Category Archives: stanza from my life

Books (and Movies) I’m Watching for Christmas Reading Challenge/Myself

Christmas Reading and Viewing List is Here! PROGRESS UPDATE 01/17/19 

How is it December 16th already? Wasn’t I just saying how November flew? I planned to cut down on my work load and try to relax and rejuvenate for December. I was sure I was headed toward that goal. For once, I was determined to do the Christmas Reading Challenge that my friend Michelle, at The True Book Addict, hosts every year! Alas, some work came in, we needed the money, and so that, coupled with a busy early December of long after school and weekend choir practices and concerts  and activities for my two girls, and some other life issues, has made the first half of December move like a flash. No reading on my Christmas books yet, but we have watched a few Hallmark movies (my girls love them). However, I am still determined, I will just make the most of the second two weeks of December instead, which is perfectly made for some self-care time. Also, if you’d like to sign-up, please join us anytime, just go to the link above.

xmas spirit challenge

That said, I had already pulled out some of my personal Christmas books from my shelves to peruse and also I put on hold a slew for myself, and me and the girls, from one of our local libraries and they’ve all come in – the last one yesterday. So I guess it’s better late than never right? I’m going to share my list of “proposed reads” for me and the girls. Though I am sure the girls will get theirs done, I’ll have to let you know how many I actually make it through.

The good news for me is that these last two weeks will hopefully truly be some down time for reading and watching movies with my family as we celebrate the holidays. Other good news for me, but maybe not for reading, is that after over two months of not seeing my son (he’s eight hours away in college in D.C.) I finally get to road trip to pick him up on Dec.. 21! That could mean passenger time reading, unless I fall asleep which I am known to do, but it also will mean a lot of my free time will be spent with him too.

(*Note: To those who I am reading and reviewing for, my Christmas reading has nothing to do with your books. This is for pleasure and I often read more than one book at a time. I will certainly get to yours as soon as I can if not over the holidays, then in the first of January. Though I appreciate and am excited to read your books, and have a lot of catching up to do from a busy work year, I earned this down time to rejuvenate my mind, soul, and spend with my kiddos.*)

I’ll just provide my proposed list of book here and I’ll update later any completed (Christmas only) reads. I may only get to one of them (I hope more) – but I know the girls will have theirs read! I’ll also update what movies we watched! Stay tuned!

Merry Bookish Christmas!

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Christmas Read List

Progress Update 01/17/19 – We didn’t get to all of these on our lists, but the ones we did will have asterisks (*) and comments beside them!

The books are pictured above, minus those the girls are reading. Some I checked out from the library and some I own (and some I own because I bought at one of the library book sales haha!). Note I have an obsession with Charles Dickens and The Christmas Carol (which isn’t pictured here but will be read!).

*Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva – This is one of my most anticipated reads of the season and if I finish any I want it to be this one!* (Update: This was a great fun historical fiction read for the holidays or anytime really I suppose.)

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak – Probably doesn’t seem like normal Christmas reading fare, but it takes place in winter during Christmastime in Russia. I’ve always wanted to read it.

Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson – I read one of these stories in here and loved it and I can’t wait to read the rest. Maybe one for each of the twelve days!

The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell – I love David’s writing. It’s so much fun that he turned a spy classic into a fun holiday novel.

Home in Time for Christmas by Heather Graham – Heather always brings either a bit of romance to the holidays or a bit to thrill or scare you, either way she’s one of the best!

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie – What more can I say, I love her books! There is nothing better than reading her by candlelight especially if Poirot is on the case!

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak – This was a new book I found sounded light and interesting about a family over the holidays.

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol Rescued his Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford – Enough said? I love Dickens and The Christmas Carol. Will probably read the original story too. I bet Nassem will read this one when he gets home.

12 Days at Bleakly Manor: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas Book One by Michelle Griep – I love the cover on this one. Looks pretty good – 1850s Manor Home! Also a short read.

Inventing Scrooge: The Incredible True Story Behind Dickens’ Legendary
‘A Christmas Carol’
by Carlo Devito

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer – I like some of her books and thought this looked like a good Christmas escape with its mystery and humor.

