Small Pleasures: January 2018

20180130_111011

I’m frittering away a perfectly good Saturday and I’m a little disgusted with myself for doing it.  There are so many productive things I could and should be doing but I keep circling back to the computer and its Internet temptations.  My corner of the office, where the evil tempter is parked, is a black hole I just can’t seem to escape today.  So, I’m not going to fight it anymore.  Because I want to feel a little better about myself and redeem at least part of this day, I’m reviving a favorite blogging practice of reflecting on the little niceties that have sweetened my life lately.  If I complete this activity I can at least say I used some creativity and practiced my writing skills today.

January was mostly dark, bitterly cold, and a little snowy.  I felt like I spent the majority of my waking hours trying to escape the frigid temperatures.  My small pleasures for the month are directly related to staying warm or creating a cozy environment at home.  And they certainly brought (and are still bringing) pleasure and lightness into my life.

January’s Small Pleasures

  • Contigo travel mug.  Before Christmas my trusty plastic travel mug broke.  I loved that mug, mostly because it was a gift from my son, but it didn’t keep my tea hot for very long.  Jay came to my rescue and gave me a new Contigo mug for Christmas to replace my broken one.  It holds about 14 ounces of liquid, is a matte teal green color and keeps my tea steaming hot for hours.  With all this cold weather, I’ve been drinking gallons of hot tea thanks to my cool new mug.
  • Banana Republic coat with faux fur collar.  There are several reasons why this coat made my Small Pleasures list.  1) Its color reminds me of a fir forest at dusk.  2) The collar feels so luxurious.  3) It fits perfectly.  4) I feel so stylish and pulled together when I wear it. 5) It looks good dressed up or down.  For these reasons alone I would have loved this coat.  The fact that I found it at the Banana Republic outlet for 80% off the original price increases my pleasure a thousandfold every single time I button it up.  It’s one of my favorite purchases of the winter.
  • The Winter candle (from Eleventh Candle Co.).  My daughter has a thing for candles so we gifted her a Vellabox subscription for Christmas.  When I placed the order, I also purchased a single month subscription for myself.  Does anyone else do this when they are Christmas shopping?  You know, one for you, one for me?  Anyway, the candle that arrived for me was a soy candle from Eleventh Candle Co. called Winter.  The company’s website describes the scent as “a peaceful, winter blend, filled with the crispness of snow-covered, evergreen trees and the spirited warmth of cinnamon and clove, surrounded by sweet vanilla”.  It is the perfect seasonal scent and I immediately bought two candles of the largest size they sell.  Of note, Eleventh Candle Co. is a business that works globally to help people who are vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation.  The candles are a true win-win in my book; my house smells delicious and my money is going to a very good cause.
  • Slippers.  We keep our house on the chilly side and my feet are always cold.  As a remedy, I asked for a pair of slippers for Christmas.  Jay came through in a big way with a pair of UGG Scuffette II beauties.  They are warm and cushy and feel like little hugs for my feet.  I’ve never considered myself a slipper person but these toasty scuffs have converted me.  I feel very spoiled when I wear them.
  • Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett  and narrated by Katie Schorr (in audiobook format).  This book was a delight to listen to.  The story follows eighteen months in the lives of eleven year old Elvis Babbit and her family after her mother is found dead from an unusual drowning incident.  It’s weird, funny, poignant and hopeful and extremely difficult to summarize in just a few words.  Elvis is the narrator of the story and Katie Schorr does an excellent job portraying her.  I loved spending time with Elvis and quirky her family as they worked through their tumultuous grieving process.  I still think about them often which, for me, is always a sign of a really good book.

We are halfway through the winter here in the northern hemisphere and the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday so there are definitely six more weeks to go.  February is  usually my toughest month, an endless slog of cold and dark.  But, I’m hopeful the small pleasures I’ve mentioned above and the new ones that will undoubtedly pop up in the next month will help to keep my spirits up and my heart grateful for the blessed, abundant life I enjoy.

Do you have any small pleasures you’d like to share?  Please do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Consumption: The Sleeper Hits of 2017

What’s a sleeper hit?

The term comes from entertainment industry jargon and describes a movie that becomes a big success despite a small financial investment, little promotion and/or slow opening success.  I’m borrowing the term to describe a book I expect will be good (or even great) but ends up being much better than I anticipated.  Sleeper hits aren’t always 5 star books.  However, they all fall solidly in at least the 4 star category and are always a happy surprise when it comes to my personal enjoyment of them.

Of the 64 books I read in 2017, 8 books made it to my Sleeper Hits list.  The books are a diverse group, covering a wide variety of genres, topics and geographical locations.  It’s important to note I experienced about half the books on the following list in audiobook format.  Listening to books read by gifted narrators with accents appropriate to the stories enhanced the reading experience for me and often played a vital role in bumping the books up to Sleeper Hit status.

