Friday, October 28, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week - 10/28/16

Got this notification from Audible last week - Yep. Sold. Cannot wait.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The State of the Stack - 10/17/16

City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin -

I'm SOOOOO close to finishing the series, and I'm doing that thing I always do with a series I love, which is dragging it out so that I don't have to be done. I WANT to know how it ends, but I don't want it to be over. Weirdo.

(I'm listening to this on audio, and the narrator is fantastic!)

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs -

See above. I just don't want it to be over! I will so miss these characters. I can tell this will be a series I revisit many times in the years to come, because for me this series has been magical.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren -

Reading this aloud with the kiddos, in preparation for a fun surprise this weekend - we're going to see the play! It will be their first time to see live theater, and I can't wait to see how excited they will be.

What's on YOUR nightstand??

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What's Making Me Happy - 10/12/16

You knew this one was coming, right??

My husband and I watched the first episode of Westworld together this past week, and I think it's going to be our new show. I didn't really know what to expect, but it was pretty immediately fascinating. It has the quality that most of my favorite shows (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Carnivale) have - the sense that what's on the surface is really just for show, and it's the deeper level that is ultimately important. Here's to hoping this one lives up to it's promise!

What's making YOU happy this week?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Book Thoughts - Adnan's Story by Rabia Chaudry

Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice after Serial by Rabia Chaudry
published 2016
410 pages

Synopsis -

In early 2000, Adnan Syed was convicted and sentenced to life plus thirty years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, a high school senior in Baltimore, Maryland. Syed has maintained his innocence, and Rabia Chaudry, a family friend, has always believed him. By 2013, after almost all appeals had been exhausted, Rabia contacted Sarah Koenig, a producer at This American Life, in hopes of finding a journalist who could shed light on Adnan’s story. In 2014, Koenig's investigation turned into Serial, a Peabody Award-winning podcast with more than 500 million international listeners

But Serial did not tell the whole story.

My thoughts -

Before I was obsessed with Hamilton, I was obsessed with the podcast trifecta that was Serial, Undisclosed, and Truth and Justice. I listened to all the episodes of each in the span of about 3 months, and feel like I got a cursory legal education in the process. I came away believing in Adnan's innocence, and cheering loudly when he got his new trial early this summer.

I wasn't sure how much new information this book would contain - and if you, like me, listened to all three podcasts, the answer is not much from a case standpoint. The new information in this book comes in the form of Adnan's own words, mixed into each chapter, recalling the events from his perspective, and shedding light on his thought process through this whole journey. 

I don't read enough true crime to know, really, how this stacks up to other books in the genre. I just know that, despite feeling like I already know everything there could possibly be to know about this case, I found the book fascinating. Rabia is a wonderful narrator, and the glimpses she gives her reader about growing up Muslim in America, and her own personal journey, added even more depth to this already enthralling story.

If legal thrillers or true crime are your thing, definitely give this one a shot. A truly insightful and disturbing look into the criminal justice system in our country.

Finished - 9/28/16
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some graphic depictions of crime scenes
My rating - 4/5

Friday, October 7, 2016

The State of the Stack - 10/7/16

It's the time of year where I start looking for books that are a little darker, a little moodier, a little spookier...

Here are a few I have on my stack - which one would you start with? What else can you recommend??

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week - 10/5/16

It's pretty hard for a scripted show to make it into my weekly viewing lineup while it's currently airing - I just in general prefer to wait until the season is over and watch all at once. But this show - honestly, I didn't expect to like it, but I watched the first episode and I was hooked. I'll be watching weekly, and discussing with my friends, and eagerly anticipating each new episode all season long.

This. So wrong, And yet I can't stop smiling.

These two crazies are SIX!!!!

What's making YOU happy this week??

Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Thoughts - Made Well by Jenny Simmons

Made Well: Finding Wholeness in the Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons
publishes 10-4-16
208 pages

Synopsis -

From the woman fighting cancer to the man who has lost his child to the girl sinking into depression, so many of us are engaged in daily battles as we long for healing. When he walked the earth, Jesus said to an unwell man, "Do you want to be made well?" His invitation stretched beyond physical healing--he sought to restore the soul. The same invitation stands for us today.

For anyone struggling on the journey toward wholeness, singer/songwriter Jenny Simmons offers a resting place and a friend along the way. With personal insight into emotional pain, she invites readers to encounter a God who is working out their restoration--often in surprising "half-baked" ways. Her humorous and inspirational prose lights a path toward wholeness. Anyone trying to find their way to spiritual, mental, and emotional healing will benefit from Jenny's vulnerable and compassionate stories of being made well in the midst of a messy life.

My thoughts -

"In the beginning, you were made well. Designed with divine imagination, shaped by sacred hands, and crafted by the Curator of creation. You and I were called good. We were already enough."

With this beautiful affirmation, Jenny Simmons invites readers into her theology of being made well. This is a theology of a journey, where health and healing are not synonymous; a theology not of depraved sinners but of beloved children; of a partnership that is equal parts divine grace and human willingness. This is a theology of choice - our choice, every day, to look for the small moments of our lives where we are being made well.

I discovered Jenny Simmons the author last year, when I read her first book, The Road to Becoming, because a friend asked me to. She was my favorite author discovery of the year. When I was given the chance to be on the launch team for this, her second book, I couldn't get in line fast enough. 