St. Nicholas Anthology, edited by Henry Steele Commager – I own this and it’s one of my important Christmas book keepsakes! It contains the best of St. Nicholas, a magazine for boys and girls published at the turn of the century. Included stories, poems, and original illustrations. (This is pictured as the last book in the stack)

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – As celebrated on Christmas Eve in the Chapel of King’s College Cambridge in text form (90 year old service adapted after WWI and broadcast on BBC) with beautiful illustrations and photographs. I love this – it’s very interesting but I haven’t gotten through all of it yet. It has a companion CD of the carols, hymns, and lessons. (Of note, I got this at our used book store, Ashland Books.)

*Yes, Virginia! – It’s tradition that the kids and I read this every year as we trim our tree with our Yes, Virginia ornaments we’ve collected at Macy’s over the years. We love this bit of nostalgia and even as the girls are 15 and 11 now, they still ask to watch the movie and read the picture book. I love this. I hope that one day they continue on her tradition with their children! (Update: The kids and I read this and watched the movie together as always. A delight for us!)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Simply my favorite book of the season. A classic! As well as the movies – George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, and Muppet Versions as my favorites.

Emma’s Reads (Age 15) –

*Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz – Emma completed this in one night after she got it from the library! I’ll have her write up a little review. (Update: Emma very much enjoyed this one and read it in one night!)

*My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, Stephanie Perkins Editor – She was excited for this one. She read the summer version earlier this year. (Update: Emma finished this one too and really enjoyed the stories – highly recommended!)

*What Light by Jay Asher (Update: Emma has read this one twice. She loves it and he’s one author that’s a must-read for her)

Addie’s Reads (Age 11) –

When Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke


A movie and show list to come later of what we’ll watch or have watched, with traditional favorites included:

*The Great British Baking Show Holiday Edition (Update: We so enjoyed!!)
George Balantine’s The Nutcracker
*The Man Who Invented Christmas
(Update: I watched with Nassem while he was home and we adored this movie. We love anything Dickens and this one didn’t disappoint!)
Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas

*Peanuts Christmas (Update: Love love this tradition so of course we watched!)
Rise of the Guardians
*Muppet Christmas Carol (Update: So busy at Christmas we watched afterwards. We had to rent it and so we did so a few days before taking my son back to college as a family movie. We left always as we do with a tear and singing the songs!)
A Christmas Carol
*How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Update: Another annual must watch we love – never gets old, does it? This was the cartoon version – the original)
*Rudolph, Frosty,
etc. (Update: We watched Rudolph and as a tradition, Jack Frost. I don’t know why all of us love that one best, but we do. No matter our age. The songs are still stuck in our head. Beautiful story.)

And maybe without the kids, Krampus!

Already Watched:

The Princess Switch on Netflix. The girls and I loved it!
Lots of The Great Christmas Light Fight. We love lights!

I’ll keep updating here on this page, and might have some other Christmas posts, so check back in! DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS BOOKS OR FILMS? NEW ONES TO TRY? OR ANY BOOKS YOU WILL READ ON A RELAXING DAY TO WIND DOWN THE YEAR? Let me know in the comments!


In the meantime, check out these review from past years of holiday titles!

Don’t Call Me Christina Kringle by Chris Grabenstein 

Christmas Wrap-up from 2016 Reviewing Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chaiverini, The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge, The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, and a SLEW of children’s picture books as my kids and I read one a day!

Expanded Review of Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge



Filed under Book Announcements, Feature Articles, New Books I've Found, Other blogs, Read-a-Thons, stanza from my life

Stanzas from My Life: A Weekend Full of Art, Books, and Pizza

In the effort to keep adding content here among my sporadic reviews, interviews, and writerly book news, and to add substance to who I am besides my mostly work and writing related social media updates, I thought I’d add something I used to do more here when the kids were smaller – actual updates from my/our life journey! I thought it would give a better glimpse into my dailly or weekend life. Maybe I can call the series Stanzas from My Life, so welcome to the first of what I hope is many I remember to make time to do.

Though I answered and coordinated work publicity items sporadically this weekend and wrote a few things, and it’s the dreaded Monday and back to work for us, school for the  kids, and weekday madness, I did make some time to enjoy life this weekend off the grid so I thought I’d share a glimpse into my life.

Friday night we took our daughters to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland for the opening night of a very special exhibit of acclaimed New York-based painter and environmental activist Alexis Rockman called Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle. This exhibit has been making it rounds among MOCA’s around the Great Lakes, to showcase not only the beauty and life in our wonderful fresh water lakes, but also how climate, environment, and industry affect them.


