Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reading, lately

A huge, belated thank you for all the suggestions after my last book post! I've been reading as much as I can lately and you guys pick the best books. I haven't gotten to all of them yet but hopefully they'll trickle in as they come off the waiting list.

Station Eleven - Predictably, I devoured this book. If you love post-apocalyptic scenarios, you'll love this novel about a band of actors and musicians traveling between sparsely populated towns and performing shows. There's drama, intrigue, suspense and the writing is very, very good. This could easily be the first in a series, although there's nothing to indicate it will be. In the spectrum of the genre, I'd say this is not as epic/intense than The Passage but less tender and dreamy than The Dog Stars (still one of my favorite books from last year). Station Eleven spends a bit more time exploring the characters lives pre-apocalypse, and jumps back and forth in time, which works really well here.

The Girls from Corona del Mar - This novel is darker than I expected, given the sunny title. It explores the limits of friendship and how much you ever know about another person, tracing the lives of two girls from a not-affluent (at the time the story takes place) part of OC and I'll admit that a part of the attraction for me was the setting. I grew up a little further inland but a lot of the descriptions ring true and there's always that visceral pang of recognition when someone plucks little parts of your childhood up and places them on the page. It's nice to have a reflection of Orange County that speaks more to where I grew up than, say, The O.C. did (although I enjoyed Ryan Atwood's antics as much as the next person, I feel like I spent all of 2004 explaining that most of Orange County is nothing like Newport Beach). So I'm biased, but I enjoyed this a lot. L, you know where I'm coming from. Literally.

The Interestings - Camp life! And what comes after. But really, this is an interesting (ha) exploration of the lives of a group of people who met at a terribly high brow artistic summer camp. I enjoyed it. If you get great satisfaction from seeing people's stories play out completely, you'll like this. It spans 40-some years.

A Tale for the Time Being - I wasn't totally sure about this one in the beginning, but it ended up sucking me in. A package washes up on the shore of a Canadian island, containing a diary in Japanese, among other things. The story takes place in two settings, as the Canadian protagonist reads the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl and goes on an obsessive mission to discover more about the author. I think I was initially a little put off by how very teenage the diary voice was but it eventually grew on me (like a real life teenager, perhaps?).

Binary Star - Ouch. I don't remember how I picked this one, but it was NOT for me. It's a stream of consciousness narrated by an anorexic astrophysics grad student. It was the most painful, unpleasant thing I've read in ages and I probably would have been happier if I'd let myself quit. I think it did a good job at what it was meant to do, which I assume is to communicate the intense pain and suffering experienced by someone with an eating disorder. So if you're curious and have a strong stomach, go forth and enjoy the astrophysics. WARNING - if you are at all trigger prone, in regards to eating disorders, you should stay far away from this one.

The Name of the Wind - Thank you for the recommendation, Andrea! I loved this. It's the first in the Kingkiller Chronicle series and I'm itching to get my hands on the next one (edit - and I did, a couple weeks later - I try to remember to write up these summaries as I go!). If you love fantasy, you'll enjoy the sweeping story of the mighty Kvothe, musician, magician, brawler. I found it less epic/sprawling than Tolkien, and less action driven than Game of Thrones (and less complicated than either). That sounds like a put down, but it's not. This book feels like sitting by the fire and listening to a really great story.

Glow - Madcap comedic thriller featuring a protagonist with an unusual sleep disorder. Heavy on conspiracy, corporate misdeeds, and drugs but with a love story thrown in. This is a really specific type of novel that not everyone will enjoy, but I think it's become obvious by now that I'm a fan of ridiculousness.

Everything I Never Told You - This is a sad novel that explores a family with a missing daughter. As they piece together the events that lead to her death (don't worry - that isn't a spoiler) they examine their family history. Really well written.

The Legacy of Lost Things - Another family drama about a missing daughter, oddly enough. Again, the novel explores the cultural and familial interactions that have led up to the event in question. However, I didn't even really compare the two novels while I was reading them. The prose is very different and the stories are completely different. I enjoyed this one a lot too.

The Little Friend - Another Donna Tartt novel. At first, I thought this was going to be my favorite of the three I've read. The protagonist is certainly the most engaging - a little 12-year old firecracker determined to solve the mystery of her brother's gruesome death. I was tearing through it and really enjoying it but I felt like it got bogged down a little about 3/4 of the way through and then I was disappointed with the ending. Call me lame and unliterary - I like a mystery with a nice clean resolution.

