Tuesday, September 6, 2016

2016 Reading Challenges

I thought I should update my 2016 Reading Challenges List and information, since I haven't posted about them since early this year. I've made some progress on a few of them, and others have lagged quite a bit. More detailed information below. (Here is the link for my earlier post on the challenges). And I'd love to hear how you all are doing on your own challenges this year!

Foodies Read 2016
The purpose of this challenge is to read books with a focus on food. They can be fiction or non-fiction, novels or cookbooks, et cetera, as long as food plays a significant role in the book. My plan was to achieve the Pastry Chef Level of 4-8 books, but I haven't read any that qualify yet this year! There's still time, but I kind of doubt I'll reach this goal.

(picture taken from imdb.com)

Shakespeare 400: The 2016 Bardathon Challenge
My challenge for Shakespeare 400 was the Mix-and-match Shakespearean Level, 5 books and/or adaptations. So far, I've only finished two movie adaptations. Granted, there is still plenty of time to accomplish this goal, and the adaptations that I watched are probably two of my new favorites.

(picture taken from imdb.com)

6th Annual Deal Me In Short Story Challenge
Deal Me In is a short story challenge where each participant makes a list of 52 short stories, one for each week of the year, and assigns each one to a card in a deck of playing cards. I've been reading quite a few short stories, but not as many as I should have by now, and not all the ones I had planned. Moving put a big monkey wrench in my card selection process, as well as limiting my choices of books to keep on hand at a time. I may not stay true to my original list of stories to read, but there's a chance I can still catch up on this one if I read a couple of books of short stories before the end of the year.

2016 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge
For this challenge, I try to fill a list of the alphabet with titles that I read as the year goes on. I'm mostly finished with this challenge, and it's actually been pretty easy for me to just fill in the books I happen to be reading. There are a few letters (such as X and Z) that I'm having some trouble with, but hopefully it will all work out.

(picture taken from hogwartsrunningclub.org)

Charity Reading Challenge
The idea behind this challenge is to motivate people to give back in little ways connected to our reading habits. So far, I gave away a few boxes of books when I moved and bought some recently at a local nonprofit sale. I've featured one book-themed charity on this blog and have a few more lined up to write about. I also still plan to count the number of books I read this year in any format and donate $1 per book read to a charity in January of next year. So far, I'm at 45 books, which is great for me!

(picture taken from nolastorycon.com)

NoLA StoryCon
I'll be attending NoLA StoryCon at the end of September in New Orleans, Louisiana. I can't believe it's almost time to go! Speaking of which, if any of you have suggestions of bookstores/restaurants/anything to visit, see, or try while I'm there, please let me know! This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me! I challenged myself to read more books by some of the authors who will be in attendance and to read books about New Orleans or related to the city through the setting or the author. I've done fairly well with this challenge so far--better than I expected, anyway--so I'll post a list soon of what I've read for this!

I hope you all enjoyed hearing where I am with my challenges right now! Keep an eye out for more specific posts about each one soon!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Literary Palate: Pensione Emerson Cookies

And now, for the post to kickstart a new beginning! I know how much you guys loved the Thornton Cupcakes, and these cookies are something I made a little while back and loved how they turned out! So, I made some more tonight and decided to share them with you!

Our Inspiration

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
(picture taken from Goodreads)

I read this book two years ago and loved it! Here's a link to the review I posted about it.

Our Creation

Pensione Emerson Cookies

I know this is not the name of the pension in A Room with a View, but I wanted to name these cookies after my favorite characters, the Emersons, while also giving the name a relevant Italian touch. They are blood orange olive oil cookies, sprinkled with a little extra dried orange peel on top. They are delicious and buttery-tasting with (I like to think) a touch of sophistication and passionate love!

The Recipe

2 cups granulated cane sugar
1 cup blood orange olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons finely grated dried orange peel
3 cups unbleached organic flour

Stir sugar, olive oil, orange juice, and eggs together until well-mixed. Mix in salt, baking powder, and orange peel. Add one cup of flour at a time until well-mixed, no dry ingredients still showing. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper and drop about a spoonful of cookie dough for each cookie. Bake for 10 minutes. Change temperature to 425 F and bake for two more minutes for browning. Pull out of oven, let cool, garnish with a little extra orange peel or a dash of powdered sugar if desired, and enjoy!

