Saturday, December 10, 2016

Statistics, odds and ends.

So in a couple of weeks my ten years of reading will be over and I'll start a new year. In ten years' time, I have read 1,358 books (and will hopefully add at least one more to the total before December 31.)

The year in which I read the most books was 2008: 168 books. This was the year after I joined Paperback Swap, and I was reading and trading maniacally. (I was a member for six or seven years, and then I came to a point where the books I wanted to read were not the ones being traded any more. But I found some fantastic books through that site.)

The year in which I read the least books was this year, 2016. Right now my total stands at 69. One reason for this enormous drop-off (I have always easily broken 100 books every other year) was too much time spent following politics online, and another reason was an unrealized need for progressive lenses. I started reading more once I could see better!

I don't set reading goals. I like to let my desires and interests take me where they will. But I really do hope to do better than 69 books next year. I suspect reading will be a good escape in the midst of whatever 2017 holds.

I've listed my good reads, now what about my bad reads? I don't have a lot of one-star books on my list, because if a book is that bad, I usually just don't finish it. I have no qualms about dropping a book--or drop-kicking it! Several one- and two-star books loom large, though:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
Empire, Orson Scott Card
The Ladies of Missalonghi, Colleen McCullough
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte, James Tully
A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh
The Astronaut Wives' Club, Lily Koppel
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe
The Storied Life of A.J Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

These all went past merely bad into the realm of actively pissing me off, for being poorly plotted, under-researched, and/or just plain obnoxious. Fortunately, these books are fairly rare.

I'm excited to see what great reads await me in the next ten years!

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Seven and Eight.

Here's my little snowman tart warmer I picked up at JoAnn's on Black Friday. I've always been a candle girl, and am new to the tart warmer, but I think I'm hooked.

And I took a close-up of our little tabletop tree. I got red tartan plaid bows at JoAnn's in the same Black Friday sale, so I decided to do the tree in red and gold. This required picking up some gold ornaments, gold snowflakes, red berry clusters and what not. The tree has red and white lights. And a big dark red bow on top. I don't love it like I did last year's, but it's quite pretty.

Also-rans, non-fiction.

Four-star non-fiction reads are still pretty awesome. Here are some of the ones I still remember and think about.

Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of Brian Wilson, Peter Ames Carlin
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Ryan
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic, Steven Johnson
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson
An Autobiography, Agatha Christie
Picasso's War: The Destruction of Guernica and the Masterpiece that Changed the World, Russell Martin
Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood, Michael Walker
The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the End of the First Millennium, Robert Lacey
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and Other Things I've Learned, Alan Alda
Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, Gary Giddons
The Perfect Summer: Dancing Into Shadow in 1911, Juliet Nicolson
Travel As a Political Act, Rick Steves
The Lincolns in the White House: Four Years That Shattered a Family, Jerrold M. Packard
King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War, Catrine Clay
Richmond Burning: The Last Days of the Confederate Capital, Nelson D. Lankford
Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, Francine Prose
The Day We Found the Universe, Marcia Bartusiak
About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made, Ben Yagoda
Bossypants, Tina Fey
Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter, Randy L. Schmidt
Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Royal Marriage, Gyles Brandreth
Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifeh
Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, 1910-1962, Nigel Nicolson
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception and Survival at Jonestown, Julia Scheeres
The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, Glenn Frankel
The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Anne-Marie O'Connor
The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah," Alan Light
A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees, Dave Goulson
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink
One Summer: America, 1927, Bill Bryson
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, Paula Byrne
Digging for Richard III: The Search for the Lost King, Mike Pitts
Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, Claire Harman
The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule
Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President, Betty Caroli

Five and six.

I'm getting behind in my journal because I'm having some snafus with my photo developing place. (Wal-Mart, of which I shall never darken the door again.) Here's the Christmas card we are sending to family and friends this year. (I had to chop it up to fit it on the page.)

And here's yesterday's entry, just a couple lines on the horrible weather and the coziness of having a tidy, dry, warm home. I put some tiny doilies on it to connote coziness!

