Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Book Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

From the back of the book: Bellwether Prize winner Hillary Jordan’s provocative new novel, When She Woke, tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed―their skin color is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes―and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder.

In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.
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So. This book was published in 2011, but it's pretty on the nose in terms of the current political climate. A new political party called the Trinitarian Party has taken power, and the separation between church and state has been completely dissolved and Roe v. Wade overturned. As the book opens, we learn that Hannah has discovered as she wakes up that her skin has been turned red, which publicly designates her as a murderer. In this case, she has had an abortion and has refused to publicly identify the baby's father. 

Because "chromes"--those whose skin has been changed colors in accordance with their crimes--have a difficult time surviving in the real world, Hannah goes to a halfway house run by a very fundamentalist religious group, who seems intent on shaming Hannah in order to get her to "walk the narrow path", and I'd argue that her experience there was filled with really disturbing mental and emotional abuse. Later, she ends up connected with a group of militant feminists who are attempting to help Hannah escape to Canada to have her chroming reversed.

Regardless of your politics, the first half of the book is a strong dystopian novel that's reminiscent of both The Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid's Tale. However, the second half of the book missed the mark for me--it felt cliche, designed almost entirely to give women in book clubs something to talk about. Click the Show/Hide button below if you don't mind a few spoilers that describe what I'm talking about more specifically.


It wasn't a *bad* book, it was just off to such a strong dystopian start that the second half really felt that much more cliche and awful. So, while the first part of the book started out as a 5 star book for me (you all KNOW I love dystopian lit), by the end I was feeling much more like:


Just read The Handmaid's Tale instead. For real.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


From the back of the book: In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
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Let's just get one thing out of the way--this is a book written for kids somewhere between the ages of 8-12. I didn't buy this book to read with Lizzy (more on that later), I bought it just for myself because sometimes I think children's books are honest and refreshing in a different way than books written for adults often are. 

This was a quick read, and also a really enjoyable one for me. Yes, many of the circumstances that Willow finds herself in are improbable and totally unlikely to ever happen in the "real world". Still, if you can suspend that bit of skepticism for just a bit, there's a really endearing story that's NOT just for middle schoolers about grief, loss, family, and hope. I really do recommend this one to people of all ages--it's worth your time. 

Now, more on reading this one with kids. Lizzy is 7. She reads pretty well for her age, and I think that in terms of reading level alone, she could read this one with minimal help. It's clean in terms of language, and overall, I think it's a really solid book for kids in probably 4th-8th grade. That said, this book also centers around the death of both of Willow's parents, and subsequently deals with the realities of trying to place a 12-year old in foster care. At one point, another character quips something like, "Once all your baby teeth are gone, no one wants to adopt you." 
 
I think that right now, those types of issues are a little too emotionally advanced for Lizzy. For example, she doesn't really have a problem with the original Cinderella movie knowing that Cinderella's mom died, but she had a harder time with the more recent re-make where you really get to know Cinderella's mom before her death. In this case, you're told about the death(s) right up front, but then you circle back and get to know Willow's relationship with her parents, and I think that overall, that sort of dynamic would just result in more anxiety, tears, and emotional distress than I'm ready to handle right now. I think in a year or two, she'd be able to read it and see the hope past the tragedy, but right now, she'd only see the tragedy. So when it comes to "can my kid handle this book?"...you know your kids best. You know whether this is something that they're able to handle emotionally or whether it's not. Trust your gut. 
 
Overall?


Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue


From the book jacket:

Lib Wright, a young English nurse trained by the legendary Florence Nightingale, arrives in an impoverished Irish village with a strange mission. Eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell is said to have eaten nothing for four months. With tourists thronging to see the child, as the press sowing doubt, the baffled community looks to an outsider to bring the truth to light. Lib's job is simple: to stay in the girl's bare room at all hours, watching her.

An educated skeptic repelled by what she sees as ignorance and superstition, Lib expects to expose the fast as hoax within days. But the long hours she spends with Anna begin to erode all her assumptions about the child, the Irish, and herself. Is Anna a fraud or simply a "living wonder"? Or is something more sinister unfolding right before Lib's eyes?

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So. I found this book to be pretty engaging right from the beginning, despite it being a pretty slow moving plot--it was one of those books that I could sit down to read in the afternoon, and then look up to discover that the sun had set long ago. For most of the time that I was actually reading this book, I was pretty sure that this one would receive a 'must read now' rating from me. I liked the characters, I liked the story, I liked everything about it. However, somewhere in the second half of the book I found my opinion shifting slightly. Now that I'm finished, I think it's certainly worth reading...but I feel much less enthusiastic about it than I did initially. 

For me personally, I thought the romance that developed in the second half of the book was pretty unnecessary, and didn't really add anything to the plot. If Donoghue felt it was so necessary to include, then I wish she would have spent more time flushing it out in the conclusion. Instead, characters who hardly knew each other essentially sail away into the sunset for a "happily ever after" that didn't ring true for me given the circumstances.  

