Pearl Shift, Reading and Books, Sewing

Fall 2016: Checks and Plaid, Muffins and Soup

Fall has come to Connecticut in all its glory. The view from my front porch last week:img_3922With the cooler weather, I am turning to the Pearl Shift which I previously made, and lived in basically all last winter, in heavy cotton flannel plaids from Jo-Ann. You can see those versions here. When I saw the new Checkers fabric from Cotton and Steel, I thought it would be perfect for a Pearl. I was inspired by a similar dress, an Esme tunic which can be found in this bookimg_3685-1When I make changes to patterns, I write notes to myself on the pattern pieces. Ironically, sometimes I forget to read the notes until after cutting out the pattern as I did here. I did not actually add enough to the seam allowance to allow for french seams. Note to self: read notes to self. img_3686-1This is a very straight-forward pattern and if I didn’t insist on adding a zipper, it would be even quicker but I think the zipper adds a lot so I used one here. I sewed it using a techinique I modified from Dana by watching this video of how to sew a lined zipper pouch. It was this video that inspired me to use wonder clips which work well. The picture below shows where I lined up the top of the zipper but I think I will move it up a bit on my next version because there is a bit of a gap at the top in the finished version. img_3879Sewing the first side:img_3882After sewing one side, I do the reverse and then top-stitch. I find it works best to sew the zipper initially going from top to bottom but I have better success with the top-stitching when I start at the bottom of the zipper and sew to the top maintaining some tension on the fabric to prevent puckers.img_3885Lining up the second side.img_3881Ready for top-stitching.img_3888After top-stitching. It took three tries to get this. Sewing from the bottom of the zipper to the top was the key in the end.img_3891I used my usual hem facing technique. I cut up an old muslin into 3 inch strips. I have described this technique in my prior Pearl posts here and here. It is very straightforward.img_3943I am able to use the metal plate edge as the perfect guide to sew the hem when I use the 3 inch strips.img_3958Since I had extra of the 3 inch strips, I finished the sleeves the same way. I bound the neck using 1.5 inch bias binding leftover from my Checkers Gemma Tank. The hem and sleeve facing is not cut on the bias since there is very little curve to the hem and the sleeves are cut straight across. It worked well and was very quick to finish,. img_3956Finished dress on the front door.img_3985Back of dress.img_3990And as worn. Although I thought I cut it the same length as my previous versions, this one is a little longer. I am not sure how I feel about it. I really like the way the linen one fits but I also find that when there is less heft to the fabric as in my Alison Glass version, the tunic rides up. I will have to wear this for a while and see what I think about the length. I think on me, the shorter version is a little more flattering but time will tell.img_3972Side view.img_3975Back view.img_3965Linen version for comparison.img_3705One more picture with fall foliage.img_3969Other things we have been enjoying here in Connecticut: a tour of a new craft brewery in our town which is expanding. It was fun to go on the tour and great to see a new successful local business. img_3939A beautiful sunrise. I love watching the sun come up and I miss the sunrises when I have to leave for work in the dark. (I am not a fan of shorter winter days.)img_3876My nasturtiums finally bloomed (in October). Note to self: plant earlier next year. They were cheap and maintenance free and pretty. img_3712Fall is soup and muffin weather chez Nursebean. My usual modus operandi is to make what I call refrigerator soup. It is when you open the refrigerator and see what you have and make soup. It is a great way to take those leftovers and make a meal. This post from one of my favorite bloggers is a great description of how to do this. I also made this Broccoli and Dill soup which was enjoyed by all (from one of my other favorite bloggers).img_3660 I have had this pot and this bowl for over 25 years.img_3691 I get nostalgic cooking on Sunday afternoons thinking about how many pots of chili, soup and even lasagnas have been made in this blue Le Creuset pot which was a wedding gift over 30 years ago. I remember buying the bowl as a young broke new mom. It was a big splurge at the time. I don’t think it was actually very expensive but all purchases felt like big purchases at that point in my life (and in many ways still do). I still love it. Many muffins and cookies have started in this bowl. Mr. Nursebean has found that he feels better when he avoids gluten so I made some adjustments to the cornmeal muffin recipe from this book which is one of my go to cookbooks and which has excellent muffin recipes (they all start with a stick of butter so it would be hard to go wrong). Here is my version. I  actually think they are better this way, sort of nutty and you can convince yourself that they are healthy because of the nut flour and the yogurt. They are great right out of the oven with butter and raspberry jam but I also freeze them and then zap them in the microwave for a minute and they are perfect for breakfast.