You can easily use unflavored olive oil and still get a delicious taste. I've also substituted other citrus juices and had a good result. I have included the type of ingredients that I usually use, but you are welcome to substitute with what you can or prefer to eat. I almost always tweak recipes that I use anyway. Just make sure you're aware that altered fat content/dry-wet ingredient ratio/etc. will alter the consistency of the cookies; adjust other ingredients accordingly. If you want, the dough is pliable enough to pipe into pretty shapes. And if you make bigger cookies, bake them a bit longer. These are pretty forgiving.

For Your Comparison
 
Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch and Julian Sands as George Emerson

view from the Pensione Bertolini in the 1985 movie production

I know I promised you all more of these Literary Palate posts, and MaryAnn and I have come up with several flavors since the Thornton cupcakes, so hopefully it won't be long! If there's anything you'd like to know about our processes or inspirations, please comment and I'll do my best to answer. Also, if you have any suggestions for book or fandom inspirations, recipes to try, tweaks to recipes, throw them my way! And I'd love to hear how yours turn out if you make some!

Alive!

I'm alive! Okay, you probably assumed that (especially since I've been sneakily updating a couple of my reading challenges, and it would be really weird if someone else were doing it), but I'm back! I don't know if I'll be posting immediately as frequently as I did before my break, but I'll get there. Here's a quick update on how I'm doing physically and what's going on in my life: My kidneys are recovering very well, and I have an appointment with my nephrologist this month to see some hopefully clean labs and continue to lower my medication. I no longer have an appendix, but who needs that, anyway? After a car crash that totaled my car (this happened shortly after I stopped posting on here), I got a soccer mom minivan, which is mostly functional and will be improved soon. We moved to a new town last month, still in Missouri (and so far, I've located two libraries within a 10-min. drive, which is what's important). I've decided to take a break from working for a year (or at least some months) to get myself sorted out and figure out what I want to do next. I dyed my hair blue! It's funky, and I love it. I figured if I'm taking some time off from working anyway, might as well do something a bit wild. It was a lot brighter and darker when I first did it, but I'll add a picture below. Oh, and I'm currently doing my son's preschool from home, getting him ready for Kindergarten next year! Where has the time gone? We're enjoying lots of trips exploring our new surroundings, checking out fun parks, and going to the zoo. I have only unpacked about a quarter of my stuff; it's exhausting. I think that's about it! I'd love to hear what's going on with all of you and will hopefully have time to catch up on a few of your blogs.


Monday, February 29, 2016

Some Time Away

This is a really hard post for me, because I love this blog and I love you all so, so much. But I'm going to be taking some time away from blogging right now. As you all know, I've been dealing with a lot of issues in my personal and family life lately, and in the last couple of weeks even more issues have arisen. It's very hard to post consistently when I'm mostly avoiding the home computer. I will still be trying to keep up with the reading challenges I've set for myself here, so you might see a post on those challenges from time to time. But mostly I just need to focus my energy elsewhere right now. I will of course be reading your blogs when I have the chance, and if you'd like to continue reading reviews (albeit shorter ones) from me regularly, you can check out my Goodreads account: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/9636598-hannah
Hopefully I'll see you all back here soon!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Deal Me In: January Short Stories

I've been reading my short stories for the 2016 Deal Me In Challenge and just haven't had a chance to post my reviews about them yet. This is definitely different for me; I don't usually read many short stories. But I am loving this challenge! I've discovered some great authors this way that I've never read before, and I have high hopes for the rest of the year's reading.