Simmons is a beautiful writer - her words have a way of weaving themselves into my heart, tugging out emotions I didn't expect in places I wouldn't have predicted. She is honest and raw, and doesn't hesitate to share the broken places in her own life, which allows her reader to feel the truth of her words. She is tender with pain - she doesn't discount it, but she doesn't wallow either. She holds pain in sacred hands, allowing her reader to experience it, while inviting them to move forward into the healing that awaits. 

"Sometimes the best thing we can do for someone in pain is to sit on the other side of the door and slide our fingers under the threshold so they know they aren't alone."

This book was beautiful and powerful. Once again, Jenny Simmons has written potentially my favorite nonfiction book of the year. Highest of recommendations - don't miss this one!

Finished 9/4/16
Source - ARC from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating - PG for frank talk about suffering
My rating - 5/5

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Thoughts - Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

Three Sisters, Three Queens

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory
published 2016
556 pages

Synopsis -

As sisters they share an everlasting bond; As queens they can break each other’s hearts.

“There is only one bond that I trust: between a woman and her sisters. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and in rivalry, we always think of each other.”

When Katherine of Aragon is brought to the Tudor court as a young bride, the oldest princess, Margaret, takes her measure. With one look, each knows the other for a rival, an ally, a pawn, destined—with Margaret’s younger sister Mary—to a sisterhood unique in all the world. The three sisters will become the queens of England, Scotland, and France.

United by family loyalties and affections, the three queens find themselves set against each other. Katherine commands an army against Margaret and kills her husband James IV of Scotland. But Margaret’s boy becomes heir to the Tudor throne when Katherine loses her son. Mary steals the widowed Margaret’s proposed husband, but when Mary is widowed it is her secret marriage for love that is the envy of the others. As they experience betrayals, dangers, loss, and passion, the three sisters find that the only constant in their perilous lives is their special bond, more powerful than any man, even a king.

My thoughts -

This novel definitely tested my love of all things Tudor. I sense that Margaret of Scotland has less source material about her life available than the rest of the rowdy clan, because the author seemed to give her the same thoughts over and over again, and unfortunately for the reader, those thoughts tended to the whiny and self-absorbed. Gregory really wanted her readers to believe that Margaret was highly beloved, by her two sister-queens, and by the procession of handsome, accomplished men she called husband. Unfortunately, she didn't give us much reason to believe that, instead portraying a women whose obsession with place and precedence was nearly all she ever thought about.

I have noticed something about myself as a reader lately, however. I'm well past the point in my reading experience where I have to actually LIKE a character to sympathize with them. It's probably what makes me the only Game of Thrones fan in the entire world who doesn't despise Cersei - she's awful. I'd never deny that. She does horrible things to everyone with little remorse. But I GET why she does those things. I understand her motivation, however misplaced, and so I sympathize with her even while I recognize that her actions are unforgiveable. I had much the same reaction to many of Margaret's actions. (Not the whining. The whining was just annoying.) Margaret makes some REALLY dumb decisions. But honestly, in her place, I'm not sure I would have been any wiser than she was. So while I am able to see how misguided were some of her efforts, I can still sympathize with the actions she takes. I don't LIKE her, but I GET her.

I also felt a little mislead by the title of this book. I really thought this would be a story about three women - instead, this is totally Margaret's story, from Margaret's point of view. Katharine and Mary are players, but never in the forefront. I think a bit of time spent in their heads might have been a nice change from Margaret's incessant complaining about who got to proceed whom when entering a room.

All that said, while this is certainly not my favorite of Gregory's Tudor novels, it did have all the juicy, gossipy pseudo-soap opera-y relationship shenanigans that make Gregory one of my main comfort read authors. Don't read this thinking you will fall in love with the main character - do read it for the insanity of the royal life that you just can't get enough of. It wasn't my favorite, but it wasn't the worst thing I've ever read either.

Finished - 9/28/16
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13, like all Gregory novels, for period danger & romance
My rating - 3/5

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week - 9/28/16

Yes, I will listen to ALL of the Hamilton medleys. Just keep suggesting them, YouTube.

And some more really good acappella....

And because county music is really bringing it this week....

What's making YOU happy this week?

Monday, September 26, 2016

The State of the Stacks - 9/26/16

Love Does by Bob Goff -

I am having a really hard time getting on board with this one. It's not poorly written, and I fully agree with the basic idea - love should be shown with actions, not just words - but something about it is just hitting me wrong. Trying to figure out why I'm in the huge minority on this one.....

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory -

Some day I will, once and for all and forever, have my fill of fictionalized accounts of the Tudor dynasty. Today is clearly not that day.

Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss -

Because we have two SIX-year-olds in the house today!!! SIX. How did that even happen???

What's on YOUR nightstand?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week - 9/21/16

Andi, the fabulous blogger behind Estella's Revenge, is one of the first people I ever "met" in the internet book world. We were part of a Yahoo group together - anyone else remember when those were a thing? I remember when she started her blog. I watched her take over and rock the leadership of Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon. She's one of those people I feel like I know, even though we've never met in real life.

