Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sanibel Sunday: Goodbye, January

Hard to believe January is over. We started the month in snowy central NY and are ending it on a saturated Sanibel Island. Another unusually rainy week, which included a 48-hour nonstop soaking, brought the monthly total to 12.98 inches. For comparison, a 'normal' January means just under 2 inches of rain. As a result, our walkway to the beach flooded, as did several roads, parking lots, yards, and driveways. Still, no complaints - this is much better than snow.

Friday brought clear skies, at last, and a beautiful sunrise - a perk of early morning dog walks. Later we visited Manatee Park, a warm water refuge for the Florida manatee when the gulf temperature is below 68F. There were literally hundreds of them hanging around! It's hard to tell, but each one of those gray blobs is a manatee. I just couldn't get a decent picture.

Current reading//

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Still. At the 700 page mark with about 250 more to go. Can't wait to see how this ends, though I've been warned that Sarah wanted to throw her kindle across the room. Any day (maybe hour) now...

New books in the house//

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Almost embarrassed to admit I've never read this one, though I have been tempted to join a readalong or two. Thanks to a $2.99 kindle deal, there will be no excuses next time. It might make a great summer read, but I'm not ready to tackle another book this long just yet.

by Marina Arbetman Rabinowitz and Linda Kern Hayon 
Since I'm trying really hard to stick to the TBR Dare, cookbooks seem like the safest thing to bring home from the library.


Watching movies is a favorite rainy day activity, and we had plenty of opportunities last week. I listened to Colm Toibin's novel back in 2009 and the film perfectly captures the quiet tone of the book... I loved it

We saw a preview for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 before Brooklyn and decided to refresh our memory of the original.. just as funny as I remembered.

Based on the novel An American Tragedy  by Theodore Dreiser (which I loved), I've been looking for this movie since I read the book in 2014 and finally found it on the shelf of the local library. The movie was good, not great. I might have had a hard time following it if I didn't already know the story, but I did enjoy watching a young Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters.

In the kitchen//
Two new recipes this week, both winners:
Beef, Tomato and Acini di Pepe Soup from Skinnytaste
Chicken Enchilada Empanadas from Cooking for Keeps

On the Blog//
Review: The Girls of Atomic City  by Denise Kiernan
Planning Ahead: My TBR Dare Reading List

Later today//
A trip to the farmers market is next on the agenda, then my FIL will join us for dinner. Tonight I'll be watching the latest episode of Downton Abbey and maybe, just maybe, I'll finish City on Fire, too. Wish me luck!

How was your week? What are you reading today?

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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II
by Denise Kiernan
narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Audible Studios, 2013
12 hours and 51 minutes
source: purchased

Summary (from IndieBound):
At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, and consumed more electricity than New York City, yet it was shrouded in such secrecy that it did not appear on any map. Thousands of civilians, many of them young women from small towns across the U.S., were recruited to this secret city, enticed by the promise of solid wages and war-ending work. What were they actually "doing" there? Very few knew. The purpose of this mysterious government project was kept a secret from the outside world and from the majority of the residents themselves. Some wondered why, despite the constant work and round-the-clock activity in this makeshift town, did no tangible product of any kind ever seem to leave its guarded gates? The women who kept this town running would find out at the end of the war, when Oak Ridge's secret was revealed and changed the world forever.

Drawing from the voices and experiences of the women who lived and worked in Oak Ridge, The Girls of Atomic City  rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of World War II from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. "A phenomenal story," and Publishers Weekly  called it an "intimate and revealing glimpse into one of the most important scientific developments in history."

My thoughts:

The Girls of Atomic City  is an interesting book covering a largely unfamiliar aspect of 20th century history. While I'd heard about The Manhattan Project and Los Alamos, NM, I did not realize that facilities in Oak Ridge, TN were not only instrumental in producing the atomic bomb, the entire city was created solely for that purpose.

