Monday, August 31, 2015

Month in review: August

What happened to August?! Seriously? I can't believe another month has gone by and summer is over. Christopher starts Kindergarten tomorrow. Eek! So exciting!

August was a surprisingly busy month. Here's a recap...

- I finished 12 books this month (4 audio, 7 paper, 1 Kindle).
- I finished my June selection and read my August book for the 2015 Reading Challenge.
- I loved my YA Book Club book for August. I breezed through Every Last Word in two days. I highly recommend it. We'll be reading The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler and discussing it on September 23rd if you'd like to read along with us.
- I finished 1 book for my Summer Reading Challenge and dropped 4 books off at the library for their book drive / sale. I revised my goal because I was failing miserably at this challenge.

Donated books from my summer reading challenge.

- I'm still struggling with my new job. The department is new and there aren't any clearly defined processes yet, so I'm still sort of floundering. I'm not clear on what I should be doing day to day.
- I led one really productive meeting, and I got a glimpse of what this job could be. I am hopeful that things will get better, but I don't do well with uncertainty.
- My boss and my boss' boss seem to think I'm doing a good job, so that's something.

- I didn't make it to the YMCA at all again.
- I did run twice this month.
- But then I found out that my foot pain is due to tendinitis, so I decided to cool off on the exercise and even excessive walking - no steps happening here.
- I have been going to the physical therapist, and the stretching and tape are helping.
- My eating habits haven't improved either. A lot of it is due to my unhappiness at work.

- Christopher and I started the month in Mayville, NY visiting my parents. It was a long drive, but the trip was a lot of fun. Jim was out in AZ that week for work.
- I'm coaching Christopher's soccer team, and it's not as hard as I thought. I'm really enjoying it. I look forward to games starting in September.
- We had a lot of school-year prep activities and events in the second half of the month.
- Christopher and I hosted a small pool party at our house for some friends. I think I enjoyed it more than he did. I think he may be an introvert after all, even though he's so outgoing. I'll stick to one-on-one play dates going forward.
- Then we spent this past weekend camping in Door County, WI. This year we went with our friends, Sarah and Andrew, and we had a great time!

Sarah, Andrew, Jim, me, and Christopher.

- I spent a weekend at home ALONE earlier this month while Jim and Christopher visited his parents up north. It was so amazing!
- I watched a lot of The Fosters on Netflix and YouTube.
- We had babysitters many times throughout the month, including one almost full day where we just hung out and relaxed with friends. It was great.
- I got to see two movies off my summer movie list. Ant-Man was OK, and Paper Towns was terrific.
- I had a great night out with my girlfriends and got to love on my friend Laura's new baby. It was the largest group we've had in a while.

Jamie, Laura, me (and Raegan), Carrie F, Sarah, Tara.
We missed you, Carrie P!

- We did a little swimming, but not as much as we should have considering it finally got hot here for a couple of week.
- I cleaned out our walk-in closet and turned it into a reading space after Jim hauled the reclining chair upstairs. All. By. Himself. Crazy man! Thank you. I love you!

September will bring new routines with adjusting to Christopher's new school schedule. We also have some plans to host family and visit some friends. It'll be a busy month, but I'm looking forward to fall - my favorite season.

What have you been up to this month?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Goodreads Summary:
From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch--"Scout"--returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past--a journey that can be guided only by one's conscience. 

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision--a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

A little background:
I read To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th grade, but I don't remember anything about it. I know we watched the movie too, but all I recall is that it was in black and white, and the girl who played Scout had short hair.

When I originally heard about Go Set a Watchman, I didn't plan on reading it. I had assumed it was a sequel, and since I didn't remember the original, I kind of thought, "what's the point?" Then I read a post by Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy discussing the three way to approach Go Set a Watchman. I was intrigued. I planned to consider it a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I wanted to read To Kill a Mockingbird first.

Then last week I read this review by Flo at Book Nerds Across America, and I immediately hopped on my library website and reserved the book. It just seemed that if I really wanted to approach it as a first draft, I should read it first. There were 300+ holds on the book in my library system, but there were 7 copies for my library alone. Somehow that afternoon when I arrived at the library to pick up some other hold requests, this book was also waiting for me.

It was a 7 day loan, so I dove right in.

