A Five Star Book to Add to Your List

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to Big Little Lies . I don’t think it was simply because of the Australian accent of the narrator, although that did not hurt. This story and its characters pulled me in immediately and kept my attention until the very last moment. Aside from the common experiences of children starting school and learning to navigate parent politics, the similarities to the grade school involved to my children’s own were many–annual trivia night with costumes (and cocktails); established cliques that spanned generations; a young teacher with a good heart; and a harried administrator with the double-edged sword of involved parents peppering her days.
This book made me laugh out loud several times, but that is not to say it was not without sadness and heartache. I had no spoilers from the HBO show based on the book, so I met the characters from scratch and watched their stories unfold without any type of hint of what was to come.
If you enjoy stories of friendship, healing old wounds, strong bonds, cute kids, gossipy tidbits of news, and people who get what is coming to them, you will want to add this to your TBR list immediately.

View all my reviews

Book Challenge 2018 — On Fire

I decided to give audio books a try this year. Given that I can devour podcast upon podcast during a week’s time, it seemed to follow that I could listen to books just as well. I had to get over my initial idea that if I weren’t actually using my eyeballs to read the book, that it shouldn’t count as a book I’ve “read.” In the book tracker pages that I keep in my traveler’s notebook, I do make note of the books’ form. I use the short cut of “A” for audio and “K” for kindle. If I  do not denote either, it is a good, old-fashioned paper book that I held in my own two hands.

As January comes to a close, here are the books I have finished. Each one I enjoyed, but all for different reasons.

Pretty GirlsPretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Dark PlacesDark Places by Gillian Flynn


Choosing to listen to Dark Places in its audio form likely helped me enjoy it more. Given that the story keeps pace by bouncing among characters and from past to present, the narrator’s skill in voicing those transitions helped me keep things straight as I moved through the book. I have a feeling this is the type of book I would have had to keep flipping back to previous chapters to refresh my memory each time I picked it up–but the audiobook version negated that necessity.
The central mystery to this story engaged me from the opening moments and held me until the end. I love the “Wow…didn’t see that coming” kind of revelations in a good book and this one was chock full. In addition to the engaging mystery, readers have an opportunity to see characters from the inside out–inner monologues plus how other characters are interpreting their behaviors and actions.
As a fan of true crime and cold case investigation media in all its forms, I also found the perspective of Libby Day as she dealt with “enthusiasts” devoted to her family’s tragedy interesting and thought-provoking.

View all my reviews

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had this book on my to-read list for quite awhile before I reached to top of the hold list at my library. Once I checked it out, I made it about 50 pages before life interfered and I had no hope of finishing the book before my due date arrived. I am not the type to hang onto a book past its due date when I cannot renew it, as that means someone else is waiting on me. So, if I am not close to the end, back to the library it goes and I will try again later.
In deciding to give audiobooks a chance, I realized I could check out this title immediately and did so. I found this story to be simultaneously painful and beautiful–as many stories told about wartime. The quiet bravery and depth of intelligence of Marie-Laure and the cleverness and good heart of Werner Pfennig were silver linings in what could otherwise have been a heavy, depressing tale.
Everything from the setting of the scenes to the mannerisms of the characters were made richer by the author’s thoughtful descriptions.
This is one book that I do not think lost any of its impact by being completed in audio form.

View all my reviews

I Am Watching YouI Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Believe it or not, I devoured this book in one day on my iPhone’s Kindle app. Who knew your kid’s hockey tournament weekend could turn into a real reading opportunity?
This book begins with an ultimate “what would you do” moment and rolls like a locomotive full steam ahead from there. A handful of important characters share the story with the reader in chapters devoted to them and their perspectives. This mystery is covered in layers of secrets that began long before Anna disappears. Once the layers are peeled away, the fate of each of the characters is also known. Just when you think you have it figured out, another fact is thrown into the mix and you have to start your analysis all over again.
I found this book to be a real page turner and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good whodunit with a twist of what would I have done.

View all my reviews

The ImmortalistsThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Redefining Holiday Magic

This year has been a little rough and bittersweet. On the rough side, my family lost an important member quite suddenly and we are still trying to figure out how to deal with the open space he left. On the bittersweet side, my oldest started college and no longer lives at home full-time. And, my youngest started high school so there are no more wide-eyed children waiting on Santa to come. I’m left looking for new traditions or things to try so that this whole staring-down-an-empty-nest thing isn’t so daunting.

I’ve been digging around the internet looking for ideas, so maybe some of these would be helpful for you too.

Continue reading

Finding My Best Wine

I admit it. I am not a beer girl. Oh, sure, I will drink beer if that is the only choice, but it isn’t my number one pick. I enjoy things like gin and bourbon more than the average bear, I’m sure, but in my book, you cannot beat a nice glass of wine. Whether it’s to sip while reading a book or as a partner to a nice meal, I do enjoy wine.

While I enjoy wine and I admire those who set out to learn all about wine, I am not one of those people (yet). My resources are stretched thin as it is, so if I can rely on others to recommend good wines to me, I am all about it.