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Also-rans, fiction.

Looking back over my ten years of reading lists, there are many, many 4-star books. That's probably the largest category. And if I were to go back and re-read some of them, some would probably become 5-star books. And vice-versa.

These are some of the fiction books I rated with 4 stars. I've picked the ones that really stand out in my mind as special and memorable, even years later.

The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
Water For Elephants, Sara Gruen
The Art of Detection, Laurie R. King
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Those Who Save Us, Jenna Blum
The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Under the Dome, Stephen King
Ahab's Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Dissolution, C.J. Sansom
Dark Fire, C.J. Sansom
Sovereign, C.J. Sansom
Revelation, C.J.Sansom
Homeland, Barbara Hambly
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
11/22/63, Stephen King
The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The House Next Door, Anne Rivers Siddons
Stettin Station, David Downing
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley
Needful Things, Stephen King
How It All Began, Penelope Lively
The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
Atonement, Iam McEwan
Little Dorrit, Charles DIckens
Harvest Home, Thomas Tryon
Brat Farrar, Josephine Tey
The Ivy Tree, Mary Stewart
The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
The End-of-the-World Running Club, Adrian J. Walker
Lincoln, Gore Vidal
The Anchoress, Robin Cadwallader

Items of note: 
The four books by C.J. Sansom are the first four in his Matthew Shardlake series, about a crippled lawyer in Tudor England. Sansom really captures the fear and dread of living in the time when Henry VIII was embarking on the destruction of the Catholic Church in England.

Brat Farrar and The Ivy Tree appear next to each other in the order I read them...Tey's story came first, and Mary Stewart wrote her own gender-swapped version a few years later. This is a tale of assumed identity and inheritance, lots of fun in both versions.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Five-star Non-fiction.

I read more non-fiction than fiction, and I generally enjoy it more, too. (There is SO MUCH bad fiction out there!) As my list shows, I like historical non-fiction and biographies/memoirs. Here are my five-star non-fiction reads from 2007-2016.

My Life in France, Julia Child
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great
American Dust Bowl, Timothy Egan
The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, Amy Tan
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, Maureen Corrigan
The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton: The First Domestic Goddess, Kathryn Hughes
Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, Aaron Lansky
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, Tony Hurwitz
Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His
Greatness, Joshua Wolf Shenk
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt
Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World, Lawrence Goldstone
The Children's Blizzard, David Laskin
One For the Road: An Outback Adventure, Tony Hurwitz
Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Hurwitz
The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, Karen Armstrong
Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery, Karen Armstrong
Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists, Tony Perrottet
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, Daniel Mendelsohn
Mornings on Horseback, David McCullough
The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany, Martin Goldsmith
Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, Alex von Tunzelmann
The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World, Lucette Lagnado
Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden, Quentin Bell
Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father, John Matteson
Everybody Was So Young: A Lost Generation Love Story, Amanda Vaill
Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose
109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos, Jennet Conant
The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century, Edward Dolnick
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, Joan Reardon
To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, Adam Hochschild
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University, Kevin Roose
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, Laura
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
The Island At the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America , Russell Shorto
Talking With My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories, Bonny Wolf
Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood, Ellen F. Brown
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, Kate Summerscale
Martha Washington: First Lady of Liberty, Helen Bryan
Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, Andrea Wulf
Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr and the International Hunt for His Assassin, Hampton Sides
You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death and Other Humiliations, Michael Ian Black
Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick
Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel
Clemens, Andrew Beahrs
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Peter Guralnick
Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, Peter Guralnick
Under a Wing: A Memoir, Reeve Lindbergh
My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, Ariel Sabar
Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, Keith Lowe
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, Candice Millard
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, Candice Millard
Johnny Cash: The Life, Robert Hilburn
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra, Helen Rappaport
The Wright Brothers, David McCullough
Sinatra: The Chairman, James Kaplan
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World, Matthew Goodman
Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, S.C. Gwynne
Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War, Annia Ciezadlo
Tea With Jane Austen, Kim Wilson
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Daniel James Brown
I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend, Martin Short
So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures, Maureen Corrigan
Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway's First Wife, Gioia Diliberto
How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life, Ruth Goodman
The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World, Paul Collins
Jane Austen's Country Life, Deirdre Le Faye
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, Daniel James Brown
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, Kate Clifford Larson
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin

Monday, December 05, 2016

Five-Star Fiction.