A couple of weeks ago, Andi started a new adventure - Wrecking Ball Designs. It's an Etsy shop with hand-drawn stickers, book plates, washi strips, and lots of fun. At about the same time, I realized I was out of my supply of personalized book plates, and I contacted her. Less than 48 hours later, she'd sent me the designs for two book plates I loved, and they were in my hands within a week.

She took my partially-formed ideas and created me the exact thing I was hoping for but couldn't really express. I absolutely love them.

So what's making me happy this week - new, fun bookish goodies, and watching a friend launch a new chapter.

Visit Andi's Etsy shop at Wrecking Ball Designs - she's been teasing a sticker pack based on one of my FAVORITE books, The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern. I cannot wait to get my hands on it!!!

(Disclaimer - I purchased these goodies with my own money, and they are worth every penny.)

Monday, September 19, 2016

The State of the Stacks - 9/19/16

Lots of work-related business to tend to at home this week, so not much movement on the stacks.....

Still just starting to dig into these two....they are both beautiful, so I simultaneously want to read as fast as I can, and slow down and savor the experience. 

What's on your nightstand??

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Thoughts - A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker

A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker
published 9/13/2016
199 pages

Synopsis -

As a host and guest judge for HGTV and DIY Network (My Big Family Renovation, Brother v.s. Brother, Tiny House Arrest), Brandon Hatmaker understands what it takes to rehab a home. But after twenty-plus years of working with the local church (and as husband to bestselling author Jen Hatmaker), he has an even greater understanding of what it takes to rehab an everyday faith. In A Mile Wide, he helps readers see more clearly how the gospel works in us and eventually through us to transform an anemic spiritual life into a deeper, fuller, and more effective faith.

My thoughts -

I don't remember the last time I read a work of Christian nonfiction by a male author.

Scratch that - I do. I remember getting so mad at John Piper in college that I swore I would never read another straight, white dude's ideas about God ever. EVER.

So fast-forward a whole bunch of years, and I discover and fall in love with Jen Hatmaker. So when I hear her husband has a new book coming out, I am - despite my best intentions - curious. I decide to give it a shot.

And it was good. And honestly, that's saying something, because I've read some pretty amazing books in this genre this year, so he had a fairly high standard to live up to. His book was a nice mixture of big dreams - as Christians, we are called to step out and meet the needs of the world - as well as practical steps - start by slowing down, and identifying what actually needs to be done where you live. Hatmaker introduces a new way of living and relating to the world, but doesn't stop at the ideas - he gives individual people the tools to make change, in their own house, neighborhood, and community. His words are challenging, and I found myself nodding with agreement on one page, and feeling convicted on the next.

For example -

"We like people to share our theology, skin color, practices, politics, health, views, and interpretations, but what about when folks fall way outside those lines? Answer: that is not our responsibility. It's Jesus'. It's not ours to determine how God extends salvation on planet Earth. We don't have one clue how Jesus makes insiders from outsiders. He's been doing it for centuries, redeeming humanity, and not in the safe little evangelical way we understand it in America. Our job is simply to love."

And I'm cheering, YES! YES! YES! And then literally on the next page -

"'s a great reminder to me personally to see that Jesus still loves the insider just as well. Because sometimes I don't.....I've deflected, accused, and pointed the finger. And I realized I still do that from the outside. It's just that now my arrows are pointed in."

Oh, yeah that. Ouch.

 For me, what I appreciate most about Brandon Hatmaker is that he seems to truly do the best he can to live what he preaches. His church is built on the principle of serving the homeless and needy in it's community. He founded The Legacy Collective, a giving community that focuses on funding sustainable solutions to social issues around the world. He's not just a dude standing at a pulpit spouting words. He's a guy who truly believes what he says, and puts it into action. That's what makes me want to listen to what he has to say.

There are a couple of tiny, stylistic things that kept me from falling completely in love, but overall I found it to be excellent. I'm so glad I put my misconceptions aside and gave this one a try. Definitely recommended!

Finished - 5/30/16
Source - ARC from the publisher (thank you!!)
MPAA rating - G
My rating - 4/5

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week - 9/14/16

Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling in talks to join A Wrinkle In Time??? (Mostly this just makes me happy because it means the project is still moving forward....)

A new Anne of Green Gables miniseries is coming to Netflix????  (I know people are on the fence about this. I don't honestly think it will be anywhere close to as good as the original, beloved Megan Follows Anne. But any time this story makes it into the mainstream again, it gets me excited.)

I've been a fan of Tori Amos for a long time. While her new song isn't my favorite of her work, I love this video of just the piano part - it reminds me why I appreciate her music so much. Girls with pianos will always be near to my heart.

What's making YOU happy this week??

Monday, September 12, 2016

The State of the Stacks - 9/12/16

The Best American Essays, 1990 - edited by Justin Kaplan

Still working my way through this one - most of the essays have just been okay, but I've read one or two that have been quite interesting, so that keeps me chugging along.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

I pre-ordered the signed edition of this book months ago, and it just arrived last week. I love Glennon's words, and I know this book will bring tears and joy.

Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice

For our anniversary Jeremy got me signed editions of some of my favorite books. I love this novel, and reading it again has been so satisfying.

