Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014 Favorites: Nonfiction

My preference for nonfiction in the audio format comes through loud and clear in this portion of my 2014 favorites list.  Although I also consume nonfiction in print, all of my favorites this year happened to be audiobooks or print/audio combinations.

Here are my nonfiction favorites of 2014 listed in the order I read/listened to them. Note that these books were not necessarily published in 2014.

audiobook, narrated by the author -my favorite nonfiction of 2014 

The Boys in the Boat by David James Brown
audiobook, narrated by Edward Herrmann
Who knew a book about crew could be so exciting?

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
audiobook, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

print/audio combination, narrated by Kristen Potter

audiobook, narrated by Jeff Harding

More Yearly Wrap-up:

My 2014 Favorites: Fiction
My 2014 Favorites: Audiobook Fiction

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My 2014 Favorites: Audiobook Fiction

My list of 2014 favorites continues today with audiobook fiction.  I make this a separate category because listening adds another dimension to a novel, and narration can make or break the book for me. An outstanding performance may improve a mediocre novel, but poor narration detracts from even the best writing. The audio productions listed below represent my favorite combinations of writing and narration this year.

In the order I listened to them, my audiobook fiction favorites include:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Narrated by Jenna Lamia, Adepero Oduye, Sue Monk Kidd
An excellent production, I doubt I would have enjoyed this as much in print.

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Narrated by Dan John Miller
This was a print/audio combination for me and my favorite classic of the year.

Dollbaby: A Novel by Laura Lane McNeal
narrated by January Lavoy
I loved this debut novel - my favorite narration of the year.

narrated by Cassandra Campbell
This is my favorite novel of the group. Cassandra Campbell delivers an outstanding performance, as usual, but I'm sure it is every bit as good in print. I'll post my review in January.

Tomorrow I'll share my nonfiction favorites of 2014.

My favorite fiction read in 2014 is here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

My 2014 Favorites: Fiction

What an unusual year 2014 has been! Long-term readers of Lakeside Musing  know I'm usually a classics and backlist kind of reader, but this year I embraced new releases like never before. After good luck with a few new and debut novels last winter, I requested a couple more from Netgalley and borrowed many, many others from the library. Several appear below and you'll see others on my list of audio favorites.

So these are my fiction favorites of 2014, listed in the order I read them. Of course, not all of these books were published this year.

The Gravity of Birds
by Tracy Guzeman

The Interestings
by Meg Wolitzer

The Vacationers 
by Emma Straub

We Are Not Ourselves
by Matthew Thomas

An American Tragedy
by Theodore Dreiser

Florence Gordon
by Brian Morton

Be sure to check back tomorrow for my favorites in audiobook fiction. Wednesday I will post my list of nonfiction favorites.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas is Here!

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on Earth, good-will to men!

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Euphoria by Lily King

As they were leaving the Mumbanyo, someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing.
'Another dead baby,' Fen said.
He had broken her glasses by then, so she didn't know if he was joking.
by Lily King

Pretty strange, right? Euphoria  is my latest audiobook and, admittedly,  I'm not quite sure what to make of it yet. I listened to the first two chapters twice, then moved on to chapter three, curious to where the narrative was heading. I'm still not quite sure...

The goodreads summary tells me:
National best-selling and award-winning author Lily King’s new novel is the story of three young, gifted anthropologists in the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives. 
English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying a tribe on the Sepik River in the Territory of New Guinea with little success. Increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when he encounters the famous and controversial Nell Stone and her wry, mercurial Australian husband Fen. Bankson is enthralled by the magnetic couple whose eager attentions pull him back from the brink of despair.  
Nell and Fen have their own reasons for befriending Bankson. Emotionally and physically raw from studying the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo tribe, the couple is hungry for a new discovery. But when Bankson leads them to the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and emotional firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control. Ultimately, their groundbreaking work will make history, but not without sacrifice.  
Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria  is a captivating story of desire, possession and discovery from one of our finest contemporary novelists. 
The audio version is narrated by two favorites, Xe Sands and Simon Vance, so I'm willing to be patient for a little longer.

What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

'Twas the Weekend Before Christmas...

... and the shopping is done, the gifts are wrapped, the cards have been mailed, and the tree is trimmed. Tomorrow we'll bake the cookies and finalize our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus. I really do enjoy all the preparation rituals, but it's just about time to kick back, relax, and bask in the holiday glow. The ground is still covered with snow and ice is forming on the lake... it definitely looks a lot like Christmas around here.