Kiernan explores the history of Oak Ridge and development of the atomic bomb through the experiences of women who traveled to eastern Tennessee to "help end the war". These women were scientists, statisticians, nurses, machine operators, and custodians. Once in Oak Ridge, an air of secrecy prevailed. Workers knew their own jobs and nothing more. They were not privy to the overall goal or purpose of the facility. They were not allowed to talk about their work with anyone and letters home were heavily censored. In many ways, Oak Ridge can also be viewed as a social experiment of sorts.

The book started off slowly, but I became increasingly interested as the women were introduced. Overall, I enjoyed their personal stories much more than the technical workings of the plant. As I listened to the chapter recounting the day the first bomb was dropped, goosebumps covered my arms and tears filled my eyes.

As various agencies decide how to best commemorate (spin?) the role Oak Ridge played in the war, the official history remains unwritten. Thankfully, Ms. Kiernan was able to take advantage of many primary sources... an opportunity which is becoming increasingly precious as time passes.

This audiobook was narrated by Cassandra Campbell, a personal favorite. As always, her pitch-perfect delivery enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

My rating:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Planning Ahead: My TBR Dare Reading List

This is officially a freebie week for Top Ten Tuesday and I'm using the opportunity to plan my reading for the next couple of months. The TBR Triple Dog Dare is in full swing, so that means I'm reading from my shelf and from my kindle - no new books and no library books. (The library is actually the bigger temptation here in FL - our local branch is amazing!) I don't have many print books here so my shelf is somewhat limited, but my kindle more than makes up for that.

Here is the current list. As always, it may very well change tomorrow...

Reading Commitments

What Maisie Knew by Henry James 
February readalong

Jezebel's Daughter by Wilkie Collins 
review copy from Oxford World's Classics

Death with an Ocean View by Noreen Wald 
from NetGalley

On My Shelf

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

Them  by Joyce Carol Oates

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

On My Kindle
... and most likely to change tomorrow

by Kate Andersen Brower

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie

Have you read any of these books? I'll revisit this list in the spring to see where things stand. Wish me luck!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sanibel Sunday: January 24, 2016

Tybee Island Light Station

Good morning from sunny, chilly Sanibel, FL! We took our time on the drive down, spending two nights in in Fredericksburg, Va and then a couple more in Savannah, GA. Savannah has become a favorite stop along the way and on this trip we decided to explore Tybee Island.  We've been here in FL for just over a week now.

Daughter #1 flew down the day after we arrived and stayed for almost a week, returning to NYC in time to "enjoy" this weekend's blizzard. Twin A made it to Florida a couple of days later with her boyfriend, Zelda (our greyhound), and her two guinea pigs. They're all still with us, as is Twin B who will be here all winter. Needless to say our little house is very full!

It's taking a little longer to settle into a routine this year...more people, more animals, and some pretty wild weather, too! We missed the first batch of storms and tornadoes, but unfortunately not the next two. Torrential rains caused flooding, road closures, and beach erosion, while a tornado warning had us sheltering in the "cellar". They say this is all courtesy of El NiƱo. Still, I'd rather be here than frozen in the Great White North!

On to the books...

I haven't read much since we left home, but did finish listening to The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. It was very good and covered an aspect of WWII I knew next to nothing about. I'd like to get back into a blogging routine this week and get caught up on reviews.

Current reading//

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

This is one LONG book and I'll likely be reading it for at least another week. I added in the audio version last week (Rebecca Lowman's narration is excellent), but still do not seem to be making much progress. Just past the halfway mark now and enjoying it quite a bit, but staring to feel like it should be wrapping up soon. The writing is excellent, the characters well-drawn, and the late 70s in NYC seem all too real, but, at this point, I can't imagine recommending a 950 page book to anyone. We'll see...

Up next//

If I ever finish City on Fire, I plan to read What Maisie Knew by Henry James next month with Audrey, Frances, and a few others. You're more than welcome to join us. I'd also like to watch the recent film version when we're done... perhaps all together on twitter. Could be a lot of fun.

The Classics Club Spin deadline is drawing near and I have not started Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton. I should put City on Fire  aside for a couple of days to read it, but I'm afraid if I do that, I might not return... and it really is a good book. The spin may be a fail this time.