Hopeless Savages, vol. 3 - Too Much Hopeless by Jen Van Meter

Pretty sure I heard about this series from Book Riot, since that's where I get most of my graphic novel recommendations from. This series is mostly just fun, but the characters are really starting to flesh out and become people I am starting to care about. I'm always interested to see what these crazy kids will be up to next.

What's on your nightstand??

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Thoughts - Binti by Nnedi Okorafor


Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
published 2015
96 pages

Synopsis -

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

My thoughts -

This was a really interesting novella. I've tried to read Nnedi Okorafor's novels previously, and for whatever reason couldn't maintain interest long enough to make it past the first few chapters. This story, however, really hooked me in from the very beginning, and I finished the entire thing in a single afternoon.

I thought Binti's world was extremely well fleshed out for such a short work - I feel like I understand politics and beliefs that are often lost in must longer works of speculative fiction. I thought Binti as a character was fascinating, and the dilemmas she faced and worked through felt true and honest. I found the resolution to the story a bit abrupt, but am willing to give that a bit of leeway since this was a novella - obviously, the author didn't have much time for long, drawn-out scenes of hashing out problems.

I was uncertain of this author, but this story has made me a fan. I will definitely give her novels a try, and I can't wait for the next installment in Binti's world!

Finished - 6/29/16
Source - audiobook from South Side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some intense scences
My rating - 4/5

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week - 7/20/16

We are really enjoying the show Greatest Hits on ABC - some of the performances are surprisingly good, and some remind us why it's better that pop music has just moved on.....

I'm not ashamed to say that I've been a fan of Hanson - those boys just make good music. I loved this performance of their most famous song, and it made me think I'd have a great time at their concert. These boys are pretty darn talented, even in a silly song like this.

YouTube is so big, and I'll never see even half of what's available, but sometimes I find something new that seems like I should have known about it already.....did you know about these Crash Course Literature episodes?? Author John Green breaking down great books? I'm loving it, and the only thing I'm mad about is he hasn't made a new episode in 2 years. Give us some more books, John!!

On Saturday, I will be here. Can't wait. Vacation = bliss.

What's making YOU happy this week??

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Thoughts - Sinners, Saints and the Furious Love of God by David Leo Schultz

Sinners, Saints and the Furious Love of God Sinners, Saints, and the Furious Love of God by David Leo Schultz
published 7/15/16
408 pages

Synopsis -

This book is two things. First - it’s a raw conversation filled with honest reflections about life and faith. Like the one you’d have at a dingy bar, hole-in-the wall coffee shop, or a cross country road trip. Second and more importantly - it’s a witness to unfair and undeserved grace. It’s a witness to ups and downs, a few beautiful mountain tops, and even more dark and dangerous valleys. It’s a witness to the Divine crashing into my life and hunting me down with His furious love. On this road trip with me you’ll pick up hitchhikers with names like depression, heart break, and loss, and although they will stay with you for a while, they won’t make the whole trip with you. You’ll reflect on their purpose with the eyes of mercy, the lenses of hindsight, and the visionary hope of forgiveness. What you’re about to read is my story. My ragamuffin story. And in my story I have discovered God chasing me down with his furious love through the sinners and saints that have shipwrecked into my life. But my greatest hope in our time together - should you dare to pick up this book - is that you will read my story and forget my story and fall in love with Jesus. I pray that my story will fade into the background and your story will take center stage - so that you too can see where God was and is, where He is ready and waiting to tackle and ambush you with his incomprehensibly tender and overwhelming love.
My thoughts -

I'm not sure I've ever read a work of Christian nonfiction as honest and raw as "Sinners, Saints, and the Furious Love of God." I've read a bunch that are more polished; a few that are funnier; several that are destined to be more popular in churchy circles. But I don't think I've ever read a book by a Christian author who has chosen to lay himself bare in quite the same way as David Leo Schultz (yes, he uses all three names).

This is a not a book that will be remembered for its lovely prose, or its gracious technical skill. (Not a secret - the author discloses early on that punctuation rules are not particularly a concern.) Editing might have made it more presentable, but it also would have erased much of what is the soul of this book - the message that practically vibrates throughout every page - we are loved furiously, recklessly, unconditionally, by the God who made us all.

Schultz takes his readers on a road trip of sorts, over back roads and past all-night diners, through the highs and lows of a life marked by some success and more struggle, inviting his reader into a conversation that feels uniquely intimate. His honesty is refreshing, and sometimes almost uncomfortable, but it's that honesty that makes his reader trust him. This is not an author out to impress, or to make his own words leave a lasting impression - his message is the only goal, and that message of love is for everyone. Literally everyone.

This is a book to be read, and re-read, and then read again. It won't be the most popular book I read this year, or the best selling, but it might be the most important. Highly recommended.

Finished - 7/17/16
Source - review copy from author - thank you
MPAA rating - PG for language
My rating - 5/5

Friday, July 15, 2016

The State of the Stacks - 7/15/16

The Best American Essays, 1990 - edited by Justin Kaplan

I collect these books, because I think they sound like such a good idea, and then never get around to reading them. So, this year, I'm going to start reading them. From my shelves.

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

A re-read, because I have the third and final in the trilogy which just came out this spring. I have enjoyed the first two novels very much, and I'm looking forward to completing the story. From my shelves.

