Wrapping up November

Thanks so much for stopping by my little corner of the web this month. I’ve gained new followers and found new blogs to follow myself. I’ve blogged from my cell phone – new for me – and blogged from an airport and a different country. While NaBloPoMo can be stressful as I put pressure on myself to churn out way more content than usual, I’m always glad that I participated.

Other November Stats:

  • Read 3 books:
    • Juliet Takes a Breath
    • Holding up the Universe
    • From Twinkle, With Love
  • Started 3 other books (but their lending periods ended before I could complete them):
    • They Both Die at the End
    • The Ensemble
    • Strange the Dreamer
  • Gained 16 new followers
  • Had web visitors from 38 different countries
  • My post “Casting To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” continues to be my most popular post, with 97 views this month alone
  • 14,577 words published in November
  • Saw Hanson’s String Theory concert in Minneapolis
  • Threw a Wonder Woman themed 4th birthday party
  • Spent a week in Mexico

Not too shabby for 30 days! Hope your month was productive and fulfilling, and that we continue to see each other around the blogosphere.

May your holiday season be filled with lots of books and blessings.

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Library Fun: Second Edition

We came back home to snow when we flew from Mexico to Wisconsin today. While I’m excited to get started on our Christmas decorating this weekend (an excellent way to procrastinate the unpacking of our suitcases!), I’m not ready to return to the cold. Luckily, even when the weather is yucky, we can still enjoy a day of fun at our local libraries. Here’s some more library fun from this summer:

We built towers and tracks with big blue blocks at my parent’s library. These blocks are fun to play with – but I’m glad I don’t have to store these huge things at my house! My daughter loved the veterinarian clinic that was set up at another library near our house. There were lots of stuffed animals to take care of, clipboards with checklists to give your pet a check-up, x-ray scans, and plenty of medical tools and grooming tools to get the job done. My kid especially loved taking care of the snake and the parrot. Creepy. Sometimes she does not seem like my child! At the same library, they had another corner set up as a campsite. There was a tent with camp chairs, a fire, lantern, and woodland animals. There was also a nearby “pond” where kids could reel in fish thanks to some magnets. While my daughter gets shy around other kids, she made several friends while playing at the library in these fun play stations.

Another play area was full of construction items like a wheelbarrow, blocks, a workbench with tools, brooms, and a construction worker outfit. My daughter liked loading up the wheelbarrow. At the library closest to our house, the children’s area is smaller, but still provides some room for play. My daughter took up the whole kid’s table with this giant book of The Wheels on the Bus. Luckily, she was happy enough to flip the pages by herself so I didn’t have to embarrass either of us with my terrible singing!

Before entering the children’s library, there is a statue of some children reading a book. My kid sat down and said, “Take a picture of me!” She fit right in. Another library offers a spacious area to build your own wooden train track. I know this is common at many libraries, but what I like about this set-up is that you don’t have to make your track fit on a train table. A big floor rug gives you more room to play. When we visited a new library this summer, we found lots of puppets. While I was personally a bit grossed out thinking about how many kids have put their hands inside all the puppets, my daughter joyfully explored them! Bring on the hand sanitizer!

Since we’ve been on vacation, we’ll be back at the library soon to check out new materials. Hope you are utilizing your local libraries too!

One Dark Shoe

A shoe design inspired by Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series. A poisoner snake coils around the ankle, slithering through the naturalist’s foliage and flowers. A sprinkling of jewels to represent the queens gives way to the elemental’s flames. Meanwhile, out of the sea rises a mist that can protect the island. I’m loving this YA series about three sister queens who each have a unique ability, as they fight for the crown.

Make sure to check out my other literary shoe designs by searching “shoes” in the site search bar or by clicking “shoes” in the tags.

Exploring Uxmal

We are visiting my husband’s family in Mexico this week, so today we went exploring the Mayan ruins in Uxmal. I’ve been to the ruins in Chichén Itzá and Tulum, but the ruins at Uxmal may be my favorite. This may be because it wasn’t nearly as crowded, sandy, touristy, and involved much less walking. It may also be because you could climb many of the structures – including some very steep steps – and walk inside the different rooms and buildings. My daughter had fun imagining what the rooms might have been used for. She walked out of one small room off the main plaza and said, “I think that’s the place for dance.” This was another good moment:

Me: People made these buildings without construction trucks or equipment – can you believe that? How do you think they made these buildings?

C: *looks at the nearby temple* With rocks.

Well, I guess you’re right! Even though she was dealing with a cold and some itchy mosquito bites from the day before, she was a trooper in the heat. The other great thing about the ruins at Uxmal is the beautiful views. Just look at that blue sky and the white clouds. That isn’t a picture from online – I took it myself on an iPhone. This archaeological site is cared for and maintained nicely. I know Chichén Itzá is more famous, but I would personally recommend Uxmal. While we only stayed as long as a four-year-old can handle at a place like this, it was definitely worth the sweat!

