental, I finished reading Emma  on December 16, Jane Austen's birthday.

Now I will savor the pleasures of rereading Jane's works.

All that is left to say is thank you... to Bellezza for hosting this readalong and to you, my bookish friends, for all of your thoughtful blog posts and comments, but mostly just for the pleasure of reading Jane Austen together.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Weekly Update: So Much Fun...

This was a Christmas to remember! The entire week seems like a happy blur. We finally got the tree decorated, spent days baking and frosting Christmas cookies with my mother, ran last minute errands, initiated Twin A's boyfriend into our Christmas traditions, hosted Christmas eve dinner for 14 in shorts (my hubby) and black patent leather flip flops (me), ate the most delicious gingerbread pancakes ever for Christmas breakfast, and ended the day with dinner and more presents with my family.

Today Daughter #1 takes the train back to NYC, Twin A and her boyfriend are on the way to Philly to spend a few days with his parents, and I am savoring the happy memories.

As expected, Lakeside Musing  was quiet all week and I didn't read much of anything either. I did, however, listen to a book:

by Jessica Wapner, narrated by Heather Henderson
I loved it and even have a review drafted. Lots of science, yet this book literally kept me up at night.

Current reading//

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
This was a $1.99 kindle deal (price still in effect, if you're interested) and exactly what I'm in the mood to read. Barely 50 pages in, but really like it.... holding off on my 'Best of' list for a few more days, just in case.

Current listening//

by Denise Kiernan, narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Just started this one, but the story is interesting and Campbell is a favorite narrator. Hoping for another audio win.

New books in the house//

by Kate Andersen Brower
Another $1.99 kindle deal, still in effect.  I have a serious problem...

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
My library ebook hold arrived - all 900+ pages of it! Guess I'll put my kinlde on 'airplane mode' and hope for the best ;-)

The week ahead//
... should be fairly low-key. I have almost no commitments and plan to read. A lot. I'll also write a few blog posts - a couple of reviews and my favorite books of 2015.

My brother and his family will visit for New Years, weather permitting. It's been ridiculously warm and we still have had no snow, so I'm not too worried. The ski areas, however, are beginning to sweat! There is a chance of snow in the forecast though...

Remember... The TBR Triple Dog Dare begins Friday. Are you brave enough for one final dare? It's not too late to sign up!

How was your week? What are you reading today?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Weekly Update: Christmas Week

Good morning, friends. Although we still lack snow, it certainly feels like Christmas is here. Daughter #1 arrived last night and is home for a week... now we can finally decorate the tree! The lights have been on since early December, but we wait until everyone is home before adding ornaments. Even more exciting is the fact that my shopping is done - and mostly wrapped! Tomorrow we begin baking.

Earlier in the week, we had our last college move-out day. Twin A completed her coursework and now has several months free...her job begins next summer. Hopefully she'll spend some time with us in FL this winter.

On to the books...

Current reading//

by Anthony Trollope
Just started this one. Should be perfect reading for the holiday week... plus it's Trollope!

Current listening//

 by Jessica Wapner, narrated by Heather Henderson
Remember how I complained about On Immunity not containing enough hard science? That's definitely not the case here. This book is excellent.


Emma by Jane Austen
Finished on Jane's birthday - very fitting! I loved it and will try to write a post before the end of the month.

New books in the house//

Jezebel's Daughter by Wilkie Collins
An Oxford World's Classics edition, to be released in March.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Another kindle daily deal...

On the blog//
Weekend Cooking: Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Quinoa
Book Brief: Brown Girl Dreaming  by Jacqueline Woodson
Pages From the Past: My 2004 Reading Journal

Up Next//

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
My Classics Club spin book is a novella.

Contemplating Projects for 2016//

Although I haven't been good about writing actual review posts, you all know how much I've enjoyed reading Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles this year. I'd like to do something similar in 2016. So far, the possibilities include:
Trollope's Palliser series. Six novels, one every two months, just like this year... But is it too soon for another year of Trollope? Maybe a few stand-alone novels would be better. 
The Forsyte Chronicles series by John Galsworthy - 9 novels plus several 'interludes' divided into three volumes. I read the first volume a decade ago and loved it. 
A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell- 12 novels, divided into 4 'movements' sounds like a perfect yearlong project.
Are you interested in any of these projects? If one series is clearly more appealing, it might help me decide. As I've said before, classics are more fun with friends :)

The week ahead//

I'm going to step away from the blog this week and spend time with my family. I'll be back after Christmas with the yearly wrap-up post and 'best of' list. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Weekend Cooking: Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Quinoa

Weekend Cooking posts have been few and far between around here lately. Life is crazy (isn't it always this time of year?) but, with the help of Wegmans, I'm still cooking and serving healthful meals most nights.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Quinoa. It sounded delicious but, since it takes only three hours in the slow cooker, timing is a little tricky. Earlier this week I found myself home for the day by 3 PM, so that worked out perfectly.

The recipe is from an unfamiliar website, Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen, but it sounded good and made sense when I read it though. Last week I had a slow-cooker soup recipe from an unknown website fail, so was a little leery of going that route again.

I needn't have worried...

As usual for any new recipe, I followed the directions exactly as written. The quinoa was cooked to perfection in three hours and I thought the seasonings were just about right, too. Served with a tossed green salad, this was a great meal. My husband wasn't a fan initially, but I put some of the casserole in a warm flour tortilla wrapped burrito-style (something the recipe suggests doing with leftovers) and he was much happier.