Resistance: A Woman's Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France by Agnes Humbert

My current non-fiction read. From my shelves.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

On loan from my mom. I'll be seeing her in a couple of weeks, so I'm hoping to return this to her then.

What's on your nightstand??

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week

We all know of my love for Hamilton: The Musical. This past Saturday, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, along with primary actors Phillipa Soo and Leslie Odom, Jr., took their last curtain calls on Broadway. It was a lot of fun to be able to watch that curtain call live. Before their last show, The Schuyler Sisters gave us one last, beautiful song to remember them by -

I cannot stop watching this. The level of brilliance required to conceive of, and then execute, something like this - amazing.

 I know I'm not the only one enthralled with the story of A Song of Ice and Fire. (Game of Thrones for those who just watch on HBO). This combines my love of the books with my nerdy love of history.....spoiler alerts, this follows the timeline of the novels, so fans who just watch the show might find a few differences.....

What cool things have you discovered lately?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Thoughts: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Page

Dorothy Must Die Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Page
published 2014
452 pages

Synopsis -

I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero.

But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado - taking you with it - you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road - but even that's crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy.

They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm - and I'm the other girl from Kansas.

I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

I've been trained to fight.

And I have a mission.
My thoughts -


I REALLY, REALLY wanted to like this book. And I didn't not like it, exactly. I found the premise to be extremely interesting, and the new characters the author introduced had a lot of potential. My problem is that by the end of the book, basically nothing that the author promised in the book description had actually happened.

That's not to say NOTHING happened. There were lots and lots of things going on, almost all the time. Every page had some new situation Amy had to extricate herself from. It just wasn't the situations I expected - this just wasn't quite the book I wanted it to be. So, probably, my bad.

But also, Amy never really became a character in her own right. She seemed like a girl who had a lot of things happen to her, but I never quite got to the point where I cared. As a character, she isn't the person I am actually interested in in this story, and as a reader that's concerning to me.

Now, as I said before, I didn't NOT like it. There were enough seeds that piqued my interest that I will be reading at least one more book in the series. I'm hoping for more depth, however, or I might never know if Dorothy does, indeed, die.

Finished - 6/25/16
Source - South Side library
MPAA rating - PG for fantasy violence
My rating - 3/5

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Thoughts - Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
published 2005
818 pages

Synopsis -

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party, and becoming the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.Historians have long told the story of America’s birth as the triumph of Jefferson’s democratic ideals over the aristocratic intentions of Hamilton. Chernow presents an entirely different man, whose legendary ambitions were motivated not merely by self-interest but by passionate patriotism and a stubborn will to build the foundations of American prosperity and power. His is a Hamilton far more human than we’ve encountered before—from his shame about his birth to his fiery aspirations, from his intimate relationships with childhood friends to his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Monroe, and Burr, and from his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds to his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza. And never before has there been a more vivid account of Hamilton’s famous and mysterious death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July of 1804.

Chernow’s biography is not just a portrait of Hamilton, but the story of America’s birth seen through its most central figure. At a critical time to look back to our roots, Alexander Hamilton will remind readers of the purpose of our institutions and our heritage as Americans.

My thoughts -

So this was definitely not a thing I'd planned to do when I thought about what I'd read in 2016.

Of course, I also hadn't planned on falling head-over-heels for a hip-hop musical about the least-known founding father, so clearly my scouting for the year wasn't the best.

This book was, honestly, fantastic. You know how you are flipping channels, and you see PBS is showing Ken Burns' "The Civil War", and you think, "Oh, yeah, that's supposed to be good. I can watch an episode, and maybe if I like it I'll look it up on Netflix later or something", and then the next thing you know it's 4 hours later and you're trying to find a kleenix because you're crying about a confederate soldier, and you don't even know what's happening except you have to keep going because how can history ever be this compelling?? Yeah, it's that kind of good.

Chernow uses an immense number of primary sources, and spends pages and pages on things like the formation of the US banking system, and manages to make none of it seem dry or boring or lecturing. I would venture to guess that Chernow is a fan of Alexander Hamilton (because how could he not be?), but he doesn't shy away from exploring Hamilton's weaknesses (pride; impulsivity; inability to keep his mouth shut) while also showing what an incredible man he truly was.

I think this was also an incredibly pertinent book to be reading right now, in a time where politics is incredibly divisive, and nearly everyone I know looks at the future of our country with some serious trepidation. It was a good reminder that, frankly, our founding fathers weren't exactly saints, either. They were men who had great ideas, and the will to put them into practice. They were also highly morally ambiguous, liars and cheats, philanderers, libelers, and spendthrifts. They will willing to use their public platform to rouse the general public to revolt, with or without the benefit of the truth. They were often mean-spirited, vindictive, and petty. They hired journalists to assassinate each other in the press. I mean, sound familiar??

I'm not saying I suddenly have great hope in the future of the American political system. But I am saying reading this biography gave me some much needed historical perspective. Our history wasn't as golden as I was taught in the history books. We've always been lead by people - sometimes good, sometimes not that great, but always flawed and struggling. This isn't the first time our leaders appear.....less than inspiring. And, in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, "You have no control. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"

This is fascinating history, and I'm thankful I took the plunge into this amazing beast of a biography. Highly recommended.

