Thursday, February 28, 2013

February in review

February is the shortest month of the year, but I don't think it has ever gone by quicker than it did this year. All of a sudden I have a 15-month-old and tomorrow it will be March. I'm taking off to Florida for a few days of "mom time," without the husband or the child, so hopefully that means lots of uninterrupted reading time (and only a tiny bit of panicking on my part).

The numbers:

15 read
14 fiction
1 non-fiction
5 YA
2 MG

Favorites of the month:

I still only managed to complete 1 non-fiction book, but I have three in the works. Does that count? Book polygamy at it's finest.

I'm really impressed with how I'm keeping up with all the books these past couple of months and am just hoping the rest of the year looks the same. If I can read 15 books a month all year, I might just make a dent in the forever-long TBR. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The House Girl...and a giveaway!

Lina Sparrow, an up-and-coming lawyer at a prestigious firm is handed a case that quickly takes over her life. Lina is sent on the search for the perfect client to head a lawsuit that could potentially bring reparations to descendants of slaves. A whole lot of dollars are at stake and Lina becomes obsessed with the case.

In alternating chapters, we meet Josephine, a 17-year-old slave in Virginia. She serves her ill mistress as a nurse, while battling incredibly heavy burdens for someone so young and planning her way to be free before ending up

Years later, Lina learns about Josephine's story through the case she's researching and the way the past and the present collide is pretty spectacular. The way Lina learns bits and pieces of Josephine's story is believable and definitely made me want to keep reading. 

There's really something for everyone in this novel -- art, history, mystery, and solid characters who each have their own significance. All of the "minor" characters had a vital role, which made for intense reading and the plot was unique in the midst of many slave stories.

If you'd like your own copy of The House Girl, just leave a comment on this post by midnight EST on Friday 3/1. Tell me your favorite recent read! US/Canada only please.

If you're interested, you can find the rest of the tour stops here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pete the Cat in Easy Reader format??

It's quite possible I'm just late to the party on this one, but did everyone else know that Pete the Cat was being turned into Easy Reader stories? I'm so thrilled about this! 

Pete's Big Lunch and Play Ball! showed up at my house last week and I just might have done a little dance around my kitchen. I'm a huge fan of the Pete the Cat picture books and have gifted them to my nephews each time a new one has come out. Well, now both of those boys are getting ready to read themselves and these new ones will be the perfect level for them. I think the folks at HarperCollins were reading my mind.

Each story is told in typical Pete fashion, with his too-cool-for-life expressions and "don't sweat the small stuff" attitude. These two books each contain a subtle message, but neither are at all heavy-handed. In Play Ball! the reader learns about trying his or her best and being cheerful whatever the result. In Pete's Big Lunch, the story is all about sharing (and a little about gross food concoctions) -- great for this age level of new-to-school kids. 

The two books I received are both at a "My First Reading" level are going to be great companions to the previous Pete the Cat books. If you've yet to read any of the books in the series, you definitely should try them out -- so fun!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Sky Beneath My Feet

Though I love to read Christian non-fiction, I've always had a hard time finding great fiction by Christian authors that didn't come across as too sweet and preachy. I don't mind necessarily getting a "lesson" out of a book, but I don't like feeling like I'm being taught something. I just want a good story, like I'd get in a mainstream fiction book. 

Lisa Samson has always been able to suck me into her books and keep me hooked until the last page. This latest one features Beth and Rich, a couple that find themselves in the midst of a crazy emotional roller coaster that doesn't seem to want to let up and is very much a mirror of a lot of our lives: crazy, scary, and sometimes hilarious.

Rich is a pastor at a very large church and when given a sabbatical, he decides to hide out in the backyard, rather than taking a trip to the beach with the rest of the family, as Beth would like to do. Rich claims he needs to spend time with only God, to try to figure out his life -- which apparently requires living in a shed. 

This throws Beth into her own tailspin, as she thinks her husband has lost his mind and she isn't entirely sure how to deal with that. She doesn't like what he's doing to their family and certainly doesn't understand it. She acts and reacts like any real real woman would. I loved that about Beth. She's a pastor's wife, but she's real and doesn't put on the show of perfection that so many do. 

I love Samson's easy writing and her characters are both deep and humorous at the same time. I definitely took something away from this book (look at my own faults before pointing out someone else's) and I've already handed my copy off to a friend. Two thumbs up for Samson's latest!