Cornmeal Muffins:

Pre-heat oven to 375-I use convection setting.

Melt a stick of butter in a big bowl. I usually microwave for 2 minutes. Let cool a bit

In a separate bowl combine: 1.5 cups each of cornmeal flour and almond flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and a dash of salt

Beat two eggs into melted butter and combine dry and wet ingredients. Don’t over-mix.

Add one 6 oz lemon, plain or vanilla yogurt to the mixture. Add approx 4 oz milk (or as much as you need to make the mixture mixable and about the texture of wet scrambled eggs.

Bake for approx 20 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Serve hot out of the oven with butter and rasberry jam or next day-I find they reheat perfectly with 30 seconds in the microwave or 1 minute if frozen (I often freeze them so they don’t disappear too fast. They make a great breakfast.)

My daughter and I have been trying to walk most days. The trees along our walk have been beautiful.img_3818I have been doing a lot of reading. I inhaled this novel and this mystery. I highly recommend both. This fall is the 10th anniversary of the fall that this sweet puppy joined our family. She still greets me with love every time I come home. A gift to us all.img_3914Next up are two more Pearl shifts in plain flannel purchased last year at Jo-Ann’s. img_3689This time I remembered to add the extra seam allowance for french seams. This is why I often make more than one of a pattern in a row. It takes a couple times to work out the bugs! One of these will be for me and one for my daughter who I will see (yay!) for Thanksgiving. I have a lot to be thankful for. Wishing everyone a beautiful fall!

Please note that my blog is not monetized and has no sponsors. I provide links to share online resources that I enjoy using. I do not derive any financial benefit if you click on links on my blog. 

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About Me, Reading and Books, unplugged

Nursebean Reads: October 2016-100 books and counting

I wrote earlier this year here and here about how in 2016,  I have been reading quite a bit more than is usual for me and earlier this week, 286 days into the year to be exact, I read my 100th book of the year. Thank you Goodreads for keeping track!

My 100th book, The Mothers,  was the wonderful debut novel written by an incredibly talented 26 year old. The novel started out as her senior thesis. I loved it and read it in two evenings. Interestingly, leading up to #100 are several lighter reads. Sometimes, particularly when I am tired, I can’t focus well enough to tackle a weightier book and will read lighter things-cozy mysteries, YA, chicklit-until I get my focus back. I also read less when I sew more; and I did a lot of sewing this year. I have learned to take it in stride.

The day after I reached #100 was almost more momentous because 2+ months after I started listening to it, I finished all 35 hours and 40 minutes of this audio book read by Maggie Gyllenhaal which I purchased from audible on sale for just a few dollars. Totally worth it. Sadly no longer on sale.  I started it back in August when I had the idea of Power Reading the Classics.  I listened to it to and from work and occasionally while cooking, sewing or going for walks. My Classics challenge didn’t work out as I planned but I am trying to incorporate more classics interspersed with my other reads.

Reading this many books is kind of a big deal for me because my normal number of books read has averaged about 30 for the last several years.

 

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While it is still quite a lot, more than 2 per month, my former speed was not a pace which made me feel as though I would ever make a dent in the long list of books I wished I had read. And now, even though the list is growing at a much faster pace than it ever did thanks to my book whisperers:  Catherine, Lindsey and Anne, I am confident that I will find the time to read many, though certainly not all, of the books I want to read.

Most of the books I read this year I have loved or liked a lot. I only have a few in the 2 or 3 star category (I haven’t really read something I couldn’t like at least a little bit). You can see a few of them below. The less than loved books are things I picked up on impulse from the library or on sale on kindle. I don’t regret reading them but I am trying to be more intentional about my book choices since there are so many wonderful books I know I want to read-many of them recommendations from the WSIRN podcast-can’t recommend it more highly.

