- The Long Walk by Stephen King, 384 pages
Considering a resolution to never read Stephen King again. I was glued to the story all the way through, and yet again, was disappointed by the ending. King fans will surely say I’m just not getting it, but if that’s the case, then I don’t see why I should keep trying. I don’t enjoy being engrossed in a story only to be disappointed in the ending. It’s so frustrating because I’m so into it all the way through; I love the characters, I love the plot, the story is engrossing, the writing is good…and then the ending just blows it for me. On the other hand, I must disclose that I loved The Green Mile, The Dead Zone was pretty good, and I’ve previously stated my devotion to The Eyes of the Dragon. So maybe he gets one more chance. Maybe.
- Black & Blue by Anna Quindlen, 320 pages
Meh. Soap opera-esque story of a woman who suffers from domestic abuse who finally decides to break free from her abuser. The ending was different than the way most of these stories end, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the story at any time. Just so-so.
- The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett, 288 pages
This was a really interesting book that showed me a whole world I didn’t know existed — the world of rare book collectors. If you think you love books, like I do, you’ll be surprised to see there is a whole other level out there! If I had the means I would enter that world in a heartbeat.
- From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden by Amy Stewart, 272 pages
I loved this book. It was both charming and informative. I literally laughed and cried while reading it. Stewart talks about a lot of things related to gardening that I never thought I would be interested in doing more research on and possibly implementing in my own garden, like a worm farm, and she weaves that into a narrative about her life that makes this a captivating read.
- Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale, 168 pages
My husband suggested I read this after we went to see The Amazing Spider-Man and I had a million questions about Gwen Stacy versus Mary Jane Watson. (Like, “Gwen Stacy is so much BETTER, why doesn’t he stay with her instead of marrying stupid Mary Jane?!” “Because she’s dead…you should read this book.”) I must admit my prejudices towards Mary Jane probably stem from liking Emma Stone so much more than Kiki Dunst, since I’ve never read a Spider-Man comic…until now! I still think the only thing MJ has going for her is that gorgeous red hair.
- Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins, 272 pages
This was a nice little YA novel about an awkward but smart and funny girl in love with her best friend who is forced to spend a summer in India with her family (her mother was adopted from India by American parents). *Spoilers* While there, of course, she grows and matures and learns to love herself for who she is, finally tells her friend that she loves him, and he, of course, loves her right back. Completely unrealistic, but it’s a reality I would wish for for my hypothetical future daughters, so I’ll be keeping this book on the shelf for them, for when they, inevitably, are awkward tweens.
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, 304 pages
I remembered loving this movie as a kid, which probably was mostly to do with the pretty, hyper-feminized unicorn than anything else, as I found the story to be way above a six-year-old’s comprehension. It was sad, depressing, frightening, depressing, and sad. Seriously, there was kind of a semi-happy ending, I suppose, if you looked at it through rose-colored glasses, but it was overall a big fat bummer. But one worth reading. The story is beautiful—it’s just not for kids. Damn you, Rankin/Bass! (Does anyone remember The Flight of the Dragons? I’ve got to get my hands on a copy of that.)
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 311 pages
This was one of those frustrating books in which the narrative is set in some kind of dystopian future, but it’s never fully explained exactly what happened. It’s hinted at, and you can put the pieces together once the book is finished, but throughout the reading process, I really wanted to know what happened. The story is fascinating though, about a future society where sex is only for reproduction, men and women are kept separate and dressed in specific outfits to reflect their class: officers, workers, law enforcement, wives, daughters, handmaids (women who are forced to bear children for the wives), and various female workers. I enjoyed reading it, though it was also pretty depressing.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 432 pages
My favorite of the year. I’m glad I started reading this on our honeymoon, because I could not put it down. Every chapter leaves you needing to find out what happens next. I distinctly remember talking to my husband about the early parts of the story and my thoughts, and then just a few chapters later finding out I was so completely and utterly wrong I couldn’t even believe it. This was a fantastic read. I would highly recommend that if you want to read it, don’t let anyone who has read it before you tell you anything about the plot. Not one tiny detail. You need to go into it completely unknowing to get the true experience of what this book can be.
- Bossypants by Tina Fey, 304 pages
I really enjoyed this book. It’s light and comedic, but Ms. Fey has a lot of thought-provoking things to say about women in comedy and women in general. I would definitely read this again.
- Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed, 336 pages
My second favorite. I love these kinds of books, that document one person’s trek into the wilderness (A Walk in the Woods, Into the Wild, Into Thin Air), and Ms. Strayed’s story was riveting. It was a story about finding yourself and healing yourself as much as conquering and communing with nature; all things which I find myself consistently interested in learning about.
- A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson, 352 pages
Loved this one too. A mystery within a story about family, this was sweet and heart-wrenching and enthralling all at the same time.
- A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin, 807 pages
And so it begins. I found the first book to be 70% exposition, but it’s all interesting. You’re getting to know the characters and the world they live in, and when you least expect it, the world gets turned upside down. A few times.
- A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin, 969 pages
Again, mainly lots of exposition, and I think not even as much action as in the first one, which was not a whole lot. But the story is great, and you want to keep reading to find out what’s going to happen to your favorites, whomever they may be.
