Tuesday, December 31, 2013

January's Group Read is...

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline!

Description: The author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

And the winner of the free copy is Lisa! But, I'm thinking you already read this, so if you'd like, you can have a free copy of the next book we read that you don't own! ;)

Who is planning on joining us?  I'll post the discussion on January 31st!

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Top Ten Books Read in 2013

I got a little stingy with my 5 star rating this year and I don't even have five books rated at 5 that weren't all brand new.  Two were re-reads! However, most of my books I gave a 4 star goodreads rating.  My Top Ten Books that I read this year are...

1. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corsanti

Seriously, if you have not read this book you need to.  It might not catch you at first but it is worth your attention.  Put it on your 2014 to-read list!

2. Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Such an enticing tale of family and it is an epic tale of when family is too close and when they pull apart.  How to separate and find your own way and still keep true to your roots.

3.  The Grant County Series by Karin Slaughter

I read most of the books in this series this year and ah, I love it.  A lot gory and a lot gruesome but if you like thrillers, you need to check her out!

4. Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch

This is my third book by this author and I really liked this one.  It was thought provoking bringing up questions about how we live our life and what is pre-decided and what we make for ourselves.

5. The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

This had me turning the pages super fast to find out who did what and how Kate was going to come out of the situation.

6.  Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank

She made me fall in love with South Carolina and devote countless hours into planning a spring break that won't be happening in 2014 to this lovely state.  This book weaves the past and present with humor, grace and love.

7.  Those Who Save Us - by Jenna Blum

This was one of my most highly recommended books this year.  Second only to The Almond Tree.  No one was disappointed yet.  If you are into WWII
books, get thee to a library!

8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I love this man.  He writes what I wish my high school self could have lived.  Character friend wise.  Not dying from cancer or without a loving family away at boarding schools and such.  I need to check out the rest of his books in 2014 besides the three I've already devoured.  If you are contemplating checking out a YA author I highly recommend him and Sarah Dessen. 

9. The Dinner by Herman Koch

I struggled with including this one.  I loved/hated it.  Kinda like Gone Girl where you hate the characters but the devoured the book.  It moves fast so if you like mysteries that move quickly, check it out. 

10. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Oh my goodness.  Why did I wait so long to read this? I devoured it in a day! I got it for Christmas and it was done by the 27th! I probably should have read the book description and I would have read it sooner! ;)

What were your top ten books read in 2013? After looking through mine, I'm hoping for better reads this year and perhaps not being so stingy with the 5 star rating to make this post at the end of next year a tad easier! ;)

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Death of Bees Discussion

Happy Friday! I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday and time off! For our last book of 2014 we read The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell.  I didn't really know what to expect and I'm glad I finished it out even though the first part had me putting it down and coming back to it. 

Description: Today is Christmas Eve.
Today is my birthday.

Today I am fifteen.
Today I buried my parents in the backyard.
Neither of them were beloved.

Marnie and her little sister, Nelly, are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren't telling. While life in Glasgow's Maryhill housing estate isn't grand, the girls do have each other. Besides, it's only a year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.

As the New Year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? Lennie takes them in—feeds them, clothes them, protects them—and something like a family forms. But soon enough, the sisters' friends, their teachers, and the authorities start asking tougher questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls' family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.


1.  What was your initial reaction reading these few paragraphs? What did it tell you about the person who wrote it? How does the prologue set the tone for the story that follows?

I am a big ole fail because I did not process the initial information beyond she was fifteen and burying her parents in the backyard.  I completely missed the Christmas Eve part and that it was her birthday.  It probably would have affected my perspective on the countdown throughout the book to her 16th birthday!

2. What does "The Death of Bees" signify?

3. What were your first impressions of Marnie and Nelly?  Did your impressions of the sisters change over the course of the novel?

4. Contrast Marnie and Nelly. How do they see themselves, each other, and the world around them? What accounts for the things they see differently? How would each fare without the other? Marnie explains that Nelly is "just not like other people and can't fake it, which is more than can be said about me. I've been faking it my whole life." Why does she believe this about herself? How is Marnie faking it?

I think it funny and so true how two people can look at a situation differently.  Like how Nelly never suspected about Lennie's sexuality or the noises she heard.  Marnie was definitely a realist and Nelly was quite unique in her appearance/dialogue and actions. 

5. How do their parents' deaths affect the girls? Is Marnie right to keep their deaths a secret? Why does she do this? Are her instincts about adults and the system correct?

