Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reading with Elliott: More Picture Books!

I thought a great post to get back in the swing of things would be sharing with Elliott and I have been enjoying lately. He's still wanting to read dozens of books a day and we've received some new ones that we both have loved. 

Two books that are helping us to think about this never-ending winter being over:

Nest by Jorey Hurley is a beautiful introduction to a bird's life. The text was sparse, letting the gorgeous illustrations tell the story from popping out of their eggs to learning to fly and eventually seeing the next generation build a nest. 

I've used this one to talk about birds and their homes, pointing out the multiple nests we have in our trees outside, to let the book turn into a mini nature lesson. 

We're Going to the Farmers' Market by Stefan Page is a colorful board book perfect for market season! Our farm market hasn't quite started up yet, so reading this one every day and seeing all the wonderfully delicious, fresh food we will buy each week is definitely getting us in the mood for some market shopping! 

The illustrations are modern and bold in color, perfect for a quick read. We've tossed this in our bag for our daily outings and it's been a hit every time. 

Big Rig by Jamie Swenson is perfect for my little truck lover. Frankie the Big Rig brings us along on one of his trips and teaches readers all about the trucker lingo and the rules of the road. Did you know, when a truck has a blowout, the leftover tire treads are called alligators? Cool fact of the day. 

If you're reading this aloud, you should definitely put on your best trucker voice. Southern was the way to go for me ;). 

Great sound effects and a fun way to learn new words. Elliott's favorite part was definitely when Frankie honked his horn!

Zoom, Zoom: Sounds of Things That Go in the City by Robert Burleigh is another excellent one for vehicle lovers. Each page spread has a short, rhyming text on different sounds a city makes throughout the day. There's the loud "WAKE UP CITY" moment and the "Rattle-Rattle-Roll" of the school bus after the school day lets out. Then the "Ring! Ring!" of the rice cream truck and the "Boogie! Boogie! Woogie-woogie-woogie!" of party time. 

The rhymes are great and the illustrations, done by Tad Carpenter are absolutely fantastic. Perfectly bright and vibrant - as a city definitely is! 

Finally, we have totally fallen for this new Bible.  It's The Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers by L.J. Sattgast.  I've been looking for something a little simpler than the toddler Bibles we already have and this one has been absolutely perfect. We read it every day at lunch and sometimes make it through the entire book! That should tell you how simple it is ;)

Ten stories from the Bible are covered using short, rhyming verses with bright illustrations. Super simple. No real details, which is what I need for a 2-year-old's attention span and level of understanding. I'm happy with the way the stories are presented and Elliott enjoys reading it, often reaching for it without any convincing from me. Win!

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, Chronicle, and Zondervan for the review copies!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Bohemian poet living at Steepletop in the 1920's with her husband. Constantly searching for her latest muse for her work through lavish parties and scandalous behavior. 

Laura Kelley: Seamstress simply trying to survive and make a life for her daughter. Still living in the shadow of her own scandal. Ostracized by the town, despite her talent for fashion and design.

When these women meet, an awkward relationship is formed out of necessity for both of them. Laura needs money and Edna needs inspiration. Despite their social status, the reader slowly learns that the woman aren't really all that different. 

I had heard of Edna St. Vincent Millay - probably through a high school English class - but knew absolutely nothing about her before opening the pages. Her free spirit and scandalous lifestyle were somewhat humorous to read about (in fiction), simply because she didn't give one care about what the people in town thought about her and always gave them something to gossip about. She loved her crazy life and made no apologies.  Her depression and often manic moods gave a balance to her story, however disheartening.

Edna's desire for Laura just poured off the pages through her dramatic words and outburst. Though her downward spiral was not at all funny, her intensity and flair for drama often came across as humorous... which I loved. Her psychological state was often in question, but her passion for everything she loved was obvious.  Robuck achieved that fine balance of allowing the reader to truly get in the head of her character -- even if that character was also real person.

