WWW Wednesday: 12 October 2016

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Welcome to this week’s WWW Wednesday post, a meme hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. Don’t forget to go take a look at what everyone else is reading! You can post your own WWW in the comment thread here.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading:

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Leave Me by Gayle Forman. The verdict is still out about how I feel about this one. The storyline didn’t capture me at the beginning, but I am slowly warming to the characters and plot. Maybe.

Just Finished: 

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. Such a good book, and there is a long queue at the library for the next one!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Not what I expected, and not my favorite classic, but definitely thought-provoking and interesting.

Hopefully reviews for both of these books will go up on Thursday and Friday.

Up Next: 

Little Girls Can be Mean by Michelle Anthony. This has been sitting in my library book basket for a few weeks now, hopefully I’ll get around to reading it before it is due back!

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. For the Halloween TBR challenge, and because I love to read spooky books in October!

What are you reading this week?

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Read Because of Someone Else

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Happy Tuesday!  Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re talking about books you have read that were recommended to you by someone else. My list is made up of books recommended to me mostly by other people in my book club, and blogs.

I decided to go with books that I have read in the last two years that were first recommended to me by someone else. You will notice this isn’t exactly a top ten list, but a mixed bag. I think it’s fun to sometimes talk about books that didn’t “wow” me. 

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital’s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses cascading events that lead up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them. Author Lee Smith has created, through a seamless blending of fiction and fact, a mesmerizing novel about a world apart–in which art and madness are luminously intertwined.

Recommended by: A friend of mine who works at Davidson College. We later went to hear the author speak on campus.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars. I would definitely read more by this North Carolinian author.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam—a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion—a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

Recommended by: My neighborhood book club.

My rating: 4/5 stars. I really enjoyed this one, even though quite a few of my fellow book club members didn’t.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

First of all, I just have to say, holy batman run-on sentence! I just noticed that now. It’s a good thing the book was much better written than the blurb!

Recommended by: Many bloggers, but I first saw it reviewed by Cait at Paper Fury (via Goodreads) and Carina at Carina’s Books.

My rating: 4/5 stars. My review is here.

Isle of Palms by Dorothea Benton Frank

Anna Lutz Abbot considers herself independent and happy, until one steamy summer when she must find a way to deal with the secrets of her unpredictable family-and her past.

Oh, my beloved Lowcountry, which has taken quite a beating from Hurricane Matthew. I read this book on the beach this past summer at Hilton Head Island visiting my parents. They have been staying at our house in Charlotte since they had to evacuate last week, and haven’t been allowed back on the island yet. We don’t know how severely their home has been damaged.

Recommended by: My mom.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

Recommended by: Book club.

My rating: 3/5 stars. Probably on the lower end of 3 stars. It was okay.

Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell

Against the breathtaking backdrop of Appalachia comes a rich, multilayered post—Civil War saga of three generations of families–their dreams, their downfalls, and their faith. Cataloochee is a slice of southern Americana told in the classic tradition of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.

Recommended by: A friend.

My Rating: 4/5 stars. This was a surprise gem! I read it while we were vacationing in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains last summer, which made it even better to be immersed in the setting.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

Recommended by: Book Club.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. I was a bit disappointed in this book, I was expecting to like it more than I did.

Euphoria by Lily King

Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is the story of three young, gifted anthropologists of the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.

Recommended by: A friend who knew I studied cultural anthropology in college.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. It was okay. Another one low on the 3-star spectrum.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Recommended by: Book Club.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. I really enjoyed the second half. Liane Moriarty books are usually a delight to read!

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. 

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Recommended by: A friend from the local social justice advocacy group that I belong to.

My Rating: 5/5 stars. Excellent. I learned a lot of new things about the capital punishment system in America, particularly how it has been applied over the last few decades in the South.

Read Watch Play #4

Read Watch Play is my own version of a Sunday Salon: a round-up of bookish and non-bookish entertainment going on in my home this week. Feel free to join in and let me know what fun you have had this week!

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What I’m watching: 

I still haven’t finished Stranger Things, TV time these days is rare, indeed. I have two more episodes to go. I am really loving Eleven’s backstory, she is such a fascinating kid. I hope she finds some peace and happiness by the end of this season!

I watch Once Upon a Time every Sunday, and I have to admit, I relish this season’s return of the Evil Queen! Lana Parilla must have so much fun playing the part, and the Queen’s costumes are always amazing! Do you think Regina and/or her sister will succumb to the Evil Queen’s tactics? Emma’s premonition is certainly setting up an interesting arc for the first half of this season, but part of me thinks this season is too busy. Between Mr. Hyde, the Evil Queen, the entrance of the Aladdin characters and other untold stories, Emma’s premonition, and whatever Rumple is getting up to these days, there is a lot going on in Storybrooke right now.