The podcast, which I listen to religiously every Tuesday morning, asks guests to name a book they hate. I can’t say that I hated anything I read, but I didn’t love one title, which you can see hanging out all alone in the two star line on my Goodreads YTD summary. Part of the summary is above and part is below since there were too many books to screenshot and capture them all. The ones below are all 4’s and 5’s and were all great reads.

I tend to alternate more literary reads with murder mysteries and the occasional chick-lit and this year I read some great YA books that I found via Modern Mrs. Darcy. Memoir is my favorite genre and I have read almost 20 memoirs and more than 25 non-fluffy novels so far this year, all of which have been terrific. I read 3 classics (although AK should count for at least 2 all by itself) and want to read more. I have listened to 23 audio books out of a total of 102 books read this year, most of which really enhanced the experience of the book because of the wonderful narration. The main thing that has helped me read more has been devoting a couple of hours in the early morning each week to read. I have missed one or two Sundays due to work but that unplugged time is what gets me on track, helps me finish something I have started or get a good start on a new book. I find that once I am into the story, I want to keep going and having that time really makes the difference. Right after finishing the Mothers, I started Commonwealth, the new book by Ann Patchett. I read it in a night. So so good.

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My current reading list features two great new novels, a lengthy but so interesting non-fiction book about genetics by one of my favorite authors and Jane Austen. On audio, I am listening to the new Flavia DeLuce mystery. What could be better?

You can link to my other posts on books and reading here, here and here.

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Reading and Books

Nursebean Reads: Spring 2016

image Spring is almost over here in Connecticut and I continue to be reading lots of good books.  I previously blogged about some of my spring reads here, here and here. And I wrote earlier this year about my reading muses and strategies I have adopted to be able to read more. There are two more days until the solstice and I am up to 34 books this season and 70 this year to date. Yikes! Here are the highlights from the last few months.

Fiction Favorites:

The One-in -a-Million Boy is a wonderful read. I loved the story and the writing and the characters, especially the feisty older woman. I am recommending it to everyone I know. I found this book through Anne Bogel and bought it because it was a Kindle Deal. Thanks Anne!

I loved Our Souls at Night. It is beautifully written, a gentle book about aging, love, relationships, small towns. It made me want to read other books by the author.

I loved Tell Me Three Things It is a smart YA book with characters you care  about and a storyline that keeps you guessing.

Before We Visit the Goddess engaged me. I cared about the women in the story and their relationships (grandmother, mother, daughter). The story was well constructed. I didn’t love it as much as the other three but I am glad I read it.

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine was a little wacky. The author was very inventive in this futuristic novel that explored themes like body image and societal values. I am glad I read it and I enjoyed parts of it but it might not appeal to some.  Since I have had time to read a lot of books, I don’t mind reading one that isn’t my favorite but if I only had time to read a couple, this wouldn’t make the cut.

Although I enjoyed reading some of the others on the list more, the book that blew me away was The Chronology of Water, an incredibly raw, beautifully written memoir. The themes will likely turn many readers off. She explores sexual abuse, violence, sex, addiction. But even though so many aspects of her personal history are really disturbing, I never got the feeling that she was writing about these things with the intent to shock. At the end of the day, the facts of the story were only a small aspect of the impact of the book.  The main thing that hit me was the writing. There is such an immediacy to the writing. It is poignant, funny, honest, raw and generous. She tells her story and invites the reader to experience the power of art and love as forces for healing and redemption. For the reader who can handle it, it is an amazing book, highly recommended.

Non-fiction: Favorite (a surprise to me) was Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. He is a wonderful writer but since the theme of the book is what I deal with at work every day, I didn’t expect to learn much but I did learn a lot about the history of long term care in our country and I was really moved by his humility in describing the challenges of helping his parents deal with his father’s end of life. I will say that his descriptions of aging in the early part of the book were hard to listen to. It puts aging in pretty stark factual terms, even for this nurse. But that was just a small part of the book. I enjoyed the second half much more. I listened to it on audiobooks which was great. I also listened to Five Days at Memorial about the impact of Hurricane Katrina on a hospital in New Orleans. It was very hard to listen to at times. So many truly horrific challenges for patients and the caregivers. As a nurse, I kept thinking about the nurses and doctors and the horrible circumstances of trying to care for patients and make the best decisions when no there were no good choices. My one complaint about the book was its length. The writer is a journalist and so she laid out all the facts but it felt really long to me, possibly because I listened to it. It might have been better to read the book (I read faster than most audiobooks). I enjoyed listening to A Walk in the Woods. I am late to the Bill Bryson party but his books are perfect for listening. They don’t require a lot of effort to follow the story, they are funny. I will definitely be listening to more of his books this year. I read Happier at Home in small bits mostly in the morning before work. It was the perfect book for that because there is no story line per se that you need to follow so you can pick it up and put it down. It was my first Gretchen Rubin book and I like her personality and her voice. I liked many of her suggestions and her honesty in talking about her own shortcomings. I definitely recommend it. I ended up buying it for my kindle because it was a MMD Kindle deal.