Continue reading

If It’s Good Enough for Stephen King…

Final GirlsFinal Girls by Riley Sager
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I am willing to stay awake until 2 a.m. on a Sunday night to finish a book, then you know I think it’s a good book. (Of course, the visit to the coffeehouse at 6:30 p.m. may have contributed to my ability to stay awake that long, but only slightly. ) Final Girls did not disappoint.

I tend to enjoy a good thriller, especially when a gruesome murder (or murders) form the core of the plot that ripples to the edges of the book from cover to cover. In this novel, the central character, Quincy, finds herself among a tiny group of individuals known as “final girls.” My viewing of horror films ended at junior high slumber parties ages ago, so I was not familiar with the term. But, I could easily name the character who fulfills the role of the last girl standing in any scary movie–the final girl.

The author spends a good deal of time early in the story building Quincy’s character in a solid way. While some readers may tire of the time spent, I found this important as the book progressed as I found myself frustrated with her behavior and, ultimately, surprised once the layers of her persona are peeled away and her repressed memories resurface for both her and the reader at the same time. By the end of the book, I found myself pushing my eyes to read faster and faster because I wanted to know who did what to whom and when.

This book had many of the tried and true conventions of a solid thriller–a traumatized survivor trying to recreate a sense of normalcy in her life; a love interest who is more for stability that romance; an equally scarred character who enters the fray to knock the traumatized survivor off the pedestal; and a handsome, trustworthy law enforcement officer who quietly supports the survivor after the initial trauma.

If you are looking for a book that can pull you in and quickly chalk up another finished book for your reading challenge stats, Final Girls should be on your list.

View all my reviews

Apple Butter for Days

I’m honestly not sure what possessed me to make apple butter in my Instant Pot. It may be because fall is my favorite time of year. Or, perhaps it was the abundance of apples when I went shopping for other fun food for my daughter’s midterm break. More likely, I saw something on social media about apple butter and I decided if that person could do it, I could give it a whirl too.

As I mentioned before, I am glad I purchased more apples than I needed since my youngest treated the apples like they were a meal for the better part of the week.

I thought it would be a good idea to give the apples a nice bath in the sink. I put clean, cool water into the sink with white vinegar and squeezed half a fresh lemon in for good measure.

Aside from the fact that everyone and their brothers could have touched these apples & I did not plan to peel them, I also like to remove as much of any waxy coating I can. These weren’t organic apples.

Once I had them washed and dried, I set about coring and slicing them. Again, I didn’t want to remove the skins because I had it in my head they might add to the thickness of the end product and I, personally, like to eat apple peels with wild abandon. My favorite days were when my Grandma had to peel a bunch of apples for something, but didn’t need the peels. She could cut them in one, long strip and I would share them with my sister (or eat them all–it depends on which of us is telling the story).

Continue reading

Midterm Break Eats

My oldest is in her first year of her undergraduate education. Her school has a midterm break in October. It fell on a weekend when my husband traveled to DC to run the Army 10-miler. With both my girls home, I decided to try and make some good eats for us to enjoy. My oldest had requested some hot Buffalo Chicken Dip. I obliged! While at the store collecting ingredients and a few other things, I decided to grab a handful of items that could turn into a pretty awesome dinner.

First, I found an Instant Pot recipe for BBQ beef and decided to give it a whirl. I knew even my picky pants youngest might eat it if it involved MEAT…she’s a fan.

The key, I have found, is not to necessarily let her see what things look like going into the Instant Pot. Unless she’s helping prepare it from the start and watching it build into this final photo on the left, it’s best to just put on the lid and turn the machine on quickly.

This beef recipe only took a short amount of time (an hour-ish) to be completely ready to enjoy. The girls ate a few helpings; my oldest and I put some Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce on top and ate the shredded beef on sandwich buns.

Anytime we have BBQ anything, the obvious choice for a side is macaroni and cheese. I had picked up the ingredients for it and then realized once the beef was resting that I hadn’t really even started the side dish.

Don’t worry, friends! A quick wash of the Instant Pot insert, and we were back in action. This mac & cheese recipe literally took 4 minutes once the pot came to pressure.

You cannot BEAT that! Our side was ready in no time. I will say that it took me a bit longer because I like to shred my own cheese rather than using the bagged varieties.

I chose to use some of the spices from our favorite baked macaroni & cheese recipe in this dish as well.

Next time, I will plan my cooking better and have time to bake off the mac and cheese for a bit so we can employ the crunchy bread crumb topping everyone loves so much.

Trust me when I say: no one was disappointed. Because my husband was not home to eat his usual platefuls of food, we actually had leftovers. I was able to send about a quart of mac & cheese and a takeaway container of beef back to my daughter’s dorm with her.

She was happy and I’m sure she also enjoyed the Buffalo Chicken Dip, celery and tortilla chips I packed up for her, her roomie and her boyfriend. I kind of think I managed to up my mom game just a little thanks to my Instant Pot.