Thank you to Book Sneeze for the review copy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Secrets of Happy Families

Let's face it...we all need help with our families on occasion. I found a lot of useful tips in Feiler's book, both ones I can apply now and ones I'll keep hidden in that deep, dark brain place for when we need a little fine tuning down the road. 

For this blog tour, we were asked to take one of the chapter suggestions, implement it in our own family life, and report back on the results. It was hard to choose a chapter, honestly. After reading the book, I really enjoyed Feiler's blunt writing style and I probably could have chosen several. In the end, Chapter 8 is what I went with: "What's Love Got to Do With It." 

In Chapter 8, Feiler writes about "a simple test that saved millions of families." He was inspired by the book and encourages his readers to check it out. Aaron and I took the Five Love Languages test back before we got married. We read the bestselling book by Gary Chapman and took, the test, determining our individual love language and how we can best serve each other using the guidelines with each love language. 

So, we first did this test 6 years ago now and it definitely did produce amazing results in understanding how each of our brains worked and what left us fulfilled. I figured this was an excellent opportunity to see if our love languages had changed and if we were still doing what was best for the other spouse. 

"Dr. Chapman calls these different styles of expressing and receiving affection 'the five love languages.'

1. Words of affirmation. Using compliments and expressions of appreciation, like 'You are the best husband in the world' or 'I admire your optimism.'

2. Gifts. Bringing flowers, leaving love notes, or buying tokens of affection.

3. Acts of service. Doing something for your partner you know he or she would like you to do, like washing dishes, walking the dog, or changing a diaper.

4. Quality time. Giving your partner your undivided attention by turning off the the television, sharing a meal, or taking a walk. 

5. Physical touch. Holding hands, putting your arm around your partner, or tussling your partner's hair.' 

(pgs 152-153)

Mine is easy. Last time I was Acts of Service and I am most definitely still Acts of Service. If Aaron does the dishes when it's my turn or mows the lawn without a reminder, I'm practically swooning. That is easily my love language. His? Words of Affirmation. Was and is. 

A reread of this book was a great eye-opener for us once again and helped to remind each of us that we should be constantly working on our family, rather than waiting for trouble to eventually brew. 

At the end of the chapter, Feiler also suggest a few of his own methods of bettering your marriage, including putting yourself first, rethinking date night, and double-dating. Though, we haven't had the chance (or budget really) this month to go out, we are really looking forward to trying out the double-date thing. It would be great to have a night out and adult conversation with friends. Less chance of talking about only Elliott that way. 

Whether you're a new family just starting out or a family that has grown over many years, Bruce Feiler is speaking to you in his book. Well, at least he was speaking to me! It was a quick read and filled with useful tips. 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for asking me to participate! Check out the other stops on the tour here -- it's going to be fun to see what tips other tour participants chose to follow. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Madman's Daughter

Juliet has believed her father has been dead for years. After his scandal rocked London and her father disappeared (presumed dead), Juliet and her mother were left without anything. Then Juliet's mother died of consumption and the poor girl was orphaned and penniless. She began working as a maid and managed to survive on her own, though always wondering if she were meant for the life she was living. 

After a crazy series of events, Juliet ended up on a boat (with a very handsome man from her past) headed to an island where her father is living -- indeed alive and apparently still up to the deeds that brought scandal upon his family. When she arrived, Juliet is thrust into the world her father created on the island, whether she wants to be or not. Though she wants to love her father and know him, she doesn't understand him, his reasoning for what he does, and quickly realized that he cannot be trusted. 

Gothic mystery, love triangle, super scary scenes. I loved it!

Though I've never read H.G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau," -- the book this story was based on -- I can only imagine that the creep factor is incredibly high. Shepherd's story gave me goosebumps more than once and was perfect reading for these cold winter days. Sometimes I just need a creepy, dark story to pass the time at night and this one hit the spot. 

I'm really looking forward to reading more from Shepherd. Her writing style is beautiful and engrossing and though I did feel the plot dragged a tad bit at the end, I truly felt like I was on the island with Juliet, experiencing events as she experienced them. The setting was amazing and both gorgeous and horrifying at the same time. 