Audiobooks: in addition to the non-fiction audiobooks, I also listened to The Crossover, a compelling YA story that I loved. I was tearing up in parts of it. Great as an audiobook. And for a long trip to Maine, I got my British accent fix by listening to the second Harry Potter book (I read the first years ago and never read any of the others). I will be listening to that series this year as well. Perfect for long car rides. Great narration. British accent. 🙂

My to be read pile below. I am still working on making time to read City on Fire. I have actually taken it out of the library three times and run out of time. I am determined to read it this time but  sometimes the 14 day books are a challenge to read in the two week time frame, especially when they are 900 pages 😦  What books are on your list? image

 

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Reading and Books

Nursebean Reads: Summer Reading PSA

Read these books. That is all.

I am taking a technology break so not currently posting on Instagram and Facebook but will probably keep doing a little blogging about summer reading and being unplugged. I am still reading quite a bit and have read or listened to over 60 books so far this year which is about 12 a month, so many more than in recent years.

I previously blogged about what is inspiring me to read as well as practical suggestions for finding more time to read  here, here and here, but for right now I just had to share three books I am loving right now. One in a Million Boy is an absolute must read and I am recommending it to everyone I know.

By the way, I found One in a Million Boy through @annebogel on her wonderful blog.  I was inspired to read Our Souls At Night by Lindsey Mead who also writes for Great New Books.

You can link to my spring reading wrap-up here.

Happy summer reading everyone!

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Reading and Books, unplugged

Nursebean Reads: Less Sewing = More Reading

imageDuring the last week, I had an unexpected break from work and sewing. The first few days I was in two different hospitals far from home and having tests to find out if there was anything seriously wrong with me (there wasn’t) and worrying about the implications if there was (quite scary thoughts running through my head) and I couldn’t focus enough to read anything. By the way, being a nurse does not necessarily mean being less stressed when you are in the hospital. If anything, it may make you more stressed because you know too much; but I will say that on the whole, I got really attentive, excellent care and was especially grateful that my overnight nurse the night I was most worried, after getting a bad result on a diagnostic imaging test and having to wait until the next day for the next test that would show that there was nothing to worry about, had 20 years experience as an air force nurse and had flown on helicopters and run 3 emergency departments in the military. Talk about feeling safe in someone’s care. Phew! Now, home, I am trying to make the best of having a few unexpected days off and have been doing a lot of reading.

Many of the books are recommendations I got from Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy whose wonderful podcast What Should I Read Next? I look forward to every week. I just wrote about how having one day a week unplugged from work and screens has made a big impact on my reading life. Looking back over the past week, I am struck by how many of the new books I read were not my usual choices and also by how much I enjoyed them. Most of the credit goes to the podcast. I can’t recommend it more highly. Here are some books I have been reading in the last couple of weeks.image

The Big Short by Michael Lewis. (Actually not from the podcast just something I decided to read because I was thinking about seeing the movie and wanted to read the book first.)  I was a banker before I was a nurse and I briefly dipped back into that world when I went through a divorce which led to my own personal financial crisis. (My timing was pretty unreal. I was hired after several months of interviews by a large NYC bank at the end of August 2008 and just a few weeks later, the banking crisis exploded around me and one by one, the people who had hired me were let go.) The author is also a classmate from college so I had previously read Liar’s Poker which was written when I was in banking for the first time-although I was in the less glamorous and as it turns out more honest world of commercial banking where I helped structure loans to small and mid-sized businesses. These loans were not sold in secondary markets so they had to be structured with a mind to the credit-worthiness of the companies. I didn’t find the Big Short to be as good a read as Liar’s Poker but it was compelling and scary. Not my typical read. I am told the movie is excellent.