Changes for next time?  The ground chicken seemed to get lost in the quinoa, so I'll try shredded rotisserie chicken instead. I will also be sure to have a ripe avocado on hand!

Have you had any new recipe successes lately?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book Brief: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014
337 pages
source: borrowed from the library

One sentence summary: 
This memoir, written in verse, looks back on Woodson's 1960s childhood in Ohio, Greenville, SC, and New York City.

Why did I read this?
A book written in free verse and aimed at a young adult audience would not normally find its way to my nightstand, but many trusted blogging friends recommended Brown Girl Dreaming. It also won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2014.

My thoughts:

So different, and yet so very much the same...

How interesting it was to view the 60s from another child's perspective! Woodson and I are of approximately the same vintage. We enjoyed similar close relationships with extended family, relished meals our grandmothers prepared,  alternately played and fought with our siblings, and even loved the same board games. But, as you can imagine, race figures prominently in the experiences of a "brown girl" living in Greenville, SC, while it was never a factor for a white girl from rural upstate New York... a point poignantly illustrated by the final four lines in the verse entitled...
at the fabric store 
At the fabric store, we are not Colored
or Negro. We are not thieves or shameful
or something to be hidden away.
At the fabric store, we're just people.
Woodson writes engagingly about everything from her family and school, to race and religion (she was raised a Jehovah’s Witness).  An added bonus to my enjoyment of Brown Girl Dreaming  was the unintentional good timing  of reading it shortly after  Between the World and MeWhat a perfect follow-up.

And as it turns out, the free verse was actually very appealing.

Highly recommended.

My rating:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pages From the Past: My 2004 Reading Journal

Over the past several months I've been sharing highlights from my old reading journal. I hope these posts have been as enjoyable for you as the memories are for me. Opening my journal to 2004, it was quickly obvious that I spent much of that year reading classics.

My Favorite Books Read in 2004

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
Undine Spragg is one of the most unforgettable characters in all of literature.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 
I've read and loved all of Hosseini's novels. Hope he's working on another.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Quite possibly the longest book I've ever read - 1462 pages. Also one of the most exciting. 

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
My most surprising read of 2004, I never expected to love this book. 

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Still an all-time favorite. Oprah made me read it.

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
(The Forsyte Chronicles #1-3)
I read these nearly 900 pages during a week-long snowstorm. Would love to reread and complete the chronicles in 2016.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
If you ever decided to tackle historic epic, be sure to read the Nunnally translation.

Notable Nonfiction 

84,Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I've read this little gem multiple times, but always a library copy. Maybe I should treat myself...

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen
Anna Quindlen has been a favorite for decades. I especially love her nonfiction.

Favorite Audiobooks 

by Erik Larson, narrated by Scott Brick 
Larson is an "audio author" for me. I plan to listen to Dead Wake  next year.

by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Lisette Lecat
I listened to several titles in this cozy mystery series. The narration is excellent.

Have you read any of these books? What were you reading in 2004?
Previous Pages From the Past posts can be found here.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weekly Update: The Third Sunday of Advent

Sunday, again. I was hoping to write a post this morning, but it's still unbelievably mild and I just had  to go out for a long walk instead. We're flirting with 60 degrees today and they say records may fall tomorrow. Still no measurable snowfall this season... can it really be December? No complaints here!

I've had a productive week. Decorating is nearly done (I'll wait for Twin A to help with the finishing touches), progress has been made with the shopping, and I've even started wrapping. My goal is to finish both shopping and wrapping this week, then concentrate on baking.

On to the reading...

Finished this week//

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
What a pleasant surprise - I loved this YA memoir in verse! Look for a book brief soon.

Christmas on Jane Street  by Billy Romp
Looking for a short, sweet holiday read? This might be it. The Romp family of Vermont spends one month each year selling Christmas trees on the corner of Jane St. and 8th Avenue in Manhattan, and living in their small camper. The book is about "the transformative power of love - love of parent and child, of merchant and customer, of stranger and is about the lasting and profound difference that one person can make to a family and one family can make to a community." I don't usually read Christmas books, but was drawn to the West Village setting.  3.5/5 stars

Current reading//

Emma by Jane Austen
Reading Jane Austen is always a pleasure! I'm only slightly behind the #Emma200th readalong schedule now. Hope to catch up this week.

Up next//

by Anthony Trollope
Not sure why I've embraced holiday reading this year, but I plan to read this because it's Trollope. Evidently he was not fond of writing Christmas stories for the seasonal publications, so my expectations are not high. I'll happy just holding this gorgeous edition.

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
My Classics Club Spin book. I was happy to discover it's actually a novella.

On the blog//

#AMonthofFaves: 5 New-to-Me Author Discoveries
#AMonthofFaves: Unique and Memorable Books

The week ahead//

Twin A finishes her final semester of college this week! She'll spend time with us until her job in NYC begins next summer. I'll help her move out of the dorm Tuesday or Wednesday... and that means a few hours of audiobook time both ways since she'll be driving her own car back home.

My book club meets for lunch on Thursday to discuss The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. I enjoyed the book, but will be curious to see what the others though. Connected stories have been hit or miss with the group.

Daughter #1 comes home Saturday. She'll take the train up from NYC and will be with us for an entire week! Meanwhile, holiday preparations continue...

Are you ready for the holidays? What are you reading this week?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.


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