Since we had about an hour drive to the ruins and back, I managed to squeeze in a bit of reading. My current read is Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. It’s a Young Adult Fantasy novel, and while I was annoyed by some of the flowery language and (too) fancy word choices at the beginning, I’m appreciating it more now. The book is magical and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb about Strange the Dreamer:

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

Powerful Graphic Novels

Last year during NaBloPoMo, I posted about feeling a bit lost when it came to the graphic novel genre. I’m intrigued by graphic novels. I want to like them. But I hadn’t really found a graphic novel that felt like it fit me.

So I kept trying.

I finally found several graphic novels that impressed me, so much so, in fact, that I now own a box set! And I would like to own a copy of the other great book, too.

Powerful Graphic Novels to Add to your TBR:

March, three book series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell 

John Lewis – yes, the congressman from Georgia – shares his story of how he became a key figure in the civil rights movement. Book One covers John Lewis’s early life and how he became involved in the movement, including his meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. The novel shows how the student movement began as they carried out nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins. While Lewis reflects back on how the movement began and changes he helped bring about, he’s also preparing for the inauguration of history-making President Barack Obama. Book Two is a bit darker, following Lewis as he and the Freedom Riders board a bus headed to the deep south. The riders are faced with violence, imprisonment, and arson. Book Three covers the Birmingham Church Bombing and how activists attempting a nonviolent march across a bridge in Selma were beaten by state state troopers.

  • March is a powerful series that should be read by everyone. The Civil Rights Movement often gets boiled down to the basics in school, but I learned so much about other important leaders and organizations during the 1960s, what went into the planning of the March on Washington, and how dangerous it was for people to protest – even peacefully – and especially in the south. John Lewis is incredible and, as he points out near the end of the book, is the only one left of the “Big Six.” At only 23 years old, Lewis participated in sit-ins and peaceful protests, was a freedom rider, witnessed police brutality, endured jail time, met with President Kennedy to discuss the Civil Rights Bill, and spoke at the March on Washington before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. We could all use a refresher on our recent past, and this book provides that information in a very accessible way. The comic book format makes it more dynamic and emotional than a history book. Great storytelling and great illustrations. I read March: Book One on my kindle fire and really liked how I could double-tap on a picture and the frame would enlarge on the screen. Then, by swiping, it would switch to the next frame in a really cool way. By double-tapping again, it would zoom out so I could see what the entire page looked like. I sometimes find reading graphic novels a bit confusing, so this feature was really great. The next book, I checked out from our library, and by the time I got to the third book, my husband bought me the three-book series because I talked about how well-done this series was. I’m glad that I own these. They are worth rereading. Five stars and beyond!

Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll 

Melinda is just starting her freshman year of high school and she’s already an outcast. That’s because she called the cops on the big end-of-summer party – though no one is interested in her reasons for doing this. Struggling through a rough school year without her friends, parents who don’t pay attention, and teachers who are clueless, Melinda turns inward and mostly silent. Thanks to a passionate art teacher, time, and a need to protect others, Melinda finally reveals that she was raped by an upperclassman from her school.

  • If you see this book in the library or at a bookstore, pick it up because you need to read it. Laurie Halse Anderson’s original novel Speak is the quintessential text on sexual assault for teens and young adults. It is a must-read because it’s so honest and real and poignant. Melinda’s voice – though she doesn’t say much – has so much to tell the reader. And in this version, what she doesn’t say is filled in by the expressive illustrations. This graphic novel, published almost 20 years after the original book, is a refreshing and relevant update, and just as important now as it was then. It’s not just important for teenage girls either – it is important for teen boys, college-age students, teachers, and parents. And even if you haven’t experienced sexual assault or harassment yourself, there is something for everyone to gain, whether it’s simply awareness or empathy. I don’t think you can walk away from this book without feeling something. Emily Carroll’s illustrations match perfectly with the text – it’s almost like they were always meant to be this way. I loved how the images stirred up feelings of sympathy, frustration, anger, and hope even though there’s not as much text to read as a full novel. Every few pages I found myself going “mmmm” – which meant, “Wow, Laurie and Emily, you just made an amazing point.” Even though I’ve read the original book multiple times and watched the movie, this still left an impression on me. Until women’s voices and victim’s voices are believed, until there’s no longer a need for #metoo and #timesup movements, until there is a belief that women’s rights are human rights, Speak will continue to be a necessary text. So read it. You won’t regret it.

Have you read any graphic novels this year? Tell me about them!