That said, I've heard a *lot* of people rave about this book, saying it was one of their favorites ever, and I don't want to discourage you from reading it, because you may feel the same. I thought it was a perfectly fine book, and definitely worth a read. It just fell a little flat right at the end for me. 

Overall? 


Monday, January 30, 2017

My Rating System Explained

Every person that reviews books does things a bit differently when it comes to rating the books that they've read. Right, wrong, or indifferent, here's how I typically rate books.


This is pretty self-explanatory, yeah? If a book receives this rating, it means that I absolutely loved it. It rocked my world. This is essentially my way of giving books a 5 star rating. Please note, a book does not need to be ENJOYABLE in order for it to receive this reading. I think some of the best books are books that make the reader think, as well as books that challenge the reader. Some of the best books I've ever read have been exceptionally difficult to read. Consider yourself warned.


When a book receives this rating, it means that I liked it well enough. It was a good read--one that I'd suggest you read, but maybe also one that I'd suggest checking out at the library rather than telling you to rush out and buy a copy for yourself. I'm glad to have read it and would recommend it to others.


 Look, not every book is every person's cup of tea. A book that receives this rating means that it simply wasn't my style, but that I can understand how others enjoyed it, and that I think it has enough merit that I'm not actively telling you NOT to read it. Just that I didn't prefer it.


This is a book that I disliked enough that I can't in good conscience recommend it to others. Perhaps I had major issues with the characters or storyline. Perhaps I thought the conclusion was lazy. Perhaps the book was filled with misspellings or other things that annoyed me. Regardless, I'm telling you that I disliked it so much that I can't recommend even checking it out at the library.


There are lots of times when I put a book away on the shelf and come back to read it later. Often times, those books become some of my favorites, once I'm finally in the right mood or frame of mind to read them. This rating does NOT describe that situation. This particular rating describes a book that I disliked so much that I elected not to finish it. Perhaps it was even a book that made me so mad that I threw it away instead of donating it to Goodwill. I can think of only a handful of books where this is the case, so I don't anticipate this being a rating that's used particularly often, but we live in interesting times, and anything is possible.



Note: It took me awhile to settle into this system, so if you browse the archives (pre-2017), you'll find several different variations of this system. They're similar, and I think you'll be able to easily see how any of those ratings equate to the current system.

Is This Thing On?

Man alive...it's been quite awhile, hasn't it?

I never intended to stop blogging. I love the little memories and things that were preserved during my time blogging, and Justin and I both have found ourselves going back and referencing my blog archives to remember little things--recipes, details from trips, stories from when Lizzy was little. I love that those parts of our life are accessible.

I never intended to stop blogging for all of those reasons, and yet somehow I did. And the more I think about it, the more thankful I am. The reality is that we've walked through some things in the past year or so that were probably best left off the internet. God, that sounds so cryptic and awful. Very little of it was truly awful, there were just several challenges that I couldn't have written about on this space, and then would have felt disingenuous by not talking about. There were also several occasions that I am SO thankful I wasn't blogging because I probably would have written a stream-of-consciousness style post that I'd likely later come to regret.

All that said, it's time. I'm back...sort of. I'm not sure that I'm ready or interested in returning to full-on lifestyle blogging, so definitely don't expect THAT from me. But what I do miss is writing book reviews. I've never stopped recording what I've been reading and telling you what I thought about it on Instagram, but I'd like to get back to doing real (longer) reviews. So, that's what I'm going to do--fill this little space with my thoughts on books. I hope you'll stick around.

If you're still out there, drop a comment and let me know what the best book you read in the past year was, and why! 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thursday Free Printable.

Just because it's Thursday, and I needed a little something gold to dress up my Christmas decor. And because O' Holy Night is one of my favorite songs of all time....here's a little printable for you! 

Click on through to Flickr to download in whichever size you'd like--it was originally made to be an 8x10 :) If you print it and use it, I always appreciate a pin linking to this blog on Pinterest so others can find it too!

OHolyNight

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thursday Free Printable

givethanks2

 A little Thanksgiving printable that I made for Mom to Mom this week. It's kind of hilarious because it's been a really busy, really hard couple of months for us (nothing terrible, just long hours of work and some hard parenting stages), and I definitely have not always found myself giving thanks in all of those circumstances. But, it's something that I'd like to aspire to nonetheless. So, as always this is really because I need it, but maybe you might too :)

Here's how to get it for yourself:
1. Click on the image above, which will take you over to Flickr.
2. In the lower right hand corner, you should see an arrow pointing down to a line. Click on it.
3. Then choose "all sizes", and select whichever size you'd like to download (I recommend downloading the original). In this case, the original is sized to 5x7, but may be high enough resolution that you could print it larger if you'd like.
4. Print the image at home.
5. If you print it and love it, please consider pinning it on Pinterest so that others can find it as well.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Review: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

From the back of the book: There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide....

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancĂ© is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets….
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I'll just come right out and say it. This was the best book I've read in a LONG time. I knew almost immediately that it would become my go-to book recommendation this summer, because I think it is very well written, and something that most people I know will really enjoy. In fact, this book was just released at the beginning of June and is already receiving tons of accolades. I can understand why. Despite the synopsis, this book really didn't feel particularly dramatic to me, and I think that's a credit to Laura Dave's talent as an author--to be able to make characters feel real, authentic, and nuanced without feeling trite or over-dramatic.