As this year comes to an end, I am also coming to the end of a 10-year period of recording every book I read. I started in January 2007, and it has been a really fun and rewarding pastime--and helpful, too, as I become more forgetful about what I have and haven't read!

I want to spend the next few days talking about the stats and details of what I have read in ten years' time. I record my books at GoodReads, and while I don't review them, I do rate them on their five-star system.

I am really picky about the fiction I read. And I read a lot of disappointing fiction. So for me to give a book five has to be wonderful. Now I have to say that some of these books have really stuck with me over the years, and others are barely memorable to me now. But I felt "five-star-ish" about each one of these when I finished it!

Here are my five-star fiction books from 2007-2016.

March, Geraldine Brooks
The Emancipator's Wife, Barbara Hambly
Year of Wonders, Geraldine Broooks
First Among Sequels, Jasper Fforde
Thus Was Adonis Murdered, Sarah Caudwell
The Shortest Way to Hades, Sarah Caudwell
The Sirens Sang of Murder, Sarah Caudwell
The Sibyl in Her Grave, Sarah Caudwell
Above Suspicion, Helen MacInnes
Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank
The Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory
River of Darkness, Rennie Airth
Moloka'i, Alan Brennert
The Widow's War, Sally Cabot Gunning
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Given Day, Dennis Lehane
City of Shadows, Ariana Franklin
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson
Marvels, Kurt Busiek
Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin
Queen Lucia, E. F. Benson
What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Stephen King
The Shining, Stephen King
The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
Doc, Mary Doria Russell
The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith
The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty
The End of the Wasp Season, Denise Mina
Crow Lake, Mary Lawson
The Aviator's Wife, Melanie Benjamin
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
The Hypnotist's Love Story, Liane Moriarty
The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman
The Center of Everything, Laura Moriarty
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke
Those Who Wish Me Dead, Michael Koryta
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
Duel: Terror Stories, Richard Matheson
Endless Night, Agatha Christie
The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey
Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
The Song of Hartgrove Hall, Natasha Solomons
The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin
Ross Poldark, Winston Graham
 The Wild Girl, Kate Forsyth
 Descent, Tim Johnston
 Miller's Valley, Anna Quindlen

Items of note:
The four books by Sarah Caudwell are, sadly, the first and only four books of her Hilary Tamar mystery series. She passed away before she could write more. If you are an Anglophile, if you like wordy, smart-alecky protagonists, and if you secretly think you're smarter than most of those around you...this is a series you will enjoy.

Sunday, December 04, 2016


I've never put a December calendar in my JYC album before; this seemed like a good year to do that, as it will be a busy month. I'll add things as they pop up, too.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Waiting and receiving.

For December 2, the theme is generally Advent-related, although as always, class participants are able to stretch the idea as far and wide as they choose. I generally do stick to Advent, since that has been an important part of many Christmases for me, and I decided to use the cover of my Advent devotional for this year. It's a really good one so far.

December 3 is about a remembered special gift. Gifts are one of my love languages, and I often do remember things I've given and things I've received, but Christmas gifts are a little hazy in my memory. Plus, I've written about most of the stand-out gifts in past journals. But yesterday, the memory of a certain coveted pleated blue tartan plaid skirt came into my mind! I've lost contact with the friend who gave it to me, but I hope she remembers it fondly, too, and the times we wore our matching skirts to church.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Journal Your Christmas 2016.