I was able to see Megan Shepherd speak on a YA panel at Hooray for Books! a couple of weeks ago and she shared that the two other books in this trilogy will also be based on gothic classics. Fun! Or creepy, whatever. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fitness Friday: A scary experience

It's been so long since I've written up a Fitness Friday post, but I really haven't had a lot to share. With the winter months in full swing, I've been getting outside to run on occasion -- when it's not absolutely freezing or raining or sleeting -- and still doing free weights at home. My weight has dropped a few more pounds, but it's definitely going to be slow-going until spring is upon is. I did, however, want to share an experience I had on Tuesday evening, and encourage all of you to be as safe as possible when choosing to exercise outdoors.

My only time to run right now is after Aaron gets home from work and on the weekends. During the summer and fall I would go out almost every weeknight at about 6:30 and stay out for an hour. Now, I head out around 6:15 and am out for about a half hour. I don't mind running in the dark, as my neighborhood has always been safe,  very well-lit, and fairly busy. Lots of traffic, both foot and vehicle, so I've never felt alone or unsafe. 

On Tuesday night, I was followed by a man in a large, dark SUV.

He followed me for about 20 minutes, making it very obvious what he was doing, until I made my way home. I noticed him about a 1/2 mile from my house and his behavior was definitely strange and after making a few quick turns and the SUV whipping around to quickly change direction, I had proven he was indeed following ME and I got home as quickly as I could. The whole time I had my phone in his hand, ready to call 911 if I felt he was going to do something other than freaking me out. 

He parked the vehicle in front of my neighbor's house, waiting for me to once again run past him, but I turned up my driveway and yelled for Aaron to come get his plate. The guy saw Aaron, took off with tires squealing, and Aaron went after him in our truck. Got the plate # and a description of both the vehicle (the whole time the guy was following me, I was attempting to pretend I didn't notice him, so I didn't get any info), and the guy inside. Police were called, report filed. 

The kicker? The vehicle the guy was in had a stick figure family on the back window. He's a dad. Creep. 

I'm totally freaked out that he knows where I live and other than that, just angry that my only time to run is now not a safe time. Until spring, when it stays lighter later,  I'll be sticking to weekend runs... it stinks, but at least I ended up safe and sound at home. 

PLEASE be vigilant while running or walking outside, whether at night or not. I wear headphones, but when it's dark I keep one out of my ear and my music or audiobook turned very low. I wear bright colors, I take the same route every single time and let Aaron know where I'll be. I have my phone on me. I stay away from the quieter neighborhoods and darker streets. Be safe. Some people are just crazy. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Me Before You review

What better book to talk about on Valentine's Day than a love story that brought me to tears? Because, really, all great love stories result in me sobbing. It's true. 

 Me Before You introduces us to a the Lou, a daughter, sister, girlfriend, and waitress at a cafe with a rather predictable, monotonous life. She's not entirely satisfied with how she is living, but she enjoys her job and loves her crazy family very much. Her boyfriend isn't that bad either and she knows she has it better than a lot of people. A strange manner of thinking, no?

When Lou finds herself unemployed after the sale of her beloved cafe, she mopes around for awhile, eventually finding employment at the wealthy home of Will Traynor, an active man left a quadriplegic after a terrible accident. Will is depressed, angry, confrontational, and completely obnoxious. Lou is his new companion -- totally out of her comfort zone and terrified of her new charge. She has no idea what she's doing and Will is definitely not any help. 

What starts off as incredibly rocky relationship morphs into the quirkiest of love stories. Will and Lou create a strange, but completely plausible sort of love/hate relationship while the reader gets to witness the miracles of love, friendship, companionship, and loyalty play out on the pages. Lou has this brightness to her that brings a light to Will's world, though whether or not it's enough light to fully open his eyes to his new life ends up being the ultimate question. 

I'm not a fan of love stories in general, but this is definitely not the average romance novel. In fact, it was recommended to me by the wonderful Jenn, who is a self-proclaimed hater of romance novels. If you're skeptical, pick it up anyways and let me know what you think! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Yesterday's Sun review

Holly and her husband Tom have just moved into their dream house in the country. Part of Holly's five-year-plan, the home is something they've looked forward to, almost in disbelief that it's real. While renovating the house, Holly comes across a strange glass orb, placing it in the backyard garden as decoration. The orb turns out to be a moondial that enables Holly to glimpse her future --  a future that shows Tom with their future child, grieving over Holly's death in childbirth. 