I loved all these books and am excited to share them today.

Sleeper Hits of 2017

Bellweather

 

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia, narrated by Jessica Almasy (audiobook).  I would describe this book as quirky, complex, and surprising.  I don’t know if this is a YA novel with adult themes or an adult novel with a YA setting and characters.  Either way, it works.  Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You reviewed it on Goodreads and she describes the experience perfectly:  This was one of the most fun books I’ve read in a long time. Sharp, witty, and full of flashbacks to the late 1990s–if, like me, you were an adolescent at that time, you’ll be giggling in delight. But lest you think it’s just fluff, there are weightier issues here as ballast, too: a teen struggling with his sexuality, a woman scarred by an abusive teacher who fears she’s become a monster herself, a father devastated by a long-ago tragedy. Oh, and two murders. It races along at a breakneck pace–I finished it in days–and Racculia pulls it all together in a very satisfying way at the end. If you loved The Westing Game as a kid, you’ll love this.

News

 

News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  After reading several glowing reviews, I expected this book to be fabulous so the fact it landed on my Sleeper Hits list is very telling.  This is one of the best books I read all year.  The story takes place in Texas during the Reconstruction era and follows the journey of an itinerant news reader in Witchita Falls who has agreed to transport a young German girl, who has been a captive of the Kiowa Indians for several years, back to her extended family in San Antonio.  What makes this book unforgettable?  Memorable characters who demonstrate growth, a strong sense of time and place, an interesting storyline with layered and complex themes,  and beautiful writing.  I don’t read westerns, ever, but this book changed that.  I would love to see News of the World developed into a movie.  If done right it would be visually stunning, action-packed, and emotionally satisfying.

Boys

 

The Boys in the Boat by James Daniel Brown.  This is another book I had very high expectations for.  And, boy, did it ever deliver.  The boys in the boat refer to the University of Washington’s 1936 eight oar rowing crew.  The book covers their quest to win the gold medal in Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games.  The content centers around the life of Joe Rantz, one of the rowers, and his personal drama as an abandoned child during the Great Depression and as a member of the crew.  Filled with compelling characters, interesting historic details and thrilling narrative drive, I found this book to be unputdownable. (Is that a word?).  This is piece of creative non-fiction that reads like the best of kind of novel and is another one of my favorites from 2017.

Brown

 

Brown Girl Dreaming, written and read by Jacqueline Woodson (audiobook).  I would not normally pick up this type of book on my own, mainly because I no longer have middle grade kids.  But, I do listen to the podcast What Should I Read Next on a regular basis and Brown Girl Dreaming was mentioned several times last year so I thought I’d give it a go.  It’s the perfect example of why stepping outside one’s comfort zone is a positive thing.  Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning (National Book Award and Newberry Honor) autobiography is children’s literature of the highest order.  It’s written in verse, which makes for an interesting reading/listening experience.  The story provides a singular, intimate portrait of a young African American girl’s experience growing up in the South and in New York City in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Woodson narrates the audiobook and it is delightful.  I can’t recommend it enough.

True Grit

 

True Grit by Charles Portis, narrated by Donna Tartt (audiobook).  I stumbled across True Grit as a recommendation to readers who enjoyed News of the World.  The storyline for True Grit follows a young self-sufficient and gutsy teen girl named Maddie Ross who is seeking justice for the murder of her father.  She hires Rooster Cogburn, a US Marshal with “true grit”, to help her track down her father’s murderer in Indian territory.  Shenanigans ensue as you would expect.  The first person narrative lends itself to audiobook format and Donna Tart (yes, that Donna Tartt) does a fabulous job bringing the inimitable Maddie to life.  This is an often laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes violent and ultimately satisfying story.  Jay and I listened to this book during our Cleveland road trip and we both enjoyed it immensely.

Scarlet

 

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Bob Neufeld (audiobook).  The only Sherlock Holmes book I’ve read is The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I listened to through loyalbooks.com and which made my Sleeper Hits list for 2016.  A Study in Scarlet is the first book in the Sherlock Holmes catalog and details how Dr. Watson and Holmes began their partnership.  The mystery begins with a murder in an abandoned South London townhome which baffles the London constabulary and intrigues Holmes.  There is a very interesting story about the beginnings of Mormonism within the story of the mystery that I found fascinating.  I  also appreciate the tidy and believable resolution to the mystery.  I like Doyle’s writing – it is very accessible and surprisingly descriptive – and Bob Neufeld’s voice is perfect for an aging Dr. Watson.  I think I need to read more Sherlock Holmes.