Liars and Saints - This story follows a family through several generations, tracing their origins and their relationships. I was absorbed immediately and loved it the whole way through. I never want to call anything a "beach read" but this would be a perfect book to take on vacation - provided you're planning to get a lot of uninterrupted reading time. It's not "light" but it's extremely readable, if that makes sense.

Personal - The latest Reacher novel but not my favorite, to be honest. I kept getting bored and losing the plot, which is twisty and international but not particularly exciting. I know what I'm getting in for when I pick up a book from this series. There are some standout thrillers (I think the ones that focus less on weird political conspiracies are more successful) and some duds. This one falls closer to the dud end of the spectrum.

The Wise Man's Fear - The second in the Kingkiller Chronicle series and just as good. I'm happy these are so long because I was sad to finish it, especially because there's no word on when the third book will be out.

Observatory Mansions - This is a bizarre book that I ended up liking much more than I expected. The main character is Francis, a reclusive middle aged man who is repulsed by his own hands and has to wear spotless white gloves at all times. Living in his family estate, which has been subdivided into cheap flats, Francis goes about his strange life until a new tenant comes to live in the building and everything starts to fall apart. There's a dreamy, gothic quality to this novel that you just have to give in to if you're going to make it through. Francis is both sympathetic and horrifying, in turn. I liked the complexity and the unpredictability of the characters.

Whew. That was a pretty good streak. I still have a few unread books on my Kindle (and some on the waiting list) and then I'll be hunting for more. As always, feel free to talk about what you're reading in the comments - curious to know what you guys have been doing this summer!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Meal planning for summer

Hi hi hi! I've missed you and I appreciate the sweet comments. As expected, it's been a rough few months. Some days are okay and some days are not and my camera is gathering dust because everything feels like more effort than usual.

Things I am doing: 

Forcing myself to get back into a regular workout routine, which had a big boost two weeks ago when I finally decided to just let myself spend an hour a day watching Netflix while on the elliptical. I aspire to be a runner but getting back in shape for running is both mentally and physically challenging for me and the mental part has been holding me back lately. I decided baby steps were in order.

Reading. A lot. You guys had so many good recommendations in my last book post and I'm still working through them all, but I'm overdue for a check in. I think the Kingkiller Chronicle series has been my fave this round. It's all absorbing, I can get totally lost in it, and each book is nice and looong. I'm about halfway through the second one right now. More on this and other books soon.

Driving a new car. Our transmission went out suddenly (5 miles into a 400 mile trip - whomp, whomp) and we decided that rather than pour money into the old car we'd go ahead and get something more suited for my cross town surface street commute. One hectic week later, we had a Prius and a new found feeling of middle-agedness. The good news is that I can stare at the fancy display that tells me how good my gas mileage is while I'm sitting in traffic. The bad news is that it also tells me my average speed (10 mph most days, and yes, that does make me question my life choices sometimes). Tangentially related - I've never been more grateful for our budgeting system, which ensured that we had money in savings and downgraded the unexpected car buying situation from devastating to stressful.


Things I am not doing: 

Meal planning. However, I'm happy to report that you can survive for well over a month with the following simple system. 1. On Monday - go to the grocery store and purchase a rotisserie chicken, a loaf of bread, a bag of arugula and a bottle of barbecue sauce. 2. Eat chicken sandwiches for dinner every single weeknight.

+ 5 adult points for weeks when I buy a couple microwaveable bags of broccoli from Trader Joe's and eat it as a side dish.

- 5 adult points for weeks when I outsource the grocery shopping to Instacart because I can't face Whole Foods.





Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Around here


I finally pulled pictures off my camera for the first time in months. Here's a little bit of what we've been up to lately.

blueberry scones
{blueberry scones}

sunday brunch
{sunday brunch}

mother's day 2015
{mother's day 2015}

organizing
{organizing}

garden roses
{garden roses}

projecting
{projecting}

drinks
{drinks}


new chairs
{new chair}


picnic aftermath
{picnic aftermath}

:: We had a few people over for brunch on Mother's Day and I made blueberry scones using Deb's recipe. Delicious, but I had to add extra cream because the dough was still very, very dry after I stirred in the amount the recipe called for. It doesn't seem like other people had issues with this, so I think it was just me but I'll probably go back to my old recipe next time. I used the dried wild blueberries from Trader Joe's for the first time and they were amazing. Perfect for pastry because they don't bleed all over the place as they bake.