I think I expected Eight Hundred Grapes to be your standard chick-lit romance set in wine country. You know--the sort that will inevitably be made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. And while I think it's still quite likely that this book will be made into such a movie, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Eight Hundred Grapes was as much about family and wine as it was about romance. Laura Dave described the vineyards and the wine making process with such care that I was totally transported to Sonoma, and instantly wanted to tear out all the grass in our backyard and plant enough wine grapes for a small vineyard. Thankfully, Justin reminded me that we do, in fact, have wine grapes planted in our backyard, and that three plants is probably plenty for us at this moment in time. But, the point is that while Eight Hundred Grapes *is* light enough to be something that I'd read at the beach or next to the pool, it's not completely superficial chick lit either--there is substance and depth there as well, which I really enjoyed. 

Overall, I really enjoyed Eight Hundred Grapes, and recommend it highly. In fact, move it to the top of your "to be read" stack, right now. 


You can also read an excerpt of Eight Hundred Grapes here, and read my review of Laura Dave's book The First Husband here.

Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book for review through Net Galley. I did not receive any further compensation for this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. You all should know by now that I couldn't lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Monday Printable + Hopes for Summer

Today is the first "official" day of summer for us--the first day that Lizzy would have normally gone to school, but isn't. We still have an end-of-the-year BBQ one evening later this week, but for all intents and purposes, we are done. I can't believe that I'll have a kindergartener next year. It just blows my mind.

As we start summer, I've been thinking about a lot of things. I've been feeling the pull to write again, and I think it's supposed to be here. I needed to step back and take a break for a while--I was getting focused on giveaways, and pageviews, and "monetizing" my blog, and was having a hard time getting back to writing in a way that felt meaningful to me. Then, when you add a kiddo who is a terrible sleeper into the mix, I just felt like I had to take some things off of my plate. And I'm glad that I did, but I have also missed writing. I have always felt like I am supposed to write--and I'm not sure exactly in what capacity, but this is enough for now. We still sometimes go back to my Letters to Lizzy to read about what she was doing at a particular age, and I do miss that for Becca.

Anyway, as we're settling into summer, I have some hopes:

-I hope to find a routine for our days that gives a good balance between doing what needs to be done. Cleaning, meal prep, laundry, exercise, tending the garden--those are things that just need to be done, mostly every day. But I don't want to spend *all* day doing them. I want to leave space for reading, playing in the backyard, and even letting my kids be bored. I don't want to be their cruise director, but I also want to be available just to read and play with them in activities that they initiate as well. 

-I hope to continue to build self-care into that routine. I was blessed to be able to share part of my story at my Mom's Group retreat this year, and what it boils down to is that for me there is a list of specific things that I need to be doing on a regular basis in order to keep my anxiety at bay. For me, those things (exercise is one of the major ones, for me) need to be the priority, not the things that I do if I'm not too tired at the end of the day. Because the bottom line is that without that self-care piece, I can't live the life that I'm called to live. Right along with this, is also putting myself "out there" so to speak, and initiating visits and playdates with friends. I am *terrible* about this. Friends text me sometimes and ask if we want to meet at a park, or come over for lunch, and I'm always like, "YEAH! Absolutely!" and we go, and have a great time. But, I'm really bad about ever initiating things like that, because honestly, it almost never occurs to me. I'm just a huge introvert, and it isn't the first thing that comes to my mind when we have a free morning or afternoon. The reality, though, is that I need that time of fellowship with friends, and so do my kiddos, and I hope to be better about initiating it this summer.

-I want to spend a lot of time reading with the girls. I want to get back into the habit of going to library story time. I also hope to spend a lot of time swimming with them--whether it's in our little backyard pool, at our parents' larger pools, or at the river/lake.

-I hope that we can be better about carving out some intentional family time AND date nights for Justin and I. In looking at our calendar, almost every weekend is already booked through mid-July. We've committed to some worthy things, and I'm glad we committed to them, but we also need to carve out some down-time. Justin and I have a weekend planned to go away just the two of us, and it is *much* needed.

-Berry picking. Lots of berry picking.

There's more, but those are some of the major ones. Of course, I'm going to have a lot more imperfect days than perfect ones. And that's where this week's printable comes in:

GraceUponGrace8x10

I've seen this paraphrase of John 1:16 before, and I just really love it. I need the reminder this summer--there is grace, upon grace, upon grace both for me and for my kiddos. Every single day.

Here are the details:
-This is an 8x10 image. Click on the image above to go to Flickr, where you can download the above image and print it out as you wish. This is for personal use only, not for commercial use or sale.
-The flower graphic is a free graphic from We Lived Happily Ever After.
-Happy Monday!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Review: Housebreaking by Dan Pope

From the back of the book: In this gripping, gorgeous literary drama, two suburban families are hopelessly entangled during an explosive Thanksgiving weekend that changes their lives forever.