My Review:
Despite the more literary writing style (it was written in the 1950s), I really enjoyed this book. It's the story of Jean Louise Finch, a 26-year old girl from Maycomb, Alabama, who has been living in New York City for many years. She comes home on her annual visit and finds the town much changed in her absence. Her father is aging. Her aunt has moved in to take care of him since, at 72 years old, he suffers from arthritis. The town has changed too. I found these elements of the story to be universal. Who hasn't dealt with moving away from home and coming back after a time to find things very different than her memory? Aren't we all trying to cope with our parents getting older?

Jean Louise is also trying to decide whether to marry her oldest friend, Henry. Her father took him under his wing and trained him in law after her brother died unexpectedly. Jean Louise knows she loves him, but she's not sure she should marry him. And she's not sure she can live in Maycomb again. I enjoyed this plot as well. It's another common internal debate of young adulthood. And the banter between Jean Louise and Hank was amusing.

Later in the novel Harper Lee gets to the part everyone is commenting on. Jean Louise discovers that her father is a racist (in her mind). I found it to be a very enlightening commentary of the South in the time of the Supreme Court's Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling. Jean Louise, Atticus, and Henry had reactions that I would not have predicted. Ultimately, it's a young girl dealing with her father not living up to this god-like man she's imagined all her life. Again, it's something many children struggle with as their beliefs progress with those of the younger generation, and their parents remain in the past.

The writing wasn't perfect. There were quite a few random flashbacks and tangents that didn't necessarily enhance the story. And the climax of the story was a little confusing and took a long time to resolve. But knowing that this book was unedited, I tried to look past all of that. And what I found was a highly relatable story with interesting characters and some enjoyable political commentary.

I'm glad I read this book before reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Favorite Quotes:
"Why doesn't their flesh creep? How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up?"

"I need a watchman to lead me around and declare what he seeth every hour on the hour. I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference."

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Lunar Chronicles Read Along: Cinder

I am participating in The Lunar Chronicles read along hosted by Brittany at The Book Addicts Guide. I have read this series a few times already, but I was excited to read it again in anticipation of the final book, Winter, which comes out in November. Yay!

August was the month to read Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer. I think this was my third time through this book. I read a hardcover copy from the library for book club in March 2014. After finishing it, I immediately got Scarlet and Cress from the library and read those in April 2014.

Before Fairest came out this January, I re-listened to all three of the books on my friend's Audible account. But I listened while working, so I didn't really absorb many details that second time through.

This time I listened again on Audible, but I tried hard not to work while listening. I wanted to try to remember some of my initial impressions of the book.

In case you haven't read this book yet...

Goodreads Summary:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

My Thoughts:
This whole series is so creative! The world building is fantastic! This book a retelling of Cinderella, but Cinder is a cyborg living in futuristic Asia, the "Eastern Commonwealth". Instead of Disney's mice, Cinder has Iko, her android side kick, who provides comic relief and a means of exposition.

I LOVE Iko! For some reason I picture her as Monita from WiiU's Nintendoland. It's totally wrong, but that's the image I get in my head. I just love that Iko, a machine, is in love with Prince Kai. It's too cute!

Meyer hits on all the classic elements of the story: the horrible stepmother (Adri is perfect!), the stepsisters (I like that Peony isn't awful and that she and Cinder are actually friends), the prince (Oh Kai - so noble, so willing to sacrifice for his people, how could I not love him?), and the glass slipper (Cinder's cyborg foot instead - so clever!).

But she also adds wonderful Sci Fi elements. Queen Levana and her race of Lunars, highly evolved humans that live on the moon. Letimosis, a fatal disease threatening Earth's population. Hovers, ID chips, port screens, etc.

The writing is amazing. Meyer is able to convey her characters anger, sadness, and fear so well. And the details blow me away, especially re-reading the series. She definitely planned the books out from the start. Her characters are so deep. Even the minor characters have motivation. She introduces some minor characters that won't be fleshed out until later books, but she reveals enough in this book that actions make sense. I love how she's setting the stage in this book to weave together different fairy tales in the later books.

Cinder is the most straight forward retelling in the series. And perhaps for that reason, it's my least favorite. It is an amazing book, but the other books are that much better. It could also be that I'm not a huge fan of the Cinderella story. It's just a love story. I like a little more depth and adventure, which Meyer certainly adds in this book.

I will need hold myself back to stay on pace with the read along. I'm planning on tackling the short stories on Marissa Meyer's website before diving into Scarlet in mid-September.

My Original Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My struggle with myself

Today, I am linking up with Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop with this prompt...

What is sabotaging your plan to drop 5 pounds?

