December, 2017

  1. 2017 books part 2

    December 31, 2017 by Angie

    I reviewed the first half of 2017’s books earlier here. I’m not counting cookbooks, pattern books, and similar things here, although I read quite a few and reviewed them on Goodreads. Last year I read 27 books which was more than I’d read any other year since I started keeping count in 2007. This year I broke that record with 32 books read. I know a lot of people who regularly read a lot more than that every year but it’s a lot for me so I’m happy about it. 2018’s goal is 35 books!!!

    My favorite: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

    Five star winners: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout; Sisters by Lily Tuck; Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond; The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey; Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

    My least favorite: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

    The longest: Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory at 556 pages

    The oldest: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman published in 1892

    Nonfiction: 7

    Fiction: 25

    Here is the second half of the list in the order I read them. I’ve included reviews for some and ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 stars for all. The book club I was in disbanded but we’ve started one at my library and I’m attending a class for work that involves reading a book then meeting to discuss it and watching the film adaptation. This is keeping me busy with reading plus I’m still getting a lot of great books from NetGalley.

    16. The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie – 3 stars

    17. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – NetGalley – 4 stars

    I loved Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, and I loved Little Fires Everywhere almost as much. The novel is a domestic drama set in the wealthy, planned community of Shaker Heights. Ng explores the lives of two families. One is “perfect” with a beautiful home and four all-star children and the other consists of a nomadic, somewhat mysterious artist and her 15 year old daughter. The families, and especially the two mothers, represent two ways of living life: planned and by the book and winging it based on feelings while chasing experiences and meaning. The end kept me from giving this book five stars. The novel opens with a tragic event and then backtracks showing us how that event came to be. The end and the reasons for it were not predictable until quite far into the book, but once it became obvious, due to an almost insulting amount of foreshadowing, I was let down a bit. Overall, it’s a great novel deserving of the buzz it’s getting it. Celeste Ng is a do not miss author for me.

    18. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – NetGalley – 3 stars

    I raced to the end, reading the book in one day, which I never manage to do. There is a lot I really liked about this book, but the last fifth or so of the book disappointed me. The characters I came to care about exhibited choices and behavior that I feel are very much out of character. There were, in my interpretation at least, some disturbing values portrayed in the end too. Jones’ writing is often stunning and the dialogue is believable. I have to give her credit for getting the Louisiana speak right (making groceries, fixing a plate) – lots of books, TV shows, and movies fail miserably at their attempt at Louisiana settings and characters, but not Jones.

    19. The Visitors by Catherine Burns – NetGalley – 3 stars

    The Visitors is rather unputdownable. I expected it would be more of a thriller, based on the blurb, but it was a creepy character study instead. Nothing particularly scary happens, but the entire novel inspired a heeby jeeby feeling in me.

    It’s about an older woman, Marion, who lives in her childhood home in England with her brother, John. From the blurb, we already know that he is keeping sex slaves in the cellar and she is, at least somewhat, complicit because how could she not notice that there are women in her cellar? The story is told by Marion as she goes back and forth between the present day and memories from her childhood. There is also an epistolary component. Surprisingly, the women in the cellar are not the focus of the novel. Rather, it’s mostly about Marion, her childhood, and her family and how she came to be the sad, lonely freak she is at the opening of the story.

    20. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild – 4 stars

    21. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 4 stars

    I listened to the audiobook read by the author. I know people have problems with Ta-Nehisi Coates and his views/politics but I really don’t. I think the book is worth reading/listening to.

    22. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – books to films book club – 3 stars

    I heard a lot of great things about this book but I thought it was just okay. It was formulaic and I wasn’t as moved by the protagonist as I should have been.

    23. The Night Child by Anna Quinn – NetGalley – 3 stars

    I rushed through this short novel in one day. I enjoyed it while I was reading it and was interested in reaching the end. Anna Quinn’s writing is great. I think there are several aspects that were not explored fully and the book suffered for it. I would like to understand what Nora’s mother and the rest of her family knew and how they coped with what they knew. I think it’s completely insane that several characters in the book knew children were in danger and did nothing to help them, including Nora herself. That doesn’t feel realistic to me. I don’t feel like I knew John, Nora’s boss, very well and he appears that he will play a major role in her life going forward. Other than those issues, it is a solid debut novel which I enjoyed reading.

    24. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – book club – 2 stars

    I really did not want to read this book, but it was the book club choice at work. I listened to the audiobook for the most part which was a terrible idea. The reading of this book was just plain awful and made me hate the book even more. I feel like The Girl on the Train was a less good Gone Girl and The Woman in Cabin 10 was a less good The Girl on the Train.

    25. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – NetGalley – 3 stars

    I was really, really loving this book until about 70% through. Around that point there started to be too much going on and too many mythical creatures. I am debating reading the second novel in the series.

    26. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – 4 stars

    I loved Homegoing. It was almost a 5 stars book for me but I had some issues with the ending. I feel that it is very improbable that the people at the end would have happened to meet and I didn’t understand why they became close enough to travel to another country together. Until that point though, I thought it was perfect. I love family stories that span generations. I really like that each chapter almost functions as a short story because the characters and point of view change with each chapter.