When Benjamin’s wife kicks him out of their house, he returns to his childhood home in Connecticut to live with his widowed father. Lost, lonely, and doubting everything he felt he knew about marriage and love—even as his eighty-year-old father begins to date again—Benjamin is trying to put his life back together when he recognizes someone down the street: his high school crush, the untouchable Audrey Martin. Audrey has just moved to the neighborhood with her high-powered lawyer husband and their rebellious teenager, Emily. As it turns out, Audrey isn’t so untouchable anymore, and she and Benjamin begin to discover, in each other’s company, answers to many of their own deepest longings. Meanwhile, as the neighborhood is wracked by a mysterious series of robberies, Audrey seems to be hiding a tragic secret, and her husband, Andrew, becomes involved in a dangerous professional game he can never win. And, by the way, who is paying attention to Emily?
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It's been a couple of months now since I read Housebreaking, and when I sat down to collect my thoughts, I spent a good deal of time trying to remember which major issue/conflict was the base of the story. Was it the one with the blackmail? Or maybe the tragedy? Was it the one with the lies and deception? Or the one with the troubled teenage daughter? Turns out, it was all of the above. You see, in the world Dan Pope creates in Housebreaking, everyone has a secret. Benjamin has one, and so does Audrey. Audrey's husband has one, and so does her daughter. And in this instance, every single one of the secrets is a big, major, DYSFUNCTION-JUNCTION secret, not just a run-of-the-mill small secret. Pope really walked a line between realistic and outlandish in terms of all the varying issues that his characters faced, but he walked that line well, given the circumstances. 

Overall, Pope is an extraordinary writer, and I enjoyed his prose immensely. He was able to weave characters in and out of the novel in a way that felt nuanced, but natural at the same time. He tackled a TON of issues, with only minor forays into soap-opera territory. I appreciated the way that the story unfolded slowly, from various different characters. It felt like I was getting little pieces of the puzzle from each individual character, which then gave me new insight and understanding as to the story as a whole.

This novel is deep, and fairly dark. It doesn't shy away from hard issues or familial dysfunction at all, but it doesn't leave you feeling depressed and hopeless either. Overall, I enjoyed it very much and recommend it highly!
 Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book for review through Net Galley. I did not receive any further compensation for this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. You all should know by now that I couldn't lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

In this gripping, gorgeous literary drama, two suburban families are hopelessly entangled during an explosive Thanksgiving weekend that changes their lives forever.

When Benjamin’s wife kicks him out of their house, he returns to his childhood home in Connecticut to live with his widowed father. Lost, lonely, and doubting everything he felt he knew about marriage and love—even as his eighty-year-old father begins to date again—Benjamin is trying to put his life back together when he recognizes someone down the street: his high school crush, the untouchable Audrey Martin. Audrey has just moved to the neighborhood with her high-powered lawyer husband and their rebellious teenager, Emily. As it turns out, Audrey isn’t so untouchable anymore, and she and Benjamin begin to discover, in each other’s company, answers to many of their own deepest longings. Meanwhile, as the neighborhood is wracked by a mysterious series of robberies, Audrey seems to be hiding a tragic secret, and her husband, Andrew, becomes involved in a dangerous professional game he can never win. And, by the way, who is paying attention to Emily? - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Housebreaking/Dan-Pope/9781476745909#sthash.OaUk84Qq.dpuf
In this gripping, gorgeous literary drama, two suburban families are hopelessly entangled during an explosive Thanksgiving weekend that changes their lives forever.

When Benjamin’s wife kicks him out of their house, he returns to his childhood home in Connecticut to live with his widowed father. Lost, lonely, and doubting everything he felt he knew about marriage and love—even as his eighty-year-old father begins to date again—Benjamin is trying to put his life back together when he recognizes someone down the street: his high school crush, the untouchable Audrey Martin. Audrey has just moved to the neighborhood with her high-powered lawyer husband and their rebellious teenager, Emily. As it turns out, Audrey isn’t so untouchable anymore, and she and Benjamin begin to discover, in each other’s company, answers to many of their own deepest longings. Meanwhile, as the neighborhood is wracked by a mysterious series of robberies, Audrey seems to be hiding a tragic secret, and her husband, Andrew, becomes involved in a dangerous professional game he can never win. And, by the way, who is paying attention to Emily? - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Housebreaking/Dan-Pope/9781476745909#sthash.OaUk84Qq.dpuf
In this gripping, gorgeous literary drama, two suburban families are hopelessly entangled during an explosive Thanksgiving weekend that changes their lives forever.

