Category Archives: books

Best Books I Read in 2017

I read a lot of books, usually around 150 a year. Every year I create a list of the top few I read that really stuck with me, or that changed my life in some way. It’s normally a mix of fiction and nonfiction, junior books and adult. I list them in no particular order…except I always save the absolute BEST BOOK for last. So here we go!

1: The Forgotten Skills of Cooking, by Darina Allen.

Lush photos combined with old-fashioned cookery. Also has chapters on keeping chickens, and other related skills.  This is one of those books that I found at the library, read about two pages, and bought myself a copy off Amazon.

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2: The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, by Andrea Chesman.

I put off getting this book for ages, even though I love the others in this backyard homestead series. I felt like I would already know too much of the information inside. Wrong. Although I did know a great deal, Chesman wrote a very entertaining and personal book, with a wealth of helpful information.

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3: Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud.

The final book in the Lockwood & Co Series. This series was phenomenal all the way through, and this particular book could easily have been the best of the year…except that it was overtaken at the very tail of 2017 by the actual winner.  I’m just blown away by the world-building Stroud has done here. Funny story…at my library, a 30s something guy came in to pick up this book, and he was visibly over the moon at having it in his hands. I commented on how excited I was to get it myself, and he clutched it against his chest and said, “Yeah, I have to read it fast. My daughter wants it too!” I hear Stroud is considering a spin-off series, and I’d definitely be down for that.

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4: Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant.

Mermaids. Evil, murderous mermaids. Or…are they? Really well-done, well-written, and just plain fun. Mira Grant also writes under the name Seanan McGuire, and she’s made this list before under that name.

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5: Radical Homemakers, by Shannon Hayes.

This book is how I feel. It’s amazing. And the historical information is extremely interesting.

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6: Eat Dirt, by Dr. Josh Axe.

Incredibly interesting book. This could be a life-changing book for almost everyone.

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7: Nourishing Fats, by Sally Fallon.

Natural animal fats are not the enemy. Despite what certain medical organizations would like you to believe, it is the lack of whole milk, cream, butter, lard, organ meats and other sources of traditional foods that is causing heart problems, obesity, and almost all of our health issues. This book explains the science, using the medical profession’s own studies to definitively prove that the low-fat diet is nothing more than a lie. Eat more butter! It’s critical for your health.

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8: Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven, by Dan Story.

Having made an extensive study of the topic, I’ve come to the conclusion there is ZERO Biblical evidence for the idea that animals don’t have immortal souls – and an astounding amount of Biblical evidence that they do. In fact, I think it’s blindingly obvious (once you look) that animals will be redeemed and resurrected from the curse we put upon them. I look forward to sharing my eternity with the animals I love.

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9: She Rides Shotgun, by Jordan Harper.

Loved everything about this book…except that it ended. And the author is absolutely right: the bear isn’t real, but he’s true.

Can’t wait to see what Harper writes next.

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10: Deep Nutrition, by Catherine Shanahan, M.D.

One of those books everyone should read, especially if you’re EVER planning on becoming pregnant, if you currently have any sort of ill health, are trying to lose weight, or if you just want to strong, young, and healthy all your life.

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11: Small-Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery

There’s a foreward by Joel Salatin. Do you need to know anything else? Incredible book; hands down THE BEST book on small farm and backyard flocks available. I’ve read most of the chicken books out there, and not a single one comes close to this one. One hundred stars.

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12: Assassin’s Fate, by Robin Hobb.

Fantastic end to this series…and probably to all her series set in this particular world. So many fates besides Fitz’s are entwined in this book. Not ashamed to say I was bawling like a baby by the end.

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And out of all 150+ books, here’s the absolute best book I read this past year:

13: 7 Things You Have to Know to Understand End Times Prophecy, by Jack Kelley

The cover is a bit cheesy, I will admit. But the words inside are pure gold.  This book has literally changed my life.  Now I’m eagerly watching and anticipating, absolutely positive that we’re not only living in the end times, but that Christ will return within just a few years (if even that long!) to take his church home “in the twinkling of an eye” leaving the rest of the world behind.  For the first time in all of history, ALL the things foretold in the Bible are not only possible, but are actually in the process of happening. It’s incredible to watch the news and see it happen, piece by piece. Jack Kelley also has a helpful website: gracethrufaith.com, with TONS of studies, articles, and answered questions. I’ve been glued to my Bible the last week or so.