:: We've been spending a lot of our free time around the house these days. We have three beautiful rose bushes that have been producing like crazy so I cut flowers every few days. D is usually building furniture (so far he's made two nightstands, a liquor cabinet, under the bed storage boxes and a picnic table - his productivity puts me to shame) and I'm usually sorting through my dad's paperwork and making to do lists for myself and then taking a nap to try to avoid the lists. There is so much to take care of when someone passes away and I'm being really slow so it's taking me forever. I should probably make a master list and then assign myself a couple tasks each week instead of fumbling through it as things come up.

:: We had our first dinner party in the new place last weekend! We're gradually getting the yard set up as an entertaining area, since we don't have a dining table in the house. On Saturday D built the picnic table and we splurged on a couple of butterfly chairs. Having the outdoor space set up makes our space feel so much bigger and I love it. I foresee a lot of evenings on the patio in our future.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Reading, lately

I know, I know. I don't post in over a month and then hit you with an enormous list of books with no pictures. I promise I'll have some more posts up soon. I'm gradually realizing that I'm still deep in the grieving process and it's not easing up so much as going through phases. I'm mostly over the part where I didn't want to get out of bed or buy groceries or shower, but I still get slammed with emotion several times a day and pretending to be okay in public uses up a lot of energy. But somehow life goes on and we're busy making progress around our new place and trying to find a rhythm to our days. I'm trying to make myself get back into running (and reminding myself that the first few weeks after a long break are the most discouraging) and cooking (signed up for our CSA box again as motivation - I'll update you on how that works out). And I'm reading again. I had a few weeks where all the words would blur together and I just couldn't, and it feels good to be able to drop into a story again, even if I've been going a little heavy on the thrillers.

This is a huge catch up situation, since I haven't done one of these in months so I'm just going to scrap the tail end of 2014 and start with what I've read since January. The only reason I can remember that far back is because I joined an online book club and we have to record them all in a Google doc. I'm not including re-reads this time around, just the fresh stuff.

One Boy Missing by Stephen Orr - I'm a sucker for literary crime novels, so it's no surprise I really liked this one set in a small Australian town. The story ends up being surprisingly gentle, due to the semi-sad-sack detective in charge of the case. It's interesting, unusual, and the characters stick with you.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt - I read The Goldfinch last year when it was making the rounds and was thoroughly underwhelmed, but I decided to give this a try anyways. And it was better than The Goldfinch! I wasn't in love with it but I thought it was solid and it held my attention. I'm not as enamored with New England boarding school culture as Tartt so I tended to get a little frustrated with the ridiculous eccentricities of the main characters. But once I settled into it I found it pretty interesting. It's a twisty plot, involving a murder and a bizarre clique of Ancient studies majors and the writing is good.

The Spellman Series (#2, #3, #4, #5) by Lisa Lutz - I love the Spellman series. They are mystery-comedy (a genre I can't get enough of, when it's done well), following the Spellman clan, a family detective agency with some serious boundary issues. The mystery in each one if never the main focal point, so don't bother if you're looking for a really good whodunit. But the voice is good, they're very funny and you get lots of SF scenery, if that's your thing.

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs - Meh. I'm always on the hunt for a new thriller/mystery series to love, but I don't think this one will be it. The main character is a forensic anthropologist who is called in for murder cases both old and new. I thought the plot in this particular one was pretty good, but the writing wasn't tight enough to convince me to continue with the series, although I'd read another one in a pinch.

Crooked by Louisa Luna - Whoops. I think this book might be meant for teenagers? And not in a good way. It follows a young woman's experience of getting out of jail after being in three years. The main character is unpleasant and the writing and plot are just passable. I think it's supposed to be raw and keep you on the edge of your seat (there's a reveal at the end) but it just wasn't good enough. Come to think of it, it probably isn't intended for teenagers, given the risky behavior going on. So I guess I don't know who is meant to enjoy this book.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer - A madcap adventure novel set in the near future. A small group of people work to prevent a conglomerate from gaining control over everyone's data. Cloud intrigue! I'm torn on this one. It's entertaining but heavy handed and a little longer than the plot can support. I got really, really sick of hearing the cloud conspiracy explained x1000. But maybe I was just in an impatient mood? I'd heard good things about this one, so maybe I got my expectations too high.

Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott - Adolescence, tennis, and other difficult topics. I love Anne Lamott and I found this little novel endearing and well described.

Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson - Way back in the day I used to devour regency romances and I still go through a huge number of mysteries, obviously. This is a regency mystery, so I figured it would hit a sweet spot but it didn't quite work for me. The plot was pretty transparent and the book was long, which meant I was skimming by the end because the "reveal" was so obvious and I just wanted to get to it already so I could be done.

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman - I've read the previous two and been a little harsh about them. I decided to keep going because I'm incapable of quitting a series once I commit but as it turns out, I actually liked this one better than the others. Sometimes my stubbornness pays off! The protagonist has grown up a bit, there's less fawning over boarding school pretensions, everyone is less annoying. The tone (like all in the series) is very flip, packed full of pop culture references (half of which I'm probably missing because I grew up without a TV and am therefore missing two critical decades of TV and movie knowledge) and can grate on me. I do love the descriptions of magic as a really physical, grueling challenge.

An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clark -  I heard this compared to A Confederacy of Dunces and had to check it out. The hapless narrator is completely infuriating and the entire story is crazy, but I enjoyed it. And I did think it was a little bit CoD-like, which I consider a high compliment. If you don't like ridiculous, comedic plot lines, you won't like this. It is super over the top.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - You know what I think about this one.

Hotel World by Ali Smith - I was somehow expecting a tell all about the hotel business, which started me off on the wrong foot. This is actually a novel consisting of five interwoven stories and one of the narrators is a ghost (p.s. I really, really dislike ghost stories even when they're well done). It's conceptually interesting and I did get sucked in eventually, but I think my initial misconception (and the ghost) threw me off a bit.

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields - A complicated love story where the main characters keep almost meeting each other until they finally do, with lots of emphasis on how small the social circle is. I liked it and was absorbed the whole way through, but didn't love it. Great title, though.

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman - Read this on the plane while going up to meet my new niece! I don't have a baby, so I'm probably not the best judge of whether or not this is a worthwhile book, but I do think it's encouraging to believe that children could be less tyrannical. I had a hard time liking the narrator, though, so maybe stay away if you have issues with privileged people who still manage to whine about their lives (pot, kettle, what?).

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior - Heard this one discussed on NPR and then it was lying around my sister's living room so I read it over the course of many early mornings sitting up with the new infant. Nice way to get an overview of many studies on parenting. It doesn't particularly make you want to have kids, but I guess it's at least a good warning of what to be aware of if you do have them.

The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley - I like short stories and I fell right into these. It's a great collection.

No Going Back and No Holds Barred by Lyndon Stacey - New to me crime series starring an ex-policeman in England and his ex-police dog. These are the first two in the series and they are okay but not stand outs. The writing is a little simplistic.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - Is it weird to describe a novel set during a systematic genocide as gorgeous and ethereal? This is a teenage (the characters, not the intended audience) love story set amidst WWII. The writing it lovely and poetic and the plot is good.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link - I don't even really want to describe these short stories because I think they're more magical if you just happen upon them. This was a Lauren rec, so I knew it would be good.

The Burning Air and The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly - I read The Poison Tree by this author and it was a great, twisty, creepy novel. These two ..... weren't. The plots didn't grab me. I was so bored by the end of The Dark Rose that a literal conflagration failed to rouse me. I can't recommend either of these.

A Necessary End by Peter Robinson - I like the Inspector Banks series and I've read a few of them, but because I check them out from the library as they're available I'm reading in a really haphazard order and I think there are a LOT of them. I should buckle down and make a list and try to be more systematic, because they're pretty solid and they do build on one another. It's another British detective series, set in modern times, not too gruesome (or at least, this one wasn't, and I don't remember the others being over the top either).

I'm on the waitlist for a few books, and JUST got my notification that Station Eleven is ready for me. I've had several people recommend it so I'm looking forward to diving in. What are you reading? Anything I should pick up?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up




Are you guys drinking the kool-aid? Want to talk about it?

I figured this book would be good prep for our move but I was only two pages in when I realized that the author might drive me crazy. I am seriously type A but I couldn't ever be friends with her, and not just because she talks to her handbags (but yes, partly because of that). I'm not sure how much of this is a schtick for her business image and how much of it is real, but man, it's a lot to take. Luckily the book is short. Unluckily, it repeats itself several times so it could actually be shorter.