Ready Player One: I would never have picked this one on my own but after hearing Anne recommend it to a friend in this episode, I decided to give it a try because I wanted a book that would reel me in and keep me engaged. This was just the ticket. It is sort of a Harry Potter in a futuristic world. Hard to describe but kept me up way past my bedtime because it was that good. I am recommending it to everyone, especially my brother and my four nephews. It says a lot that I would really enjoy a book where the setting is a video game and I have never actually played a video game!

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed: I heard about this on Anne’s podcast and then saw that our town had selected it for its One Book One Town program this year. There was a whole table of copies of the book in the library when I went in so I picked it up. This is very thought-provoking and a little scary taken together with Ready Player One. It is a non-fiction account of several people whose lives were turned upside down because of something they did or tweeted that then was magnified by the beast that is social media. Anyone who has a public persona in the way of a blog/twitter/instagram should read this, keeping in mind that things are changing so fast that in five years, there will likely be new things to worry about. Interestingly, when I went to link this title to the goodreads page for the book, the first listing in the google search was the amazon link to purchase the book. Almost the most scary and fascinating part of the book is the section where the author interviews a firm that repairs online reputations by trying to manipulate the search engines that make money every time we click on a link. Very thought-provoking. My blog is not monetized and I don’t link to book-sellers but I am aware that in providing links to goodreads I may be inadvertently steering people to amazon. It is not my intent. I get most of my books at the library. If I were able to financially, I would support independent booksellers or online booksellers such as Chinaberrywhere I bought so many books that became treasures that my children and I enjoyed. If you are a parent or grandparent and don’t know them, do yourself a favor and check them out.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: Also recommended by Anne on What Should I Read Next. I enjoyed this. It was light and fun but I was shocked (probably shouldn’t have been) at some of the bigotry that was clearly part of the author’s viewpoint. It was written in the 1930’s in England so it is probably not surprising. But just as I was upset when I re-read the Little House books as an adult and read the descriptions of Native Americans and more recently when I read Bill Bryson’s book, Notes from a Small Island, which I really enjoyed for the most part and read some disparaging language about people whose behavior might or might not have been related to a form of autism, those phrases, few though they were in the book as a whole, detracted from my experience of reading it.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This would not be a typical read for me because the subject matter which evokes The Lovely Bones is tough to read as the parent of daughters. However, I picked it up for a book to get lost in-recommended on the podcast- and I was struck by the beauty of the writing, the character development and the compassion the author had for each of the characters (something that really matters to me when I read a book) and the way she wove the story together. I definitely recommend it.

Raven Black by Anne Cleeves. This is the first book of a mystery series that was recommended by a friend of mine from my book club. It takes place in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland. I didn’t know anything about the Shetland Islands prior to reading this and the book was well written and suspenseful with a great sense of place. Highly recommended. Speaking of sense of place, do you have books you enjoy just because of where they take place? One day I will write a post devoted to books that take place in Maine which is probably my favorite place in the world. The descriptions of the Shetland Islands evoked some of that feeling for me.

I am in the middle of reading several other books. I am not a linear, one book at a time, reader but after reading this post , I don’t view it as a problem any more. I am reading The Invention of Wings for bookclub. I am finding the descriptions of life in the pre-Civil War South difficult, particularly after reading/listening to Between the World and Me (highly, highly recommended, especially as read by the author) but Sue Monk Kidd does write beautifully about relationships between women and about strong women (I loved The Secret Life of Bees) and so I am glad to be reading it.

I am reading The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship by Paul Lisicky which I found when I read this quote on Lindsey’s beautiful blog A Design so Vast. The writing is beautiful and I know this will fall into the beautiful, heartbreaking memoir category-probably the category of books that make the biggest imprint on my soul but which I have to balance with lighter reads.  I am taking it slow. There is only so much heartbreaking that I can take at a time (my day job is as an oncology nurse.)

