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.

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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.

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?

A Thanksgiving for the Books

Since my husband, daughter, and I are flying to Mexico very early tomorrow morning, we weren’t able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family members who live hours away.

So instead, I decided it would be fun to imagine a Thanksgiving table filled with some of my favorite authors. Here are my self-imposed rules. Feel free to play along and post your guest list in the comments.

1. Guests have to currently be alive. It has to have some sense that this could maybe possibly happen!

2. My dining table can hold 8 people. Minus my “1-2-3 family” (as my daughter likes to call us), that leaves room for 5 guests.

3. Guests have to be authors, but they could have written many books or just one.

My Lit Thanksgiving Guest List:

  • Sarah J. Maas: I have read nine or ten of her books and I adored them all. I want to hear her talk about the characters. I would also love for her to bring along a copy of Kingdom of Ash because I haven’t read it yet and I’m dying to find out what happens.
  • Victoria Aveyard: I know from hearing her speak at the War Storm tour that Victoria is smart and interesting to listen to.
  • Jenny Han: Her books are adorable, so she must be too, right? Maybe she’s also a baker like her character Lara Jean? She can bring dessert!
  • Steve Berry: His books are full of history and conspiracy theories, so I think he’d be a good guest. Plus, my husband would probably appreciate having another guy at the table!

Ok, next, I wanted to pick queen J.K. Rowling because who doesn’t love Harry Potter?! And it’d be lovely to have someone at the table with a British accent, but really? Getting her to my house seems unrealistic- even for this made up scenario!

  • Laurie Halse Anderson: Laurie’s book Speak has been on my mind a lot lately because of its relevance. I recently read the graphic novel version and loved it. She’s also just released a very personal book of poetry. I think she sounds like she has a lot to say, and she really gets YA.

There you have it! I hope you’ll share your guest list with me. Happy Thanksgiving!

(P.S. I’ve been busy packing for our trip all day today, so this post is seriously lacking in images. Please picture a cleverly photoshopped image with all the authors sitting at a dining room table! Thanks!)

Holding Two Thumbs Up for Holding Up the Universe

Jennifer Niven has done it again in her novel Holding Up the Universe. She’s written another fantastic Young Adult novel featuring two unlikely main characters: Jack Masselin, prosopagnosiac-in-hiding, and Libby Strout, formerly known as “America’s fattest teenager.” I’m cringing as I type that description, but Libby uses the label herself. She was so heavy that at one point, the fire department had to bring along a crane, open up her bedroom wall, and lift her out. But now, she’s lost a lot of weight, has been through therapy, and is ready to join her peers at school. She knows it’s not going to be easy, but she’s hopeful that things can be different this time around. Meanwhile, Jack hides his face-blindness by acting like an overly-confident douchebag (again, the character’s word, not mine!) to everyone. When Jack and Libby’s worlds collide in a truly cringe-worthy way, they discover an unexpected camaraderie. They both understand what it’s like to feel trapped within themselves.

This book was so enjoyable to read. Despite Jack and Libby’s unusual circumstances, they were both incredibly relatable. Jack’s diagnosis of prosopagnosia was fascinating. He can’t recall faces – not even those of his family members or his own. He uses identifiers to help him piece together who is talking to him…even if it’s his mom or little brother. Jack feels that telling people about prosopagnosia will make him a target, and since there’s no cure for it, he figures there’s no point in worrying anyone else about it. I learned that prosopagnosia is actually quite common, and one in fifty people are face-blind. Brad Pitt and Lewis Carroll may be prosopagnosiacs. But what also makes Jack interesting is that he’s kind to his purse-wearing little brother, angry at his cancer-surviving father for having an affair, and acts “shitty” to Libby to save her from a worse fate from his so-called friends. He’s both a good guy and a bad guy. How refreshing.