A Good Meal and a Good Book

I know the last thing most people are thinking about on this holiday weekend is food, but if you’re getting sick of turkey and leftovers, this might just be the post you need today because I’m sharing something I’ve never shared on Love2Read365: a recipe! This is my absolute favorite meal from the year. And while I’ve enjoyed eating this one in every season, I think it will be particularly delicious as the temperatures get colder. I originally found this recipe on Paleo Grubs through Pinterest, but I kept it in my recipe book for at least a year before I ever tried it out because the length of the ingredient list scared me! But never fear – though the list is long, they are all easy to find ingredients. There’s nothing tricky here. I’ve changed the original recipe a bit by increasing the liquid to get more broth out of it, and upping the seasonings for more flavor. Without further ado, here is Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Soup.

Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 – 2.5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • ¾ of a medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 2 to 4 cups chicken stock (depending on whether you like a thick soup or more broth)
  • 1 ½ TBsp chilli powder
  • 1 ½ TBsp cumin
  • 1 ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ¾ tsp paprika
  • Salt and ground pepper, to taste (about ½ tsp each)

For Garnish (and deliciousness)

  • Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 avocado, pitted and cubed or sliced
  • Tortilla chips

Directions

  1. Add the chicken to the bottom of the slow cooker. I like to cut the chicken breasts into thirds – that way they get really flavorful and cook a little faster. I also like to use slow cooker liners because it makes clean-up so much easier.
  2. Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic on top of the chicken.
  3. Pour the diced tomatoes and chicken stock over the top.
  4. Sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper. (I usually throw all the ingredients into a bowl first, and then pour it over the chicken.)
  5. Cover and cook on low heat for about 8 hours – or, cook on high for 3 to 4 hours.
  6. Use a fork to shred the chicken before serving.
  7. Serve it up in bowls and garnish with cilantro, avocado, and tortilla chips.

This soup is seriously soooo yummy. I’d also recommend having a cherry Coke along with this filling meal. My husband and I eat this for two nights in a row, as this makes 4 big bowls of soup. Or – I love making this recipe when he’s away for business so I get to eat it all myself!

Falling snow, flavorful soup, and a good book sounds like the perfect way to spend a cozy winter evening.

Books recommended for a cozy winter day:

  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
    • This book may be marketed as a Rumpelstiltskin-retelling, but readers won’t recognize much of this story. This book is magical and original, but has glimpses of Narnia with a magical winter wonderland and influences from Eastern European fairy tales. A big take-away from this book is the art of making a deal. Be careful what you ask for, be careful of what you give in return, and be careful with your words. There are also plenty of quick-thinking, cunning girls – probably my most favorite kind of character.  
  • The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee
    • This is a fun, gossipy read. Imagine if The O.C. or Gossip Girl took place in the future in a super humongous skyscraper. All the drama, drugs, hookups, and secrets, but with advanced technology. A guilty pleasure of a novel.  
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
    • Back in the Grisha universe, Kaz Brekker leads a team of misfits with interesting abilities on the most incredible heist. While there’s a slow beginning and a lot of characters to learn about, the book picks up later and there is a driving sense of danger and urgency. You won’t want to put the book down.

Faraway Lands

As I sit in the Houston airport during a loooong layover, I’m reminiscing about all the cool places I traveled to in books this year.

  • An assassin’s keep in a dessert oasis in Sarah J. Maas’s collection of novellas, The Assassin’s Blade. Maas knows how to write books that suck you in and transport you to a new, fantastical place. Her world building is so well done. The Throne of Glass series is incredible. In this story, I could almost feel the heat and sand as Celaena trains in the dessert.
  • An almost-utopian island called Antica in The Tower of Dawn. Also a part of Maas’s Throne of Glass series, TOD sends a few characters away for healing by the famed healers of the Torre Cesme and for answers and military backing. While some fans felt this book was a distraction from the main story (trying to make money off another book?), I felt it was a refreshing break, offering up another opportunity for Maas to shine at world building and society building. Unlike what’s happening on the northern continent, the people of Antica are safe and cared for by a royal family that fiercely protects their own.
  • Fennbirn Island in Kendare Blake’s Two Dark Reigns. The island is retaliating against the botched ascension by sending out a deadly mist that no one understands. So technically, this is a dangerous place, but it’s so intriguing and magical that I can’t help loving this dark, twisty series.
  • A colony on the moon in Andy Weir’s sci-fi novel, Artemis. There’s nothing cooler than imagining what it would be like to live on the moon. That’s not just me, right? Weir makes the multiple-domed colony sound so plausible thanks to his science-heavy descriptions and explanations. How do you build humongous buildings on the moon? You extract the supplies right from the moon itself and smelt the building materials. Genius! Between the science, there’s also a decent adventure, heist, survival story going on, too.

Traveling by book is my favorite kind of travel. All the thrills without the hassles of airports!

Where have books taken you this year?