6. Think about their parents, Gene and Izzy. What kind of parents—and people—were they? Do you think they loved their daughters? If so, why did they behave as they did? What did the girls learn about life from them? How much was Izzy's background influential in who she was as an adult? Why are Marnie and Nelly so different from their parents?

7. If it were possible, do you think we should have laws determining who can have children and who cannot? Why do some people have children when they cannot or do not want to take care of them?

I definitely feel that some people should not be entrusted in the welfare of a child.  There needs to be classes on what IS APPROPRIATE and normal for children to do and what is expected in the care of a child.  We make people jump through more hoops to operate vehicles than produce children.
 Blood does not make a parent/guardian.  I have seen far too many children whose lives WOULD be better in different circumstances.  However, I do think everyone should be able to parent how they think is best but in all things a child's well-being is most important.  Which I think sometimes people forget.  It's not about you, it's about your kid.

8. What role does Vlado play in Marnie's life? Describe their relationship. What do they offer each other? What do you think of Vlado? Is he a good person? We hear about Vlado before we meet him. How does what we first learn about him color our impressions?

9. The novel is told from the viewpoints of three characters: Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie. Why do you think the author chose this form of narration? How does it add to the unfolding story? How might it be different if it had been told from one of the three viewpoints?
10. Would you say the book had a happy ending? What do you think will happen to the girls in the future? What about Robert and Vlado?

I think it had a predictable overall ending that is as happy as they are going to get for awhile.  It would be interesting to read a sequel with their life after they got to the cottage.  In my happy ending for them Robert doesn't come looking and Mick gives up.  And by the way, how does Mick randomly show up on the night they are going to disappear? And really? Was Robert just chilling outside every night until they tried running away? And why wouldn't they leave to run away during the school day when they have a legit head start? Was it the money and clothes? I don't know, it wrapped up super quick.

I hope you will join us in 2014! Thanks for all who participated in 2013!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Favorites

I'm totally stealing this idea from Amber but I thought it would be fun to share!

Favorite Holiday Drink:

I generally drink a lot of wine this time of year.  Cheap red merlot is always a go-to(any wine recommendations?) but I also like what my uncle calls a Snowball? I think but is definitely a dirty girl scout shot in drink form.  Or dark beer.  I guess I drink all of these all year long, but they are still yummy!!!  My current favorite winter time beer is Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. Yum!

Favorite Holiday Movie:

I have a few.  I looove Love Actually and can't get enough of Elf.  I also like watching It's a Wonderful Life and Sound of Music which I classify as a holiday movie.  We may own multiple copies of the Sound of Music and a record for our record player.  The goodbye song may be used at our house to say goodbye to guests as they leave late night parties and Edelweiss was the song my husband danced with his mother at our wedding.  His family is a tad Sound of Music obsessed.  Speaking of, did you catch Carrie Underwood in the Live NBC version? We of course enjoyed it because we like Sound of Music but ehh.. her acting as a bit stiff.  It did get better as it went on.  I would highly recommend seeing a production of it if you get the chance!

Favorite Holiday Treat:

Oh man.  I looove the caramels that my husband makes every year from his grandma's recipe.  MY grandma used to make them and then he took over when she could no longer with his family recipe and yummm.  I've always been known to sneak a few as I walk by them.  BAD BAD BAD.  I also looove sugar cookies.  Yum.  We made cookies this year using Betty Crocker's recipe for the cookies and frosting.  They were very yummy!

ok, to be fair this is from when we made a gingerbread house but I didn't put the cookie pictures on the computer yet, and really, this is what cookie decorating looked like too ha
Favorite Holiday Song:
I love Christmas songs! I could listen to them all year long.  Some of my favorites are Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Holy Night, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman and lots more!
Favorite Holiday Activity:
I love going shopping with my mom.  And playing euchre while drinking beer with cousins.  Going to look at Christmas lights.  Shoveling while it's snowing (once a year only ha), singing carols around my grandma's piano (miss her so much!), and watching the kids get so excited about Christmas!
What are your holiday favorites? Merry Christmas!!!!

Monday, December 23, 2013

January Group Read Suggestions

I know, I know.  This post is SO so late.  I completely forgot about posting it.  So votes will be open until the 26th which I know is so very soon and right around the holiday, but ya know. ;) 

Thanks for participating this year, suggesting great books and talking about them! I really appreciate it!  I think my favorite one this year was Still Alice even though, I technically read it last year.  The one I read this year that I liked the best was probably Beach Music.  I've been meaning to check out another book by Pat Conroy ever since.  My least favorite this year was probably Life Sentences or Ladder of Years but to be fair I didn't finish The End of Your Life Book Club or even read Looking for Me at all.  Soo..