I mentioned in my July recap post that I fell off the low-carb bandwagon. I was hoping August would be better.

It's not.

When I am unhappy in another area of my life, I turn to food to make myself feel better. I'm not exactly over-eating, but I'm not making the best choices when it comes to food. All of my comfort foods are high in carbs or sugar.

Case in point: Tuesday I had an especially tough conference call at work. Everyone went off topic, and I was annoyed that we weren't getting anything done. I disconnected from the call and immediately wanted to leave the office and go get ice cream or something else sweet. I didn't want to eat the sensible Chinese chicken salad I'd brought for myself. I wanted to get something tasty to make myself feel better.

Back in July I thought maybe my poor eating habits had to do with not paying enough attention to self-care. But this month I finally got a much-needed weekend at home alone, I turned our walk-in closet into a cozy reading space, and I've been taking time each day to read and recharge on my lunch break.

But I'm still making bad food choices.

I've realized that it all comes down to wanting to be healthier. Reading Gretchen Rubin's Better than Before earlier this year, taught me that I am a questioner. That means I only do things that I find valuable.

So why don't I find eating healthier valuable?

I did in June. I made it through that whole month without cheating at all.

Why can't I get back there?

Nothing is stopping me but me.

Get it together, Kate! Start eating healthier! Now!

What things do you find it hard to do? How do you get yourself back on track?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: After You

Today I'm linking up with Breaking the Spine for "Waiting on" Wednesday.

This week I'm waiting on....

After You (Me Before You #2) by Jojo Moyes

Goodreads Summary:
How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

After You is quintessential Jojo Moyes—a novel that will make you laugh, cry, and rejoice at being back in the world she creates. Here she does what few novelists can do—revisits beloved characters and takes them to places neither they nor we ever expected.

Publication Date:
September 29, 2015

Why I'm waiting:
I read Me Before You last summer, and I LOVED it. It was such a unique love story. It had great characters, and I can't wait to see where Moyes goes with the story. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I love series. I can't resist a good sequel, so this book went on my TBR list as soon as I heard about it.

What new release book are you waiting on this week?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: Yes Please

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Goodreads Summary:
In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

My Review:
I'm not an Amy Poehler fan. I don't dislike her. I just don't know very much about her, other than that she is the voice of Joy in Pixar's Inside Out. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I were an actual fan.

This book is a mix of things: a somewhat jumbled chronology of her life, a compilation of random stories and poems, with nuggets of wisdom interspersed throughout. I appreciated her desire to be honest. I enjoyed the portions that discussed pregnancy, labor, and motherhood because I could relate.

The middle of the book focused on her time on Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation. I don't watch either of these shows, so these sections were over my head. There was a lot of name dropping that was lost on me.

A lot of the book was supposed to be funny...I think. But it didn't really resonate with me. I'm a pretty serious person. I'm really not into comedy. Hence the reason I don't watch SNL (and I cannot stay up that late).

The writing is not great. Many sections read like a resume, with listings of dates and shows or theaters or buildings. I found myself bored several times while listening to this audiobook.

If you're a fan of Amy Poehler, by all means, read this book. If you're not a fan, you can probably skip this one.

My Rating: 2 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The meaning of my blog name

I've been following blogs for several years. Currently, I read mostly of book blogs, one personal finance blog, and a handful of blogs written by friends or friends of friends/family. I read a lot of mommy blogs when Christopher was younger. There aren't as many mommy blogs for older kids. Or maybe it's just that most mom's have additional kids, so they can keep talking about baby stuff for way longer than I wanted to read about it.

Christopher at 16 months.

When I thought about starting this blog, I didn't want to restrict myself to one specific area. I couldn't starts a mommy blog because Christopher is too old, but I still wanted to be able to write about him and our family and give parenting advice (perhaps) to other parents with similar struggles.

I wanted to write about books, but I didn't want to feel like I could only write about books. I read a lot, but I can't possible post about books 6 days a week. I don't read that much! And I don't have a ton of bookish thoughts, other than reviews.

Christopher "reading" and watching The Neverending Story.

I wanted to share recipes that are practical for working moms who are trying to eat healthier, but I don't create recipes and I can't take beautiful food pictures. I knew I couldn't start a food blog.

I wanted to write a little bit of everything. Everything within my realm. I wanted the blog to be called Mom's Realm or, even better, Mom's Domain. But those names were taken.

Hiking when Christopher was almost 2.

