Julia's Chocolates

Sunday, December 20, 2009
I spent the day with my family, reading today's book while they were making Christmas cookies. And while she was making Christmas cookies, Alissa managed to squeeze in some time to peer pressured me into doing a countdown to the end of the blog.
So here you go Alissa: 12 days left of the blogging project.
Can you believe it dear readers, only 12 days left? I can't even wrap my mind around that. I remember when it was February and this point of the year seemed so far away, and now here I am so close to the end. It just doesn't feel real yet. And I'm going to have to give this some more thought before I come to the last entry of the year, so I will have something more articulate to say that sums up the year.

Mom baked the cookies, Dad and Alissa helped decorate them and Oliver "helped" by checking to make sure the powdered sugar was at its freshest. We've discovered this holiday season, that Oliver is a very helpful dog - he likes to "check" the garland to make sure it's in the right place, he likes to rearrange bows on packages, and he loves to "check" the water in the Christmas tree to make sure its fresh.

Today's book, "The quirky debut romance from Lamb opens as Julia Bennett flees the Boston altar where her blue blood abuser fiancé, Robert Stanfield III, awaits her. She leaves her wedding gown in a North Dakota tree, and arrives in the tiny town of Golden, Oregon to take refuge with her beloved Aunt Lydia. As Julia slowly returns to a semblance of normalcy, Lydia's eccentric friends soon become Julia's near and dear as well: minister's wife Lara, psychic Caroline and abused wife Katie all have their own hidden pains, to which Julia can relate. Robert, who hit her and made her feel bad about her body, is never far from her thoughts, nor is her incapacitating "Dread Disease"-a feeling of panic she can't name."

Chocolate thoughts:

  • Mid-way through reading today's book I realized that this is the third chocolate-related book I've read in the last three months. First there was Choclat, and then Hershey. Clearly my subconscious is trying to telling me something. Lucky for me, and my subconscious, Christmas is coming and so is the suspension of the no-sugar rule, so there's a chocolate cupcake in my very near future. All of the chocolate books were good, but in order of enjoyment it goes: Chocolat, Hershey, and then today's book. Today's book was good, but I didn't get instantly sucked into it the way I did with Chocolat and there were no fun facts like in Hershey. And the book started to get tackier and tackier as it went. Normally I enjoy a tacky book now and then - just as I enjoy a tacky episode of Roseanne every now and then, but the tackiness started to wear thing after awhile.

  • My favorite line of the book was the first one (that's right, the first one - how lazy can I get?), "I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota." - I love it when a book has a really intriguing first sentence, particularly when it's as odd as that one. So many authors start out with lackluster first sentences, and it's such a wasted opportunity.

  • The odd parts of the book did not stop with the first sentence of the book. Here is another example of the weirdness, "During my visit, people would come to a screeching halt in front of Aunt Lydia's house, as usual. Not because it looked like a pink marshmallow, burned in the center, and not just because she has eight toilets in her front yard." - I'm not even going to tell you whether today's book is worth reading dear readers - I'm not even going to presume to know whether you are the kind of people who enjoy reading about the kind of people who keep toilets in their front yards. I personally enjoy reading about people like that to a point, so I'm glad that I read today's book but I don't think I would want to read it a second time.

Cherries in Winter

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The month of December has been going by so quickly that sometimes I lose track of what day it is, but today when I realized that it's the 19th already I was startled to think of just how close I am to being done with this project. I am both excited to be done and just a little bit sad that it's almost over. I would be really sad if I wasn't already planning to finish the blog beyond this year because, while I'm happy that I will soon have a break from having to put a blog entry up every day, I don't want to be doing with this whole blogging business altogether. I have grown much more attached to it than I ever expected, especially considering I was the kind of person who mocked blogs before writing one (I really should be more careful what I mock because I almost always end up doing it at some point.)