In the kitchen//
It's been chilly (by local standards, anyway) here in SW Florida and I made soup twice last week. I posted about The Best Minestrone Ever yesterday for Weekend Cooking and also made a delicious Turkey Chili Taco Soup. Both recipes are keepers!

Around the blogosphere//
After two weeks away, I'm not sure what's going on. Fill me in... What have I missed?

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Weekend Cooking: The Best Minestrone Ever

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.

It's a chilly, windy Saturday in southwest Florida. Of course, chilly  is a relative term. In central New York, a 58 degree January morning would be considered positively balmy, but down here it has me craving soup. Earlier this week (and on another cool day), I made a big pot of Minestrone using this recipe found on the Skinnytaste blog.

You're looking at her photo, but my soup looked almost as good... and the taste was amazing! Two cooking options are provided in the recipe - a crock pot version and a stove top version. I'm usually all about slow cooker soups, but on that particular day, I couldn't wait six or eight hours and opted to follow the stove top directions.

I used a small star-shaped pasta (because I couldn't find ditalini on the island), fresh spinach and herbs, and did throw in a parmesan rind because I had one on hand. I cooked the pasta separately as directed, but added it to the soup pot rather that ladling it directly into the bowls. Pureeing the cannellini beans with chicken broth made for a thicker base, but I would have liked some beans in the soup, too. Next time.

This was, without a doubt, the best minestrone ever! Encouraged by the results, today I'm making Skinnytaste's  Turkey Chili Taco Soup. I'll let you know how it turns out. Will you be making or eating soup this weekend?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Heading South...

We're leaving the Great White North for warmer territory. I may post an update along the way, but if not, I'll be back in a week or so from sunny southwest Florida.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Philadelphia Chromosome by Jessica Wapner

The Philadelphia Chromosome
by Jessica Wapner
narrated by Heather Henderson
HighBridge Audio, 2013
9 hours and 43 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
Almost daily, headlines announce newly discovered links between cancers and their genetic causes. Science journalist Jessica Wapner vividly relates the backstory behind those headlines, reconstructing the crucial breakthroughs, explaining the science behind them, and giving due to the dozens of researchers, doctors, and patients whose curiosity and determination restored the promise of a future to the more than 50,000 people diagnosed each year with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). It is an astonishing tale that will provide victims of other cancers and their loved ones realistic hope that cures may yet be found in their lifetimes.

The Philadelphia Chromosome  charts the milestones that led to present-day cancer treatment and tells the inspiring story of the dedicated men and women who, working individually and in concert, have sought to plum the mysteries of the human genome in order to conquer those deadly and most feared diseases called cancer.

My thoughts:

I loved this book... absolutely loved it!

Some of you know that in my previous life, I was a clinical pharmacist at a teaching hospital. We were involved in many drug trials, particularly for cancer and AIDS. This book brought back all the excitement, exhilaration, tedium, and frustration associated with those trials.

The Philadelphia Chromosome chronicles the research, discoveries, development, and clinical trials involved in bringing the revolutionary drug Gleevec to market. Gleevec represented a major breakthrough in the treatment of CML (chronic myelogenous leukemia) and basically transformed a death sentence into a more manageable disease.

Initially the book made my brain hurt. It brought back memories of organic chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, and genetics. It jogged my mind to recall specific terms and principles I hadn't thought about in decades. But as soon as Wapner got to the medical part - hospital/patients/drug trials - I was in my element.

I am SO glad I listened to this book. The hard science at the beginning may have been too much for me in print, but once we got to the drug itself, the audio literally kept me up at night. {Go ahead, call me a nerd!} I can't even believe I'm saying a book like this was riveting, but it really was... especially in the second half as researchers/physicians were navigating the world of drug company politics and FDA protocols.

The Philadelphia Chromosome  will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I couldn't get enough.

My rating:

Monday, January 4, 2016

January 4, 2016: It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's the first full week of 2016 and I'm looking forward to another year of reading and talking about great books. We had a hectic, family-filled New Years weekend. My brother and his family were visiting, so we spent a lot of time with my siblings and parents. I'm going to miss them when we're in Florida...