Finished - 6/25/16
Source - my shelves via Audible
MPAA rating - PG-13 - it's history, so it can be rough
My rating - 5/5

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman
published 2015
256 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Our obsession with bigger and faster is spinning us out of control. We move through the week breathless and bustling, just trying to keep up while longing to slow down. But real life happens in the small moments, the kind we find on Tuesday, the most ordinary day of the week. Tuesday carries moments we want to hold onto--as well as ones we'd rather leave behind. It hold secrets we can't see in a hurry--secrets not just for our schedules but for our souls. It offers us a simple bench on which to sit, observe, and share our stories.
For those being pulled under by the strong current of expectation, comparison, and hurry, relief is found more in our small moments than in our fast movements. In "Simply Tuesday," Emily P. Freeman helps readers
- stop dreading small beginnings and embrace today's work
- find contentment in the now--even when the now is frustrating or discouraging
- replace competition with compassion
- learn to breathe in a breathless world
Jesus lived small moments well, slow moments fully, and all moments free. He lives with us still, on all our ordinary days, creating and redeeming the world both in us and through us, one small moment at a time. It's time to take back Tuesday, to release our obsession with building a life, and believe in the life Christ is building in us--every day.

My thoughts -

This book was kinda just alright for me. I feel like I have heard MANY of these ideas many places before, so while there were moments of insight, much felt like that weird deja-vu feeling where you don't realize until page 241 that you've read this book already. The author's style is very internal, and while I'm not opposed to that I didn't think the moments where she tried to transition into the charge for her readers ever really worked that well. And her metaphors never really caught my imagination - I understood her analogy of the bench, and of "wearing the world loosely", but they didn't ever truly sink in to my brain the way I expect they were supposed to.

Clearly in the minority on this one, as this is a fairly well-beloved book in the Christian nonfiction genre, but for me it was just okay.

Finished - 6/19/16
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - G
My rating - 3/5

Sunday, May 22, 2016

On Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Bandwagons

SO......Hamilton: The Musical? Maybe you've heard of it???

The founding father, the hip-hop soundtrack, the hype, the acclaim - this isn't news, right?

I think I came to know of Hamilton late. I actually stumbled on the Ham4Ham videos on Youtube first, and wondered what in the world was going on? Then, through some research and my friend Google, figured out it was a bit of a phenomenon. Then found the soundtrack, and the rest was history. I am officially on this bandwagon, friends, and I don't think I'll be jumping off any time soon.

I've always been a sucker for a good musical. My mom was active in the local community theater when I was growing up, and I can remember the first time I fell in love - she brought me along to help with costumes for the summer production of Camelot, and I was hooked. In junior high, a friend gave me a copy of the soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera, along with the entire (photocopied) libretto, and my goal officially became to be as amazing as Sarah Brightman. (Spoiler alert - I didn't have the pipes.)

So let's just say I was overdue for a new musical obsession.

I started watching the Ham4Ham videos, and listening to the soundtrack, and fell more and more in love with this funny, evocative production.

The cast performed at the White House, and the importance of the intersection of those pieces of history are not lost on me.

I purchased my own copy of Hamilton: Revolution (aka the Hamiltome), choosing for my pleasure the audiobook, and devoured Mariska Hargitay and Lin-Manuel Miranda telling the story of how this amazing show came to be on Broadway.

I will say, honestly, that if you are not a huge fan of 1. The Musical and 2. Broadway, this is probably not the book for you. It's lots of the inner workings of bringing a show to production, and how the cast is chosen, and while I find those kinds of stories fascinating, I am aware that they have a bit of a specific appeal. I thought Markiska Hargitay did a fantastic job as narrator - she just sounds like New York, to me, which is perfect for the story of a musical set in New York, coming to New York. I cried.

I am more and more in awe of Lin-Manuel Miranda every time he does another thing. I've been enjoying his Ham4Hams, of course, and his Twitter feed is genuinely entertaining. But reading about his process - about the technical and musical knowledge and skill that he brought to the writing of Hamilton; about his evident love for both musical theater and hip-hop, and the ways he weaves both into his work - this guy is the real deal. I am all in for whatever he chooses to do next, because I can't wait to see what his brain will come up with.

And more than all that - Hamilton: The Musical has ignited my interest in Hamiltion: The Dude - I've just secured a copy of the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton that started this whole thing, and I'm compiling a list of biographies of the other major players so I can read and learn more. A musical that compels me to dig into the actual history of our country? Not bad.

I can't be the only one on this bandwagon, right? Are you a Hamilton fan? Bemused observer? Not yet sure what is going on? What else should I read now that I'm obsessed with the man? Give me ideas, friends!!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Thoughts - Nor Forsake by Julie Presley

Nor Forsake by Julie Presley
to be published June 17, 2016

Synopsis -

Libby Abbott leads a seemingly charmed life: she works from a beautiful home in a rich neighborhood as an aspiring author and has a handsome and successful husband who supports her dreams. But behind closed doors are the suspicions of infidelity, failed pregnancies, a writing career that's virtually non-existent, and a heart that is so far from God, she's not sure she knows the way back. When Libby's short story and headshot land on the desk of literary agent, Jason Randall, he is intrigued by the grace with which she handles her characters and her stunning smile. He's convinced that she's his next best-selling author. Publishing is the last thing on Libby's mind, but Jason's eagerness to see her succeed pushes her in a direction she never thought she'd travel again -towards the God of her youth, who dares her to embrace life amidst all of the chaos.