- A Storm of Swords by George R R Martin, 754/1128 pages read in 2012
This is easily the best book of the first three. I can’t speak for the whole series, since clearly I haven’t finished it (indeed, the author hasn’t even finished it), but based on the strength of this book alone I would recommend getting started. I hope the rest of the books live up to the promise of this one!
I already posted this on my facebook page, so I apologize if you are a cross-over friend! But I wanted to add some commentary to my list. I thought about making notes on my thoughts right after I read the book, which maybe I will try this year, but for 2012 I decided to let my thoughts marinate first. I also had to break this up — no one wants to read my thoughts on 30 books all at once. Look for 16-30 tomorrow!
Without further ado:
- Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, 203/390 pages read in 2012
I loved this series, but Mockingjay was my least favorite of the three. As many others have said before me, I was sad that Katniss kind of “went away” in this book. Though I disagree with many in that I think it was a valid choice by the author, and makes sense for the plot. That’s all I’ll say so I don’t have spoilers.
- The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King, 380 pages (re-read)
This is one of my favorite books, first read when my dad introduced it to me somewhere around 13 or 14 years old. Stephen King wrote this for his young (at the time) daughter, but the story is very enjoyable for adults too, which is why I keep coming back to it year after year. I still wish it was called Napkins.
- The Stand, Complete and Uncut by Stephen King, 1153 pages
The main villain in The Eyes of the Dragon also appears in The Stand. At my dad’s urging, I finally decided to read this massive tome. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed in the ending, though the story-telling had me loath to put the book down through all 1153 pages. I just wished the payoff was better for the characters I grew to love.
- I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson, 288 pages
Not my favorite Bill Bryson, and I’ve read quite a few of his works. I don’t remember much of it, which says a lot to me, though I also don’t remember struggling to get through it. Bryson is such a great writer, this one only suffers by comparison to his other awesome books, my favorites of which are A Short History of Nearly Everything and A Walk in the Woods.
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 358 pages (re-read)
A delightful story that stands the test of time. If you didn’t read this (or have it read to you) in childhood, read it now.
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, 337 pages
This one took me awhile to get through, though I really did enjoy the story. It just took awhile to get going. A modern classic everyone should read.
- The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger, 360 pages (re-read)
I don’t remember what had me wanting to read this book again. Maybe I caught part of the movie on cable. It’s a light read, like a novel-length gossip column, a fun guilty pleasure.
- The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, 482 pages
This one sucked me in to the mystery, and it really is a page turner. By comparison (as is usual) the movie was not as good.
- Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer, 176 pages
This was a charming little short read about a woman starting her life anew with her daughter after a divorce. It was really charming and sweet, and even though I picked up the book because of the promise of reading about raising chickens, I found myself equally interested in her attempt to rebuild a home for herself and her daughter.
- The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow & Michael Duca, 260 pages
A really interesting book about the glory days of baseball and the unwritten rules that all players used to know. It’s fascinating, and I didn’t find that I needed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball to enjoy it.
- The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, 167 pages
Bleh. This shows up on “must read” book lists all the time, but I didn’t really see what all the fuss is about. It was ok. I can barely remember the plot. I wouldn’t read it again, and I’m a big re-reader, so that says a lot.
- How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward, 290 pages
Easy to read, interesting story, but the ending kind of left me wanting. Just ok.
- Harriet, The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, 298 pages (re-read)
I will always love this book, and even if I never have children I will never stop reading it. Makes me want to read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler again. And A Wrinkle in Time. And Bridge to Terabithia. And The Witch of Blackbird Pond! Ok, I’ll stop now.
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, 233 pages
Having watched the animated movie endless times as a child, I was surprised that I never really picked up on the real story behind the Rats of NIMH. I recently re-watched the movie, sure they must have left out major plot points from the book to make it more palatable to children, but no, it’s all there. I guess I wasn’t a very focused movie watcher back then!
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, 240 pages
Delightful. I love Mindy Kaling, and I hope she continues to ascend to Nora Ephron levels of success.
Earlier this week I was feeling quite under the weather, and I had a craving for some comfort food. Specifically, something that required almost zero effort (since I was sick), but that was homemade. A lot of people don’t know this—alfredo sauce is one of the quickest and easiest things to make, and you probably have all the ingredients in your fridge and pantry already.
- 1 cup heavy cream (light cream, half and half, whole milk or even 2% will also do the trick)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper (use a little less if you are using ground black pepper)
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk. Bring to a simmer, and let the sauce thicken up, about 5 minutes. Pour over cooked pasta. Makes about 2 servings. (P.S. you shouldn’t need salt, the parmesan usually has enough salty flavor on its own, but taste it before serving and add salt if you feel it’s needed.)