Week 1: "Cataract" by Pam Houston
from: CutBank, No. 50; Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards
Synopsis: Lucy, her boyfriend (Josh), and three of their friends meet up at Cataract Canyon in Colorado to run the river rapids at some of their highest flood levels. They're all experienced boaters, but the rapids are very dangerous at that level, and there's quite a bit of distracting tension between the five friends.
Conclusion: Houston is a solid writer. She presents well-rounded characters connected by a situation and place to which I can't directly relate, but I still understand the characters in a concrete way. Her writing is very real; that's what I liked about the story. And even though Houston shows you what is happening in Lucy's life, she leaves you to draw your own conclusions. Many profound things happen in this short story, not the least of which is Lucy and Thea getting thrown off the boat and almost drowning. Their survival is downplayed by the jovial mood and adrenaline high of the men in the group, and Lucy realizes some things about her chosen path in life. I like that Houston doesn't tell you what Lucy will do next or how these characters will continue their lives from here.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Week 2: "The Depressed Person" by David Foster Wallace
from: Harper's Magazine; Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards
Synopsis: The depressed person learns things about how her past has affected her present condition as a fractured individual, and she admits all of her feelings and concerns about herself and everything else to her therapist and her Support System.
Conclusion: Wallace does a really good job with this piece. Basically, this short story is a cyclical reflection of the depressed person's fears of inadequacy for the outside world and sufferings related to her past tousled between two constantly rivaling divorced parents. This story is really effective in communicating the depressed person's reality because of Wallace's writing techniques: detached, third-person language; run-on sentences that last for half of a paragraph; casual observations of others and their personal situations while the prose primarily focuses on the depressed person. The effect is a continuous dialogue that feels like sitting in on a therapy session, and the reader can picture herself there, just listening to this whole story play out.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Week 3: "Delicate Edible Birds" by Lauren Groff
from: Glimmer Train; The Best American Short Stories: 2010
Synopsis: Four journalists and a photographer are in France covering the Nazi invasion of WWII. Taking pictures and interviewing refugees on the road from Paris to Bordeaux, their Jeep runs out of gas, and they stop at the only occupied place in sight. This turns out to be the home of a Nazi-sympathizing Frenchman who offers to provide them with all of the gas and food they need if he can "sleep" with the female journalist, Bernice. When she refuses, he locks them all in his barn as prisoners for the Germans until, one by one, the men in the group turn on Bernice to take the deal.
Conclusion: Well, I'll definitely be reading more from Groff in the future. She tells this story in sketches of each character with an eye on his past with Bernice: Viktor, the unnattractive and sensitive Russian; Parnell, the handsome, married Brit; Frank, the rough and mostly useless American; and Lucci, the sweet and artistic Italian photographer. Bernice's past has been a rough and promiscuous one, and she relates the trapped situation in which she now finds herself to the indulgent shame of a bird dinner that she once witnessed. This story is a beautiful but harsh question of choices, independence, dignity, sacrifice, and many other things.

Week 4: "The Valetudinarian" by Joshua Ferris
from: The New Yorker; The Best American Short Stories: 2010
Synopsis: Arty Groys decides to stay in Florida (where he recently moved for his retirement) even though his wife just died in a car accident. He grows increasingly more bitter toward his neighbor's dog; concerned about growing old and his health issues; and lonely from his distant children in Ohio and his only, rarely-seen friend, Jimmy Denton.
Conclusion: I really like stories with old characters. Maybe it's because of the opportunity to look back at a wider past of experiences, or maybe it's just because most authors don't pay attention to the older characters as much as the younger ones. It's interesting that a foreign prostitute is the one to finally motivate Arty to live his life, but I can kind of see why she would be: she's seen a lot in her life and has a "Why not try to live life to the fullest?" mentality. At least, that's how she comes across to him. And then his neighbor, Mrs. Zegerman, just wants someone to take care of really. That's going to be a sweet but strange friendship/relationship post-story. This piece was oddly inspiring.