Today's book, "When Suzan Colon was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back - and that meant home cooking. Her mother suggested, "Why don't you look in Nan's recipe folder?" In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda's commentary in the margins. Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes - she had found the key to her family's survival of hard times."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I loved today's book! It was the kind of book that was perfect for reading in one day (I've had a bad run of luck with books that aren't good for that lately) and I got sucked into it immediately. I was on the very first page when I already knew I was going to love the book. But then I have always been a big fan of books about food. What could be better than combining my two favorite things, reading and cooking. If I was a different sort of person I might consider it cheating to read a book that has recipes - but I read recipes like they are poetry so there's no skipping over them for me. I read every single one.

  • I was going to pick out one of the recipes from today's book to cook today, so I could report back to my dear readers about how it tasted - but I couldn't find one that I wasn't allergic to. Instead I will tell you about the strangest recipe in the book: Hot Dog Soup (a version of Split Pea Soup the author improvised when she was out of ham.) Perhaps I will pass the recipe along to my Dad who considers the four food groups to consist of: hot dogs, steak, pork chops, and sausage. That's it. He could live off of those things. He can be eating one of them and think of the other and end up having a Homer Simpson-esque moment of "HMMMMM STEAK."

  • Favorite passage: "I was never a picky eater as a kid. Mom remembers that even as a toddler I had a curious palate. "You loved martini olives," she says. "What were you doing feeding martini olives to a two-year-old?" I ask. She shrugs, "It was the sixties. . . " - This sounds startlingly close to my Mothers excuse for letting me eat cookies for breakfast when I was a child, "It was the 80s, people didn't know about nutrition then. "

I Love You Like a Tomato

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's happened two days late, but better late than never. It's chapter and page count time.

For the week -


PAGES - 2,203

For the year -


PAGES - 93,587

Today's book, "ChiChi Maggiordino will do anything to get God's attention. She will hold her breath, stand on tiptoe for an hour, walk a mile backward, climb up stairs on her knees - anything. When her grandmother teaches her how to use the Evil Eye, telling her it's how Jesus Christ made his miracles and how the Italians got rid of Mussolini, ChiChi realizes it's what her prayers have been missing. Now she can get started on the business of making her mother happier by helping her find love and healing her brother's weak lungs."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I picked today's book because of the title was so odd. There I said it, I'm still shallow and easily seduced by a good cover and an interesting title. But, unlike at the beginning of the year (oh who am I kidding, the beginning of the month) I have finally learned my lesson about picking out books based just on that. So I did actually read the description of today's book before picking it for the blog. Although I didn't think through all the way the plan to read a book that's almost 500 pages on a Friday. Fridays always feel like they should be goof off days, time to get done with responsibilities early, and curl up in front of the TV with Grape Faygo and Chocolate Stars to watch TGIF . . . oh wait, I'm not eight-years-old anymore.

  • Today's book was really good, but also kind of odd (which is actually a quality I enjoy in a book, so it works) - it was also bleak but the main character ChiChi (who I wish had a different name because it annoyed me senseless to have to read that name over and over again throughout the book) had a sense of humor so it kept the book from being totally depressing. I would definitely recommend today's book, with the caveat that it's not the kind of book that should be read in one day. I spent most of the day wishing that I could have taken my time with the book. So I will be setting the book aside and reading it a second time once the year is up. I may even get crazy and take an entire week to read it!

  • My favorite sentence came when ChiChi was describing her baby brother, "I've seen prettier sardines." - I love it. No attempts to sugar-coat. No cute little euphemism such as "What a sweet baby" or "look at those cute little hands" - just straight out with it.

  • Most depressing sentence, "And Mama sank into a quiet sadness so dark and bottomless she seemed not to breathe." - As you can see dear readers, today's book gets right to the point. Which is a quality I've always enjoyed both in people and books.

The Christmas Train

Today has been an extremely challenging blogging day. Up until today I had gotten a little bit cocky about this whole blog business, thinking that since I was just days away from the end of this project it would smooth sailing from this point on, like the last few weeks of school before vacation. But instead, I spent the day struggling to read my book in between trying to finish my Christmas shopping, then I lost my blogging notes, and then I spent 2 hours trying to get on the Internet, unsuccessfully, before calling Comcast and spending 40 minutes talking to a really nice and very helpful person who managed to help me finally get online again. So here I sit at 1:25 in the morning, wishing I was asleep, trying to get my blog entry written because I can't bear the thought of going to sleep without the entry being up. A blogger's job is never done. But, I'm considering it a personal victory that I did not use even the slightest bit of profanity during the almost-three-hour attempt to get on the Internet. I handled the crisis in a manner that would make Mike Brady proud.

