Happy Halloween! The Scariest Books I’ve Read this Year!


A little Halloween reading humor courtesy of the Far Side by Gary Larson

Happy Halloween! In honor of one of my favorite nights of the year, here is a list of some of the best spooky and scary books I have read this year…enjoy!

Ink and Bone (https://wp.me/p6N6mT-33S ) and In The Blood (https://wp.me/p6N6mT-34d ) both by a master of scary novels, Lisa Unger, were the two best thrillers I read this year. All of her novels are amazing, but these two kept me up at night. Highly recommended! Reviews of nearly all of Unger’s books can be found following the tag “Lisa Unger” on this site.

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (https://wp.me/p6N6mT-363 ) is a twisty, complicated, and extraordinarily well-written book about the dark relationship between two highly competitive women. Everything by Abbott is worth reading; reviews of several of her books can be found by clicking the “Megan Abbott” tag on this site.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich ( https://wp.me/p6N6mT-33s ) is a science-fiction dystopia in which evolution has been thrown off course and the future of humanity is in flux. Women who are of child-bearing age suddenly find themselves the property of the government, including the main character who seeks help from her Native American relatives.

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (https://wp.me/p6N6mT-35j ) is the first book in the Joona Linda series by this Swedish author. A serial killer is on the loose and a now-disgraced hypnotist might be the only person who can unlock secrets locked inside one of the surviving victims. Scary, fast-paced, and intense!

In The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (https://wp.me/p6N6mT-35g ) an agrophobe with a drug and alcohol problem witnesses a murder but has an almost impossible time getting anyone to take her seriously. The more she insists that she did witness a woman’s death, the more her own life is put in jeopardy.

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter (https://wp.me/p6N6mT-33V ) is a well-written legal thriller that has subtle echoes of The Crucible. Now a prominent lawyer, the main character  returns to her small town — facing an abusive father and high school bullies still holding a grudge — and stirs up a ton of trouble when she opens an investigation into a company that employs most of the town.


@ Far Side by Gary Larson


@ Far Side by Gary Larson




Harry Potter: My Favorite 7 Books of All Time!

harry potter 1 thru 7

This week, I am traveling to Florida for an amazing third visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. The park is an absolute marvel and a must-visit for any Harry Potter fan. The world so richly and vibrantly conjured by JK Rowling comes to life in exquisite detail: from the Cornish pasties at the the Leaky Caldron to a weeping Moaning Myrtle in the girls bathroom…and everything in between. Due to scheduling conflicts, this trip to WWHP will feature only my husband and I (the kiddos, poor things, will have to stay home with grandma and go to school) and I have to admit we are thrilled to get to explore the park with the drama that three boys can bring and the endless snacks they require!

WW of Harry Potter

In honor of the trip, I am posting some pictures from my previous trips to the park. Enjoy!

Tri Wizard Cup WWHP @ Uni

The Dragons Challenge roller coaster is now gone, but the walk through the ride was a trip into the TriWizard Cup!

hogwarts express

I cried the first time I stepped onto Platform 9 3/4. The ride on the train is a thrill: you become a student heading to Hogwarts along with all your favorite characters!


hogwarts below view

They built Hogwarts! Need I say more??!


They also build Gringotts, complete with a (spoiler) fire-breathing dragon on top.

October Family Movie Series!

Every October my family also commits to watching scary (or not-so-scary when my six-year-old is awake) movies on weekends throughout month. Since I received some great feedback when I blogged about our Summer Movies Series, I thought I would put a list of the movies we pull out year after year, and a few of the scary movies we have in the queue this year.

(Read about the summer movie recommendations here https://ivejustfinishedreading.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/summer-movie-series-a-family-quest/ )

For the entire family:

  • Hocus Pocus (this is scarier for some kids than others, but our family LOVES it!)
  • ET
  • Hotel Transylvania 1 and 2
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, Chamber of Secrets
  • Just Add Magic (Amazon original TV Series)
  • Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Disney 1930s) — find it on YouTube
  • Haunted Pumpkin of Sleepy Hollow — find it on YouTube
  • Spooky Buddies
  • Monsters Inc and Monsters University
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Werewolf
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks and Frankenstein
  • Casper (Disney)
  • Daffy Duck Quackbusters
  • Toy Story Terror (2013, TV special)
  • Curious George’s BooFest
  • Dreamworks Halloween Special
  • Its the Great Pumpkin Halloween Charlie Brown
  • Scooby Doo — All of the movies and episodes are great for Halloween, but some take place on the holiday. Try the movies Goblins King, Witch’s Ghost, Frankencreepy (also episodes “Headless Horseman” “Scarecrow, “Cornfield Clem” “To Switch a Witch”)