My thoughts -

I'm just going to be honest - Christian romance as a genre is not my jam. The storylines are so predictable - the main characters so sweet and pure I need a trip to the dentist - and the romance? Well, let's just say it's generally as sterile as a bottle of hand sanitizer. Like I said.....not my jam.

So imagine how thrilled I am to discover an author who write romance novels with real romance - like, the kind the gives a girl more than a few butterflies in her stomach - with characters I actually LIKE, stories that surprise me as I turn the pages - and in the Christian genre??? It's almost unbelievable - and yet, it's completely real.

Nor Forsake is the second novel I've read by Julie Presley, and with it she has cemented her spot as my favorite Christian fiction writer. Libby is an absolute delight of a character - warm, funny, smart, but with just enough insecurity and sass to make her feel real and authentic. I am already a sucker for a good novel set in the literary/publishing world, and Nor Forsake adds the romance of New York City as a backdrop for Libby's story. And the romance - yep, it has heat, which is sadly missing in so many Christian romance novels, but it's still a book you don't have to feel bad about recommending to your mom, or your 16-year-old daughter.

I'm such a fan of this author. Her books feel like a breath of fresh air, a cozy blanket on a chilly evening, a good conversation with a trusted friend. I cannot recommend her work enough.

Finished - 5/12/16
Source - review copy from the author - thank you!
MPAA rating - PG-13 for romantic situations 
My rating - 5/5

Pre-order Nor Forsake here!  (Seriously, it's only $4.99 - you almost can't go wrong.)

Thinking maybe $4.99 is too much for an untested author?? Grab a FREE copy of Julie's first novel, Stones of Remembrance, at her website!!   (Wait for the box to pop up to snag your copy...)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week

My friend Corine has a podcast! It's called Rising Stories - each week she talks to a sucessful female business owner, entrepreneur, or author. They talk about being in business for themselves, the elusive work/life balance, and what's rocking their world. I love listening to women's stories, and this podcast feels like eavesdropping on a conversation between girlfriends. I'm loving it so far!! (Click on Corine to be taken to her podcast website - click on Rising Stories to be taken to the ITunes page.)

Still loving Hamilton, and since yesterday was "May the Fourth Be With You", this parody seemed appropriate....

Saturday, April 30, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week

How is this song 25 years old??? I'm not sure, but it still makes me just as happy.

I've joined the Hamilton train, and am having a great time watching and listening to all things Hamilton the Musical. Here's the cast at the White House.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Re-Educaton of a Reader - The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. Recently, however, it has come to my attention that there are some G A P I N G holes in my literary education. For example: I have read every Austen and Bronte you can get your hands on, but somehow had never, until 4 years ago, managed to read a Charles Dickens novel in its entirety. So, with a little help from my mom, the English Teacher, and a couple of good friend, the English Majors, I am setting a course to re-educate myself by filling in some of those gaps.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
first published 1982
295 pages
winner of the National Book Award for fiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction

(recommended by an English Major)

Synopsis -

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence. 

My thoughts -

I knew before I started this would be a good book. I had read two of Walker's short story collections in college, and they were some of my favorite discussions in class. So, as per usual, I just waited about 15 years before picking up her most famous work of fiction. :)

This book is an excellent work. I found the epistolary format to be especially effective at telling Celie's story in her own words. Celie's words were not easy to read - often they were devastating. Her story is sometimes brutal, but often beautiful. Despite the difficult subject matter, I flew through the pages, laughing and shaking my fist and crying and rejoicing in turn. 

While I understand why this book has been frequently challenged, I wouldn't stop a teen from reading it. I think it's an honest and forthright depiction of the way in which women were treated in our country, and it's not something we can pretend or ignore away. I would hope this novel would open up conversations about racism and sexism that are important.

I think this will be a novel that will remain with me for a very long time. I'm so glad I finally decided to read it. Highly, highly recommended.

Finished - 4/25/16
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - PG-13 for violence and sexual situations
My rating - 5/5

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Readathon, Day #2!!

Yes, yes, I know - the readathon is really only 24 hours. But every time a readathon rolls around, it seems my Saturday gets filled up with stuff so I can't read. This time, my Sunday is pretty much empty, so I'm just gonna have my own Readathon Day 2, and get some good reading done.

I WAS able to finish 

Lumberjanes, Vol. 3 - which continues to be one of my favorite series. I absolutely love the exploits of these plucky, hilarious campers.

I also read with the kiddos - 

The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale. We LOVE this book - it's our third time reading it, I think, but Sophia just ordered #2 in the series from her latest Scholastic book order form, so we had to read it again to prepare. ;)

I was also able to read about 1/3 of 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker - which is just as intense and heartbreaking as I'd expected. This is the first novel I've read by Walker, but I have read quite a few of her short stories, and knew going in what an excellent writer she is. I definitely hope to finish this one today.

Okay, enough talk - time to get some more reading done!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Readathon - Update #1

I'm finally reading - woo hoo!!! Not, like, seriously, but I've been able to make some progress on The Color Purple in between family visits and making gingerbread play-dough (thanks, preschool teacher, for that 30 minutes of my life I'll never get back....)