I will also be watching the Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump debate tonight. That should be an interesting one. Will you be watching?

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What I’m playing:

I mentioned last week that I am participating in a virtual triathlon this month. I don’t usually like to toot my own horn, but…toot, toot! I am so happy with my progress so far this week.

The Jimmie Johnson Foundation Virtual Triathlon runs from October 1 – October 31. It is a 140.6 mile virtual race that involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles cycling, and a 26 mile run/walk/jog. It is not done at once, but broken up into however many workouts you need to get it done.

Right now, I am ahead of schedule, and might be on track to complete the triathlon a week early! My biggest achievement this week was my first swim. I love swimming, but I haven’t actually swam as exercise in years. I jumped in the pool on Tuesday with a goal of as many laps as I could do in a one hour period. I stepped out of the pool 1 hour 15 minutes later having swum 70 lengths (35 down-and back laps) in a 25 yard pool. That’s a freakin’ mile, people! Amazingly, I wasn’t sore the next day either! Although I did have horribly matted hair. I bought a swim cap on my way home.

JJF Race Stats (October 9)

1.7/2.4 mile swim (71% complete)

42.64/112 mile bike (38% complete)

8.1/26.2 mile run (31% complete)

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What I’m Cooking: 

Meatballs. This batch almost didn’t make it into the oven without losing a few to a curious cat! This is Hello Kitty, lover of tuna, goldfish crackers, and meatballs.

Our meatballs change depending on my mood, but here is the base recipe I build upon.

Italian Style Meatballs

  • 1 1/2 pounds grassfed beef
  • 1 1/2 pounds mild italian sausage
  • one thick slice of firm bread of your choosing (sourdough, whole wheat, baguette…I think I have used them all).
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, finely shredded
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons italian seasoning (I use salt-free Catazano herbs from Savory Spice Shop. It contains garlic, lemon peel, marjoram, European basil, Mediterranean thyme, rosemary and Greek oregano).

Directions:

Have your sauce of choice ready to go on the stovetop.

Turn on the broiler. Pour the milk over the bread until it is saturated, and let it soak for a few minutes. Squeeze out the excess milk, and quickly pulse in a food processor. Gently combine all of the ingredients with your hands until just mixed together. Form into medium-large size meatballs (about the size of a Ping Pong ball). Broil in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, until the outside has browned, then transfer the meatballs into your sauce and finish cooking in the sauce on the stovetop, about another 15 minutes or so.

Bon Appetit!

What I’m Reading:

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. I just finished reading Serafina and the Black Cloak this morning. I think I will count this for Wonderless Review’s Halloween Readathon, even though it is not on my original list. A review will be posted tomorrow! It was interesting to read a book set at the Biltmore Estate, near Asheville, a place I have visited many times!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m starting this one today! It looks like it will be a quick read. I have been meaning to read this book for ages. There are so many cultural references to Jekyll and Hyde, I have always felt remiss about not reading the original!

What are you up to this week? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review – A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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Title: A Gathering of Shadows

Author: V.E. Schwab

Genre: Adult/Young adult fantasy

Holy batman, cliffhangers! Argh, waiting till next year to see what happens next in the story will be agonizing!

A Gathering of Shadows picks up only a few months after A Darker Shade of Magic left off. If you haven’t read the first book, you might want to stop reading this review!

“Oh yes, your relationship with Miss Bard is positively ordinary.”

“Be quiet.”

“Crossing worlds, killing royals, saving cities. The marks of every good courtship.”

Did you see my note about spoiler alerts for the first book? I will say it one more time. Do not read any further if you don’t want the first book spoiled!

Okay, for those still with me, let’s continue onwards. So, it has been four months since an evil, vicious black stone came into Kell’s possession, and he and Delilah had to run here, there and everywhere trying to get rid of it. Four months since Rhy was gravely wounded, and Kell created a life-binding spell that does what it says, linking Rhy’s life to Kell’s. Four months since Holland was pushed into Black London, and the Danes fell. Four months since Delilah Bard exceeded all odds and crossed out of Grey London and into Red.

A lot can happen in four months.