What we've read...

The Death of Bees
Liberating Paris
Life Sentences
Looking for Me
Ladder of Years
Where'd You Go Bernadette?
Beach Music
The Dinner
The End of Your Life Book Club
Still Alice 
The Song Remains the Same
Those Who Save Us
We Are All Welcome Here
Gone Girl
Prisoner of Tehran
The Wednesday Sisters
Looking for Alaska
Cutting for Stone
One Summer
The Year of Fog
Winter Garden
The Violets of March
State of Wonder
The Invisible Bridge
The Postmistress
The Scent of Rain and Lightning
Still Missing
The Sandalwood Tree
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Something Borrowed
The Blue Orchard
Sammy's Hill
In the Woods
Shanghai Girls
The Weight of Water
Water for Elephants
The Color Purple
The One That I Want
The Secret Garden
House Rules
American Wife
Firefly Lane
The Reader
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Awakening
Pride & Prejudice
I See You Everywhere

Votes are open until Dec 26th! I hope you will suggest something and participate in 2014! And, as a thank you, I am going to pick one person to get a copy of the January book.  And how do you get a copy? You must suggest a book.  After I use random.org to pick the book, I will then use it again to pick a winner.  If you already own a copy of the book, you can pick another book or wait and get the February book for free.  Thanks for reading/commenting on my blog! <3 strong="">

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Princesses Behaving Badly

I am so not a princess kind of girl.  I mean, I had the nickname but that was because of my lazy teenage ways and my frustrated father. ;)  I was given the opportunity to review Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History without the Fairy-Tale Endings and I HAD to read it.  It is described as..

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

This book was so fascinating. Chock full of history and random interesting facts about royal families that isn't always put in the history books.  I loved the writers style and laughed quite a few times at the well-placed humor.  It was like reading an awesome episode on the History channel.  And I could totally picture it.  Might sound nerdy and weird but it's true.  I'd watch it.

I loved how each story started out with a little bit of what the history books say and then followed with a why that really wasn't the real or full story and all the nitty gritty that made up the whole truth or the perceived truth.

I was a bit confused following along with how some people are related because by golly they need to have different names, but it didn't really hurt my understanding of the bigger picture.  I'd highly recommend this book if you are interested in history, especially the royal families throughout history.  It taught me quite a few things and is probably going to nudge me into trying out some  biographies on some of these poor princesses.

Do you like reading about history? Do you read books about historical figures? Were you a 'princess' growing up?

Disclaimer: I was given this book by Quirk books to review.  All opinions are my own!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Worst Books Read in 2013

I'm sure someone will think this is mean or disagree, but I'm sure some people disagree with what I thought were my best books that I read in 2013.  So, if you don't want to participate in the worst books that I've read this year, just move along now and stay in a happy place.  But if you'd like to read what I suggest you stay away from? Continue on below..

*MY* Worst Books Read in 2013...

In a Small Town – Marc A. Di Giacomo, finished on April 10th

Just stay away.  I had lots of issues with the writing.  And it just wasn't worth reading.

Description: The shotgun blast catches Detective Matthew Longo by surprise. His world unravels into a nightmare that seemingly won't end. Murder, rapes, pedophiles, the small town of Hutchville, N.Y. is changing. It is up to him to make a difference. While partner Donny Mello is in Italy attending a funeral for a family member who is connected, to say the least, a beautiful F.B.I. agent waits to question him about his family business. Can Matt keep from answering the Agents questions? More importantly, can he hide a potentially career-ending secret from his community, his brother, and most especially Agent Cynthia Shyler?

The Book of Ruth – Jane Hamilton, finished on June 9th

This book is just sad.  Nothing wonderful about it.  The writing is good but the story is just sad and there is nothing making it worth reading.