While at the market, I also purchased a TON of apples. I want to try my hand at making apple butter in my Instant Pot. I better hurry, though! My youngest takes the apple-a-day saying along with the “if a little does a little good, a lot will do a lot of good” saying to heart. She’s been plowing through my apples at lightning speed! I can’t say I blame her–they are the perfect fall fruit!

I honestly think purchasing a second insert for my Instant Pot is the way to go. I’ll let you know when I pull that trigger and how I might use a second insert in planning for Thanksgiving!

Instant Pot to the Rescue!

DinnerPic1I have been wanting to try this recipe for pasta in my Instant Pot since I found it.

Yesterday presented the perfect opportunity as I worked a marathon day at work and my girls were home waiting for a good dinner. This could not have been more simple and it couldn’t have tasted much better.

I used our normal choice of pasta sauce (herbs already included), so I didn’t add in the suggested dry herbs. No matter! It came out great. We almost always have frozen meatballs in the freezer, so that ingredient is typically handy. The full-on mozzarella you see in this photo (added at the end of the actual cooking) came from a Blue Apron meal that we never managed to make. It was delicious along with some Parmesan cheese stirred through the dish.

Just be careful when you stir that pasta at the end! Even when you think all the steam has dissipated, you may be surprised and burn a fingertip. Ouch. But I managed to forget about it once we dug in to dinner.

You can add a side salad or some crusty bread and have a great family meal in no time. DinnerPic2Although this one is not Paleo, it is certainly better than choosing fast food when your day has expended all your energy.

Within a few minutes, the Instant Pot was working on our dinner while I changed clothes, received updates from the kids, pet the dogs, and poured a glass of wine. And really, what more could a tired mom ask for?!

Have you found some super easy, yet extremely tasty recipes for your Instant Pot? I would love if you dropped your favorite links in a comment. We are always looking for new ideas!

Are You a Mystery Buff?

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #1)Still Life by Louise Penny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I learned about this book through the “What Should I Read Next” podcast. The idea of the book intrigued me because I have always loved a good detective story, especially if the author has created a series of books involving the same detective. I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew in elementary school and spent one high school summer reading all the Agatha Christie books in my local library. I looked forward to meeting Armand Gamache and following him through his work.

Even if I did not know this book were the start of a series, I would have figured out it belonged in a series pretty quickly. Not only did it seem like Armand Gamache, the Chief Inspector and main character, would have more stories to tell, it also was clear he had a past–with a few mysteries of its own. I found myself wanting to learn more about those past work experiences that seemed to still sting him as he worked his current case.

The characters in this book proved interesting and certainly an example of the hodge podge of seemingly mismatched people who find themselves bonding in a small town. Having grown up in a “village”, I could relate.

The tension between Gamache and a rookie female inspector provided insight into Gamache’s leadership style, his personality, and foreshadowed work conflicts to come in future books.

An interesting whodunit, Still Life, revolves around the art community in a small Canadian village. A beloved, elderly community member is found dead under suspicious circumstances and it is left to Inspector Gamache to uncover the clues and find her killer.

This book moved fairly quickly for me and because of the fairly sizable collection of people who could have done it, but the constant wondering of why would they have done it, I was surprised at the end–and ready to read the next in the series, A Fatal Grace.

View all my reviews

Reading Challenge Continues…

The Alice NetworkThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have found myself reading quite a few women-during-wars books lately. Historical fiction draws me in every time, but not every book makes the deep impression that the Alice Network made.

Wonder if this book could be for you? I enjoyed the Lilac Girls and The Nightingale, but could not force myself to slog through the Zookeeper’s Wife. I learned about The Alice Network in the Goodreads newsletter after finishing the Lilac Girls–one of those “What next?” suggestions. I also think the What Should I Read Next? podcast mentioned this one and it landed on my list. So, if you have found gems on the shelves that way, you definitely will find this book a worthwhile read.

The book focuses on the intersection between three people from very different backgrounds who intersect and form an unlikely traveling trio. Eve, a woman who fights her demons through self-medication; Charlotte “Charlie”, a young American socialite fallen from grace, and Finn, the rakishly handsome Scotsman with demons of his own.

The story glides seamlessly between Eve’s time as a member of a ring of female spies, and thirty years later when Charlie arrives on her doorstep looking for answers surrounding her beloved, missing cousin. The two women clash at first, but Charlie quickly scrambles to her figurative feet and seems to form a tenuous connection with the predictably unpredictable Eve. Finn provides transportation, protection, and the Scottish charm that Eve learned she loved in her espionage days.

If rough language is a problem for you, please know this book contains its fair share. I did not find it distracting or unnecessary. The instances involving sex were not too explicit nor were they gratuitous. The violence and recounted scenes of war were the hardest parts of this book to read. Scenes near the end of Eve’s spy career made my stomach turn and I audibly groaned reading some pages–but again, I found them necessary to fully appreciate the depth of the emotions surrounding the activities taking place in the “present day” 1940’s sections of the book.

This book stands above many I have read this year and will likely go down as a favorite from my 2017 reads. I definitely recommend it.

View all my reviews