2015 review: My favorite books and music of the year (and BT Urruela!!!)

I thought about doing an introspective end-of-2015 post, but since I kind of laid my soul bare here, I’m going to skip the deep thoughts for my last post of the year. (Update on that, though: I start Judaism 101 classes on January 10th at a local synagogue. I’m excited! Went to my first Shabbat service last week and it was fascinating.)

Anyway, for my final post of the year, I’m going to talk about my favorite books and music of 2015. So, without further ado —

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What I’m reading: Milk Cow Kitchen

I’m catching a flight to Seattle in less than 6 hours and I’m breaking one of my cardinal rules, which is to never, ever take a real book on a plane.  Real books are too heavy and clunky and they limit you to just one thing, whereas my Kindle offers a world of books in a teeny little device.  There’s only one thing that will make me break that tried-and-true rule and that’s a new book by MaryJane Butters.

If you aren’t familiar with MaryJane Butters and MaryJanesFarm, I have to ask you – what are you doing with your life?! Put down your iPhone, log off Facebook, and listen up.

Continue reading “What I’m reading: Milk Cow Kitchen”

The epicenter

When I was a kid, my house had a library.  Okay, it was really just an unused dining room filled from floor to ceiling with bookshelves, but to an introspective, socially awkward girl like myself, it was a refuge.  There, I learned about the world through the encyclopedias that ran along the bottom shelves. I was exposed to history through the hundreds of World War II books Dad had, as well as stacks of Life magazines from the 40s and beyond.  The library was where I discovered smut and would sneak through pages of Clan of the Cave Bear when Mom and Dad weren’t home, my mind sucking up words like “throbbing” and “turgid.”  And there, in the Romance section (aka Mom’s books), I was introduced to the book that I realize now has had a huge influence on my life as a lover of the written word.  When I was 12 years old, I read Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss for the first time.

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What I’m reading…

I’m in love.

With a book.

I checked out Barnheart: The Incurable Longing for A Farm of One’s Own by Jenna Woginrich from the library, fully planning to leave it on my iPad until I got to the airport next Monday for my flight(s) to Seattle.  That plan lasted all of…oh… seven minutes.  Before long, I had my eyes glued to the screen and now I’m stealing a minute or two here and there in order to read some more.

As I said before, I’m in love.

BarnHeart

Jenna’s memoir about establishing her farm on rented property in Vermont while living paycheck to paycheck is endearing.  Her prose is entertaining and she has a way with words that sucks the reader in.  (I mean, she talks about the “sun getting tired.”  How cute is that???)  I loved reading about her determination to get a small flock of sheep, her driving need to get a border collie, and her adoption of Finn, the most adorable baby goat to ever appear in any book.

I haven’t finished it yet.  In fact, I have 33% to go.  I’m trying to take it slow, even though I’m a fast reader, and savor it like a piece of decadent fudge.  It’s too beautiful, too entertaining a story, and I want that life.  As I sit in my townhouse, which is tucked under some trees but still close enough to a busy city street that I never escape the sounds of traffic, I realize how much I want that life.  I feel the longing deep inside.  It burns as strong as heartburn, but Tums will do nothing to take it away.  I want my own flock of hens and four (yes, exactly four) goats, as well as two horses and a passel of misfit dogs.  I want dirt under my fingernails.  I want the kind of satisfying, exhausted sleep that only comes after a day of hard labor.  When will I get to pluck a green pepper straight from the vine?

Jenna, though, has advice to offer about this exact question.  In the introduction of the book, she says:

“When your mind wanders like this and your heart feels heavy, do not lose the faith, and do not fret about your current circumstances.  Everything changes.  If you need to stand in the slanting light of an old barn to lift your spirits, go for it.  Perhaps someday you’ll do this every day.  For some, this is surely the only cure.”

I have plans for my very own garden and livestock and even my own barn.  They’re on hold until a few years down the road, after certain stock options have matured and are cashed out.  But the important part is that they’re there.  And as Jenna so wisely says, everything changes.  Until then, I, too, have barnheart.

What I Just Finished Reading…

This morning, after pouring over my iPad Mini during every free moment these past several days, I finally finished The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer.

682761This book?  Gripping.

Edith, an educated woman who lives in Vienna at the start of World War II, opts to go underground and live as an Aryan Christian rather than face her fate as an Austrian Jew.  Despite the personal heartbreak of being separated from her mother, who is still in Vienna until she is deported to the ghettos of Poland, and her sisters, who escape, Edith becomes a “U-boat” as she calls herself, sinking beneath the surface and reemerging as a young woman named Grete.  Along the way, we meet the Germans who helped her, Jewish friends who labored beside her as prisoners at the asparagus farm, and even a few members of the Nazi party who, despite the risk they themselves faced, helped hide Edith’s true identity.  She then marries Werner Vetter, a German with hidden disdain for Nazi authority, all while living in fear that, at any moment, her true identity will be revealed.

The book is both amazing and heart-wrenching as Edith finally realizes her mother’s ultimate fate, comes to term with both her assumed and real identities, and tries to begin life anew in a post-war Europe filled with rubble, despair, and starvation.

Definitely the first autobiography of its kind that I’ve read.  Definitely one anyone else interested in World War II and the Holocaust should read, as well!

 

Cookie-cutter fiction

So the thing about me is that when I find a new author I like, I read everything I can from that author.  This happened to me recently because I borrowed a book from the library (ebook version, of course) by Diana Palmer.  Because I have a thing for cowboys, I really enjoyed the book.  So then I borrowed about seven more from her.  By the time I was into the fifth one, I was pretty sure I’d read this book before.  That’s when I realized that all her books follow the same formula.  Young virginal woman + older man + tortured attraction + unrealistic characters who profess love in gorgeous prose = every Diana Palmer book. Ever.

The same can be said for Nicholas Sparks.  I know he’s wildly popular but his books wouldn’t be his books unless someone dies at the end, bringing everything full circle and leading to the main character(s) having profound realizations.

What is it with these authors?  Why do they publish the same book, over and over again?  Why does the reader never seem to mind and just keep buying them?  Is originality dead?  I mean, Colleen Hoover runs circles around Diana Palmer – yet Hoover had to self-publish at first!  As an aspiring author myself, I’m beginning to realize that there’s no rhyme or reason to getting published.  Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is proof of that.  That series should’ve ended about ten books ago, yet it just keeps going and going and going.  Stephanie’s car blows up + Grandma Mazur is funny + Lula makes fat jokes + Stephanie can’t decide between Joe or Ranger (the answer is ALWAYS Ranger, in case you were wondering) = every book in the stupid series.

The only thing I can surmise is that readers aren’t picky and that there’s no accounting for taste (or the lack thereof).  50 Shades of Grey is proof of this!