I was going to do the chapter and page count today, but since I had whining about my tough day to do and Christmas pictures to share, I have decided to move it to tomorrow. I know I promised that I would post it today, but you'll just have to muddle through another day without knowing how many pages I've read this week (try to be brave - I know your hearts are breaking right now.)

Here I am on Christmas morning when I was about five-years-old, attempting to rock the I-just-woke-up-and-was-too-lazy-to-even-bother-to-brush-my-hair look (and pulling it off if I do say so myself.) The Barbie house in the background was one that my Dad built for me. I only got to keep it for six months because we eventually found out that my Mother was allergic to the wood the house was made out of and so we had to get rid of it.

Here is my sister with, what I'm going to presume to call, one of her favorite Christmas presents ever. Don't be fooled into thinking that's some ordinary toy doll. No dear readers, that's not just a toy. That's Mr. Bally. He has a name. He has a heart. He has feelings, which can be easily hurt when someone leaves him lying face down (although some of us did that by accident because we could never remember where his face was supposed to be.)

Today's book, "Disillusioned journalist Tom Langdon must get from Washington to L.A. in time for Christmas. Forced to take the train across the country because of a slight "misunderstanding" at airport security, he begins a journey of self-discovery and rude awakenings, mysterious goings-on and thrilling adventures, screwball escapades and holiday magic."

Shallow Christmasy thoughts:

  • I picked today's book because I have always been fascinated by the idea of train travel. I blame this on old movies which make train travel look elegant, glamorous and exciting. I'm sure the reality is gritty and boring - but I like to cling to that illusion. Which is probably why I've never actually attempted to travel by train - I'm sure that within five minutes my happy little bubble would burst.

  • Today's book was good but not great, worth reading once but probably not one I would read again. In other words, it was better than most of the books I have read this year, but not good enough to do on my list of "Books I'm Going to Re-read Next Year When I Can Take My Time." I'm toying with the idea of doing a blog post once a month next year to report back on whether I enjoyed the re-reads more or less once I got a chance to read them slowly.

  • And here's your fun fact for the day dear readers: Never flush an airplane toilet while you're still sitting on it. One would assume that's common sense - but one would be wrong. Because there are allegedly people who are not smart enough to figure that out who, as a result, ended up suctioned to the toilet for the remainder of the flight. Since this book is a novel, I simply must go google that story and find out if it's ever actually happened. . . darn it, it seems that story was a rumor that turned out to be false. The part of my brain that will always be eight-years-old so desperately wanted that story to be true.

A Dog Called Perth

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The chapter and page count has been moved to tomorrow (try to hold in the tears) because today is what is known in our family as Oliversary (otherwise known as: the day Oliver was adopted from the shelter.) Yes, we're those kind of people, the kind who dress their dog up for Halloween, and take more picture of him than some people have of their babies, and bring him back special surprises when we go on vacation. In other words, Oliver has the cushiest life a dog could possibly have. But don't take my word for it, I have pictorial evidence:

Here is a picture of Oliver from last Christmas, when he was beginning his life as the most photographed dog in history. No really, sometimes I look through the pictures on my Mother's computer and count to see how many pictures of Oliver there are in a row on there- sometimes the number has gotten as high as 47. Not that I can blame my Mother since he is very cute. Or as I like to say to him, "Who is the cutest puppy in the entire world? Why it's Oliver." Yeah that's right, I'm actually dorky enough to talk to the dog like that.

Here's Oliver catching up on his sleep. I have no idea how that could possibly be comfortable, but Oliver has decided that it's the most comfortable sleeping position ever and can be found sleeping like that on a regular basis.

And here's Oliver sitting in the window seat that he believes is his but which really belongs to my Mother. He's squirrel watching, an activity that he approaches with the same intensity that some people bring to watching soap operas, leading me to regularly make the oh-so-lame joke that Oliver is watching another episode of "As the Squirrel Turns."