For older kids:

  • Monster House (this is PG but it scared my kids before they were 9)
  • Goosebumps (2015)
  • The Haunted Mansion (Disney movie with Eddie Murphy)
  • The Goonies — This movie is rated PG-13 but we let our kids watch it, even our youngest, but we do cover eyes during some scenes and there are a few sex references in the opening scenes.
  • Ghostbusters (PG13)
  • Beetlejuice (PG13)
  • Fun Size (PG13 , parents should watch first as it contains lots of relationship drama)

Some movies the adults are checking out this October:

  • The Cure for Wellness
  • Get Out
  • It (we are heading to the theater to catch the remake!)
  • The Sixth Sense (we always pick a few throwbacks!)
  • Psycho (have to include this amazing classic! plan to make our teen watch to see what a true horror film looks like!)
  • Ouija
  • The Conjuring
  • Friday the 13th (got watch at least one slasher flick!)
  • Scream (and for comparison Scary Movie) which we are watching with our teen, who is convinced he is ready for horror movies.
  • X-Files — so, so many great episodes to watch. Perfect for when we’re too tired for a whole movie, but you want to be scared!








Summer Movie Series — A Family Quest

hello sunshine

In our family, summer is a time to accomplish some serious reading. Yes, its true that we read all year long (a lot) and that reading is at the center of all of our down-time. But in the summer, all that glorious free-time beckons us to read, and read, and read…by the pool, at the beach, on car trips, on rainy days, during half-time at soccer games and boring stretches of baseball games and any other free moment that we can find.

While reading is a major part of our summer, we realized last year that it is a solitary past-time, one that we can only share occasionally. So we instituted a Summer Family Movie Series: a list of summer-themed movies that we can watch together (some just the adults) to be entertained and spend time together. We went on a quest to make a list of all of the movies we could think of that take place during the summer, or that for some inexplicable reason seem “summery,” and decided we would watch as many as possible during the summer…whenever the familiar refrain of “there’s nothing to do” was moaned, we would go to the list and watch one.

Our goal is not to watch them all, but to see as many as possible each year and to save these titles for summer viewing only. We find that their designation as summer movies that we don’t watch otherwise during the year make them seem more special.

I thought I would post a list of our favorite summer movies on the blog, and I would welcome suggestions from readers about their favorites that we might have missed.



  • The Parent Trap — both the original, which I love, and the Lindsay Lohan version, which my kids prefer.
  • Earth to Echo
  • The Sandlot
  • Holes
  • Aliens in the Attic
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Phineas and Ferb the Movie
  • Camp Rock
  • Teen Beach Party
  • Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
  • Cars and Cars 2
  • Finding Nemo and Finding Dory
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008 version)
  • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012 version)
  • Bedtime Stories
  • Field of Dreams (this can be a bit boring for very young kids, but baseball lovers of all ages will enjoy it.)
  • All of the feature-length Scooby Doo Movies. My husband and I loved the show as kids and my kids all love it now. We own many of these movies and they are on a heavy-rotation every summer. (Side note: Scooby Doo Camp Scare takes place in summer.) Some of our other favorites include: Scooby Doo and the Samurai Sword, Aloha Scooby Doo, Pirates Ahoy, Blue Falcon, and Big Top. A full list of these movies can be found here http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070492058/


  • Super 8
  • Forrest Gump
  • Jaws — our teen is really into scary movies, this might not be a good fit for all teens. (Don’t be fooled by it’s PG rating, it was released before PG-13 designations were created.)
  • Jurassic Park 1, 2, 3 and Jurassic World
  • Indiana Jones 1-4 (our family favorite remains Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Independence Day and Independence Day Resurgence
  • Fever Pitch
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (our favorite remains #1)
  • A League of Their Own

FOR ADULTS (clearly some are more low-brow then others, but still watchable, some others which I watch alone because my husband refuses)

  • Rear Window
  • Endless Summer
  • National Lampoons Vacation and European Vacation
  • Before Sunrise
  • Die Hard with Vengeance
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Point Break
  • The Great Outdoors
  • Summer Rental
  • Weekend at Bernies
  • 50 First Dates
  • The Bird Cage
  • Stand by Me
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Friday the 13th (and to a lesser degree, Sleep Away Camp)
  • Thelma and Louise
  • The Hangover and Bridemaids — these are not an official pairing, but they are both wild wedding comedies that we seem to watch back to back every summer… definitely not for kiddos!!