Photo from MOCA Cleveland Website

As the Lake Erie, and the Great Lakes, hold a special place with me, I was excited to go. Though we all enjoyed it, we were thrilled for our 15 year old daughter to see where her artistic talents (and a love of painting) could mix with her scientific interests in being a marine scientist or biologist as well and I must say she was absorbed in the moment. I relish the times she herself is inspired to paint and draw scenes from Lake Erie, and now, I think she’ll see even more with her curious eye. As for me, oh of course, there are always art and writing “a – ha” moments too. I may write more on this in another post, but if you’re interested in the exhibit it’s there until January (first Saturdays of the month are free) and you can also read more in this article from the New York Times about the exhibit (you can also see photos of some of his paintings).


Portion of one of the Large Mural Alexis Rockman Paintings shown at MOCA Cleveland / Photo used from NYT Article linked above

We had planned to hopefully do our annual apple picking and autumn fun activities the other weekend days, but by the time we were ready to head out it looked like rain was coming (and so it did) and the chill moving in fast so we made some adjustments.

Saturday afternoon and evening we took the girls back to downtown Cleveland to the beautiful Cleveland Public Library for their book sale and we each nabbed a few book treasures from several different genres. We always have to do SOMETHING bookish don’t we?? It was worth braving the heavy winds and pelting rain coming in off Lake Erie while running a block to the front door (on street parking) yet not as graceful as Mary Poppins there and back and if I’d had an umbrella it would have turned inside out. The Cleveland Public Library is one of the most historically decadent libraries inside and I’ve liked to stay longer again –  next time – and a longer post introducing you to it.


Cleveland Public Library at Night / Photo from Trip Savvy Website

Heading across the bridge out of downtown Cleveland toward Lakewood, the fog and rain was really taking over, and looking out my passenger side window I could see Lake Erie crashing waves upon rocks, industry vessels, docked boats, and turning on her inner witch from the storm. For some reason, though I’d have preferred a crisp, sunny autumn day and clear evening, I love seeing her power at times like this.

We warmed up with pizza at the fairly famous Cleveland-area stop Angelo’s Lakewood, which has stellar Mediterranean pizza, full of fresh buffalo mozzarella, roma tomatoes, spinach, red peppers, black olives and all on a deep dish crust.

Medt pizza Angelos

Known for being a beloved stopping spot for Tom Hanks (who once interned at the Great Lakes Theater Company) and Drew Carey (who grew up in Cleveland), it’s hopping and does have a wait but it’s totally worth it if you’re traveling near the city. The breadsticks are some of the best I’ve tasted and we had pizza so yummy we didn’t want to quit eating and wonderful smiles and conversations with our daughters. We hope to go back for dessert such as buckeye pie or banana pudding, with a Kahlua coffee, or one of their decadent Fall martinis or drinks (sans my children on the last order)!


If you are near Cleveland, there are so many things to see and do. To me, it’s one of the best cities out there with arts and culture and I revel in its history and energy.

Sunday I relaxed a little and after first starting to watch a week ago Friday we were able to find time to move past episode two of The Haunting Of Hill House on Netflix based on the novel of the same name by one of my most loved authors, Shirley Jackson. It’s so so so good and I had been dying to watch more. Are you watching? Not only is Shirley Jackson one of my female writer role models and inspirations with  my own writing, and I love her work, I also think this TV series is EXCELLENT for so many reasons. While we were watching (and crying and getting goosebumps – episode five wrecked me!!!), we could smell wafts of pumpkin or spice or both coming from the kitchen. We found my 15 year old had made delicious pumpkin bread for all of us! NOM! She’s earned even more points with me.


As Sunday night came to a close for the family, I sat alone in the dark, house quiet, feeling really grateful and content for my family and finally some family time this weekend!! We’ve been working so hard between work and activities (our 15 year old has been so committed to cross country and working on her running not to mention her studies and symphonic choir and our 11 year old with her interests and dedication to school as well). I often work day and night during the week, but many times on weekends too when editing projects are due.

The perfect end was my notoriously independent cat just jumping up on me purring, tucking his face under my neck and snuggling. I reflected and rejuvenated a little with his help of keeping me still before heading back to answer a few work e-mails and make my to-do list for the work week. I think it’s a plan to find a better balance between work and rest for me now…

…and I love this time of year! Isn’t there just something about it?

I’ll be back soon with some late reviews, some interviews, and some articles by some wonderful authors, and more. Stay tuned!

#weekendcomplete #StanzasFromMyLife

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