Today's book, "From the moment Peter and Cindy Martin spotted her as a puppy in a kennel and she came streaking toward them and staring with her intense gaze, they knew she was the one. Almost immediately, she became a central part of their household. Always left to run free, she became an indefatigable explorer, gone for hours, sometimes for entire days, but her infallible compass always brought her home. From her exploits in upstate New York to the story of her incredible survival in the Vermont wilderness and her later adventures in the English countryside, Perth displayed the same pluck, intelligence, devotion, unshakable trust, and unstinting love."

Oliversary thoughts:

  • Today's book was similar to Marley & Me in some ways, but definitely not as good. The difference being, the pet owners in Marley & Me didn't get on my nerves. The annoying pet owner behavior included: claiming that their dog was smarter than a lot of school-aged children; letting their dog run free at all times because they didn't want to crush her spirit; responding to their dogs repeated attempted to bite and even maul people by blaming the behavior on the dog's boredom over living in the state of Ohio (So if any of you are reading this blog from Ohio, good news, you're no longer responsible for your behavior from this point on. You can't help, you live in Ohio, so it's out of your hands.) I could go on and on, but you get the point dear readers - basically nothing the dog did was wrong or bad, it's just the high-jinxs of a spirited puppy amusing herself by doing things that result in people needing to get stitches.

  • My favorite passage was one in which Cindy and Peter were discussing what to name their new puppy. Cindy tells Peter that she doesn't want to give the dog a feminine sounding name, and here is his response, "I was thinking the same thing," I replied, becoming poetic. "It would be too narrow for her. She needs to travel this earth with a larger identity. She needs a name that doesn't tie her down to her sex, a distinctive name." - If you weren't able to tell by the passage, Perth was the Martins' pre-baby dog. You can always tell the difference between people who got a dog before having kids vs. those who get one after by how many theories the people have about the correct way of "raising" the dog. I never stop being amused by hearing people talk about their dog as if he/she is a seven-year-old child.

  • And here is your fun fact for the day dear readers: A beagle can run up to 400 miles in one weekend because their lung power never wears out. - I didn't bother looking that fun fact up the way I normally do because I was too busy looking up the lyrics to songs that I've listened to for years but never knew all of the words to (time well spent if you ask me), so I'm just going to have to take the author's word for it on that one.

The Best of Everything

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Today's book, "When it was first published in 1958, Rona Jaffe's debut novel electrified readers who saw themselves reflected in its story of five young employees of a New York publishing company. There's Ivy League Caroline, who dreams of graduating from the typing pool to an editor's office; naive country girl April, who within months of hitting town reinvents herself as the woman every man wants on his arm; Gregg, the free-spirit actress with a secret yearning for domesticity."

Retro thoughts:

  • Perhaps it's just that today's book takes place during one of my favorite time periods - the 50s - but I loved it! I do tend to get totally sucked into any book that takes place in the 40s and 50s and judge it by different standards. But, even removing the time period from the equation, I still really enjoyed the book. My favorite part: the main character, Caroline. I felt an instantly connection to the character - which is something that happened to me regularly as a child, but hasn't happened as frequently since I got past the age of twelve.

  • The author of today's book mentions in the introduction that she was approached by Hollywood producer Jerry Wald, who was looking for a modern-day Kitty Foyle - but she quickly read the book, hated it, and decided that she could do better. I read Kitty Foyle a few months ago for the blog and while I didn't hate the book (in fact, I kind of liked it), I do agree that the author of today's book was able to do a much better job. I learned while reading today's book that like Kitty Foyle, the book was made into a movie. So now I think we all know what I'm going to be wasting ridiculous amounts of time doing on the Internet when I'm done writing today's entry.

  • Today's book included the thing that I always hope for in old books, talk of money. I know talking about money is supposed to be very bad manners, but I just can't get enough of the characters in old books talking about how exciting it is to be earning $50 a week! It reminds me of my all-time favorite line from Homefront, "I'll never be a $10,000 a year man."