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson (1992)

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe


Not long before the holidays, a good friend and I were reminiscing about our long-ago adventures traveling (me) and living in (her) Europe. She immediately asked me if I had read Bill Bryson’s hilarious travelogue, Neither Here Nor There, about his experiences traveling all around Europe. I had not, although I am a huge fan of some of his other travel writing, most notably A Walk in the Woods (reviewed http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1du ), and so I picked a copy up at my library the next day.


The journey begins in Hammerfest, Norway.

Bryson starts his travels in January in the northern most point in Europe: Hammerfast, Norway, when his plans to spend a summer traveling across Europe are accelerated so that he can see the famed Aurora Borealis. From there, Bryson criss-crosses the continent of Europe, detailing along the way how Europe’s countries and cities each have their own idiosyncratic lifestyles…some Bryson finds charming, others he finds off-putting, but always described in hilarious detail.

Mostly traveling by train and bus, with an occasional plane ride added in when a quick change is required, Bryson stops in various cities throughout the continent and, while there, reflects on the city’s culture, people, food, and customs. His comments reflect both his American childhood and his unique perspective as a long-time resident of England; he uses these two points of view to better articulate each place’s similarities and differences for his readers. For those fans of A Walk in the Woods, you will be thrilled that Bryson includes anecdotes about his first trip through Europe in the 1970’s when he was accompanied by none other than Stephen Katz.

Blending history, geography, cultural criticism, and — of course — humor, Neither Here Nor There preserves a picture of Europe in the early 1990’s when the Iron Curtain had just been lifted and both Eastern and Western Europe — Europe and America — were all on the brink of forming new post-Cold War relationships. Bryson blends stories large (stories of cities rebuilding from the ashes of WW2) and small (stories of tiny hotel rooms with terrible service) in order to create a full picture of his travels.

In the final pages, readers find Bryson weary and homesick, visiting the chaotic and exhausting city of Istanbul, Turkey. While the author wraps up his journey, he reflects on the stark differences between the continents wealthiest country (Switzerland) and those countries with next to nothing (Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia); as well the the differences between northern Europe and the much more middle-eastern influenced southern city of Istanbul.

A wonderful book filled with humorous, insightful reflections on the European continent and its many diverse residents.


The journey ends in Istanbul, Turkey. (Blue Mosque shown here.)

Thanks for Thanksgiving!


I love Thanksgiving! It fills me which such an enormous sense of happiness to spend a day (or more) reflecting on all of the wonderful things I have to be thankful for and for enjoying a fun day (or more) with my extended family.


No matter where we are, it does not feel like Thanksgiving if the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is not on in the background!

In addition to all of the wonderful blessings in my life, I am so thankful to be embarking tomorrow on nine-day long Thanksgiving celebration. This year my husband, our sons, and I are all flying to Orlando, Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving with seventeen members of my family. We will be having a modified Thanksgiving meal, but we will also be spending time at Universal Studios Orlando, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Walt Disney World. Not to mention that our rental house has a heated pool, a game room, and a movie theater…just in case we run out of things to do together. What more could a family ask to be grateful for?


What a wonderful new tradition we are introducing for 2016…Thanksgiving with Harry Potter!

I feel extremely lucky that I love my family (and my in-laws) and our time together is generally drama-free and filled with funny movies, board games, and laughter-filled walks down memory lane. That does not mean, however, that it is not valuable to give some thought to ways to make the holiday happier before traveling to be with so many of my relatives (17!) and spending such a long time together (9 days!) in the same house.

Since many of you will be spending the upcoming holiday weekend with extended family members, I thought I should share a blog post from my beloved Happiness Guru, Gretchen Rubin, that shares some ideas about staying happy and stress-free when spending time with loved ones during the holidays:


Since I won’t have time to post to the blog until after the holiday, here is a re-post of my Thanksgiving “Thankfulness” blog from last year.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!


Originally posted November 25, 2015…

During this season of gratitude and reflection, I have been reading a lot from various writers in magazines, newspapers, blogs about the things they are most thankful for. These various stories have been heart-warming, tear-jerking, and humorous. In honor of Thanksgiving day, I thought I would try my hand at writing my own reflections. What follows are my thoughts on the many gifts — both large and small — that I am grateful to have been given in my life.