    27. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay – 3 stars

    28. A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines – 4 stars

    29. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – 4 stars

    30. A Simple Plan by Scott D. Smith – books to films book club – 4 stars

    I saw this movie in the theater and really enjoyed it. That was a long time ago so I’d mostly forgotten the story. I don’t usually read this kind of book – it’s a bit of a thriller – but I really liked it. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse for the main character and his wife, something else happened. I like that it is a thriller with conscience. It has action but it’s more about the contemplative aspect of how can I do these things I know are wrong and yet continue to by myself, a regular person?

    31. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – 5 stars

    This is in the running for my favorite book I read this year. I am still giving favorite book read in 2017 to The Snow Child because I felt there were times when the writing of the internal thoughts/narration in Sing, Unburied, Sing did not match the speech of the narrators. It didn’t happen all the time but when it did it bothered me. Other than that, the book is perfect in my opinion and very deserving of the National Book Award.

    32. Wine All the Time: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking by Marissa A. Ross – 2 stars

    I might have learned something but it wasn’t worth all of the awful writing and anecdotes I had to wade through to get to that information.

    angeleen’s bookshelf: read

    A Man Called Ove
    liked it

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    A Man Called Ove


  2. Birmingham, AL

    December 30, 2017 by Angie

    Hurricane Irma, oh my god. What a jerk. It messed up our house and took years off of our lives. We evacuated to Birmingham, AL in early September because we were told a Category 5 hurricane was definitely coming to wipe our house off the map. In good news, Birmingham turns out to be a pretty cool place. We tried our very hardest to make the best of our evacuation trip while compulsively checking the storm track.

    Somewhere in Georgia
    Somewhere in Georgia

    Cuthbert, GA

    Somewhere else in Georgia

    Robbie drove us for many hours with Sookie in the backseat. She was a good girl except for the time she tried to fight a bellhop.

    We stayed at the only dog-friendly hotel we could find with a room left, the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. The people who work there were very good to us, but it wasn’t the best location and getting to the car in the parking garage or outside to walk Sookie from the hotel room was an ordeal.

    Sheraton Birmingham Hotel

    Food We Ate

    We had breakfast at the Harvest Restaurant and Bar in the Redmont Hotel nearby. It was a very pleasant, quiet, calm breakfast.

    Omelet, a soy latte, and the best potatoes

    You know we won’t pass up a chance to eat at Mellow Mushroom. My parents and Sookie came too. It was a really good Mellow Mushroom and we would know because we’ve been to them all over the country.

    Mellow Mushroom drinks

    Mellow Mushroom drinks

    Outdoor seating at Mellow Mushroom
    We sat outside on the front patio.

    We had fantastic vegan hot dogs at Hot Diggity Dog.

    Hot Diggity Dog Tots and a veggie dog
    And tots!

    Time is a flat circle
    Time is a flat circle.

    Urban Standard is a coffee/breakfast place where I got a very fine soy latte and grits. Robbie didn’t love his tofu scramble thing and none of the food was photogenic. The place itself is cute, however.

    We got takeout from New China Town and it was everything I wanted it to be. Vegetable dumplings, fried rice, and General Tso’s tofu!

    Closeup of our foul, hotel living and amazing, fried tofu.

    New China Town

    Drinks We Drank

    We loved Paramount Bar, a video game bar with great drinks.

    We had some impressive drinks at the The Atomic Lounge.

    I love the Angela Davis Room

    This bar has the same aesthetic as Fiona Apple’s Criminal video, but a lot more #woke.

    We had such great fries at the adorable Carrigan’s Public House!

    The outside is so cute

    Robbie at the bar

    Places We Went

    We took Sookie for a walk around Railroad Park.

    Railroad Park

    Railroad Park

    Railroad Park

    Robbie and Sookie at Railroad Park

    Railroad Park

    Robbie did some out-of-state beer shopping at Hop City.

    Hop City

    I had to check out the Birmingham Public Library. The central library was very close to our hotel.

    The Atwood/Austen section

    We walked through Red Mountain Park with my parents and Sookie. The park wasn’t done in the way I am used to, spoiled as I am by Florida state parks. It was pretty though and I’m glad we went and did not in fact get lost (although we almost did) or fall down a big hill (which 3 out of 5 of us came very close to doing).

  3. Instant Pot black bean soup

    December 30, 2017 by Angie

    Robbie got me an Instant Pot for Christmas! So far I’ve made rice using the rice cooker function and this black bean soup. I’m stoked to make a million more things.

    I mostly followed this recipe from A Pinch of Healthy for my first real foray into Instant Pot cooking. I am really impressed that I didn’t have to soak the black beans. The black beans went from dried beans in a bag to soup in an hour and twenty minutes.

    I added minced garlic, garlic powder, and white wine. I ran out of chili powder so I ended up with a little less than a tablespoon instead of two tablespoons. I also took about half of the solid stuff out with a big ladle when it was finished cooking and pureed the rest of the soup inside the Instant Pot with my immersion blender. Then I added the rest of the solid stuff back in, stirred, and added white wine, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. The avocado I bought wasn’t ripe so we added a little shredded Mexican cheese on top of each serving and ate the soup with toast.