When Benjamin’s wife kicks him out of their house, he returns to his childhood home in Connecticut to live with his widowed father. Lost, lonely, and doubting everything he felt he knew about marriage and love—even as his eighty-year-old father begins to date again—Benjamin is trying to put his life back together when he recognizes someone down the street: his high school crush, the untouchable Audrey Martin. Audrey has just moved to the neighborhood with her high-powered lawyer husband and their rebellious teenager, Emily. As it turns out, Audrey isn’t so untouchable anymore, and she and Benjamin begin to discover, in each other’s company, answers to many of their own deepest longings. Meanwhile, as the neighborhood is wracked by a mysterious series of robberies, Audrey seems to be hiding a tragic secret, and her husband, Andrew, becomes involved in a dangerous professional game he can never win. And, by the way, who is paying attention to Emily? - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Housebreaking/Dan-Pope/9781476745909#sthash.OaUk84Qq.dpuf

Friday, May 15, 2015

Book Review: The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

From the back of the book: Caroline Cashion is beautiful, intelligent, a professor of French literature. But in a split second, everything she’s known is proved to be a lie.

A single bullet, gracefully tapered at one end, is found lodged at the base of her skull. Caroline is stunned. It makes no sense: she has never been shot. She has no entry wound. No scar. Then, over the course of one awful evening, she learns the truth: that she was adopted when she was three years old, after her real parents were murdered. Caroline was there the night they were attacked. She was wounded too, a gunshot to the neck. Surgeons had stitched up the traumatized little girl, with the bullet still there, nestled deep among vital nerves and blood vessels.

That was thirty-four years ago.

Now, Caroline has to find the truth of her past. Why were her parents killed? Why is she still alive? She returns to her hometown where she meets a cop who lets slip that the bullet in her neck is the same bullet that killed her mother. Full-metal jacket, .38 Special. It hit Caroline’s mother and kept going, hurtling through the mother’s chest and into the child hiding behind her.

She is horrified—and in danger. When a gun is fired it leaves markings on the bullet. Tiny grooves, almost as unique as a fingerprint. The bullet in her neck could finger a murderer. A frantic race is set in motion: Can Caroline unravel the clues to her past, before the killer tracks her down?
 ........................................................................................

I finished The Bullet over a month ago, but have spent the past 30ish days hoping that I'd be struck with divine inspiration about how to review it, because I'm still just not quite sure what to think or to say. The concept of the novel intrigued me right away. Right off the bat, I found Caroline Cashion as a lead character to be smart and engaging--someone that I could imagine being friends with. I really, really enjoyed the first 65% of the book or so. 

But then, at some point, the novel started to lose its identity--was is a coming-of-age novel or a suspense novel? A romance? Maybe a thriller? Surely there HAD to be a plot twist coming somewhere...it could not be this predictable, could it? Did Caroline start using drugs halfway through the novel? Because if  not, I'm not quite sure how to reconcile the fact that all of a sudden Caroline started to make straight up *stupid* decisions that did not jive with anything we had been told about her personality or character up to that point.

It wasn't a bad book, though. I did enjoy most of it, and it was a quick read that would probably be perfect for a summer vacation. That said, I think the bottom line for me was that I loved the concept so much, and was ultimately let down by the execution of the last half of the book.

This seems to be a book that people either love, or were disappointed by. Unfortunately, I fell into the latter category. But overall, if the premise sounds interesting, add it to your list. It's definitely worth a fair try.





Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: Hugo & Rose by Bridget Foley


From the back of the book: Rose is disappointed with her life, though she has no reason to be - she has a beautiful family and a perfectly nice house in the suburbs. But to Rose, this ordinary life feels overshadowed by her other life - the one she leads every night in her dreams.

After a childhood accident, Rose's dreams take her to a wondrous island fraught with adventure. On this island, she has never been alone: she shares it with Hugo, a brave boy who's grown up with her into a hero of a man.

But when Rose stumbles across Hugo in real life, both her real and dream worlds are changed forever. Here is the man who has shared all of her incredible adventures in impossible places, who grew up with her, even if they aren't what either one imagined. Their chance encounter begins a cascade of questions, lies, and a dangerous obsession that threatens to topple everything she knows. Is she willing to let go of everything she holds dear to understand their extraordinary connection? And will it lead her to discover who she truly wants to be? 
...........................................................

Since the time I was about twelve, I have often dreamed of a particular city. I could tell you about the riverbanks that I played on as a child--the same ones that I had late night bonfires on in high school. I could tell you about the shops and store owners on the main drag. I could tell you where to eat lunch, and where I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. I could tell you about the dusty library, and also about the tree that I picked ripe cherries from almost every day. This city was like the gatekeeper of my dreams--the place in which all of my other dreams occurred. I have often wondered how I would respond if I ever found the city in real life--would I want to pack up everything and move there? Would I drive out of town as fast as I could, never looking back? What would it mean if it really did exist?

Needless to say, the concept behind Hugo & Rose immediately caught my attention, and I couldn't wait to read it. Based on the cover and the summary, I expected it to be a whimsical and fun novel (probably a love story) with a fairly predictable ending. I was wrong. 

In reality, Hugo & Rose is deep and it is pretty dark. It examined hard themes, such as how someone who seems to have a perfect life can still be exhausted, depressed, and just want to escape. It explored how one secret can worm its way into your life, slowly at first but quickly taking over every corner in a way that is completely terrifying. It allowed for twists and turns that I *never* expected, and certainly didn't see coming. The darkness of Hugo & Rose was unexpected, but wasn't a bad thing at all. I've never read anything quite like it, which is always a plus in my opinion.
 