I am thankful for the start of the holiday season, my favorite time of year. All year I look forward to celebrating with feasts, decorations, lights, parties, and special outings with my family. I love roasting turkeys, decorating our Christmas tree, singing carols, and wrapping presents. I am thankful for all the families who send us beautiful Christmas cards, who invite us to holiday parties, who join us for sledding in the park.

I am thankful for the cooler weather, which brings my family together more, curled up under blankets reading books, watching holiday movies (or more often football) together, enjoying the tree lit up at night, or perhaps watching “Charlie Brown Christmas.” I am thankful my kids are still young enough to enjoy Charlie Brown!

I am thankful for our small, snug little house, which keeps the four most important people in my life safe and warm, day after day. I am thankful for our soft beds, our shelves full of books, souvenirs and picture albums. I am thankful for a kitchen filled with delicious healthy foods, where we share meals together every morning and night.

I am thankful for the town in which we live, with its great public schools and its beautiful nature preserve where we go almost everyday. I am thankful for our local library where my family has checked out thousands of books and attended hundreds of programs over the years. I am thankful to live close to some of my family. I am also thankful for our community swimming pool where we spend our summers, the the Six Flags amusement park where we go often to ride coasters and water slides.

I am thankful for my parents, who live nearby so that we see them often. I am thankful for their continued good health, their constant willingness to babysit, and their generosity towards my children, my husband and me. This year I am especially thankful for their Christmas gift to us all, a week-long stay at Universal Studios Orlando (Harry Potter World, here we come!)

I am thankful for my mother-in-law, who is always accommodating and naturally easy to please, who is happy in every circumstance. She travels hundreds of miles every fall to visit with us and to give my husband and me a priceless holiday gift, time off from the kids to take a small vacation for just the two of us.

I am thankful for my extended family of my siblings, their spouses, and my nieces and nephews. While we may be far flung and only see each other occasionally, I am thankful that our time together is not filled with drama (or not much) but with good humor and laughter and board games.

I am thankful for my three beautiful sons, for their strong, healthy bodies that help them hike, bike, run, climb trees, play sports, and swim all summer long. I am thankful for their smart minds, their love of school, their curiosity about the world around them. I am especially thankful that they share my love of reading and books; I get a thrill finding them all tucked in on the couch, each reading his own book. I am thankful that they are filled with joy during the holiday season, thrilled to take part in ice-skating parties, putting up Christmas lights, picking out gifts for their brothers to open on Christmas morning, and all of our other holiday traditions. I am thankful to hear their shouts as they join my husband in cheering on their favorite football team (Go Tigers and Ravens!) and their laughter while re-watching Home Alone for the 1000th time.

I am thankful for my wonderful, loving husband who has been the very best partner for the past 15 years of marriage. I am thankful to be able share the joy of raising our children together and our pride in the family we have become. I am thankful for his patience, his calm nature, his kindness, his sense of humor, his willingness to let me sleep in (and even wear earplugs during sleepovers). I am thankful for how hard he works at two jobs to provide a life of comfort and security for our family and so that I may stay home with our children while they are young. I am thankful for our shared love of books, of long runs, of delicious meals, and of early bedtimes! I am thankful that he shares my love of the holiday season, and that we get equal joy out of all our holiday traditions. Selfishly, I am also grateful that is he a wonderful gift-giver, who makes sure that I have wonderful, unique gifts to open on Christmas morning, which makes me feel like a kid when I go to sleep on Christmas Eve.

I am thankful for the friends in my life, who share books, parenting advice, and laughter. The women who provide me with company and conversation at play dates and soccer games, and who share the hilarity and stress of raising kids. I am thankful for my book clubs for sharing my love of reading and for my workout partners who never fail to call me to meet them for Pilates or a run. I am also thankful for my friends who live far away, many who I have not seen in years, but who still take the time to email, text, and chat with me so we do not lose touch.

I am thankful for my own health, for a strong body that runs and hikes many miles each year, that keeps up with three active kids, that allows me to lift weights, do yoga, and lets me sleep deeply every night. I am thankful that I was able to give birth easily to three healthy babies, then was able to nurse them all. (Let me add here, that I am thankful for the amazing midwives who assisted me through those births, and my husband who never left my side.) I am thankful that I have the stamina, energy and optimism to live the life I want for myself.

I am thankful for these things, and so much more.

Happy Thanksgiving 2015



In addition to our tradition of watching the parade, we always have a family-wide screening of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. When the kids are in bed, the adults all watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.