Am I reading? 

Not very much. I'm still only halfway through They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple. It's a wonderful book, but I'm only managing ten or fifteen pages each night before I fall asleep. An entire day on the couch under a cozy blanket will be my post-holiday reward... maybe Friday or Saturday?

Listening, however, is another story....

I finished Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman and am not quite sure what to make of it. Fact, subjective journalism, or a personal rant? Most likely a bit of all three.

I also listened to Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, narrated by Cassandra Campbell and loved it - sad, but very thought-provoking. Glad I haven't posted my list of favorites yet.

I have just started Euphoria by Lily King and am not sure what to think yet. Stay tuned.

On the blog//
Weekend Cooking: Review of Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert
Playing Catch Up: Four Mini-Reviews
  - Christmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell
  - By the Book, edited by Pamela Paul,
  - Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton
  - The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Coming up this week//
You might see a review of Everything I Never Told You  and Finding Florida... if I get around to it. Most likely, I'll take a blogging break and then wrap up the year with my Favorites of 2014 posts.

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert

Sheet Pan Suppers
by Molly Gilbert
Workman Publishing Company, 2014
304 pages
source: publisher via NetGalley for review consideration

Everybody has a sheet pan, but who knew you could do so much with it? In Sheet Pan Suppers, Molly Gilbert gets creative with one pan meals as she shows us how to bake, roast, and broil our way to delicious dinners and snacks. With an attractive layout, amazing photographs, and clear, concise directions, I had trouble deciding which recipes to try first.

Gilbert begins with a primer covering the basics of sheet pan cooking. Other chapters include Appetizers & Small Bites, Bird's the Word, Hold the Meat, Please, Fish Business, I Love Brunch, Dessert (There's Always Room) and more.

I began with Pesto Chicken Turnovers. This easy weeknight dish was further simplified by using prepared pesto and rotisserie chicken. With a green salad on the side, I put a tasty dinner on the table with minimum effort. The turnovers made a delicious lunch the next day, too.

After that success, I moved on to Classic Roast Chicken with Mustardy Potatoes. Now I've roasted plenty of chickens over the years, but this particular mix of fresh herbs and butter on the chicken combined with mustard, lemon, olive oil, and fresh herbs on the potatoes and onions was the best ever!

I've bookmarked several recipes in every chapter to try later. These include Coconut Shrimp with Spicy Orange Dipping Sauce, Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas, Lemon-Herb Sole on Crispy Potato Rafts, and Orange Cardamom Pound Cake. Since I'm not a huge fan of cooking from e-books, I plan to purchase a print copy.

Sheet Pan Suppers is recommended for both novice and experienced cooks.
For more about Molly and her recipes, check out her blog Dunk & Crumble.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Playing Catch Up: Four Mini-Reviews

by Angela Thirkell

Christmas at High Rising  is a delightful collection of cozy and comforting stories featuring characters I love from Thirkell's Barsetshire novels... I just wish there had been more Christmas. Virago's beautiful cover definitely enhanced my reading experience.

My rating:

Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review
Pamela Paul, editor

If you need a last minute gift for the literary-type on your list, look no further. This compilation of columns from the New York Times provides endless hours of bookish enjoyment. Reading through the interviews, I often paused to investigate a title or two and several were added to my list. Be sure to pick up a copy for yourself, too.
Disclosure:  review copy provided by publisher

My rating:

by Brian Morton

I love a good character-driven novel and Morton's recently-released Florence Gordon  is among the best I've read. After finishing that unexpected gem (a 5-star read and favorite of 2014) I dove straight into his backlist, selecting this 1998 title because it was on my library's shelf. Once again I found an introspective, intelligent novel, a slow unfolding of characters, and beautiful writing.

My rating:

by Sarah Waters 

I consider myself a Waters fan and this was a good novel, but it will not go down as a favorite. She nailed the setting (1920's London) and characters, as always, but the story went on a little too long and the ending was more of a non-ending. Juliet Stevenson's narration, however, was perfection.

My rating:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Weekly Update: December 14, 2014

What a crazy week. The recent nor'easter dumped a LOT of snow around here... enough to bring The Today Show  to our little town. The favorite quote from the broadcast:

"I feel like I walked into a Christmas card here!"

The storm thwarted my shopping plans, knocked out power, and left me achy from shoveling, but it sure is pretty. I'd say a White Christmas is guaranteed!