Description: Winner of the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award  for best first novel, this exquisite book  confronts real-life issues of alienation and violence  from which the author creates a stunning testament  to the human capacity for mercy, compassion and  love.
The Wednesday Daughter’s – Meg Waite Clayton (Aug 5th)
This was the saddest of all for me to include on this list.  I LOVED The Wednesday Sisters.  But the sequel? It was so painful.  I had to skip parts and it was nowhere near the excellent quality of the first.
Description: It is early evening when Hope Tantry arrives at the small cottage in England’s pastoral Lake District where her mother, Ally, spent the last years of her life. Ally—one of a close-knit group of women who called themselves “The Wednesday Sisters”—had used the cottage as a writer’s retreat while she worked on her unpublished biography of Beatrix Potter, yet Hope knows nearly nothing about her mother’s time there. Traveling with Hope are friends Julie and Anna Page, two other daughters of “The Wednesday Sisters,” who offer to help Hope sort through her mother’s personal effects. Yet what Hope finds will reveal a tangled family history—one steeped in Lake District lore.

Tucked away in a hidden drawer, Hope finds a stack of Ally’s old notebooks, all written in a mysterious code. As she, Julie, and Anna Page try to decipher Ally’s writings—the reason for their encryption, their possible connection to the Potter manuscript—they are forced to confront their own personal struggles: Hope’s doubts about her marriage, Julie’s grief over losing her twin sister, Anna Page’s fear of commitment in relationships. And as the real reason for Ally’s stay in England comes to light, Hope, Julie, and Anna Page reach a new understanding about the enduring bonds of family, the unwavering strength of love, and the inescapable pull of the past.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – Stephen King, finished on Oct. 29th

This was my first Stephen King novel and I was surprised.  It was a lot of descriptions and it just didn't really go anywhere.  Not sure I'd give another a shot, since I did this for a book club read and only agreed to it because it wasn't insanely long. 

Description: Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland strays from the path while she and her recently divorced mother and brother take a hike along a branch of the Appalachian Trail. Lost for days, wandering farther and farther astray, Trisha has only her portable radio for comfort. A huge fan of Tom Gordon, a Boston Red Sox relief pitcher, she listens to baseball games and fantasizes that her hero will save her. Nature isn't her only adversary, though - something dangerous may be tracking Trisha through the dark woods.

What were the worst books you read in 2013? Any disappointments? Sequels that just didn't cut it?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2014 TBR Challenge

I've taken a break from challenges besides making a goal on goodreads for how many books will I read in a year because I needed to adjust what I was spending my time reading.  I've noticed that if I'm not IN love, it will take me weeks to finish, but if I'm in love or serious like I make the time.  I suffer from I can't quit a book so if I get going there isn't much stopping me.  Unless you are the random few I've quit. ;)

However, I am going to try to join in one that I was unsuccessful with before.  I have a book problem and I need to read some of the books I've bought to decide if they can clear off room for more books or they will move to the bookshelf I use to display books I've read and recommend to others. What? You don't have different bookshelves with different purposes?

Roof Beam Reader is hosting the TBR Pile Challenge.  The purpose is to read books you've had on your shelves for a year or more.  You pick 12 to read in 2014 and then you can pick two alternatives if there is a book you just can't finish.  So, I'm going to do it.  I will do it.  I picked out some from my shelves and I'm excited.  I may have forgotten they were downstairs.

TBR in 2014 Challenge Books

1. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005)
2. To Die For by Linda Howard (2005)
3. Vanished by Karen Robards (2006)
4. The Abduction by Mark Gimenez (2007)
5. Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon (2007)
6. Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller (1997)
7. The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (1995)
8. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb (1992)
9. Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane (1999)
10. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000)
11. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (2005)
12. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young (2007)

Alternatives: (in case I can't finish one of the above)
1. Something Blue - Emily Giffin (20 something)
2. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (18 something)

So this gets me in a challenge and it gets books moved through my house.  A win win!

Are you joining any challenges for 2014?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Minted: Spread the love

I love Christmas cards.  Ever since I was a little kid I can remember running to the mailbox after school to see whose had arrived that day.  Bonus, if they included a letter where I could either be insanely jealous of some vacation they had taken or chuckle over the absurdity of the letter's contents.  When photo cards started becoming popular, that was even better.  So maybe I have an unhealthy obsession with other peoples lives.  It's probably why I like reading so much. 

Picking out Christmas cards is the hardest part of the process.  Sometimes, even harder than picking out the pictures that will be in my card.  Have you guys ever used Minted before? I've admired a few of their cards before.  But man, looking at their Christmas cards, I'd really have a hard time picking one out. 

I mean, this is SO FREAKING ADORABLE (with the children provided, maybe I could steal them for my card...).  If I had taken my child to get pictures done or, erm family pictures this would be so stinkin' cute.  I love that Minted uses different designers so there is so much variety!