I have some issues with the "does it spark joy?" concept of deciding which possessions to keep, particularly when it comes to the kitchen and the bathroom. I don't know about you, but I get no joy from a 9x13" baking dish or from my box of first aid supplies, but I couldn't live without either one. But maybe the point is I should just have one box of bandaids? Or maybe I should get fancier bandaids that make me happy? I'm not really sure how to apply the yardstick here. Is this because I skimmed too quickly?

I would also like to point out that it would be much easier to have a tidy house if your main hobby was tidying/organizing. I have a lot of hobbies and tidying isn't even in the top ten. There's not much discussion about how to handle my box of spray paint or my linocut tools. Based on my reading of the book I think she's saying that I should get rid of anything that doesn't "spark joy" when I touch it and then if it turns out I miss it I can always buy it again. But I'm reluctant to do that because I did it last time I moved, with my yarn and crochet hooks. I hadn't crocheted in a while, so I decided it was best to let them go. Flash forward to winter, when all I wanted to be doing was mindlessly crocheting on the couch, but without the big upfront cost of shelling out for new yarn and hooks. I've really been regretting my purge. On the other hand, even I can admit that having 15 industrial sized spools of 1" wide grosgrain ribbon might be overkill (but how will I decide which colors to keep?!).

But all criticisms aside, a lot of what she writes does speak to me. There's some discussion about why we hang onto things when we shouldn't that I found useful. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the "spark joy" concept might change my life if I embraced it fully and admitted that it's better to pay for some things over again if necessary, rather than holding onto everything just in case you need it one day.


P.S. - I will never fold my socks. NEVER.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Moving, again


moving

The timing is maybe not the best but we're moving this week. And if you remember how much I whined about downsizing my kitchen last time, I should probably warn you upfront. We're moving to a 450 sf apartment and the kitchen is just a nook off the living room and there's no full size oven.

The benefits hugely outweigh the costs, though. We'll be living in our dear friends' cute little back house (so, mandatory daily happy hour), which means we have a free standing place for the first time ever, along with our own washer and dryer (I get teary just thinking about it) and a sweet little yard that will mean Circe will have her own territory and won't need a dog walker. The neighborhood will work much better for our commutes, too. I'm amazed that the timing worked out exactly as it did, because they've had a long term tenant for years who just happened to move out the same month we decided we wanted to move to the neighborhood. I swear we didn't send her threatening notes.

In so many ways it is so good, but I'll admit I'm mildly terrified of cutting back this far. We don't plan to stay in a space this small forever, so we're on board with packing up some of our beloved items that simply won't fit and storing them (I've resisted storage units for.ev.er. because I generally think paying just to keep things you aren't using is a waste of money, but I'm okay with it for a limited amount of time). We'll also have a small storage shed in the yard, so we might be able to get by without too much additional space.

Deciding how to tackle this was intimidating. I eventually ended up deciding to list everything we own and then divide it into categories - take, storage shed, long term storage, discard. This sounded neat and tidy and efficient. I made it partway through the kitchen and gave up when I discovered that I still own two waffle irons (better than the four I owned last time we moved, but still demoralizing) and an obscene amount of glassware. Now we're just winging it.

I'm hoping we come out of this the other side with a renewed sense of clarity about our possessions and what we need to make us happy. Or, you know, maybe we should aim for just staying married.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Joy

Thank you all so much for your comments and emails after my last post - they mean so much to me. I'm nowhere near caught up and I'm still feeling a bit confused and lost and I'm accepting that the feeling probably won't go away for a while.

But right now I'm up north and mildly sleep deprived for the happiest reason - my sister had her baby last week! We're overwhelmed with joy and I'm getting as much time with my little niece as I can before I have to head back home. I know our dad was beyond excited to meet his first grandchild and it feels a little bittersweet as we cuddle her on his old couch, telling her about him. But mostly just sweet, because we know how happy this would have made him. As distractions go, you can't do much better than a baby. I have a few photos on the camera but god knows how long it'll take me to get them off the camera, so I've been relying heavily on my phone. Here are a few tiny snippets.

Untitled
{baby feet!}

Untitled
{birthday celebration}

Untitled
{because hospital meals suck}

Untitled
{flowers and citrus}

Untitled
{big sister}