Laura's emotions were honest and beautiful. She spends her days reliving her sin, as no one would possibly let her forget what pain her poor decisions have brought. Her relationship with her sister is broken, the town hates her and refuses to bring her business, and all she truly wants is a happy life for her little girl. Her bitterness is apparent, but the tiny threads of hope she is given from Millay and through Gabriel's character are her saving grace. I loved Laura and was truly rooting for her from the first few pages.

Fallen Beauty was such an interesting look at two characters who, at first glance appear to be polar opposites, end up being very similar in their goals. It was a quick read - one I couldn't put down - and I instantly had to Google Millay to find out more.

When Erika Robuck published Hemingway's Girl back in 2012, I could just tell she was going to be an author that I couldn't get enough of and I was totally right. Her combination of fact and fiction is beautifully done and with each book, has made me want to read more on real life characters she weaves into her fictional stories. Fallen Beauty is her best yet.

Definitely add this one to your TBR pile... and if you haven't read Hemingway's Girl or Call Me Zelda, check those out too.  Release date is 3/4/14, so mark your calendars!

Find Erika Robuck on her website or on Twitter at @ErikaRobuck. 

Thanks to Penguin for the review copy!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New books by favorite middle grade authors

Both Laurel Snyder and Cynthia Lord just have it. They know how to write about kids in a realistic way that not only appeals to their target age group, but to all readers. I've yet to read a book by either that I don't love and both happen to have new ones out right about now.

Laurel Snyder's latest, Seven Stories Up, mixes a little bit of magic and time travel, with a sweet family story many kids can relate to.  I love that she can add a little spice to an otherwise "normal" story and it just comes alive. This one would make an excellent family read aloud!

Half a Chance, Cynthia Lord's latest story, is another family drama, but with some art mixed in. A young girl really wants to get her dad's attention and knows that his love of photography is one way to do it. She spends her summer taking photos and falling in love with the art form her father lives for. It's a quiet story, but filled with so much awesome.

I definitely recommend checking both of these out. Thanks to Random House and Scholastic for the review copies!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Coffee and a chat

I love being able to share tidbits of life with you all, outside of the typical book reviews. I know a lot of you participate in features like this one, so if you do, be sure to link up in the comments. I'd love to check it out!

If we were having coffee... I'd have to tell you about my relaxing trip to Florida. I went for 4 days, all by myself, and had a really nice time just doing a whole lot of nothing. I stayed with family, but I'm one of those weird people who actually like doing things alone, so I spent a couple of days just exploring a state park and hanging at the beach without anyone else. I saw these amazing manatees:

If we were having coffee... I'd gush about this amazing book I read while tucked in a little coffee shop on Flager Beach. Tsh Oxenreider is a blogger I follow over at The Simple Mom and she's written pure truth when it comes to intentional living. Through sections on travel, food, money, time, etc., she expresses her own family's journey to live more intentionally, while giving realistic tips on how we can do that within our own family. It was an amazing read for me and it has once again jump-started our goal to be completely out of debt. Right now that seems like crazy talk, but I know it's possible! 

 Reading the pages was like having a conversation with a friend and I loved how honest she was with herself when it came to making parenting mistakes or what truly saving ALL extra money meant. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I could be doing better as a parent, a wife, and a homemaker. I absolutely loved it.

If you're local, Tsh will be at Ebenezers (my favorite D.C. coffee shop!!) on 2/19 at 6:30 just to hang out and sign books. Kids are welcome!

If we were having coffee... I'd have to brag on my husband for a bit. While I was gone, he took care of Elliott alone, without complaint, cleaned our house from top-to-bottom, and baked. I had an event to attend the night I got back and rather than complaining about me being gone for 4 days and then taking off again, HE BAKED A CAKE for me to take. 

Triple layer chocolate fudge cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. I'm not even being biased when I say it was the best cake I've ever tasted. He's good. 

If we were having coffee... I'd have to show you this amazing picture a friend of ours took. Aaron had it framed for me when I came home and let's just say, the tears were flowing. My boys praying together? So beautiful. 