Like all books that incorporate some magical realism (think The Night Circus or Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore), the plot-line does require a certain buy-in from the reader. If you can't get past the idea of two people sharing a common dream, then you probably won't enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you can get there even temporarily, then you're in for quite an emotional ride. If you're unsure, read an excerpt here first.

Overall? 
 

 Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book for review through Net Galley. I did not receive any further compensation for this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. You all should know by now that I couldn't lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer



From the back of the book: From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family’s future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story—Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn’t settled down—their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.
...................................................................

I remember reading Ann Packer's book The Dive From Clausen's Pier when it was first released and being blown away by how Packer wrote and developed characters. I've been pretty ruthless with my collection of books over the years, giving them away or taking them to the used bookstore for credit, but The Dive From Clausen's Pier is one that I've hung on to. Suffice to say, I had high expectations for The Children's Crusade

I've been mulling it over now for a couple of months, trying to put words to how I feel about this book, and I guess what it comes down to is this--I think Ann Packer is a master of characters. She writes them well, she develops them well, I always enjoy reading about them, and always find them to be genuine (though not always likable). However, where this book differed from Clausen's Pier was that in this case, I was completely ambivalent about the outcome of the central plot line that the characters were engaged in. I'm not sure whether Packer intended for the book to be solely character driven or whether Clausen's Pier was clouding my expectations, but The Children's Crusade was largely different than what I expected or hoped for in this way. 

So, it wasn't what I was expecting, but that's not to say that I disliked it. I think that once I adjusted my expectations and tuned into the fact that The Children's Crusade was really a character study, I enjoyed it a lot. I liked having a glimpse into each character's perspective on both the past and the present. I do wish that we heard more from Penny herself, rather than everyone else's perspective ON Penny though, and I wish that the family had been brought together to tell essentially this same story under a different set of circumstances.  

Overall, I think that if you like character driven novels, you'll probably enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you're interested in reading it because you loved Clausen's Pier, it may not be exactly hoping for. Either way, I vote that you add it to the nightstand stack. 



Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Free Printable: Known & Loved

One of my goals/resolutions for this year was to continue to practice and learn more about graphic design. Any time I make a printable either for myself or for my mom's group, I always try to incorporate a new technique so that I can learn something new. One of the things that I've wanted to learn for awhile was how to use glyphs in Photoshop--I'd have these gorgeous fonts that I knew came with beautiful swashes and embellishments, and I couldn't figure out how to access them in Photoshop. Well, the short answer is that you just can't. The long answer is that you CAN access them in Illustrator and then just copy and paste into Photoshop. Ha. Now I know.

So anyway, yesterday was all about glyphs, so I knew that I wanted to make a simple little printable that incorporated them. Recently, my friend Emily blogged about being encouraged by God that she is known & loved, and her words have really stuck with me...so, this printable is for her. And for me. And for you.

knownloved2
Here's how to get it for yourself:
1. Click on the image above, which will take you over to Flickr.
2. In the lower right hand corner, you should see an arrow pointing down to a line. Click on it.
3. Then choose "all sizes", and select whichever size you'd like to download (I recommend downloading the original).
4. Print the image at home.
5. If you print it and love it, please consider pinning it on Pinterest so that others can find it as well.

The flower graphic used in this printable came from We Lived Happily Ever After, and you can find it here. The font used in this printable is the Cresilda Script, which happens to be part of Creative Market's April Big Bundle (which I think is available for purchase through today, and is filled with tons of awesome graphics and fonts for only $39).

Important note: I wasn't asked by Creative Market to tell you about the April Big Bundle, nor are any of these links affiliate links. I just think that when you get $1209 worth of stuff for $39, that's a pretty good deal worth sharing. Happy Tuesday!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday Free Printable

Last year around this time, I posted a free "He is risen!" printable here on the blog that I made for our Mom's Group before Easter. I loved having it up in our home last year as a reminder of the hope that this season brings, and I still see it kicking around on Pinterest every once in awhile, so I thought I'd make another very similar, but slightly different version this year as well!

He is Risen2

Please feel free to click through to Flickr, download, and print. The flower graphics are one of my favorites from Graphic Stock, and the font is Simon Script, which is free for personal use via dafont.com

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday Printable: Depths of the Ocean

So, my hard drive crashed. I'm a day post-op from thyroid surgery and crossing everything crossable
that I won't have to go back and have the other side removed as well.

But, it's a new day. The sun is shining. It's the first day I've been warm in...months?....years? There are blessings even in the sucky and this is one of them--one of my favorite verses ever.


Hopefully, you'll be  able to right click and save this image. Uploading from my phone has not come without challenges! If you can't, leave your email in the comments and I'll send it to ya :)


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Review: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin


From the back of the book:On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.
......................................................................................