I confess. I used to find a similar word and blog name that wasn't taken. That's how I settled on Mom's Radius.'s 5th definition of radius is "a field or range of operation or influence."

That seemed perfect! I could blog about everything within my circle of influence.

Do you have a blog? How did you pick your blog name?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Book Review: Inkheart (MG)

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Goodreads Summary:
Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can "read" fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can "read" characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie's mother disappeared into the story. This "story within a story" will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.

My Review:
I wanted to like this book. I really did. But I just couldn't. Nothing happened!

Meggie lives alone with her father, Mo. One night a mysterious man, Dust Finger, shows up to talk to her father, calling him Silver Tongue. The next morning Meggie and Mo are packing up again and going to visit an aunt. Her father has a book he's keeping secret from her. Mo asks Eleanor (the aunt) to hide the book for him, and then he is kidnapped by Capricorn's men. Thus ensues the "adventure" plot.

Someone was captured, someone was on the run, someone else was captured, someone escapes, someone is recaptured. I just found it dull. Maybe I just shouldn't read middle grade books?

I enjoyed the book-loving characters of Meggie, Mo, and Eleanor, but I couldn't get past the lack of plot. Interesting characters are not enough for me. Even the magical aspect of reading characters out of books didn't keep my interest. It felt a lot like Off the Page with characters coming and going but not much else going on.

I almost stopped listening to this book many times, but as it fulfilled my June challenge book, I pressed on. I didn't want to make another selection. I think I may have enjoyed an abridged version of this book. I feel so horrible saying that, but there were just too many words, too many details, and I just didn't really care.

My Rating: 2 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Friday, August 21, 2015

YA Book Club: August 2015

Wednesday night was the August meeting of my YA book club.

The Book
(NOTE: My initial description of the book for July was incorrect, so this might sound familiar.)

Annie picked this month's selection back in May. We originally planned it as out June book, but we weren't able to get the book from the library in time, so it got bumped to August.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

The Venue
We met this month at Blaze Pizza. Sarah had suggested it a few months ago when I wasn't cheating, and I vetoed it. But since I've been eating a lot of carbs lately, I figured, why not have pizza? I'd never been there before, and I didn't realize until writing this post that it was a chain. They sell only individual pizzas made the way you want - like Qdoba or Subway.

I had a "Simple Pie" - read plain cheese pizza. Annie had a sausage pizza, and Sarah tried the "White Top" Signature Pizza with white cream sauce with mozzarella, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano, and arugula.

My pizza was so good! I devoured it very quickly. Annie ate all of hers, minus the crust. I did not know she wasn't a crust person. I would have eaten her crust (because I love crust!) except that I was saving room for dessert. Sarah was good and took half of her pizza home.

After dinner, we walked over to Dairy Queen for dessert. I got my traditional (since childhood) vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. I am the kind of person who has something good at a restaurant the first time and then always orders the same thing every time after. Are you like that? Or do you like to change it up?

The Book Discussion
If you've read my review, you know I LOVED this book. I plowed through it in two days while visiting my parents a few weeks ago. I gave it 5 stars.

Annie also gave it 5 stars. Sarah gave it 3 stars. She listened to the audio, so maybe that was an issue? I hinted in my review that I wasn't a fan of the ending. Sarah really wasn't a fan. She couldn't get past it, and that pulled down the rating of the whole book for her.

We all liked the relationship between Sam and Caroline. I loved Sam's swimming, and I thought the redemption story was good. Annie thought AJ's guitar playing was a little too cliched. And weirdly, Annie's Nook cut off half of the first letter of each line of poetry. She found that a little distracting.

The Non-Book Discussion
In addition to the book talk, we also chatted about:

- a tornado warning the night before and how Jim and I managed to get Christopher down to the basement and back to sleep rather easily
- the still un-revealed schedule for Annie's school job, which starts on 8/31!
- how soccer coaching is going
- a co-worker visiting Sarah's work from Montreal and the unfortunate need to spend too much money taking out-of-town people out on the town
- patience or lack there of
- my weekend at home alone!
- a beautiful outdoor wedding Sarah attended last weekend
- how everyone's kid is not the smartest kid ever and how I feel like the only parent who finds their kid annoying a lot of the time
- The West Wing. Rob Lowe. BRADLEY WHITFORD. (Don't ask.)
- Christopher starting school and all of the school related activities going on this week and next
- First Communion. Real bread vs. hosts.

Did you read the book along with us this month?