We believe that great design lives and thrives in the hands of indie designers that people may not have access to through traditional retailers. Our goal is to use technology to allow our community to discover the work of great designers from all over the world. And at the same time, create a place where designers can get exposure and build their careers. - from their website

It makes it so much easier for me to find unique cards in one spot.

This would be really cute too, if we had done professional photos.  Next year, they are on the to-do list.  Like I bought a Black Friday deal from a photographer so it WILL HAPPEN.
And how ADORABLE IS THIS?? And don't you always wish you had another use for the photo cards? Brilliant!

I've seen their stationary before via other people who have it and since I did say a goal of mine was to write more letters this year, I am in need of some new PRETTY stationary.

Like this one.  Pretty simple but still pretty.

Or this one.  I love the unique shape!

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned here before that I'm an office supply junkie.  That includes paper product of all sorts.

Like, I haven't written in a paper journal in years, but I kind of want to buy this, just because it's pretty.

Okay, I could probably find a better word than pretty.  But pretty is what is in my head, and is what I'm currently looking for.  If you are also in the mood for pretty unique paper products, I highly recommend you check them out as an alternative source.

Do you enjoy paper products? Do you collect stationary? Journals? Pens? Have you used Minted before?

Disclaimer: I was provided with credit for providing this review but the opinions are uniquely mine.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Books on my Christmas List

I am the first to admit that this is not a blog for books that are hot off the presses.  I've been lucky to receive some books to review over the years and those are usually what keeps me in the know or the what's hot in books.  Or goodreads.  I'm always thrilled when people say they pick books from my suggestions or reviews because I may NOT have the hottest book, but I may very well have a book that is an easy library find or cheaper at the stores than the newest book out there.  I also have the patience of a saint when it comes to books.  If I know that I'm probably going to love a book and never want it to end, I bide my time.  I want to savor it all and have more to come back to if the author is still churning out books.  So there are quite a few authors whom I've read some but not all of their works because I DON'T WANT IT TO END.  Probably why I'm a sucker for series.  Anyway, here are the books I want under the tree this year...

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Description: When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White

Description: A Place at the Table tells the story of three richly nuanced characters whose paths converge in a chic Manhattan café: Bobby, a gay Southern boy who has been ostracized by his family; Amelia, a wealthy Connecticut woman whose life is upended when a family secret finally comes to light; and Alice, an African-American chef whose heritage is the basis of a famous cookbook but whose past is a mystery to those who know her.

As it sweeps from a freed-slave settlement in 1920s North Carolina to the Manhattan of the deadly AIDs epidemic of the 1980s to today’s wealthy suburbs, A Place at the Table celebrates the healing power of food and the magic of New York as three seekers come together in the understanding that when you embrace the thing that makes you different, you become whole.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Description: Sage Singer befriends an old man who's particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone's favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret - he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage's grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who's committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren't the party who was wronged? And most of all - if Sage even considers his request - is it murder, or justice?

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat Diner by Edward Kelsey Moore

Description: Meet Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean. . .

Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is home away from home for this inseparable Plainview, Indiana, trio. Dubbed “the Supremes” by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they weather life’s storms together for the next four decades. Now, during their most challenging year yet, dutiful, proud, and talented Clarice must struggle to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities. Beautiful, fragile Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair. And fearless Odette engages in the most terrifying battle of her life while contending with the idea that she has inherited more than her broad frame from her notorious pot-smoking mother, Dora.

Through marriage, children, happiness, and the blues, these strong, funny women gather each Sunday at the same table at Earl’s diner for delicious food, juicy gossip, occasional tears, and uproarious banter.

With wit and love, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together four intertwined love stories, three devoted allies, and two sprightly earthbound spirits in a big-hearted debut novel that embraces the lives of people you will never forget.

Morning Glory by Sarah Jio

Description: New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio imagines life on Boat Street, a floating community on Seattle’s Lake Union—home to people of artistic spirit who for decades protect the dark secret of one startling night in 1959

Fleeing an East Coast life marred by tragedy, Ada Santorini takes up residence on houseboat number seven on Boat Street. She discovers a trunk left behind by Penny Wentworth, a young newlywed who lived on the boat half a century earlier. Ada longs to know her predecessor’s fate, but little suspects that Penny’s mysterious past and her own clouded future are destined to converge.

What books are on your Christmas list? Have you read any of these? Which one should I make a priority in 2014?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Best of 2013: Fiction Plus 1 Memoir Because I'm an Idiot

Continuing with my Best of Lists, today I'm sharing my favorite fiction reads of the year.  I read a lot of good books this year but I tried to limit it to books that I then turned around and recommended to others.  I LOVED Karin Slaughter's Grant County series but only shared my most favorite as opposed to all of them!