I am reading One Foot in Eden which was lent to me by a friend so long ago I am afraid to think how long ago. It is beautifully written so far. It is fiction. There is a murder. It may turn out to be heartbreaking. Not far enough in to know at this point but it came highly recommended by one of my oldest and best friends so I know it will be good.

And because my attention span is not always the greatest and because I ban myself from going on social media on Sundays, I downloaded a guilty read, the next book in a very light murder mystery series I discovered a while back: Death with All the Trimmings by Lucy Burdette. These take place in Key West, Florida which is a fun place to read about on a day when it snowed overnight here in Connecticut (just a dusting but seriously, April 3rd folks).image I started reading these mysteries when my daughter moved to Florida and have really enjoyed the character and the descriptions of Key West. Fun for all you foodies out there. The protagonist is a restaurant critic who lives on a boat in Key West. Dream job in a dream location and totally escapist, fast reads. Good for an airplane.

I am also thinking about using the opportunity of having more free time to finally finish some books I have been meaning to read but have stalled on. These include Sense and Sensibility (I know Jane Austen is a great social commentator on people who are annoying but I was listening to this as an audio book and I found it annoying to listen to annoying people. I am hoping that I will enjoy it more reading it To be fair, I wasn’t too far in when I stopped the audio book). I have also started but not finished our last book group book: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks  I got stalled on descriptions of poverty, deprivation, lice. I am not a shallow person but sometimes I just don’t want to read about hardship despite how well written or compelling the story is but I do feel bad for not finishing it. I had also tried this on audio book and really enjoyed the beginning when the narrator had an Australian accent and in the descriptions of the meticulous work involved in being a rare book restorer but then got lost in the multiple accents of the different characters which I found didn’t enhance the story for me. I think that because I am a fast reader, I get impatient at times with listening to rather than reading a book unless I love the narrator’s voice and intonations.

I have not been listening to audio books this week because I am banned from driving and also because I have not been quilting. Sadly I finished listening to all of the Flavia De Luce mysteries which I can’t recommend more highly. I loved listening to them and will listen to all of them again at some point. I started listening to A Walk in the Woods which I am enjoying and have downloaded The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling, the first in a mystery series. Anne recommends it on audio and she is generally spot-on. Also, British accents make listening more fun for me. Other books in my to-be-read queue include the first book of another British mystery series by Deborah Crombie, also recommended by Anne; Outlander ( I am probably one of the few people who has not yet read this but so many pages! Not sure if I am ready for the time commitment) , Gilead (which I started and never finished several years back, probably just due to being busy with work and school-I loved Lila) and Home by Marilynn Robinson and  The House of Mirth and Rules of Civility (see What Should I Read Next episode 8). I was also told by my college-aged daughter the the book of poetry: Citizen is a must-read so that is on my shortlist.

I am eagerly awaiting Catherine Newman‘s new book Catastrophic Happiness. I will drop everything to read it when it comes out in two days and a bit later this spring to the new book by the author of  The Emperor of All Maladies about genetics which I expect to be fascinating and terrifying.

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What books are you reading now?

 

 

 

 

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Reading and Books

Nursebean Reads: Winter 2016

imageWhen I decided to commit to spending one day a week “unplugged” from work and screens as my resolution at the beginning of 2016, I expected that in addition to going back to regular churchgoing,  I would spend more time sewing and would be even more productive than usual. And I have had a couple of uninterrupted sewing sessions during the last ten weeks and I made two dresses and a pair of PJ pants for my daughter. But what surprised me is that even more than sewing, what I have really relished is uninterrupted time to read, particularly in the early morning before church when the sun is coming up and the house is quiet and still. I have always enjoyed reading. I belong to a book group and I read for fun. But for many years, I was frustrated at the ever growing gap between the number of books I wanted to read and the number I had time to read, especially during the almost ten years I spent going back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner when all I read were text books and journal articles. I also have a long list of classics I feel I should have read but never did and I was starting to think I never would. But, this year has been different. I have read almost as many books in the last 10 weeks as I did all last year and it has been really wonderful. Not so much because I am crossing titles off a list but because having one day of the week with no plans means that I have a day when I can start a book on Friday and then read it all Sunday and really get into the flow of the book. It is different kind of experience than a chapter a night. Like watching a movie, I get caught up in the story and don’t want to stop reading. And I have read some great books which I am excited to share.

imageI also found some great resources online and learned how to make the most of my local  library. And my husband gave me a kindle for a surprise birthday present back in January which I am really enjoying although I still do most of my reading the old fashioned way with printed books from the library.