This will be my tenth mini Christmas album, done under the auspices of scrapbooker Shimelle Laine's Journal Your Christmas class. Every year's album is different, but every year's process is the same: start off with a bang on December 1, and then abandon it somewhere around December 21 (usually when we go home to Ohio for the holiday.) Then when we come back, I am completely over Christmas and end up grudgingly finishing up the last pages sometime the following December.

This year has proven to be no different, so far...I am trying to finish the December 21-25 pages from 2013 and 2015. (I didn't do a 2014 album, or I am sure I'd be patching up that one, too.)

We're heading for Ohio again this year on December 22. I'm going to try to do better this year and get the dang book done after Christmas!

December 1st's entry is focused on a "manifesto"--I don't go quite that militant in my approach. This year I want my focus to be hope. I struggle with hopelessness quite a lot in my life, and the past several weeks (post-election) have been extra-hard. I know that many of the people around me are struggling, too. Last year I wanted to be a blessing to others during the Christmas season, and this year I want to "be joyful in hope" and spread some of that around as best I can.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


I've spent an hour or so tonight updating this blog, removing old links, cleaning up posts and changing the template and style a little bit. Insomnia really helps one get meaningless tasks done.

I haven't blogged regularly in more than five years, mostly using my blog as a photo hosting site for various projects. Lately I've been feeling a desire to journal or write my thoughts down somewhere; I've looked at journals to buy and wondered if I was ready to actually write again. Coming here to my blog to get it ready for this year's Journal Your Christmas entries, it seems obvious that this is the place to do that once again.

The past three years have had a great many pains for me and for some of the people that I love. I've been wondering if this is the middle-aged turning point, where your friends begin to get ill, where you start going to more funerals, where your body makes creaks and pains it didn't before, where change seems to happen far more quickly than you're prepared for. I turned 46 a month ago. I was 34 when I started this blog. I've become a different person in many ways, sanded down at the edges, softer and more loving, and a little more hopeless sometimes, too.

I'm hoping that the thoughts will begin to flow again and that I can start capturing more moments that I want to remember. I have lost a lot to forgetfulness in the past couple of years and I can't afford to do that.

We spent Thanksgiving in Ohio with Todd's family, and did our Christmas celebrating at the same time. My niece Gianna mentioned that  she had never baked and decorated cutout sugar cookies before (despite being an eager baker), so we gave that a try on Friday night.

I didn't have my tried-and-true sugar cookie recipe with me; it only exists in a printout in my recipe binder, nowhere online. So we used a well-rated recipe from Allrecipes, which I can't find or I would link it. It was pretty good. We rolled the cookies out using powdered sugar instead of flour, since the dough was not very sweet. I think that helped the taste. Gianna made a big batch of royal icing, which I had never used before, and we made a bunch of colors and squeezed them out of ziploc bags. The icing was hard to control, but the end effect was pretty amazing. (I usually use a powdered sugar + milk frosting which doesn't give the polished look of royal icing.)

Gianna and Evelyn mastered it almost immediately and made really creative cookies, using toothpicks to create feathered and swirled effects. Anna, who is a bit of a perfectionist, got frustrated early on and went to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie with Grammy. I just love baking with these girls and seeing how their skills grow. When we were together for the Fourth of July we made our traditional Flag Cake, and I hardly had to help them at all--a far cry from the first year we did it, when they were young grade-schoolers, and I was running ragged trying to divide up the tasks evenly and help them each step of the way! That was in 2009. Gianna told me this weekend that Flag Cake is one of her great childhood memories (at the ripe old age of 15) and that made me happy.

Here's my tried-and-true sugar cookie recipe:

Eva's Sugar Cookies

2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
6 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, vanilla and almond extract until light and fluffy. In another bowl, combine flour and baking soda and add gradually to butter and sugar mixture until combined, Bake in preheated 350-degree oven on parchment-lined sheets for 8-10 minutes until light brown at the edges.

This makes 12 dozen cookies, a ridiculous amount, so I usually halve the recipe. I use one extra-large egg as "half" of the three eggs. And I put a few drops of almond extract in the icing, too.