Interesting tidbit all of these but two, Folly Beach and Beyond Reach were book club reads!

My favorite fiction reads of 2013..

Those Who Save Us Jenna Blum, finished on January 20th
This was a bit on the long side but it is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that goes back and forth between WWII and present day.  If WWII fascinates you, definitely give this book a shot.  Especially, if you are interested in reading about the German/Nazi viewpoint at all. 
Description: For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson, finished on March 24th
I apparently also forgot to blog about this.  I fail as a book blogger apparently ha.  This book was FREAKING HILARIOUS.  If you have a decent sense of humor, enjoy a potty mouth and a bit of insanity you definitely need to read this. I was shaking with laughter.  We read this for our Books & Bars and had a blast drinking martini's and laughing over some of her hilarious tales!
Description: Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In the #1 New York Times bestseller, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald, finished in April 2013
We read this for our April Books & Bars and it was a re-read for me.  I had read it in college and remembered loving it and loving it even more after having a discussion with classmates.  Talking about it as adults in a bar called Gatsby's? Even better.  I also loved the movie.  It may have been the only movie in 2013 I saw in the theater. I highly recommend it.  Minus the current day rap.  That, I could do without.

Beach Music  - Pat Conroy, finished on June 16th
This was a June Group Read that introduced me to Pat Conroy and I've been meaning to pick up another one of his books ever since.  I shall add that on to my goals of 2014.  Read another one of his. ;)
Description: Beach Music tells of Jack McCall, an American who moves to Rome to escape the trauma and painful memory of his young wife's suicide leap off a bridge in South Carolina. The story takes place in South Carolina and Rome, then reaches back in time to the Vietnam War era and the horrors of the Holocaust.

It is a novel that concerns itself with the loss of innocence. It is about the acquisition of self-knowledge and about learning to accept where we come from. It is about the eternal quest for forgiveness—seeking it in others, finding it in ourselves—so that we can begin to live again. Ultimately, it is about reclaiming the past in order to prepare a background on the canvas of the future from which hope can finally flourish.

Remembrance. Reconciliation. Redemption.

With resonant prose and unmatched insight, Conroy throws open all of the doors and windows on the human condition, revealing to us with crystal clarity the perils of the war without as well as the war within.
Folly Beach – Dorothea Benton Frank, finished on June 23rd
This was the first book by Frank that I read and it pushed me into trying a couple others of hers over the rest of the year.  By far, Folly Beach was the best.  None of the other two I read held a candle to this one.  I really recommend this if you are interested in musical history with a side of romance. ;)
Description: With its sandy beaches and bohemian charms, surfers and suits alike consider Folly Beach to be one of South Carolina's most historic and romantic spots. It is also the land of Cate Cooper's childhood, the place where all the ghosts of her past roam freely. Cate never thought she'd wind up in this tiny cottage named the Porgy House on this breathtakingly lovely strip of coast. But circumstances have changed, thanks to her newly dead husband whose financial—and emotional—bull and mendacity have left Cate homeless, broke, and unmoored.

Yet Folly Beach holds more than just memories. Once upon a time another woman found unexpected bliss and comfort within its welcoming arms. An artist, writer, and colleague of the revered George Gershwin, Dorothy Heyward enjoyed the greatest moments of her life at Folly with her beloved husband, DuBose. And though the Heywards are long gone, their passion and spirit lingers in every mango sunset and gentle ocean breeze.

And for Cate, Folly, too, holds the promise of unexpected fulfillment when she is forced to look at her life and the zany characters that are her family anew. To her surprise, she will discover that you can go home again. Folly Beach doesn't just hold the girl she once was . . . it also holds the promise of the woman she's always wanted—and is finally ready—to become.

Folly Beach, filled with the irresistible charm, saucy wit, and lush atmosphere that have won her the devotion of fans and propelled her books to bestsellerdom, is vintage Dorothea Benton Frank.