If we were having coffee... I'd have you tell me I've signed up for too many things. My husband is a rockstar and knows that in order to be a better mom during the long days I'm home with Elliott, I need time to myself in the evening. That used to mean taking long runs, but in the winter months that has meant signing up for activities. Holy cow, I'm busy. Not only have I decided I'm actually an elderly woman in disguise by joining a monthly Bunco league, I've also joined a cookbook club that meets monthly. The hostess chooses a cookbook and we each make a dish of our choosing from the book. Lots of fun... and there's wine. 

Oh and then there's the TWO book clubs I've managed to find myself in. I've had my regular book club that meets at One More Page Books (moderated by Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves) and now I've joined a second one with a few local friends. On the book reading tap this month, I have these two: 

I read Gone Girl way back when it first came out and our discussion is tonight, so I better start reviewing my thoughts. Margot is one I've been looking forward to. 

If you also participate in a feature like this, be sure to leave a link. I'd love to see what you're chatting about over coffee! 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Free by Willy Vlautin

Severely wounded in the Iraq war, Leroy Kervin has lived in a group home for eight years. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, he finds his existence has become unbearable. An act of desperation helps him disappear deep into his mind, into a world of romance and science fiction, danger and adventure where he is whole once again.
Freddie McCall, the night man at Leroy's group home, works two jobs yet still can't make ends meet. He's lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative - and dangerous - proposition. 

Pauline Hawkins, a nurse, cares for the sick and wounded, including Leroy. She also looks after her mentally ill elderly father. Yet she remains emotionally removed, until she meets a young runaway who touches something deep and unexpected inside her. (synopsis via the publisher)

Part of me loved the honest feeling this book gives off, while the other part of me was just depressed. The story is incredibly gritty and raw and sad, but as I was processing it, I realized it's a pretty decent portrayal of what a lot of us go through every single day. Life is hard and some people are thrust into situations where they have no other option than to plow through and I think Vlautin did an awesome job of exhibiting that in a very realistic way. 

I have trouble though, with books that are seemingly hopeless. There were threads of hope here and there, but they were so tiny I had a hard time with it. Not the book for me plot-wise, but the writing was great. 

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the review copy. If you'd like to see the rest of our tour reviews you can find them here:

Monday, February 10th: Between the Covers
Tuesday, February 11th: Books Speak Volumes
Wednesday, February 12th: My Book Retreat
Thursday, February 13th: Anita Loves Books
Tuesday, February 18th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, February 19th: Mel’s Shelves
Thursday, February 20th: Olduvai Reads
Monday, February 24th: River City Reading
Tuesday, February 25th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Wednesday, February 26th: Bluestalking
Thursday, February 27th: Reading on a Rainy Day
Monday, March 3rd: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, March 4th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pieces of Me by Amber Kizer (and a giveaway)

When high school student, Jessica, is killed in a car accident, her parents do what they can to help their daughter create a legacy -- they donate her organs. Though this was an important decision for them and one they thought their daughter would have wanted, they don't know that Jessica is watching every move they make. She's angry about dying and even angrier that pieces of her are being farmed out to other people. 

As each organ is placed in someone new, Jessica is connected to those individuals through memory. She is able to see how their lives move on and how they eventually all connect with one another, as well as find her own purpose in her short life. Though it sounds like an angry, angst-filled plot, it was really quite beautiful. 

The story was definitely unique and the writing excellent. I haven't read anything by Kizer previously, so that was a pleasant surprise. I found Jessica to be a refreshing character and one that had appropriate emotions towards the situation. Let's be honest, I would probably be pretty angry about dying so young too.  

She felt authentic, despite the fantastical nature of the plot and I believed the story. It was emotional, touching, and just a really good read. I have been really into plain, old contemporary reads lately, so this was a great surprise! 

The lovely folks at Random House have offered up a copy for one of you! Just leave a comment telling me the best book you've read lately and I'll choose a winner on Sunday night. Make sure you leave a valid email address if I can't reach you through a blog. U.S. only. 

If you're interested in following the tour, here are the rest of the stops:

2/10: Bookish
2/15: Live to Read