  • And now time for an extremely shallow and totally pointless thought: One of the characters in the book was named Miss. Farrow and I spent the entire book trying to force my brain to read her name as Miss. Farrow. But my brain continued to protest and insist on reading it as Mia Farrow. After fifty pages I decided to just stop fighting it, because trying to force my brain to behave like a brain that hasn't been fed a steady diet of celebrity gossip for the last twenty years became futile. It was slowing me down. So I decided to just embrace it. So basically I've started to treat my brain like a child that's so bratty its own parents are afraid of it.

How to Be a Movie Star

Monday, December 14, 2009

I am a little over two weeks away from the end of my year-long project (a fact which boggles my mind) and the questions have begun rolling in. Are you looking forward to being done? What are you going to do when the year is over? Are you going to do another reading challenge next year?

In case you are losing sleep at night wondering the answers to those questions (hey it won't kill you to humor me on that one dear readers, so just play along), I will end your suspense. Yes, I am looking forward to the year being over. I'm counting the days (18, if you count today) because I'm really looking forward to finding out what it will feel like when this is over. As for what I will do next year, I am continuing the blog, but since I will not have to stick to the format of a book every day, I'm going to have a chance to do some fun blogging stuff that I couldn't do this year. I'm also looking forward to writing some blog entries about books that were either too short or too long to have read this year. And, I will be working on turning my experience with this year-long project into a book. And, no, there will be no reading challenge next year. I am toying with reading my way across the fiction section of the library at some point in the future, but that will not be happening next year. I need a bit of a break from reading projects for awhile.

Today's book, "Readers will feel they are sitting next to Taylor as she rises at MGM, survives a marriage engineered for publicity, feuds with Hedda Hopper and Mr. Mayer, wins Oscars, endures tragedy, juggles Eddie Fisher, Richard Burton and her country's conservative values. But it is the private Elizabeth that will surprise--a woman of heart and loyalty, who defends underdogs, a savvy professional whose anger at the studio's treatment of her led to a lifelong battle against that very system. All the Elizabeth's are here, finally reconciled and seen against the exciting years of her greatest spirit, beauty, and influence. Swathed in mink, staring us down with her lavender eyes, disposing of husbands but keeping the diamonds, here is Elizabeth Taylor as she was meant to be, leading her epic life on her own terms, playing the game of supreme stardom at which she remains, to this day, unmatched."

Hollywood thoughts:

  • I loved today's book! I've always been a huge fan of biographies and autobiographies - especially those that feature actors/actresses from my favorite old movies. I'm a big fan of the original Father of the Bride (I enjoyed the remake as well), so I when I discovered there was a new book out about Elizabeth Taylor I was anxious to read it. Especially since the author promises that today's book is, ". . . not a traditional biography. I do not cover every year of Taylor's life, or every film, or every up and down of every romance. There are plenty of other books that do that . . . What intrigues me are those areas that haven't been fully investigated before: the mechanics of Taylor's fame and the alchemy that assured her enduring celebrity." - As much as I love biographies, the one big flaw I often find is that they focus too much on the subject's personal life at the expense of their career. I'm interested in hearing about the personal lives of actors as well (the number of times a day I visit People.com will attest to that) but I am much more interested in the behind-the-scenes stories from the movie sets.

  • The biggest advantage today's book has over the traditional biography is that the book doesn't get bogged down in the boring details of every failed marriage Taylor had. As much as I love biographies, while reading the traditional kind, there is always that moment that comes about mid-way through when I think, This book should have been named "Stupid Reasons for Marrying the Wrong People." Don't get me wrong dear readers, the bad marriages are mentioned, and the stupid reasons are given (and they were stupid) but the book doesn't dwell on them to the point where it becomes tiresome.

  • And here are your fun facts for the day dear readers: 1. Elizabeth Taylor was the first female star to be paid a million dollars a picture. (Are you breathing a sigh of relief right now dear readers, and thinking Finally, a fun fact that is actually fun!) 2. Elizabeth smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, and always insisted that her cigarette holders must match whatever outfit she was wearing at the time, and coordinate with the tablecloth. - Because when you're destroying your lungs, it's always import to do it in style. Ordinarily I applaud people for color-coordination, but I think I'll make an exception in this case.