“The words you can't find, you borrow. We read to know we're not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. The analogy he is looking for is almost there. We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.
In the end, we are collected works.” 
-The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

 It's no secret that I love books about books, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is really no exception there, because it's not just about books, it also feels a bit like a love letter to everyone who truly loves reading. A.J. Fikry reads books. He talks about books. He makes his livelihood by selling books. His most prized possession is a limited edition book. Indeed, nearly his whole life seems to be filtered through...you guessed it...books. Now that's a main character that I can relate to! :)

All that said, it's taken me awhile to write a review for this one because I wasn't entirely sure what to say. See, it's kind of a vanilla book. Safe. Clean. Predictable. Even the drama isn't particularly dramatic. Nothing about it is revolutionary. But I also really enjoyed it, and found that it was one of those books that I carved time out of my day to read. You know the ones--the ones that you carry with you and sneak a moment or two of reading wherever you can. I liked A.J. All of the supporting characters were developed well, and I really, genuinely liked all of them.  It was a fun book to read, and it reminded me of both The Rosie Project and Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore in terms of the overall vibe of the book (both of which I really enjoyed). It was quiet, it was charming, and it was wise.

Overall?


Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book for review through Net Galley. I did not receive any further compensation for this review, and all thoughts and opinions are my own. You all should know by now that I couldn't lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time For Your Checkup.

So. Let's catch up.

I had the biopsy. It sucked, but also wasn't as bad as I remembered. Honestly, the hardest part was that Justin was working out of town at the time, and I was alone with my thoughts and worries at night.

During the biopsy, the endocrinologist told me that she was almost certain that it would be benign, but that on the off chance that it came back as indeterminate, she had also taken a sample for genetic testing.The biopsy was on Monday. By Wednesday, she called and said that it was benign, and that the only thing we needed was to follow up in a year and make sure the nodule hadn't grown too much. We celebrated. I slept...hard, for the first time in MONTHS. And we seriously enjoyed the holidays.

A few weeks after Christmas, I saw my endocrinologist's office number pop up on my cell phone, and my heart dropped. As it turned out, the sample that she had taken for possible genetic testing was supposed to have been thrown away since my biopsy was benign. Somehow, someway, it was accidentally submitted. And it came back positive for a genetic mutation that predisposes me for thyroid cancer. She explained that the type of cancer that I'm predisposed to is the "best" kind to have, but also the hardest to detect via ultrasound or biopsy, so she was no longer comfortable leaving such a big nodule in my thyroid, and she recommended that I have surgery within the next 3 months to remove that lobe of my thyroid.

She then referred me to a surgeon, who I saw last week. The surgeon agreed that with the information that she had, coupled with the fact that my grandmother had to have a total thyroidectomy, that lobe needed to come out. She said that the goal is to remove only half, but that they will do some testing while I'm under, and they do have the option to remove the whole thing if needed. We set the surgery date for Jan 27th at the surgery center attached to the ENT's office. On my way out the door, the office lady said, "Be sure to bring a check--your portion of the surgery will be due in full that day."

I asked her how much that would be, and she said, "Oh, somewhere between a couple hundred and a couple thousand. We'll call you sometime between now and then to let you know."

Right. Because that's realistic for most people I know.

Anyway, they called later that day and said that I would have to pay about $3100 the day of the surgery in order to proceed. That was 12 days away, and I told them that just wasn't feasible for us, and asked about payment plans. The office said no, they don't offer them. That the surgeon considers everything that is not cancer to be an elective procedure, and that their office policy is that all elective procedures must be paid up front. After calling around, this seems to be the new norm for surgeons around here.

I asked what would happen if someone just didn't have that amount of money and couldn't come up with it, and they told me that they just couldn't have the surgery until they did. Period. Nice, right? 

It was a SUPER stressful couple of days for me. I mean, that is kind of a significant chunk of money to expect someone to have readily available within only a few days.

So, after a LOT of phone calls, we discovered that it is actually much less expensive up front (by about half) for me to have the surgery at the hospital instead of the surgery center. So, I'm set for surgery there on Feb 18th. We will end up paying a bit more in the long run, but the hospital will work with us on payments, and it's actually kind of nice because it's the same hospital that we already have a payment plan set up with for the biopsy and ultrasound. It's still a lot, especially since this is essentially the third time in 3 months that we've met our insurance deductible (I believe we had met it in 2014, then Justin's work changed insurances in December, we had a new deductible that we either met it or came close to meeting in December, and then it rolled over again on Jan 1st--hooray!), but it seems like it is probably doable.

I am ANNOYED about it all, because it drastically changes some plans we had for the next year financially, but it is what it is. I'm lucky that they caught this when they did. I totally know, understand, and appreciate that.

And I'm still really annoyed to be re-opening a chapter of my life that I thought was closed, you know?


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Deja Vu.

Well, it's been awhile little old blog. I feel kind of weird jumping in with a post like this, but I need the processing that writing gives, so there you have it...

In October, I went to my normal doctor for a physical. He said that my thyroid felt a little enlarged. My OB had tested my thyroid back in April--that's just something he does as a part of annuals once you get to a certain age :). Anyway, all my levels were totally fine then, so my doctor ordered an ultrasound to take a look.

I had the ultrasound in November. I remember that the girl performing the ultrasound was quiet during the whole thing, but I've been told that that's common--that the people who perform the ultrasounds at the hospital aren't actually allowed to tell you anything during the procedure. I don't know.