The Almond Tree – Michelle Cohen Corasanti finished on July 28th

Beyond Reach – Karin Slaughter, finished on Sept 8th
This is the last book in the Grant County series.  It made me so sad to end the relationships built during the other books, but luckily Slaughter has continued some of the storyline in her Will Trent series, which I've read a few of already.  If you enjoy series/mystery you should try Slaughter out!
Description: In a stifling hospital room in a small Georgia town, Detective Lena Adams sits, silent and angry—the only suspect in a horrific murder. Soon, a hundred miles away, Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver will get the call that his young detective has been arrested. And Jeffrey’s wife, pediatrician and medical examiner Sara Linton, has troubles of her own and little patience for Lena or her dramas. Fighting a heartbreaking malpractice suit, Sara cannot guess that within days she herself will be at the center of a bizarre and murderous case. 
For Lena has fled back to the place where she grew up hard, careening back through the shadows of her past and into a shocking underground world of bigotry and rage. And now only Jeffrey and Sara can free Lena from the web of lies and brutality that has trapped her—as this powerhouse of a novel races toward its shattering climax…and a final, unforgettable twist.

Phew.  I feel like I'm for sure missing another great book I read this year but these definitely were excellent books!

What were the best fiction books you read this year?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Theory of Opposites

I was given a copy of this book to review and then life happened, or was it fate, that someone in my house lost or threw it away.  Then I turned to my trusty friend amazon and purchased a copy, waited for it to come in and then read it.  And then life DID happen and I had to make the choice to put the book on the back burner for a bit.  Or maybe it was fate that I'd have a full day today to finish it up because my daughter was exposed to RSV and 'allergies' over the holiday weekend and I'd be contained to a chair to hug and snuggle all day. 

Why am I rambling about life and fate?  Allison Winn Scotch's new book, The Theory of Opposites has the main character, Willa struggle with these theories from beginning to end.

Description: What happens when you think you have it all, and then suddenly it’s taken away?

Willa Chandler-Golden's father changed the world with his self-help bestseller, Is It Really Your Choice? Why Your Entire Life May Be Out of Your Control. Millions of devoted fans now find solace in his notion that everything happens for a reason. Though Willa isn’t entirely convinced of her father’s theories, she readily admits that the universe has delivered her a solid life: a reliable husband, a fast-paced career. Sure there are hiccups – negative pregnancy tests, embattled siblings - but this is what the universe has brought, and life, if she doesn’t think about it too much, is wonderful.

Then her (evidently not-so-reliable) husband proposes this: A two-month break. Two months to see if they can't live their lives without each other. And before Willa can sort out destiny and fate and what it all means, she’s axed from her job, her 12 year-old nephew Nicky moves in, her ex-boyfriend finds her on Facebook, and her best friend Vanessa lands a gig writing for Dare You!, the hottest new reality TV show. And then Vanessa lures Willa into dares of her own - dares that run counter to her father’s theories of fate, dares that might change everything…but only if Willa is brave enough to stop listening to the universe and instead aim for the stars.

The book was hilarious with well placed humor.  Willa was aggravatingly annoying in her attitude towards her own life and around page 200 I was ready to punch her if she didn't pick the path I wanted her to pick.  Her husband, is a jerk and it is maddening to read how she accepts it at the beginning but throughout I applauded her realizations of her his asshole ways.  Willa comes into her own with quite a few pushes from those closest to her and even with the light-hearted humor throughout Scotch manages to make the reader question their own path and if their path is pre-determined or if they can make their own path. 

I liked how Facebook was so prevalent to the story because Facebook has become so entwined with people's lives these days it was authentic and added to the craziness of her life.  Accept. Deny. Ignore.  Willa keeps coming back to these three words and wondering if perhaps Mark Zuckerberg has come up with a decent strategy for life.  Accept. Deny. Ignore.  What do you choose?

"I busy myself scrolling through photos of other people's lives.  People who never mattered much to me.  Faces from high school, random acquaintances from college.  They all see so glittery.  So content.  So such of their Points North.  Their eyes always open, and they're always bright and crystal-clear and wonderful.  No one ever posts a shitty picture of their husband with his hands down his pants, passed out on the sofa with Cinemax on behind him.  No one ever snaps that just-so image of her toddler, right as he's on the cusp of a volcanic explosion, with grubby cheeks and a hateful scowl and fists so dirty that baths four days in a row won't do the trick." (pg. 230)

Willa, her neurotic family, her best-friend, and her ex-boyfriend Theo are all characters that you just want to keep reading about.  I really liked this book and would recommend it if you liked her other books.  I've read The One That You Want and The Song Remains the Same also by her and this would be above The Song Remains the Same but right up there with The One That You Want as super good.  Possibly, slightly better.  I love about Scotch's books that the families are always crazy, their is humor and their is personal discovery even when the main character fights it with her all.