Do you want to join us next month?

We'll be reading The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler for our next meeting on Wednesday, September 23rd.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: Girlchild

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Goodreads Summary:
Rory Hendrix is the least likely of Girl Scouts. She hasn’t got a troop or even a badge to call her own.  But she’s checked the Handbook out from the elementary school library so many times that her name fills all the lines on the card, and she pores over its surreal advice (Disposal of Outgrown Uniforms; The Right Use of Your Body; Finding Your Way When Lost) for tips to get off the Calle:  that is, Calle de los Flores, the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the sweet-faced, hard-luck bartender at the Truck Stop.

Rory’s been told she is “third generation in a line of apparent imbeciles, feeble-minded bastards surely on the road to whoredom.” But she’s determined to prove the County and her own family wrong. Brash, sassy, vulnerable, wise, and terrified, she struggles with her mother’s habit of trusting the wrong men, and the mixed blessing of being too smart for her own good. From diary entries, social worker’s reports, half-recalled memories, story problems, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and her grandmother’s letters, Rory crafts a devastating collage that shows us her world while she searches for the way out of it. Girlchild is a heart-stopping and original debut.

My Review:
I really liked the writing style in this book. It's broken down into small diary-like entries chronically Rory's life, although not entirely in order. Interspersed are reports from a social worker and entries that are more philosophical in nature or general observations about life in the Calle.

Rory and her mother move from California to just outside Reno, NV when Rory is 4. Her four older brothers have moved away to find their father, and Rory and her mother go to live in a trailer park, known as the Calle, to be near her grandmother.

Grandma Shirley had Jo when she was a teenager, Jo had her first child at 15, so Rory is the hope of the family. She is smart, and everyone is determined that she shouldn't mess up her life by getting pregnant. It reminded me of Me & Emma and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, but it was also very unique in the style and voice.

I was attracted to this book because of the inclusion of Girl Scouts in the description. And while there is a thread of references to the Girl Scout Handbook, it's not as big of a plot element as I was expecting. The book definitely centers more about Buck v. Bell in which "feebleminded" women are deemed worthy of  infertility by the Supreme Court.

This quick read is a collage of snippets of the tragic and unfortunate way of life of many poor people in America.

My Rating: 3 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Summer Challenge: 4 of 8 books read.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Joyride (YA)

Joyride by Anna Banks

Goodreads Summary:
A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber's mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

My Review:
This book is almost a modern day Romeo and Juliet, minus the suicide pact. Carly is Mexican, Arden is white. And his father happens to be the extremely racist, small-town sheriff. While they've been going to school together for almost three years, Arden doesn't truly notice Carly until he's planning a late night prank on his (great) Uncle Cletus.

From their first interaction it's all spitfire from Carly and determination from Arden. I thoroughly enjoyed the hate turned love plot. Both Arden and Carly are suffering from the loss of their family members. They're both lonely.

Carly is working harder than any teen should have to work, helping her brother raise enough money to smuggle her parent and younger siblings into the United States. I was angered a little by her family's attitude towards work vs. education, but I know that it is probably the reality for many poor teenagers.

Arden has dropped everything - sports, school work, rules - after his sister's death. He misses his sidekick, so when he sees Carly's spunk, he is desperate to befriend her. He's trying to fill a whole in his life with defiance of his father, whom he blames for his sister's death.

There is a lot more depth to this story than I expected. The relationship between Arden and Carly was believable and sweet. Arden is able to get Carly to make time for some more fun in her life, and Carly is able to get Arden to care about his life again. I liked them both so much! Uncle Cletus was also a great role model in place of the less than stellar parents.

Anna Banks deals with the tough issues of poverty and illegal immigration, which aren't often addressed in YA fiction.

This book was a great, quick read.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A dream come true: a weekend alone

I've mentioned before that I need a lot of alone time. What I have wanted for several years is a weekend alone at home. I have had a few stretches of days away from home for work or for girls' weekends with family, but since Christopher was born, I have not had more than a few hours alone at home.

Jim gave me an IOU certificate for such a weekend as a Christmas present when Christopher was almost two, I think, but I never used it. He never really had anywhere to take Christopher. This past weekend I finally got my weekend alone! Jim and Christopher went up north in WI to visit his parents. They just recently got a camper for their property, so they were able to stay overnight without camping and without booking a hotel.

I spent 46 hours at home ALONE. It was glorious!