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New Book Release!

We all of us have monsters inside our heads: the folklore of that inward country, the things that frighten us when we are alone in the darkness. People not just of England, but across the world, find themselves haunted by thoughts of the same unearthly beings: vampires, ghosts, fairies, and gods. And if enough people have thoughts of the same monster, the magic will be given power to manifest itself in the image of what is feared. And thus the monster will be given teeth to bite, and will ravage across the land until it is destroyed.

When the newly-crowned Queen Victoria announces an expedition to India, Miss Winnifred Sebastian-Veals volunteers by joining an elite all-female group: The Society of Queen’s Own Monster Hunters. To her dismay, the other members are rather middle-aged, and more interested in knitting needles than sorcerous spells, vile manuscripts, and iron-bound doorways to hell. But after the Queen’s airship is attacked by an evil djinn, she discovers there is more to the ladies–and herself–than she ever imagined.

Warning: contains horrible ghosts, mermaids, gigantic worms, ghouls, sea monsters, pirates, and incredibly silly Victorian fashions. Also several attractive men who may–or may not–be of possible Romantic Interest.

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Now for sale on Amazon.com. And starting tomorrow – this first volume will be FREE for one week!  Also, if you sign up for my author newsletter, I’ll send you another free book: An Intelligence of Zombies. It’s the prequel to this new series.

Also available on Amazon.com is the second book in this new Society of Queen’s Own Monster Hunters:

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Books 3 & 4 will be up for sale very soon!

Interesting fact: the dress on the covers is actually designed and created by me.

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My Favorite Books of 2016

As always, I read a ton of books in 2016 – 155 of them, to be exact! Out of those, here is my annual list of the ones I loved the most. They are in no particular order…except that my Book of the Year is at the end.

#1: Bread Illustrated, a Step-by-Step to Achieving Bakery Quality Results at Home, by the America’s Test Kitchen.

indexMy new go-to bread book.  Love that it explains why it tells you to do a particular step, or use a certain flour, or whatever. The illustrations are amazing, and all the recipes I’ve tried have turned out perfectly.

#2: Thicket, by Joe R. Lansdale

51dijm6-dtlWow, this man can write. Beautiful book.

#3: How to Be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman

2So very fascinating, and unlike virtually every other “how they lived” book out there, this author knows her business first-hand. She has spent months living in the Victorian world, and has personally worn, eaten, and done the work she writes about. No silly comments about corset-wearing women being unable to sit down in this book – she’s actually harvested wheat with a scythe while wearing hers! (And found it easier than when not wearing a corset actually, back support for the win!) I now want to try making some of the skin creams and other cosmetics; they sound much better than our modern ones – and much safer for our health.

#4: Crimson Peak Art of Darkness, by Mark Salisbury

crimson-peakI have been insanely obsessed with Crimson Peak since I saw the film; it’s quite possibly the most insanely gorgeous movie I have ever seen. I watched it twice in two days. Of course I had to buy this book instantly, and I found it nearly as amazing as the film. Gorgeous, gorgeous book on the making of a gorgeous, gorgeous film. Too many usages of the word ‘gorgeous’? No. Not possible, not for Crimson Peak.

#5:  Project Animal Farm, by Sonia Faruqi

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Absolutely necessary book – everyone needs to read this. It’s frightening how many people want to keep their heads buried in the sand, and continue supporting the torture, suffering, and extremely inhumane death of billions of animals every year, rather than wake up and realize what’s going on. And don’t even get me started on what this ‘food’ is doing to our own health, and the health of our world.

#6: Eat Dirt, by Josh Axe

index6And if you don’t know what our factory farming, incredibly over-sanitized way of life is doing to your health, this book will explain it.  A must-read, especially if you have children, or an autoimmune disorder of any kind. Or, really, if you have any kind of health issue at all. It’s amazing what sorts of things are caused by gut issues, things you’d never think of.

#7: What Ho, Automaton! by Chris Dolley

51ohvzw3xal-_sx322_bo1204203200_Jeeves & Wooster pastiche, with a steampunk twist. Loved this SO much!