Rhy is haunted by nightmares and guilt, and we see a side of him in this novel that didn’t come through in the first one. I am a full-fledged Rhy fan now, and I am so happy Victoria Schwab brought more depth to his character. Kell is restless and angsty, and feels as if he is being treated even more like a prisoner, after losing the trust of the king and queen. Delilah is out enjoying life on a privateer ship with the mysterious Alucard Emery. I love Alucard!! When a major new character is introduced in the middle of a trilogy, it can sometimes go horribly wrong. Not with Alucard. He is fascinating, and I can’t wait to get his full backstory.

In the midst of all this angst, is the Essen Tasch games, and Red London is filled with celebrations and preparations for the magical Games. But all is not as it was in the other Londons, and beautiful Red London is about to have its bubble burst.

“Everyone thinks I have a death wish, you know? But I don’t want to die – dying is easy. No, I want to live, but getting close to death is the only way to feel alive. And once you do, it makes you realize that everything you were actually doing before wasn’t actually living. It was just making do. Call me crazy, but I think we do the best living when the stakes are high.”

Although slow to start, it was such an interesting story, and I can’t wait for the third book in the series to be released! Delilah Bard is one of my favorite characters right now. She is wicked smart, quick on her feet, witty, and wild. She also yearns for power ,and her internal battle with herself is breathtaking to read. Almost everything she does is unexpected. And [small spoiler here]…the thing, Osaron, that comes out of Black London, it scares the bejesus out of me!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Villains


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re talking villains! My TTT will focus on villains in books, although most of my picks are from books that have been adapted into movies!  Therefore, my Halloween costume for this year, Maleficent, will not be included on this list, since the evil fairy in the original fairy tale is never named, and is nothing like the Disney version. But I had to mention her anyway, as she is one of my favorite villains!

My Top Ten Storybook Villains

A hero is a hero, but everyone loves a good villain.

Agatha Trunchbull from Matilda by Roald Dahl. With one look, she can strike fear into the heart of the students at Crunchem Hall Primary School. Well, except for Matilda!

Cruella de Vil from The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. Yes, this was a book before it became a popular Disney film! She kidnaps puppies and skins them for their fur. Enough said. I also happen to love the Once Upon a Time version (pictured above) of Cruella.

Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. Voldemort would be the obvious choice from Harry Potter, but I find Umbridge to be much creepier. Voldemort may be the boogeyman, but Umbridge is terrifying on a more personal level. Her fanatacism is truly scary.

 

President Snow from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Coriolanus Snow is so, so evil. He is ruthless in his quest to hold on to power.

Astrid and Athos Dane from The Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. The two rulers of White London are quite sadistic, each in their own way. Astrid likes to play with her prey, while Athos is more brutal. They are both horrifying, but I loved every moment that one or the both of them made an appearance on the page.

 

Black Jack Randall from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. The guy you love to hate. I feel like I hate him as much as Claire and Jamie do! Zero sympathy whatsoever for this guy, but boy, do I love him as a character. And I love how Tobias Menzies portrays him on the Starz series.

Hannibel Lecter from Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” is one of my favorite lines of all time. Trivia time: In the book, he actually says “Amarone”, not “Chianti”. A genius who is also a serial killer, and 100% evil.

 

Humbert Humbert from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Humbert Humbert is considered one of the most “sympathetic” villains in the literary world. Well, at least to some. I despise the guy. Humbert, a sexual predator, rapist, and pedophile, is one of the most repulsive characters I have ever met in literature.

Count Dracula from Dracula by Bram Stoker. Dracula, as originally conceived by Bram Stoker, is the ultimate vampire villain. As much as I like modern-day vampires, they just don’t compare to the original bad dude with fangs. Dracula’s charm and easy seduction of his victims is part of what makes him such an appealing villain to me.

Sauron from Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Necromancer of Dol Guldur gave me nightmares the first time I read the LOTR trilogy. Throughout LOTR, Sauron is never described, but his influence is pervasive and terrifying. Sauron’s evil is an edgeless darkness that seeps into your soul and scares the bejesus out of you.

Halloween Read-A-Thon

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I always like to read spooky books during the month of October, so I have decided to join the Halloween Read-A-Thon, a challenge hosted by Lauren @ Wonderless Reviews. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays – I love any excuse to dress up in costume! I also love any reason to participate in a themed read!

This year, we are doing a costume theme for the whole family, a first for us. Our theme is villains…villains often have the coolest outfits! My daughter will be dressing up as Harley Quinn and I will be Maleficent, and dear hubby is still deciding. Halloween is so much fun, especially in our neighborhood where some houses hand out treats for both the kids and adults! Our next-door neighbors have chili and beer, another house has margaritas, and we even have a neighbor that sets up a walk-through haunted maze in their backyard! It’s always a lot of fun.