Anyway, the ultrasound showed a "4cm heterogeneous solid with vascularity", which means that I have a biopsy scheduled on Dec 8th. This whole thing is kind of weird, because the endocrinologist that I've been referred to had a biopsy opening before she had a consult opening, so she's actually doing the biopsy without me ever having had the chance to meet with her or talk to her first. I feel like I'm a little in the dark here!

What I do know is this--I know that the size and the vascularity make it slightly more likely that the "nodule" is malignant, but it apparently could still be benign. Several people have told me that 4cm is the threshold for removal whether it is malignant or benign, but I haven't talked to the endocrinologist yet, so I'm not sure if that's her approach or not.

Sometimes, I think I can feel the nodule. Sometimes, when I'm reading to the girls for a long time, I feel like I get a little hoarse, which freaks me out. Then again, I'm not sure whether those are *actually* symptoms, or just in my head. Right now, I kind of freak out with any sore throat, cough, etc...even though those symptoms could easily be explained by my allergies (I'm allergic to Christmas trees!), or any other number of things as well. But, I'm freaked about my thyroid, so I assume it *is* my thyroid.

But really, here's the thing. When I was diagnosed with the weird, rare skin cancer, it was December 12th, 2011. Lizzy was essentially the same age that Becca is now. Several times, I've been sitting in the waiting room for a thyroid appointment, when my Timehop app pops up a status update about waiting for an appointment regarding the skin cancer on that same day 3 years ago. And let's face it, with a biopsy on December 8th, there's a real possibility that I could hear back from them on December 12th this year.

Of course, that doesn't mean anything. I could go in, and find out that it's benign and the endo could feel totally comfortable monitoring it instead of jumping right to surgery. I'm trying to take things one day at a time and not put the cart before the horse, but at the same time, this feels like the weirdest, most surreal deja vu EVER. I'm having a hard time not going "there", to the worst case scenario. To cancer, and surgery, and having to coordinate time off and hospital bills and insurance forms. I just don't want to, you know? I am SO tired of medical stuff. I'm annoyed, and I'm DONE with it, and I don't want to deal with it anymore.

I mean, I will if I need to. I just don't want to.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thursday Printable: Give Thanks

Oh, hey there blog. Long time, no see.

I wish I could say that I'll be posting on the regular from now on, but the truth is....that's probably not going to happen yet. Though I do miss blogging, a lot. But no, really the only reason I'm posting today is because I made a printable for my Mom's Group this week, and I like to toss all the printables up here for easy access.

So, long story short, here's a Thanksgiving themed free printable! Woo-hoo! The wreath graphic came from Besotted and the pinecone graphic was made by We Lived Happily Ever After. Both sites have some amazing graphics that are free for personal and/or non-commercial use that you should *absolutely* check out. In the meantime, feel free to download this baby, print her up, and stick her on your fridge or in a frame--I know that *I* will need this reminder over the course of the next week!

GiveThanksPrintable

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Busy Season

Summer is always the busy season for us. It just is. This year, Justin even decided not to play baseball this summer, but somehow it still feels insane. Right now, a lot of that insanity is due to Justin's crazy work schedule where he's been getting up anywhere between 3am and 5am to head to work, and then working until 5 or 6pm (or later). He's tired, and has asked me to help make sure that he gets up and doesn't sleep through his alarm in the mornings, and so then I'm finding myself waking up almost every hour in a "CRAP! Did we sleep through the alarm?!" panic. Work for Justin is crazy, but at least there *is* construction work for the first time in many years. Still, we are both very tired.

Southern Oregon is experiencing some crazy forest fires right now. It's really scary. On Monday night, lightning struck and started a fire near my sister-in-law's house, and we headed over to help them evacuate. At the end of that night, there were 5 homes in danger and the fire was 50 acres. As of this morning, just three days later, the fire is 600+ acres with 130 homes in danger, and the governor has declared a state of emergency. The firefighters have been absolutely incredible, both on land and from the air, and so far have saved every home. But, the fire is not contained at all, and many, many families that we know personally are displaced, and/or have damage to their property. It's a terrifying thing, and we would all appreciate your prayers.


 {Smoke in the valley over the past few days. Bottom left is a photo of one of the many helicopters doing drops from the Rogue River. Bottom right is stolen from my friend Amanda, and shows the smoke from the fire near my sister-in-law's house}

Other than that, I'm still working out consistently, though I've switched from P90x to P90x3, because hello...30 minutes. It's just easier to make that happen. I'm currently in week 4, which is sort of like the rest week before moving to block 2. I haven't seen any crazy dramatic differences in month one--about half an inch lost each from my waist, hips, and thighs--but I wasn't expecting a lot of difference either. I've heard that with P90x3, most of the change comes in blocks 2 and 3, so I'm trying to keep eating well, keep trucking, and not get discouraged.

{Week 1 on the left, Week 4 on the right}

Our garden is doing well, the kiddos are as crazy (but fun) as ever, I've made some really, really delicious food (thank you Pinterest). Life is good.

  



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