#8: Introduction to Permaculture, by Bill Mollison

index4So inspiring. So many great ideas – some I can put into practice now, others that will have to wait until I get my country farm. LOVE the detailed line drawings. I could just pore over those all day.

#9: American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

indexIf you like classic Stephen King, you’ll love this. Nicely thick doorstopper of a book, with all the character-building, slow buildup, and eerie storyline of the best of King. Loved it. And might I add: the cover is gorgeous.  I think I would have read anything that had this cover on it!

#10: The Black Belt Librarian, by Warren Graham

indexNow this one is very specialized, and if you aren’t a librarian, it’s probably not for you. But if you are, this book might just entirely change your professional life. I am a librarian, and my library has slowly become a place where no one feels safe either working or visiting. I’ve had so many long-time patrons come up and say they would no longer be coming in, because of the safety issues. Thankfully, the Mayor came to bat for us, booted out the leadership that was allowing this happen, and brought this book to our attention. It’s been revolutionary.  If you aren’t a librarian, but you visit a library where you feel unsafe, you might want to mention this book to your local librarian. It’s pricey, but worth every penny!

#11: The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud

indexEvery time one in this series comes out, it makes my favorites list. Every. Freaking. Time. The series is THAT good! Extremely well-written, fantastic world-building, and great plot and characters. Don’t be thrown off by the fact that it’s a ‘grade school novel’. It isn’t, not really. It’s just a truly wonderful book that happens to have young characters.

#12: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, by David Asher

51vyqwkdjpl-_sx398_bo1204203200_Wow. Just wow. What a brilliant, needed book. A valuable read even if you aren’t interested in making cheese yourself. And he uses kefir for his starter! So grateful and delighted I found this book.  Do yourself a favor and make creme fraiche with your kefir. It is to die for. I could sit and eat it with a spoon. And then, use the creme fraiche to make cultured butter….oh, the silkiness! The flavor! You’ve never had butter like this. This book would have been my favorite of the year, hands down, except for the book below.

#13: The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs, by Joel Salatin

51jdpvtpql-_sx330_bo1204203200_This the book I have been waiting my whole life for someone to write. It’s brilliant, and captures my entire philosophy, world-view, and personal goals, all in one. There are really no words to describe the meaning of this book to me.

Christmas and New Year Cookery

This holiday season, I’ve been all about the cooking and baking.  I don’t know what’s gotten into me! In my family, we have three days of Christmas, and for each day, I made a point of making something new and yummy to eat.

On the 23rd of December, I made homemade (and full-fat) chicken alfredo, with from-scratch noodles.  Both were winners, although rolling out the noodles by hand convinced me I do want that pasta machine I’ve been eyeing at the kitchen store.  In the evening, I made apple pie cinnamon rolls, and they were delicious! I’ll be making these again for sure – especially since they freeze like a dream!

We opened some of our presents on the 23rd too, and my favorite two items were this pig pitcher:

And this clever bookmark. It’s a plastic stem and leaf; you put it in a book like this, and whenever you open the book again, it springs right to the page it’s “planted” in.

On the 24th, I made homemade pizza, using the fabulous thin crust recipe from Bread Illustrated, by the American’s Test Kitchen folks. The whole book is magic, and this pizza recipe is no exception. It was tasty!

For dessert, I made a vanilla souffle, using the perfect souffle recipe.

On the 25th, Mom made a fantastic ham dinner, and I was responsible only for the dessert. I made a triple berry pie, and went the extra mile in decorating the crust.

For New Year’s, I’ve been baking too. I made donuts – also from the Bread Illustrated cookbook. I won’t make these again, even though they were super easy, because I’m a Krispy Kreme girl, and these were just too heavy for me. Next time I make donuts, I’ll try one of the KK knock-off recipes. It sucks to be me, because our KK went out of business, so the only time I get them is when I travel. I was DELIGHTED to find them at the Victoria Station, in London!

I’ve also been cheesemaking once more, and I FINALLY cracked that elusive mozzarella! One of the best books I’ve ever purchased is The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, by David Asher. Finally, a book on cheesemaking that doesn’t require purchased starters, chemicals, fussy temperatures, or sterilization! It’s a book on cheese, the way it used to be made for thousands of years, before we all became afraid of our food. Brilliantly, it uses kefir as the starter, and it works perfectly. I made a simple rennet cheese, put half of the curds in cheese forms to age (still haven’t got to taste those yet) and turned the rest into mozzarella. Really good. Really, really good – and since I used raw milk, I got TONS more curd than I’m used to getting, with pasteurized and homoganized milk. And I’ll have whey left over to make ricotta, tonight!