About the books//

I made progress both reading and listening, but didn't finish anything this week. In print, They Were Sisters is turning into quite an emotional read. Dorothy Whipple tackles domestic violence (1940's style) in this novel and I am alternately enraged and teary.

On audio, Finding Florida is getting really good! I'm up to the 20th century with NASA and the creation of Disney's empire taking center stage. Can all this stuff really be true? Pretty disturbing if it is... further reading is definitely required!

On the blog//
My Year in Books Timeline 
Review:  The Hotel  by Elizabeth Bowen
Tuesday Intro:  They Were Sisters  by Dorothy Whipple

In the kitchen//

With all the snow and cold, this was a week for comfort. I tried a new recipe for Slow Cooker Red Lentil Soup from Vegan in the Freezer  that was incredibly easy and tasty. Just sure to have extra broth on hand - I needed to add more liquid.

I also made Skinny Shrimp Alfredo Pasta Bake from  Damn Delicious. This lightened up version of the classic was surprisingly good and can be prepared ahead of time. Be prepared to wash dishes - I used an impressive number of pans and bowls, and even a cookie sheet!

Coming up this week//

After two events last night I'm partied out today, but we're celebrating my brother-in-law's birthday this evening. Tomorrow I will finish my shopping, for sure! Then there's the wrapping...

As for the blog, a few more reviews need to be written this week and then I'll take Christmas week off. Look for my lists of favorites before New Years.

My daughters come home on Friday and Saturday... I can't wait!

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Year in Books Timeline

My intentions were good, yet I have not managed to participate in A Month of Favorites hosted by  Estella's Revenge,  Girlxoxo, and Traveling with T. And even though today is technically the wrong day, I still wanted to drop in for the My Year in Books Timeline.

January:  Two weeks in Florida got the year off to a strong start! I read the first of my favorite books of 2014 -  The Gravity of Birds  by Tracy Guzeman.

February was a month devoted to spending time with favorite authors... Wally Lamb, Ann Patchett, and Jojo Moyes.

March: Just one book finished... I spent the entire month in Middlemarch.

April: Two more weeks in Florida gave me time to catch up with book club selections - The Light Between Oceans  and Defending Jacob.

May: I discovered Meg Wolitzer! The Interestings will be another 2014 favorite.

June: In terms of numbers, this was my best reading month, but I also encountered the biggest disappointment of the year - Dept. of Specualtion by Jenny Offill.

July: Only 2 books read - too much time on the lake? I don't think so...

August: The highlight of the summer and best debut novel of the year... We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.

September was a month of classics featuring An American Tragedy, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Estella Society's R.I.P. readalong of The Haunting of Hill House.

October: I read and listened to THE BEST BOOKS this month!

November: I read all women authors this month, both fiction and nonfiction.

December: More classics. This time by 20th century British women - Angela Thirkell and Dorothy Whipple.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen

The Hotel
by Elizabeth Bowen
University of Chicago Press, 2012
originally published in 1927
209 pages
source: purchased ebook

Book Description (from amazon):
Bowen’s first novel, The Hotel, is a wonderful introduction to her disarming, perceptive style. Following a group of British tourists vacationing on the Italian Riviera during the 1920s, The Hotel explores the social and emotional relationships that develop among the well-heeled residents of the eponymous establishment. When the young Miss Sydney falls under the sway of an older woman, Mrs. Kerr, a sapphic affair simmers right below the surface of Bowen’s writing, creating a rich story that often relies as much on what is left unsaid as what is written on the page. Bowen depicts an intense interpersonal drama with wit and suspense, while playing with and pushing the English language to its boundaries.

My thoughts:

I usually love character-driven novels and the idea of a group of characters in a closed setting (a hotel on the Italian Riviera in the 1920's in this case) sounds especially appealing. But for such a short book, The Hotel took me an awfully long time to read.

The Hotel is not a novel to read for the story; there is actually very little in the way of plot. It's all about relationships - some existing, but most are new. It is well-written and perceptive, but it's also cold... distant, chilly, perhaps even clinical. Bowen seems to feel no warmth toward her characters, and as a result, I felt none either. Whenever I put the book down, there was never a hurry to pick it up again.

I read The House in Paris several years ago and, while I liked it better than The Hotel, the same coolness was present and it was also a very slow read. I wonder if this is true for all of Bowen's novels.

I hate to say it, but the cover was my favorite part of this book.

My rating:

Bottom line:
The Hotel  is beautifully written and insightful, but somewhat cold and not especially compelling,


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