Here is the info on the Halloween Read-a-Thon:

  • The read-a-thon will run from 10 October – 31 October.
  • You can join in at any time until the end of the read-a-thon.
  • You can read as many or as little books as you want!
  • The books have to be horror, thriller, and/or have some kind of supernatural element.
  • When posting your Halloween TBR list, link back to Lauren’ts Read-a-thon post.
  • Use the hashtag #HalloweenWR to share your progress on social media!

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz – I’m planning on going back to a few childhood favorites this month. M is really into spooky stories right now, so we will be reading these together in the weeks leading up to Halloween!

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I can’t believe I have never read this book, and Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors to read in October!

Blurb: After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…

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51496 *A book where people are the ones who are causing all the scariness*

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. A scientist unlocking his inner evil? Yeah, this seems like the perfect fit for this category!

Blurb: In this harrowing tale of good and evil, the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that unleashes his secret, inner persona—the loathsome, twisted Mr. Hyde.

 

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I do a lot of my reading after sunset, so most of these books would apply. Especially Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which I mentioned above. It just doesn’t seem right to read those books when the sun is up!

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18490Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I choose trick, reading a book that I have been putting off. I have been meaning to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for years! Our county public library chose Frankenstein as this year’s Community Read book in October, too. I take that as a sign that it’s time I read it.

Blurb: Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

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The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. It will be a miracle if I read six books for this challenge! But I had to add this to the challenge, as I do really want to start The Raven Cycle soon.

Blurb: Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.

His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

These are my selections for the Halloween Read-a-Thon! Are you participating? What spooky books are you planning on reading in October?

 

Read Watch Play #3

Read Watch Play is my own version of a Sunday Salon: a round-up of bookish and non-bookish entertainment going on in my home this week. Feel free to join in and let me know what you are reading, watching, cooking, and playing in the comments!

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What I’m watching: Stranger Things (Netflix – Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller). I love sci-fi, but not horror movies. Stranger Things, an 8-episode Netflix original that has become immensely popular, straddles that line. I fully admit I have to cover my face and peek out through my fingertips during a few scenes. I don’t do well with horror, but somehow, I really like Stranger Things, especially the nostalgia of the 80s. And I think therein lies the appeal of this show for so many – the power of 80s nostalgia. I have three more episodes left, and hope to finish Season 1 this week.

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What I’m playing: I am going to twist up this topic for the month of October, because I am doing something I have never done before: a virtual triathlon! I will be participating in the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Virtual Triathlon! Running from October 1 – 31, this is a 140.6 mile virtual race that involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles cycling, and a 26 mile run/walk/jog. It is not done at once, but broken up into however many workouts you need to get it done.

I kick-started the virtual tri on October 1 with a bike ride, and will follow it up today with a 6-7 mile jog/walk (I’m not a big fan of running, so I won’t be full-out running for this race). My gym workouts and yoga classes have definitely been paying off the past 6-months! Yesterday’s 12.9 mile bike ride involved quite a few hills, and I am not sore at all this morning. Hooray!

JJF Race Stats (October 1)

0/2.4 mi swim

12.9/112 mi bike

0/26.2 run

Wish me luck on my first triathlon!

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Photo credit: Bon Appétit.

What I’m eating: No pictures of my own food this week, but I have been eating a lot of soup! I don’t know if it’s seasonal allergies or something viral, but I had a few days that I felt a tad under the weather, so I made one of my staples. It’s a simple soup: chicken broth, 1-2 slices of lemon, carrots, DeLallo organic whole-wheat pasta, salt and pepper to taste, and some fresh basil sprinkled at the end. I let the broth simmer with the lemon and sliced carrots for at least 30 minutes before adding in the orzo. One night I also tossed in a few small meatballs from Trader Joe’s at the very end when serving, which gave it a new twist and was oh so delicious!

I also made one of my favorite cannelloni bean recipes this week, as a side dish to have with a baguette. This recipe, or some variation of it, Cannelloni Beans with Spinach, from Bon Appétit, is quite the staple in our house. Sooo good!

Monday will be a lovely Rosh Hashanah meal, which I have not planned for one iota yet. I better get on that today. Yikes! L’Shanah Tovah!

Currently ReadingA Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab. I’m hoping to finish up on Monday afternoon, when I will hopefully have some relaxing time at home after the Rosh Hashanah services and meal.

What are you watching, eating, or playing? Let me know in the comments!