Reading progress report, February

I had two audiobook failures this month. The first was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. I just could not stand this book. I hated the characters, I hated the style, and I was completely uninterested in the plot. I gave up after one CD (1/11th of the book). Maybe I’ll go back to it later in the year; I’m not taking it off my list yet, anyway.

The second was Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, and it wasn’t quite as catastrophic. I liked the premise and the beginning of the story, but one of the two narrators just annoyed the crap out of me with the way she over-emoted. No, you don’t want your audiobook narrator to sound like a robot, but neither do you want them to sound like they are going to start screaming or sobbing at any moment. At least I don’t. So I returned the audiobook to the library and read the print version instead.

Given the change of format, it took me a while to warm up to An Ember in the Ashes. It’s a another in the long line of recent dystopian YA novels, and although it’s a well-developed universe and the characters were interesting, it’s also the first of an intended series, so not much gets wrapped up by the end of the book. Thus it wasn’t that satisfying to read. I doubt that I’ll clamor for the next novel, as much as Tahir’s writing is well-done. I did see that she’s sold the movie rights, so maybe it’ll be the next Hunger Games.

I also finished David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers this month. McCullough always tells a great story, and in this book he marries his usual detail-oriented style with a bit of brevity (the focus of old age?). I had no particular interest in the Wrights, yet I really enjoyed learning about them and their process of invention and discovery.

Books read this month: 2

Books read total: 4

Percentage of year complete: 16.6%

Percentage of books complete: 33%

Reading progress report, January

This month I finished two books off the Glamour 2015 book list: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. I enjoyed both but didn’t find them extraordinary; I’d give a B- to both.

I’ve decided to pace myself with this year’s project and stick to reading only a book or two from the list each month. Several of the other books on my list came up on my library queue and the prospect of having to finish lots of them in a short period was stressful.

I’ve also added Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to the list, for an even dozen for the year. So:

Books read this month: 2

Books read total: 2

Percentage of year complete: 8.3%

Percentage of books complete: 16.6%

Book challenge for 2016

[I had a draft of this saved, but somehow didn’t press publish. Happy New Year, a bit late (well, Chinese New Year isn’t until February 8th, so I guess I’m early!).]

If you’re looking for a book challenge for 2016, Popsugar is doing theirs again, with a new set of categories this year. Or there’s the Amazon Editors 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime, or the Goodreads Choice Awards winners for 2015 if you want to focus on new books. I’ve decided to keep my goals modest for this year and plan to complete a list of ten best books of 2015 from Glamour magazine.

I read a lot of nonfiction, classics, and genre fiction already, so focusing on recent literary fiction (most of this list) seems like a good idea. To these ten books I’m adding War & Peace, which I didn’t get done in 2015, leaving me with 11 books for 12 months (I’ll give myself an extra month for W&P).

A finale of sorts

It’s probably clear by now, given that it’s December 18th, that I’m not going to finish the last two books on my Popsugar reading challenge this year. I have lurched through about half of All the President’s Men, but it is truly bewildering in its pointless detail, and I just can’t make myself read any more of it.

I’ve received my print copy of War and Peace, in the recent translation that was recommended, but I’m not going to haul it around with me (it is quite sizeable) during my holiday travels, so I won’t start it until after the new year.

I’m not sure whether I’ll do any more reading challenges in 2016. I did come across a list of “the ten best books of 2015” – highly contentious stuff but this list seemed like a decent start – so I might just read all of those.

I found this challenge really fun; it got me to read some of the classics and a lot of stuff I would never have gotten around to otherwise.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and a happy season to you all. I have been sewing a bit, and hopefully soon I’ll have some finished projects to share.

Food Friday: Casserole Sizes

A quick tip for Food Friday this week, courtesy of this month’s Real Simple magazine. Ever have those weird-sized casserole dishes that you don’t know how to translate to 9×13, etc.? Here’s the relationship of ‘typical’ casserole size to volume:

9x13x2 = 3.5 quarts
9x9x2 = 2.5 quarts
8x8x2 = 2 quarts

Simply pour water into your mystery pan until it’s full; pour out the water and measure, and voila!

Sewing PJs

(Sewing-themed PJs, that is, not that I’m sewing actual PJs, sadly.)

A quick note that Target (US) is currently selling women’s pajamas with a sewing-themed print. They’re pink and the fabric has sewing machines, thread, shears, pincushions, snaps, hooks and eyes, buttons, embroidery thread, straight pins and safety pins…you name it, it’s probably on there. I couldn’t resist when I saw them in store, even though I don’t usually wear this style of PJs. I thought some of you fellow sewing nuts might appreciate them too.

Here’s the link to the Target page – the official color of the sewing ones is ‘pouty pink’: Nick & Nora PJ set.

Food Friday: Budget cooking recs

The Bay Area used to be expensive to live in primarily for cost of housing, but most other costs of living were comparable to cheaper parts of the country. Gas was a tad more expensive, but some food was actually cheaper, like vegetables in the winter since a lot of them are grown nearby. Whether it’s due to the drought, the perception of the drought (almond farmers raised their prices before the cost of water irrigation even went up this spring), or alien waves from space, groceries have gotten a lot more expensive recently. There’s even been an outbreak of avian flu, and changes in regulations about conditions for laying eggs, both of which have raised egg prices astronomically.

I’ve tried several strategies to reduce grocery costs, but it’s really hard to do without compromising on nutrition or spending tons of time comparison shopping. I’m not complaining too much, though, because there are a lot of people much worse off than we are. Anyone who’s on SNAP (US food benefits, aka food stamps) is currently given $4 per day per person of benefits. $4/day for groceries. Sit and think about that for a minute – it is not much at all, and I’m impressed that anyone can manage it.

I’ve run into two resources recently that touch on budget cooking and the SNAP limits. Budget Bytes is a recipe website with great, simple recipes. This month she’s also doing a $4/day challenge and sharing her costs along the way. Her site is well worth a gander.

The other resource is a new cookbook by Leanne Brown, called Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. The recipes are basic and well-written, and it would make a good first cookbook for someone going out on their own, or learning to cook, even if budget isn’t your primary concern. I almost made her ‘Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls’ for dinner the other night, but was vetoed by my spouse, who’s got a family recipe for Cabbage Rolls from the Hungarian side of his family that he’s very particular about.

[Book link is an affiliate link.]