The task of changing the future is incredibly overwhelming and Holly isn't even sure that she should mess with what could just be her fate. It's a crazy dilemma and one we have to watch Holly wrestle with throughout the story. She wants a child and wants to give her husband a child, but knowing what she knows about her own life, the decision is most definitely a difficult one. 

A fantastical story of time travel, mixed with the realism of a wife wanting to stop the grief of her husband, yet give life to her beautiful daughter. An intriguing concept!

I'm the first stop on the tour for Yesterday's Sun. Check out tomorrow's post over at Luxury Reading

Monday, February 11, 2013

Books about love to share

We're not big on Valentine's Day in our house ((commercialism and all that), but that doesn't mean we don't like to celebrate the season of love with a few special books. 

We've had more than a few books on loving each other come our way in the past few months, but these are the two Elliott has really gravitated towards. They've moved into the daily reading rotation and they're ones I actually enjoy reading over and over again. Definitely can't say that about every book we read.

A Kiss Means I Love You by Kathryn Madeline Allen and photographer Eric Futran is our new favorite book to read each night before putting E to bed. He really loves the close-up photographs of kids showing different emotions and types of body languages and I liked the quick bit of rhyming text that allows for quick page turns. With a 14-month-old we can't linger on the pages or he's over the book in about 3 seconds. 

The photos are excellent and really convey the emotion they're exhibiting on each page. It's going to be a great resource in teaching body language and how we use our faces to show how we're feeling. A new gem for our bookshelves and a great pick for librarians and teachers looking for toddler story time reads. Large page spreads and one sentence text makes for a great story time book for this age level. 

A Kiss Like This by Mary Murphy is just one of those cute books you don't mind reading over and over, (much like Murphy's I Kissed the Baby that we loved so much a couple of months ago). Each page spread features a pair of animals giving each other smooches, requiring the reader to lift a flap to see exactly how it's done. Giraffe kisses are tall, bee kisses are fuzzy and buzzy, etc. 

Elliott loves anything with a flap, but he especially loves Murphy's illustrations. He traces his finger down the elephant trunk and around the fish fins -- so adorable! It's a great book for one-on-one time with your kids, especially at this time of the year. (Elliott likes the mouse kisses best of all)

Thanks to Albert Whitman and Candlewick for the review copies!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

Every once in a great while, a book comes along that change the way I view my life and how I've been living it. The latest book to do that was 7 by Jen Hatmaker. Now, I'm sure the author didn't mean for her book to leave me blubbering in tears, but she took a few thoughts and emotions that I'd been battling with for a long time and put them into actual words -- a feat that I never thought could be accomplished -- and, as a result, I'm making a few positive changes, despite the difficulty in doing so. 

Hatmaker basically identified 7 key areas of excess within her family's lifestyle and addressed each of those areas over a period of 7 months, drastically attempting to reduce their food, clothing, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress. Obviously some areas were much more difficult than others, but the experiment was amazing in showing how most people in the world might live compared to how many of us live every day and just how wrong that is. 

I think, as Americans, we often forget that most of the world lives in extreme poverty, without access to 15 pairs of shoes in their closet, an overflowing pantry, and e-readers and iPads. Hatmaker's writing is incredibly eye-opening, not just as a reminder of the blessings we have, but also as to what is really wrong with the way many of us think and feel we are "entitled" to for working hard every day. 

I've been committed to reducing our "excess" for the few months after reading The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. I've been slowing reducing the amount of clothing in my closet and extra "stuff" I've been holding onto for years, convinced that it will be of use at some point. Donating those things to people in need felt great, but what was more important was the weight I felt lifted after getting rid of the mindset that I need tangible items to feel happy. Hatmaker helps to expand upon that thought by explaining why God is where our focus should be and not on the extra. The people with nothing should be our focus rather than trying to figure out where to take our next vacation or whether we should get an e-reader in addition to our iPad. 

She also talks about the power of the churches we attend and how that coincides with our feelings on excess. This topic was the most heart-stopping to me out of the entire book. Since living here, we've attended a church that we really like, but have never fallen in love with and I could never pinpoint exactly why. When people would ask us what we loved about our church, I often only had one answer: "the worship music is AMAZING." While great worship music is all well and good, there should be a deeper answer and we are absolutely not getting that where we currently are.