Monday, February 15, 2016

By Book or by Crook / Booked for Trouble

By Book or by Crook and Booked for Trouble are the first and second books in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series by Eva Gates. In the series, Lucy has recently abandoned her socialite life in Boston to work and live in a small, seaside library housed in an old lighthouse.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: This is what's called a "cozy mystery," and it lives up to its name. It's cute and fun and safe. I enjoy reading these when I need to just relax. It's more like a riddle than a complicated murder case. As for this one specifically, what a cute idea! A library in a lighthouse with a comfortable little apartment upstairs? Gates knows what she's doing, 'cause I'm definitely reading the second one when it comes out. I like Lucy's character pretty well, although I got tired of the "I'm so worried about what I'm eating and oh, look at my perfectly beautiful cousin" side comments from time to time. Luckily, that wasn't a large part of her thoughts. I can't decide how I feel about Bertie--there's nothing that really stands out about her. Charlene and Ronald are fun, fairly well-rounded characters for this kind of book, though. Thomas is a good character but kind of annoying with his fake accent, although I guess that's intentional. The love interests and the quizzical little mystery are the real fun in this story. Connor and Butch are both sweet and total opposites. As the town mayor, Connor is a sweet-talking, book-learned man with the advantage of a previous friendship/young love with Lucy. Butch is a big, muscly bear of a man with a sweet natural temperament. He has a boost from his connection to Lucy's cousin, Josie, through his brother, but might still be at a disadvantage since he is a cop (and therefore at odds with Lucy while she is suspected of the crimes committed in this story). I have a suspicion that Lucy will end up with Connor, but in order to avoid anger or disappointment, Butch will need to find someone else soon. Perhaps the book group Lucy is starting will play into that, bringing new characters to the forefront of the series. I look forward to reading the second book and seeing where Gates's story goes!

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: I enjoyed the break from Lucy's self-evaluation in this one. She seemed much more comfortable and confident in her position than she was in the first. This is a good, natural progression for that character at this point, so Gates is doing well there. I still find Thomas's character annoying. To be honest, I guessed who the murderer was early on and then just kind of set it aside in case something else came to light. I think Gates's signature with this series is choosing murderers that everyone pretty much dismisses until the end when they suddenly attack someone. That's what happens in the first two, at least. The sweet romances that Gates built into the first book fell into the background a little in this one, but I suspect it will pick-up again in the third. I still think Connor has the advantage there, without the conflict of interest where Lucy is always being investigated by Butch, but Gates could turn it around if she wants. The storyline with Lucy's mother turned out better than I expected. Everything was kind of disconnected initially, but bringing in a little more sincerity there was key, and her history with the other characters really filled out her character. I also liked the addition of the Gray Woman. She fleshed things out a bit and had a perfect level of quirkiness for this book.

Overall a fun beginning for this series! I'm eagerly awaiting the third one, which comes out in April, I think. Do you all like cozy mysteries? What do you look for in a mystery series?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Charity Challenge: Hogwarts Running Club


I can't think of a better way to kick off my spotlights for the 2016 Charity Challenge than Harry Potter and real motivation to be healthy! Have you heard of Hogwarts Running Club? Here's the description from their About Page: "Hogwarts Running Club (HRC) is a 501(c)3 charitable organization that organizes virtual running events inspired by the wizarding world designed to promote walking/running, provide unique and awesome medals, and, most importantly, raise money for deserving charities in order to accomplish our mission of changing the muggle-world one mile at a time." Basically, it's awesome. I'm not a runner, but the idea of participating in a Potter-themed virtual 5k with my friends for charity is more than I can resist!


I feel a little bad featuring this run because registration for it is over, but this is the one in which I'm participating first: The "Always" 3.94 Memorial Run. This run is in memory of Alan Rickman (pictured below): the late, great, amazing actor who played Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies (among many other awesome roles). I've registered and ordered my t-shirt, and I finally took the Pottermore Sorting Quiz to discover my House at Hogwarts--it's Hufflepuff, which I suspected all along!
 

The official date for the run is Sunday, February 21, and some of the proceeds from the t-shirt sales are going to Debate Mate, one of Rickman's favorite charities while he was alive. But if you missed the registration date for The "Always" Run and are still interested in participating in Hogwarts Running Club, there will be a lot more opportunities this year, starting with The Molly Weasley Ugly Jumper Run! This one has already started and goes through Sunday, February 14 (Valentine's Day!) to support One Warm Coat.


I'm so happy to have discovered Hogwarts Running Club; I think this will be a really fun thing for me to do with my friends and support various charities! And who knows, maybe I'll start jogging regularly and get really healthy? Okay, that's unrealistic, because I'm tired and on my feet all of the time at work for hours. But anyway--fun, friends, motivation, charity! Can't get better than that! Let me know if any of you are planning to do a run, or if you take the Pottermore Sorting Quiz or discover any new charities!