Finished this week//

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
Why have I waited so long to read this author? Beautiful writing, excellent story, though the ending was a little abrupt.

Current reading//

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Very good so far, but at 944 pages, it's going to take some time 

Current listening//

Interesting book. I hope to finish this week, then choose another audio my husband will enjoy for the road trip to Florida.

On the blog//

The week ahead//
It will be all about packing and getting ready to head to Florida. We leave next weekend and are planning to spend a day or two in Fredericksburg, VA and Savannah, GA. It's not a moment too soon, as our high temperature today will only reach 10 today. I have a couple of book briefs I'd like to post this week, but will take some time off as we make our way south.

How was your week? What are you reading today?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Sunday Salon: Final Thoughts on 2015

In case you're tired of these end-of-the year posts, let me apologize right up front. I've already shared my favorite books and the initial plan was to skip these gritty details. But when I sat down and filled in the blanks, there were a few things I found interesting and recording it here is the only way I'll remember.

Overall, I'm happy with the way 2015 turned out:

Number of books read
53, roughly one book per week

A goal for 2015 was to read more nonfiction, and I broke 30% for the first time ever. 69% fiction and 31% nonfiction

Male/female authors
18 male / 24 female

New-to-me authors
31 authors were new to me this year

Most-read author
No surprise here. I read 6 books by Anthony Trollope in 2015. Elena Ferrante is the runner-up with a total of 5. I've never read more than three books by one author in a single year - 2015 was the year of the author binge!

Books in translation
10 - a record!

Books from my Classics Club list
12 - I've now read 39/50 and my goal is to finish by April 15, 2017.

I listened to 25 audiobooks in 2015... 10 were audio only, 15  were read/listen combinations. I really love this total immersion approach, especially for classics. I like to have a print copy on hand when I listen to nonfiction. Don't want to miss any maps, graphs, charts, or photos!

Longest book
The Last Chronicle of Barset  by Anthony Trollope
837 pages

Shortest book
The Horla  by Guy de Maupassant
34 pages

Most disappointing book
West of Sunset  by Stewart O'Nan  - a favorite author, a good book, but far from his best (my review)


 One book per week is a comfortable reading pace. I don't like to rush and I will not avoid titles simply because they are long. No goodreads challenge for me in 2016... and that's a good thing because my first book of the year is 944 pages long! (City on Fire  by Garth Risk Hallberg)

2.  As much as I enjoy literary fiction and classics, I really love nonfiction, too.  Reaching 30% in 2015 was a first. I'll strive for one third nonfiction in 2016.

3.  Ten translated works happened because of the five Elena Ferrante novels, all translated from Italian. That was a record high, but it would be great to match that number in 2016. I would like to include Russian, German, and Japanese this year.

4.  I've loved audiobooks for nearly 15 years, but the read/listen combination is a newer habit and it's fast becoming an addiction. I started with classics, then expanded to include nonfiction. My walking and listening should increase dramatically when we get to Florida in a couple of weeks.

In closing...

Today is Downton Day! Are you as excited about tonight's episode as I am?
I'll  be back tomorrow with my usual  It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  post.

Friday, January 1, 2016

First Book of the Year: 2016

Happy New Year!! For the third year, Sheila at Book Journey is hosting the First Book of the Year event. The idea is simple - just share a photo of you and your first book. Sheila says:
This is the third year I am hosting this event and this year, it is all the more important to me... I would love for you to join me in this tradition of picking the book that you will be reading into the new year.  It can be a coveted book that you have been waiting to read, a guilty pleasure book, a re-read of a favorite that you want to explore once again… whatever you want.
This year my First Book was selected for me by our mysterious library hold system. My ebook hold of City on Fire by by Garth Risk Hallberg came in last weekend. You probably remember all the publicity the book received earlier in 2015... the author's advance was astronomical and the book is a whopping 944 pages long!

I have no hope of finishing the book before the 14-day loan period ends next weekend and may resort to airplane mode. If that doesn't work, I'd at least like to figure out whether it's worth purchasing a copy. I really hate deadlines ;-)

Have you chosen your First Book of the Year?


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