And it’s not just cheese. Asher also talks about kefir in general; how to use it to make creme fraiche (I’m trying that tonight) and also naturally carbinated fruit drinks using kefir grains. I already started that, and as of this morning, it was already getting nice and fizzy. It’s great having so many uses for kefir, since it’s one thing I always have on hand.

In other news, I’ve been working hard on my next novels, and almost have books 1, 2, and 3 finished of the new steampunk series.  I could have 1 and 2 published already, but as I’m also photographing and creating the covers myself, that’s taking longer than the actual writing. I make it a goal to write at least 500 words every day, and I keep a running log of how much I write, and what the total number of words to date is.  Having a record really keeps me accountable, and makes me realize how “waiting for inspiration” is the absolute worst thing you can do. If you sit down and write, inspiration will almost always come…and even on the rare days when it doesn’t, or something crazy happens in my life to keep me from writing, I still manage something. And very frequently, I get over a thousand words a day – so frequently, I’m thinking of making the new daily goal. At the rate I’m going, book 3 will be done around the second week of January, and then I’ll immediately go into book 4.

And lastly…anyone want a rooster or two? The white frizzle cochin fluffy butts that I wrote about last time are, indeed, boys. They either need to find homes asap, or I’ll have two new chicken dinners in the freezer. I hate to butcher them, though, both because they aren’t up to size yet, and because they are so pretty and would make awesome roosters for someone who wants to bring the frizzle genes into their flock. I’m in Skagit County, in WA state. Hit me up, if you want a roo!

Free – this weekend only!

I haven’t really mentioned my writing recently on this blog, but besides chasing chickens and gardening, I’m also an author. The first three books about Molly Claire, time traveler and professional ghost hunter, are now available on Amazon.

GhostscoverHere’s a brief blurb from the first book:

Molly Claire was found aboard an abandoned boat in the San Francisco Bay, wearing an old-fashioned nightgown and a bloody jacket too large for her. The crew of the boat was never found, and the family of the girl never came forward to claim her. She was just five years old.

Now, nineteen years later, Molly Claire has no memory of anything that happened to her before that night – nothing remains of her early childhood except the screams that torment her nightmares. But that’s not the most unusual thing about her: Molly Claire can slip through time, an ability she uses as a professional ghost hunter.

But when she and her two partners take the case of another young child, also haunted by nightmares and screaming, Molly Claire’s current life and her past collide in ways she never imagined in her worst nightmares.

Will Molly Claire discover a way to save this little girl from the bloody future in her dreams? And will she be strong enough to save herself from a web of betrayal and conspiracy she has no idea even exists?

You can read the beginning on Amazon, and if you would like to try the entire book, it’s going to be FREE all this weekend.

I have also set up a facebook page, where I will post all the blogs from here, plus random chicken/garden/homesteading/writing goodness. You can find me on facebook here.

And, of course, if you like the books, and want to be notified first whenever a new one appears, please join my email list. I promise not to spam you – it’s only to let you know of new books!

Year in Review – Including Best Books of 2015

2015 was incredible. In the garden, we took down two old rotten sheds, paved a long section of pathway through the garden, and built a duck coop for our new animal additions, and built a greenhouse.

Outside of the garden, I took the trip I’ve been dreaming of for half my life to Iceland, Great Britain, and Venice.

I would have also published my first book, but I decided to delay it until I finished all three in the trilogy, and release them at the same time. So basically, I wrote three books in 2015. A little more tweaking, and they’ll be ready to go out in Spring, I think.

Additionally, this was the year of me being the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Seriously, I loved being 42.

And of course, I read a ton of books in 2015. I made my yearly goal of 150, just barely – hey, I didn’t read at all during my month abroad! I ended up with a total of 152.

Out of those, here are my favorites, beginning with nonfiction.

1: Real Food for Rabbits, by Laura Wheeler

rabbitsI talked about this one in my last post. But basically, it’s a fabulous book for people with either pet or meat rabbits, who want to feed their animals with natural food, not commercial pellets.