Libby was a refreshing character, too. She tells it like it is. She’s bold. She stands up for people. She loves to dance. She’s smart. She gives people chances. She’s insightful. She talks about loss in a real way. She loves to read and is a huge fan of Atticus Finch. She mentions what “Atticus told Scout: You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I’m all about this concept – it’s exactly why I love reading so much – so I love that I found a character (and most likely, an author) who loves this concept, too.

Why else did I enjoy this book? There’s fantastic witty banter. There are flirty, swoony scenes. There is humor. There is girl-friendship. The ending was also satisfying. Really, there was very little not to love! If you’re looking for a great Young Adult read, I’d highly recommend Holding Up the Universe.  

We’ll All Become Stories

Many months ago, I read an article from the Washington Post called “Two dying memoirists wrote bestsellers about their final days. Then their spouses fell in love.” I knew then that I wanted to read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. This nonfiction, medically-heavy memoir is not what I usually read, but the Kalanithis sounded like people I wanted to know more about. With 13 years of Grey’s Anatomy under my belt, I was able to make enough sense of the clinical terminology and experiences to make this read worthwhile. I was incredibly surprised by how lyrical the prose was written. I hadn’t realized that while Paul Kalanithi was studying biology and neuroscience in college, he was also studying English literature, even applying for a masters in English literature at Stanford. Science and literature are sometimes clashing concepts, but Paul wanted to figure out the answer to the question: What makes human life meaningful? Whether the answer existed in language and meaning, or in the brain, he couldn’t quite decide, but he pursued the answer for his entire life. Despite finding out that he was terminally ill at the age of 36, Paul lived with dignity, following Samuel Beckett’s words, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

I’m sure this book would affect me differently if I was experiencing a medical crisis in my own life or in the life of someone I know. I think this book would be more powerful at different stages of my life. Paul was intellectual, making him seem strong, but also distant from the reader at times. I would have appreciated more anger from Paul – it would have been completely understandable – or humor (as Lucy later points out, Paul was “wickedly funny” and also sweet and tender, crying many times throughout his prognosis). I was moved to tears reading Lucy’s epilogue. The book builds with an increasing tension as you realize that Paul’s time is about to run out. I was going to put the book down and go to sleep, but then kept reading because Paul’s story deserved the attention to see it through to the end. I stared at the beautiful family portrait of Paul, Lucy, and their baby daughter Cady at the end of the book for a long time. It just didn’t seem fair that this young husband and father and intelligent, caring doctor should be gone so soon. The book hurts, so it’s hard to say that I “liked” it, but I do respect it.   

My next book after When Breath Becomes Air was The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder. It wasn’t a particularly uplifting reading week for me, as this book also had to do with death and dying with dignity. However, it was kind of fitting to get a teen, fictional voice on cancer after such a heavy book.

The Probability of Miracles introduces readers to a teen named Campbell who has been battling cancer and receives some bad news at her recent trip to her doctor. Basically, the only thing that can save Cam now is a miracle, and Cam is not the miracle type. She’s spent too much time watching her family and friends work at Disney to believe in magic. Cam is cynical and sarcastic, distancing herself from people so that when her time comes to leave, it won’t hurt as much. Cam’s mother learns of a little town in Maine that is said to have magical powers, so she picks up her two daughters, loads up a U-haul, and goes in search of a miracle. After a road trip, Cam ends up in Maine and the quirky town seems to be making her feel better. But is it just a bit of relief before the end or a real miracle? For once, Cam allows herself to feel hopeful and open to possibilities.

At first, I found Cam to be a bit too cynical for my taste. After all, she really doesn’t speak very highly of Disney, and who does that?! But she is dealing with cancer and I’m sure her attitude is one way to handle the upset. She’s young and instead of dreaming about her future, she may not even make it to her 18th birthday. Cam changes during her time in Maine, and learns several important lessons, including, “It’s better to be kind than to be right.” In time, the book grew on me and I enjoyed it.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, stories provide tools for us to express our both our fears and dreams.