I find the books I end up loving from a couple of trusted sources. These include the online group Great New Books which I follow on Facebook. This is a group of avid readers, some of whom are bloggers. I have enjoyed the variety of books that they recommend because each has different interests. One of the Great New Books members is Lindsey Mead who blogs at A Design So Vast. She and I seem to have similar taste in books and I have found books I have loved because I have followed her recommendations.

I have followed the writer Catherine Newman for several years. She blogs about parenting and life and shares amazing recipes on her blog, Ben and Birdy. I have not gone wrong reading books she recommends. I also highly recommend her book, Waiting for Birdy about pregnancy, motherhood, siblings. She is laugh out loud funny and also captures the magic and awe of parenting. It is a must read for all you young parents and parents to be. I am eagerly awaiting her new book: Catastrophic Happiness which is coming out next month. I pre-ordered it for my Kindle, something I have never done before, because I know it will be that good.

My main new source of great books and suggestions about how to fit in more reading time is Anne Bogel who blogs at Modern Mrs Darcy. Anne has always had great book suggestions and summer reading lists but I have sometimes been overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles on her lists but at the beginning of this year she started a new podcast, called What Should I Read Next. It is a simple premise: she has one guest and she gets feedback on books that they have loved and hated to make recommendations, but so far, there has been a wonderful magic that happens in the very short podcasts-20 minutes or so-and the conversations are really fun to listen to. Each guest has been really unique in terms of their taste, background, why they read and it has made the show so much fun to listen to and has added many new to-be-read titles to my lists. Anne also rates audio books, something I never took advantage of but as the result of a blog post she did about how to use Overdrive to download audio books from your local library, I have really enjoyed them in the car and at home when hand-sewing. I have also started reserving books I want to read online and picking them up from the library which saves a lot of time and money and motivates me to keep reading. I have picked up a couple of books that appealed to me at the library on a whim-because they were near the checkout. A few were forgettable but a several were great reads that I might have missed otherwise. All in all, I have read over 30 books in ten weeks-25 books and 7 audiobooks. I don’t read all genres but I do bounce back and forth between more heavy duty fiction and lighter smart chick-lit and murder mysteries and my favorite genre is probably memoir. I like contemporary fiction where the plot is unpredictable and the characters have flaws but I like there to be some hope and I like to like the characters. I have a hard time with books where the main character is unlikable or with whom I can’t identify at all. So here are the best of the group.

Fiction:

11/22/63 by Stephen King-it’s long but very captivating. He is an amazing storyteller. I could not put it down but it took several days to read–a commitment but worth it

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson-it is fiction but based on the author’s childhood. Told in free verse. I listened to the author read the book as an audiobook. Highly recommend

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurent-translated from the french, a little gem of a book. Quite short if you have limited time. I enjoyed it and was sorry when I was done reading it. I then read The President’s Hat, by the same author. Equally charming but if you have time to just read one, I would read The Red Notebook

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff-this falls into the category of a book I am glad I read because it was well written and gave me food for thought but I wouldn’t exactly call it enjoyable. Quite intense and thought-provoking. Probably a good book club read.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin-mom dying of cancer so skip it if this is something you would have a hard time with but I loved the book. I loved the characters and the family she portrays.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon-10 years ago before I went back to grad school, I had read all of the Mitford books and really loved them but life got crazy there for many years and I missed a couple. I grabbed this from the library shelf and was really glad I did, especially since my daughter got married last year.