Hatmaker talks about the concept of a "barefoot" church and now Aaron and I are once again on the search for a new place with that very concept in mind. I want a barefoot church, free of excess, focusing on the right things and one that "gets the point" as Hatmaker says. It's very emotional to move on after all this time, but I'm so very thankful to the author for finally opening my eyes to what was wrong with our thinking and our actions. 

Even if you are not a Christian and aren't looking for a big spiritual revelation, I highly recommend picking up this book. It gives excellent tips on reducing excess in these 7 key areas and I cannot say enough how good it feels to do some of these things. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Stitch Fix box #2

In January, I shared with you all how I joined Stitch Fix and had such a great reception to the post, I thought I should probably share what I had in my second box. I was even happier with this box and I can tell the stylists have definitely browsed my Pinterest boards and read up on my likes and dislikes, because I loved almost every item in the box -- definitely made for hard choosing when it came time to purchase!

In this box, I got a great pair of skinny jeans, a gorgeous bird-print top, a belted shirt-dress, a black cowl top, and a gray star-print scarf. It was such a perfect box. Some of the items were a little out of my  comfort zone (uhhh... skinny jeans??), but that's why I love this company. They pick out items that will fit your body and are actually stylish. A person can only wear so many bootcut jeans and cardigans. And you can see up on the left there in the photo how they send small cards with outfit ideas on them. Incredibly helpful!

The black top was really hard to photograph. It was very form-fitting and the cowl hung very low. It was a bit too clingy for me, as I still have some body work to do, but it was cute! The dress was beautiful and would look so cute with cowboy boots and a jean jacket or just some cute flats. It hit a little higher above the knee than I would prefer, but it was certainly still decent. The print was beautiful.

I will admit I was totally afraid of the jeans. I never thought I had the body type to be able to pull off skinny jeans, so I've never even tried them on. A girl with a "full" bottom half and super-short legs couldn't possibly look cute in these jeans right? So wrong I was. I fell in love with them the minute I put them on! They were comfortable and fit perfectly. 

I ended up keeping the bird-print top, which was both flattering and adorable, and the jeans. I OWN SKINNY JEANS. Wore them to church today with the top and had several people tell me they loved my top. Compliments are such fun!

Since I kept 2 items this time around, I probably won't get another fix for a couple of months, but I'll be sure to share the treasure box when it comes next time. If you're interested in signing up for this amazzzzzzing style program, here's the info:
The details: 

-Head over to Stitch Fix and sign up for an invite. It may take awhile, but I received mine in less than a week. 

-Schedule your Fix. It costs $20 to get a fix box sent to your house. If you decide to purchase something out of the box, the $20 is credited towards that item(s). You're basically paying for someone to hand-pick items for you and ship both ways. All of that is free if you buy an item. A pretty amazing deal, I think. 

-If you like it all, keep it all and they'll charge you for it all (and give you 25% off the entire box). Sending stuff back? Pop it in the postage-paid envelope within 3 days and they charge you only for what you keep, minus your $20 fee. 

-The style profile you fill out is crazy detailed. Everything from height/weight/hair color to picking from inspiration boards as to what you like and don't like. It's awesome. You can also link your Pinterest account to your Stitch Fix account and they'll check out your Style boards to get a better idea of outfits you like. 

-You can get a Fix monthly or just once-in-awhile, which I love. If it's not in your budget to get a box every month, you don't have to. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

January in review

Every year, in December, I kick myself for not doing monthly wrap-up posts. I like to do yearly wrap-ups and it takes a lot of work when not keeping track of numbers and favorites throughout the year. Changing that starting now.

January was AMAZING for reading. Friends, I read 17 books. I haven't read that many books since May 2011 (and even then I only read 15). That was before Elliott was here, while I still had lots of time on my hands and far less activities during the week. I still can't believe it. 

Part of this awesome number I can attribute to great books. They kicked me out of the reading slump I ended 2012 with. The other part is, I think, because of my newfound peace and calm in my daily life. I've become better organized with cleaning schedules and meal planning and the activities we do and I feel better about sitting down and relaxing. 

So, the numbers.

17 read
15 Fiction
2 Non-Fiction
7 YA
1 MG

Favorites of the month (images link to Goodreads):

More Non-Fiction next month. I have a pile here waiting to be read!