The great part about this recipe is you can do whatever you want with it. The only ingredients you must have are the cream, butter and parmesan. I wouldn’t skip the pepper either, but if you hate pepper, you certainly can. The other spices are optional, though I find they add great flavor when you’re doing it fast. If you want a sauce with more depth and complexity, sauté onions and garlic in the butter prior to adding the cream (and omit the onion and garlic powder). Want an earthier flavor? Sub in a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg for the mustard and chili powder. And of course, you can’t go wrong with adding any kind of protein to this; standard favorites are grilled chicken or shrimp. You could also add fresh tomatoes and spinach. Asparagus. Artichokes. Broccoli. Salmon…peas…bacon! The possibilities are endless. It’s a very versatile recipe, and a great one to have in your back pocket, whether you need to impress guests in a flash, or you just want something homemade fast.
On a recent hurried trip to Trader Joe’s to pick up food for the week before H had to go to work, I snagged two packages of butternut squash ravioli without a clue of how to serve them.
Google to the rescue, as usual! Many websites recommended a whiskey sage cream sauce, which sounded delicious, but none of the recipe proportions seemed right to me, and some of the ingredients were weird. Why would I use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic? One teaspoon of whiskey to two cups cream? Uh, no. So as per usual, I decided to wing it. Here’s how I made it:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons whiskey (I used Maker’s Mark)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onions with some salt and pepper and sauté, adding the garlic and sage after a few minutes. Once softened and slightly caramelized, add the whiskey. I measured two tablespoons that slightly overflowed into the pan, so probably a little less than three tablespoons total. Cook for about a minute then add the cream. Simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, coating the back of a wooden spoon. Taste to check the seasoning, add more salt and pepper if needed. Add your cooked ravioli to the pan to be sure every bite is coated in delicious whiskey cream. Enjoy with a glass of wine and a viewing of Love Actually, preferably with Christmas lights glowing in the windows.
I think if I made this sauce again I might add another tablespoon or so of whiskey. The flavor was just barely noticeable, and I think it could use a little more of a kick. I also think some toasted walnuts would be a nice addition. The butternut squash ravioli was delightful. So yummy, I think I’ll definitely be picking up a few more packages of those to throw in the freezer before the go out of stock for the season so we can enjoy them into the spring.
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We finally finished the reading nook in the living room! You wouldn’t think such a small space would be so difficult to figure out, but it took us quite awhile. Part of the delay was due to the fact that high density foam is so freaking expensive, but I noticed it was 60% off a couple of months ago so we decided now or never. First, let’s reminisce a bit about the nook’s beginnings:
The first photo is how it was when we decided to buy the house. The brown parts of the wall was some kind of burlap-esque material, glued on. Luckily (?) it was discovered that the waste pipe that went behind this wall (the downstairs bathroom is directly behind the nook) was leaking, so everything had to go, as it was considered hazardous material. AKA filled with poo particles. Lovely. My in-laws had it all fixed for us, so we ended up not having to deal with the burlap walls. By May we had the room painted and a temporary solution in the nook — piles of blankets.
I wanted a contrasting color in that space, and originally thought I might use one of the Martha Stewart metallic colors for some subtle shimmer. I tested “Froth” but hated it. Against the seafoam green I felt it looked too Easter-egg-like.
I decided to take a cue from the blankets we had been using and go with navy. We had already been testing various shades of navy blue for our dining room, so I already knew which one I liked best. This is December Eve from Behr.
Then it was time to make some cushions! First we had to measure measure measure to make sure we had the foam fitting perfectly in the space (I used 4-inch thick high density foam). My husband was so kind as to operate the foam saw for me, fitting the pieces together like a puzzle. Then I decided to glue the foam pieces together so that it would be one big cushion—I felt this would make it easier for covering in fabric later.
I wanted the front piece of the bench to be cushioned as well, so I used 1-inch thick foam to cover from the top of the 4-inch foam to the bottom of the bench.
Then, to smooth out all of the seams and joints, I covered the whole thing in quarter-inch batting. In addition to smoothing everything out, it adds another little layer of cushioning.
Then it was time to cover the whole thing with fabric. I originally thought I could do it right in the nook, but once I was actually in the process, I realized it would be much easier to pull the whole thing out and do it on the floor. I flipped it upside down on top of my fabric, and used the lazy crafters’s standby—hot glue— to secure the fabric around three sides of the cushion.
I left the front side un-glued because I wanted to pull it taut once the cushion was in place in the nook and actually staple it to the wood on the underside of the bench, ensuring the fabric would stay nice and smooth. Turns out I wasn’t quite deft enough to pull the fabric taut and handle the staple gun at the same time—husband to the rescue again!
All that was left was accent pillows! I’ve made pillows before, but always the slip-stitch kind of permanent pillow, where you sew the whole thing except for a few inches, flip it inside out, stuff it and then slip stitch the opening closed. But, I had some pillow forms I wanted to use this time, instead of stuffing, and I didn’t want to permanently enclose them in the cases so I decided to make envelope-style cases. Turns out, easiest thing ever! I’ll never make a pillow case any other way again. I already had an idea of how to make them, but to be sure I didn’t mess anything up, I used this tutorial I found by googling from Rae Gun Ramblings.
I’m quite pleased with how it turned out! We still want to do something with that storage space underneath, but we haven’t decided yet if we want to make it a tiny closet with doors, install shelves, or maybe just use several large baskets. For now, it’s holding all of our board games quite nicely just as it is!