Memoir:

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Anderson-beautiful, heartbreaking-a must read, unless it would be very upsetting to you to read about the death of a spouse-in that case pass

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi-beautiful, heartbreaking, a must read-same caveat as above and the author here has cancer so if that is difficult for you then pass

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates-a letter from a father to son. I listened to the author read this and it was incredibly powerful. It is about 3.5 hours long. Can’t recommend more highly. I will listen to it again. In these times with all that is going on in our country, this needs to be heard.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett-I loved her essays about her writing process, her relationships with her grandmother and her husband and everything in between. The Getaway Car, a story about becoming a writer, should be required reading for anyone who wants to write

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks-four long essays previously published. I had read them all before but got so much from them on rereading. I have this on my kindle and I know I will go back to it

Hammerhead-the Making of a Carpenter by  Nina Maclaughlin. I loved this. I loved reading about the nuts and bolts of how this writer started out with no experience and learned a trade. I loved reading about Boston where my son lives. It reminded me of learning to be a nurse. Knowing about something and actually learning and performing the skills are very things. She also had some wise observations that she shared along her journey. Highly enjoyable. Not heartbreaking!

For the medical people: When the Air Hits Your Brain  by Frank Vertosick, Jr MD-I really liked the author’s writing style and I have liked this genre of medical memoir since I was in 6th grade and read Emergency Room Diaries. I learned a lot too. Might not be for the non-medical people or those who are squeamish

My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl. I expected to like this but I ended up really loving it. I focused less on the recipes-although they looked amazing-I may  have to buy the book at some point-I read the library copy–and read the little stories that introduced each recipe. Really a wonderful book. She wrote about picking up the pieces of her life after the magazine that she was the editor in chief of-Gourmet-folded under her watch. She comes across as someone who you would like to have for a friend-and not just because she would make you the best food you ever ate.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr-a memoir of a year he spent as a Fellow in Rome working on the novel that would eventually-ten years later-because All the Light We Cannot See- and being a new parent to twin babies. I love the descriptions of the city and the honesty he has in describing parenting and the struggle to put words to page.

Murder Mysteries:

I am loving the Flavia De Luce series on audiobook. The best. SO wonderful-although the heroine has a love of chemistry and the macabre so be forewarned, she will discuss the decomposition of bodies so if this would upset you, beware. But the narrator is so fantastic, the writing is smart, the character is so engaging-as if Roald Dahl’s Matilda became a sleuth. I will be sad when I am done with them but will probably listen to them all over again next year. They are that good.

I discovered a fun new series through Great New Books:  the Amory Ames mysteries by Ashley Weaver: Murder at the Brightwell and Murder Wears a Mask. They have a Downtown Abbey feel and there is some romance. Very fun. There are just two so far but I am hoping she will write more.

I also read a couple of the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton which I have enjoyed for many years and the latest book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series which are very different in terms of style but both very enjoyable.

How to Read More

I have adopted many of the suggestions Anne Bogel makes here. I read multiple books at a time. I have a book available on my phone at all times because the kindle syncs to the phone, I listen to audio books in the car and when I sew. But the biggest change has been having one day of the week that is unscheduled and during which I don’t go online. It has really enabled me to read in a a way that was not possible for many years and for that I am very grateful.

I keep track of the books I read on Goodreads. I like being able to look back and see what I read and what I loved most. I don’t write reviews but I do rate the books and Goodreads has a tab called STATS that you can click on that will sort the books by year and by rating. I also like to be able to add books I want to read to my Goodreads account so I don’t forget the titles.

Right now I am loving Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was not a huge fan of Eat Pray Love. I think I read it when I was also newly divorced and so broke that reading about her travels was hard to relate to but I loved her novels: The Signature of All Things and Stern Men, a novel about lobstermen on an island in Maine that I read way before Eat Pray Love and before I knew who she was. It is interesting reading her take on the creative process right after reading Ann Patchett’s book since they are friends and have similar insights.

Happy reading! And check out What Should I Read Next  on itunes even if you are a mom with no time to read.  You can subscribe for free. I honestly look forward to the new episode each Tuesday. And all you moms, have faith. You won’t always be up to your eyeballs in laundry and soccer practice. One day you will have time. For now, you have to be creative and use nap time or do what I did and tell your kids after dinner that if they are very very good and brush their teeth and get into bed in their jammies, they can have extra “Quiet Reading Time”. I did this every evening. I tucked each one into bed with a stack of books and they loved it. And then you can read your book-if you are not too exhausted. But you have to start them early! I also love what Austin Kleon says here in his post on How to Read More. Pay particular attention to number 1.

More all-time favorite reads for adults and kids below.

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