2: Book Cover Design Secrets, by Derek Murphy

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Sometimes a particular book comes to you at the exact moment you need it. This is one of those books. It’s absolutely brilliant – Derek tells it like it is, often going against the commonly believed and published “truth” about cover design. If you’re an Indie writer, this book MUST be on your bookshelf. I borrowed it through Kindle Unlimited, and then immediately went and purchased a copy – it’s that good!

3: The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend

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Really good explanation of what I’m trying to do on my little farm, and why I’m doing it.

4: The Nourishing Homestead, by Ben Hewitt

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Yes. Just read this. He has a few things wrong (I disagree completely with his views on wheat, for instance) but the majority is so, so right.

5: My Garden, the City, and Me, by Helen Babbs

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Wonderfully written, interesting little book about gardening on a rooftop in London.

6: Grow a Little Fruit Tree, by Ann Ralph

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This book should be required reading for any backyard gardener with an interest in fruit trees. Wow – so much helpful info! Everything you think you know about planting, pruning, and growing fruit trees is wrong…read this book and find out why. It will completely change your gardening game plan.

7: Adventures in Yarn Farming, by Barbara Perry

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I admit it; I’m fascinated by sheep and shepherds. I would love to own sheep, but I can’t quite figure out how to fit them in my backyard farm…plus they are just ever so slightly illegal where I live. So I read these books and dream of the day I can move to the country and have my own flock. Icelandic sheep, definitely, after experiencing the wonder of those sheep in their home country!

I’ve been reading far more non-fiction than I used to, and it’s heavily weighted in favor of practical books relating to homesteading, gardening, or animals. But I also still read tons of fiction.

8: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

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So good. I can’t even…it’s just so good. I love how Hobb ties everything together in this one, all of her various series just fitting together seamlessly. Book one of this particular series made my Best Books list last year, and I expect she’ll make the list next year, too.  My favorite series of hers, although to really get the most pleasure out of it, you really should read her others, first.

9: Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis

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So charming and fun. It was a delight to read, and after I finished, I immediately downloaded the rest of the series. There were equally good.

10: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne Valente

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Valente’s writing is SO yummy. It’s old-fashioned and modern and hip and nostalgic and you can’t skip even a single word. No one writes like Valente; she’s just incredible.

11: The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud

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This book deserves way more than five stars. Take all the stars! Honestly I am just blown away by how good this series is, and this book in particular. Every one I know needs to read this book right now!

12: Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

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I’ve been a fan of Novik’s dragon series for a long time now, so when I first heard this was coming out, I was a tad disappointed. What, no dragons? No Napoleonic War? No men who (a tad disconcertingly) call their dragon ‘dear’?  But yowza. I was blown away by this. It’s head and shoulders above her dragon series. It’s truly the best fantasy I’ve read for ages.

 

Okay, it was super hard this year to pick an over-all favorite, because numbers 11 and 12 were SO incredible.  But I’m going to give the title to:

13: Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E. Stevenson

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This isn’t the most amazing, life-changing book in my list. It’s not even the best written. But it is a book that I hugged to my chest when I was done reading, because I grew so intensely fond of it. It made me happy, and once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I stayed up way too late, and skipped watching two of my favorite tv shows for this book. And the sequels are great, too – I think I may even like the second book a triffle more.

And there you have it: 2015 was a year of glory. But I have a feeling 2016 is going to be pretty spectacular too….

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

So normally I save up my favorite books for a blog post at the end of the year.  I’m breaking that tradition in order to tell you about this fantastic book I just finished.

It’s brilliant, people.  If you’ve ever had an interest in growing fruit trees – lots of fruit trees – in your yard, but never thought you had enough room, this is the book you need.

book33I pre-ordered this on a whim, and it was delivered to my kindle last night, around bedtime.  I started reading it…and let’s just say I was late getting to bed.  I couldn’t put it down.

Everything you ever learned about growing and pruning fruit trees is wrong – and everything she says makes so much sense.

Totally going to get a peach tree this year…and a cherry…and a plum…oh yeah.  I love my espaliered pears and apples, but stone fruit don’t work well as espaliered trees (unless you fan-shape them, which I don’t care for, AND I’m running out of good espalier garden spots.)  I’m so excited to give this a try!