Do you believe in fate? Do you believe you can change your life? Is everything pre-determined? Do you ever go left when your body screams right?

Disclaimer: I was asked to review this book, but I ended up buying a copy for myself and all my opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December Intentions

I used to recap what I did every month and I think I may have attempted goals for some time period at another time but I'm not consistent with my decisions.  Like sharing the books we read in preschool every week? Dude that took a lot of work. Maybe if I hadn't taken a graduate class, went full time, and had a 2 year old this fall I could have done it.  But, such is life.  However, in my small steps at a more organized chaos I've already smashed meal planning a month ahead and I've purged/reorganized my office to the point where I can purge and get rid of more and it not seem undoable so here I am on the verge of 2014 with hoping that if I start with intentions in December that perhaps I can carry it over into the new year.  Otherwise, this may be the last time you ever hear about this.

Moving on...

What I plan on accomplishing this month

1.  Read 4 more books for the year.  I've already blown my 50 book goal out of the park (thank god for summer vacation) but I've been in a lull since school started and I have some time to read and there are some excellent books I want to devour.

2. Walk/run 20 miles.  Baby stepping it back into shape.

3. Do one Christmas related craft with the child.  I feel bad for her.  I use all my energy on the 4 year olds and then I just dun wanna do it when I come home and that makes me feel pretty crappy but then I remember that she is loved, fed and knows more letters and shapes than some of my 4 year olds and that crafts aren't what will make or break our relationship. Seriously, count your blessings and hug your babes. 

4.  Throw/donate away one more garbage bag full of stuff.  My downstairs is a wreck right now but it is a storage area of outdoor play toys over the winter but some of that crap doesn't need to make it until spring, nor do some of my child's toys nor do some of my toys and some of my college crap can hit the can.

And not so importantly but still worth mentioning I plan on singing my heart out with all the awesome Christmas songs.  I need to get myself another CD for the car.  LOOVE Christmas songs.

What are your intentions for December? Just to survive?  At the low end, that's all I'm really hoping for. ;)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Best of 2013: YA

I'm sharing a few different Best of Lists this month and some Worst Of Lists.  My first installment is my Best of YA.  I did not read a lot of it this year but what I did read was excellent.  If you haven't checked out John Green yet, you must!

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green, finished on January 7th, 2013
Apparently, I never got around to posting about this one because I do not have a link to share.  Oh my word.  This had be sobbing my eyes out.  We read this for our Books & Bars and one complaint (there are a group of middle school teachers in our group) is that TEENAGERS DO NOT TALK LIKE THIS, but damn, if only.  I'd love to teach them. 

Description: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan, finished on June 11th
This book was just as addicting as John Green's other books. ;)  I read it quickly and it made me want more!

Description: One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both of them legions of faithful fans.

So to sum up my YA for the year, YOU NEED TO CHECK OUT JOHN GREEN!

What were your favorite YA reads of the year?

Monday, December 2, 2013

December's Menu

This month I'm taking a slight vacation from planning out the whole month.  I am off work for two weeks and I've planned for some of it.  But the other I'm leaving open since we tend to end up meeting up with relatives and/or I find a new recipe I REALLY want to try and since I will be home all day I get the chance to do it. 

To plan for this month I spent some time looking through a Betty Crocker cookbook we have and tried to see if there were any recipes that we haven't made yet that we wanted to try.  I've gotten so bad at looking at cookbooks since I've discovered the many food blogs and Pinterest.  I might make it a montly thing, since my once beloved Rachael Ray cookbooks are getting a bit dusty.

December 1st - Beer Cheese Soup
December 2nd - Spaghetti
December 3rd - Potato Chip Chicken (from good ole Betty Crocker)
December 4th - Eggs and Toast
December 5th - Southwestern Chicken and Rice
December 6th - Leftovers
December 7th - open
December 8th - Calzones
December 9th - leftovers
December 10th - Chicken Enchiladas (going to try a new recipe!)
December 11th - leftovers
December 12th - Skillet Chili Macaroni and Cheese
December 13th - leftovers
December 14th - open
December 15th - Crockpot Italian Beef Sandwiches
December 16th - leftovers
December 17th - Pork chops and mashed potatoes
December 18th - Taco Pie
December 19th - leftovers
December 20th - pizza
December 21st - Christmas Party
December 22nd - Tomato Basil Tortellini Soup
December 23rd - Crockpot Chicken Parm

and then the rest of the month I'm going to leave open for some inspiration...

What's on your menu?