I have a couple of mini-challenges that I've completed as well. The first is the Share a Quote Challenge hosted by Nea -

Pick a quote from the book that you are reading or books that you've read during this read-a-thon. I love quotes, so I would really love hear the one that made a big impression on you. The quote should be: FUNNY (or hilarious) or ROMANTIC (or sexy) or INSPIRING orWOW THIS IS WRITTEN SO BEAUTIFULLY.

I have TWO quotes for you from The Color Purple -

"Everything want to be loved. Us sing, and dance, and holler, just trying to be loved."

"Time moves slowly, but passes quickly."

Next is the Character Road Trip challenge hosted by Felicia - 

  1. Pick a character that you would like to road trip with
  2. Tell me 3 destinations that you would hit

I recently finished Winter, the last book in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Mayer. I'd love to take Winter on a road trip, and because she enjoyed spending time with the animals on Luna, I'd take her on a zoo road trip - the Blank Park Zoo here in Des Moines, the Omaha Zoo, and the Como Park Zoo.

Alright, back to reading!!!


Yay!!! It's Read-A-Thon day!!!

It's also the day my parents are coming back from spending the winter in Arizona, so my read-a-thon will start......later.  ;)

But here's the opening meme, just to get into the spirit -

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I am reading in Des Moines, IA, USA

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I have a bunch of graphic novels that I can't wait to tackle.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Chicken salad and crackers! My current favorite thing.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

This is only the 3rd read-a-thon that I've participated in as a reader. I have twin 5-year-olds, and solo parent on the weekends, so I always have LOTS of interruptions, but I still love it!

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I'm definitely snacking smarter - less carb, more protein. I'm going to try to participate in more mini-challenges, but we'll see how the day goes.

Okay, time to entertain the family. I will be back and reading later - have fun, everyone!!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Remembering Tori

I don't often use this blog to share personal platforms, but some days need to be an exception.

Over the past year, I've been given the opportunity to come to know Lesa Brackbill, and her daughter, Tori. Tori was a beautiful, fully normal baby, until at 5 months old she was diagnosed with Krabbe leukodystrophy. Krabbe is a progressive, degenerative disease - at the time of her diagnosis, there was nothing medical science could do to save Tori. Tragically, had the Brackbill's hospital screened for Krabbe at Tori's birth, a procedure could have been done to save her life.

On Easter Sunday, Tori went to sleep with her parents next to her, and woke up with Jesus.

Today, Tori's family and friends are gathering in Pennsylvania for a Celebration of Life. While I can't be there physically, I couldn't let the day go by without letting Lesa, Brennan, and the rest of Tori's family know how much her short life has impacted mine.

Tori reminds me to live each day with purpose. Tori reminds me to hug close my kids. Tori reminds me not to let a minute go by without telling someone how much I care about them. Tori reminds me to make a Bucket List, and check off as many items as I can. Tori reminds me to be passionate about a cause, and work to make the world better. Tori reminds me every day to Choose Joy.

To read more of Tori's story, and to see her Bucket List, visit The Adventures of the Brackbill Family

To learn more about Krabbe Leukodystrophy, and to find out if your state requires newborn screening for this devastating disease, visit Hunter's Hope

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What's Making Me Happy This Week

(shamelessly stolen from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, which also makes me happy each week.)

The pianist in me is IN LOVE with this. I love picking out the pieces I've been lucky enough to play myself.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

March Magics Wrapup

And just like that! March is over - almost like magic.........(heh.)

If you recall, I had BIG plans for my March reading, and in typical fashion, they mostly fell through. In my defense, my lack of following the plan was not due to me reading other things - I just struggled to find the time to read anything at all! The month was busier than I expected, and the kiddos couldn't seem to stay healthy, and the reading just didn't happen.

That said, I DID accomplish SOMETHING -

I read my first Terry Pratchett novel! And OOOOH was it good! I love this world, I love these characters - I am only mad that I have waited THIS LONG to dip my toes into Discworld!

I think part of the reason I'd held back is because, for me, when a book (or movie or tv show or whatever) is sold to me as "funny", it often falls flat. The things authors or creators find funny are frequently not the same things I find funny, so things that are supposed to make me laugh often.....don't. So I think I was worried that I just wouldn't get the humor, and so wouldn't enjoy the series as much as everyone else in the world.

Well, shouldn't have worried in this case. Pratchett is just charming, and his humor was evident and extremely successful. I loved the way he used this book to poke a little bit at the idea of "men's work" vs "women's work" - a serious subject, but without the harsh edges because of Pratchett's light touch.

I'm so happy I decided to dive into Discworld. I will definitely be reading more in this expansive universe.

I am also NEARLY done with Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones. It took me a while to get into the flow - the beginning seemed like it jumped all over a bit, so I had a hard time really sinking my teeth into the story. I'm now just over 3/4 done, though, and really loving it. The family relationships are great, and all the weird animals are so much fun. This is definitely reminding me why I found DWJ so enchanting, and prodding me to read more in her extensive library.

So there you have it - not stellar, but not a bust. As always, I enjoyed my time in the March Magics universe, and am thankful to Kristen for hosting again.