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}


garden roses
{garden roses}



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?