Code Name

 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell (audiobook).  This is a gut-wrenching piece World War II spy fiction which revolves around the friendship of two young English women.  The first half of the book is told by Queenie (code name Verity) through a confession she is writing for her Gestapo captors.  The second half of the book is told through the writings of her friend Maddie, an  Air Transport Auxiliary pilot who crashed with her in France.  The compilation of both accounts provides insight into the girls’ close friendship, highlights some of the roles women played and the sacrifices ordinary citizens made during WWII, and fleshes out the ugliness of war and its impact on the individuals involved.  This is an unforgettable story and I find myself returning to it again and again.  Be forewarned, though.  This isn’t an easy read (or listen).  It’s about war, after all, so expect some very difficult passages.

Himself

 

Himself by Jess Kidd, narrated by Aiden Kelly.  Himself wasn’t even on my radar when my mom suggested I give it a try at the beach last summer.  I suppose this would be labeled a murder mystery but that feels like such a restrictive descriptor.  The main character, Mahony, is an orphan who grows up in Dublin to be a charming car thief.  He is also gifted with the ability to see ghosts.  When he receives an anonymous note suggesting his mother may have been murdered, he decides to go to his birthplace,  Mulderrig, to snoop around.  There he meets a very eccentric cast of characters, living and dead, who either help or hinder his search for the answer to his mother’s disappearance.  Why did this book make my Sleeper Hits list? I loved the lush, lyrical writing – it felt very Irish to me.  The characters were unique, likable (for the most part) and often very funny.  And the plot was unexpected and absorbing.  I enjoy ghost stories and magical realism and I don’t mind a little darkness mixed in with beauty.  This book really worked for me.

As you can see, I may be slacking in the blogging arena but my reading life is on fire.  I’m looking forward to discovering new Sleeper Hits in 2018.

How about you?  Do you have any Sleeper Hits you’d like to share?

You might also like:

Book Consumption: Sleeper Hits or 2016 

 

 

 

 

Small Pleasures: August 2017

August was a month of changes for my family and me.  My youngest son, my baby, turned sixteen.  Sixteen!  He has his permit and now my husband and I can look forward to six months of being scared witless every time we get in a vehicle with him because he will be behind the wheel, learning how to drive.  In August we also experienced the bittersweet and disorienting upheaval of sending our two older kids to college for the first time and the subsequent struggle to establish a “new normal”.   The realization that life will never be the same has been sobering.

Needless to say, August was an emotionally complicated couple of weeks for me.  This is why I’m happy to focus on the simple things that added sweetness and lightness to my month.  It feels good and right to acknowledge that no matter what is going on externally or internally in my life there is always something to appreciate and be thankful for.

DSC_4537

August’s Small Pleasures

  • Fresh flower bouquets.  I think the flowers have been breathtaking this summer and the local orchard had spectacular bouquets for sale all month.  Zinnia, hydrangea, black-eyed susan, lisianthus, coxcomb, snapdragons, sunflowers – you name it.  I couldn’t help myself.  I bought a bouquet every time I stopped in the orchard outlet.
  • Definicils mascara (Lancôme).  This is the perfect mascara – no clumping, no flaking, no running.  Even though it is always showing up on make-up “Best Of” lists, I avoided purchasing it because of the price tag.  No more!  My eyelashes have never looked so good.  🙂
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (in audiobook format).  Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning (National Book Award and Newberry Honor) autobiography is children’s literature of the highest order.  It’s written in verse, which makes for an interesting reading/listening experience.  The story provides a singular, intimate portrait of a young African American girl’s experience growing up in the South and in New York City in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Woodson narrates the audiobook and it is so well done.   I can’t recommend it enough.
  • Spending time with my family.  I always enjoy being with my family, but the times we spent together this month seemed more precious because I knew the kids were heading off to school.  I’m thankful my kids still enjoy hanging out with Jay and I and hope the changing circumstances don’t interfere with this too much.
  • Shetland. I’m talking about the series which I discovered on Netflix, not the actual islands.  My husband and I spent several nights watching the atmospheric murder mysteries which take place on the northern islands of  Scotland.  Breathtaking cinematography, moody music, interesting crimes.  What more could a person ask for?  One small warning, though.  Some of the characters have heavy brogues which make understanding what is going on a bit dicey.  We spent a fair amount of time replaying certain scenes to get the gist of the dialogue.  Trust me, though.  It’s worth the effort.
  • Solar eclipse shadows. (See below)                                                                                         We were not in the swath of the United States which experienced a total eclipse of the sun on August 21.  This was somewhat disappointing until we discovered the partial eclipse in the dapple patterns on the patio.  When the sunlight filtered through the leaves of the Zelkova trees in our backyard, the spaces between the leaves acted like pinhole cameras.  These “cameras” created multiple partial eclipses that shimmered over the pavers and furniture.  I took photos but they don’t do the experience justice.  It was magical.

DSC_4991

August has faded away and it’s departure marks the unofficial end of summer.  It makes me sad to say good-bye to my personal happy-go-lucky season, but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t looking forward to cooler temperatures, brilliant fall colors, harvest fairs, and hot chocolate.  It’s time to look forward to the new season and all the good things that come with it.

Bonus

A fun song…