I read 3 books, and watched 9.5 episodes of The Fosters. I basically rotated around my house, migrating from the back deck to the couch in the playroom to the reclining chair in the sunroom to my bed, reading. And occasionally I sat on the couch in the TV room or laid in my bed watching TV.

I didn't do any chores, except run the dishwasher. I didn't even leave the house, other than reading on the deck. It was both weird and wonderful.

It was too long and too short. It was a weekend to remember. Thanks, Jim!!!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: The Fixer (YA)

The Fixer (The Fixer #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Goodreads Summary:
This thriller YA is Scandal meets Veronica Mars.

Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather's ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess's classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for this compelling teen drama with a political twist.

My Review:
This book wasn't what I thought it would be based on the description. Maybe because I've read (and loved) Barnes' The Naturals series, but I was expecting some sort of super ability related to the fixing. There weren't any. Ivy and Tess are normal humans. Ivy has connections to just about everyone in Washington, D.C. She knows secrets and is able to exploit them to make things disappear.

Tess hates bullies. She is stubborn and brave, and she stands up for what she believes in. She doesn't really fix many problems for other people. But she and her new friends, Vivvie, Asher, and Henry, do get involved in a political conspiracy and take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of things.

Of course, things get out of hand. Everyone is in danger at some point. But Barnes' is able to write this story without it seeming ridiculous and cliched. She adds others layers into the story that make it compelling. She hooks you in with her wonderful skill at characterization.

Tess has been raised by her grandfather after her parents died and her much older sister abandons her. When her grandfather develops Alzheimer's, she successfully keeps it a secret for a year before her sister appears, summoned by her guidance counselor. Ivy takes her back to D.C. after setting the grandfather up in a treatment facility in Boston. Tess struggles with the anger she feels towards Ivy.

Ultimately, this is a story about family - the way we can be hurt most by the ones we love, the lengths we go to for those closest to our hearts. I love a good teen drama, but I love a story about sisters even more.

The supporting characters were terrific as well. There isn't any romance (yet) between Tess and Henry or Asher, but Barnes' has definitely set things up well for future books. There are even potential love interests for Ivy. I'm glad there wasn't a romantic story line in this book. It would have diminished the family elements of this initial story.

I enjoyed the political aspects of the book as well. I breezed through this book in a matter of hours. I was sucked into the plot and desperate to know if everyone would make it through alive. The story wraps up fairly well at the end, while also leaving some things open for the next book.

I'll be counting down to this sequel for sure.

Luckily, All In (The Naturals #3) comes out in November, and Barnes' has many other books out already to keep me busy until then.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Netflix Binge: The Fosters

When I went to visit my parents a few weeks ago, my mother introduced me to The Fosters, an ABC Family TV show that she's been binging on Netflix. We watched the first episode together while I was out there, and I watched 2 more episodes the night I got back. I was hooked! It's so good!

Seasons on Netflix: 2

Still on TV: Yes, season 3 is airing on ABC Family right now.

What it's about: A family. Stef and Lena are raising their three teenager children: Brandon (Stef's biology son from a previous marriage) and Mariana and Jesus (twins they adopted after fostering them). They take in two more foster children at the beginning of the show: Callie and Jude. Lots of drama ensues.

Why it's binge worthy: The parenting on this show is so good! That's rare for a show aimed at teenagers. Lena is a school vice principal, and she is so wise and so kind. I cannot get enough of her parenting! Being a fan of YA Fiction books, I also love the sexual tension between Brandon and Callie. And I really enjoy all of the drama surrounding Callie in general - former foster homes, delinquency, juvie. It's not your typical family drama, although it does have some of the cliched episode (i.e. house party). I just LOVE this show! I'm currently in the later episodes of season 1. I hope it stays this good. (My mother assures me that it does.)

Have you watched this show? What shows are you into right now?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How to end up a coach soccer ...when you know nothing about soccer

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the New Berlin Athletic Association soccer director. He informed me, along with all of the other parents for the team, that our team did not have a coach. And until a parent volunteered to coach, our kids wouldn't start practicing. He said he'd starting calling parents the following week if no one stepped forward.

Can you guess what happened? No one volunteered. I got a voicemail the following week, and I immediately started to feel guilty. I helped out with baseball, so I planned to help with soccer too, but I didn't want to be the head coach. Mainly because I don't know anything about soccer! And because my patience with kids isn't always the greatest.

I reached out to Christopher's baseball coach since his son was on the team too. I said I'd help if he'd coach, but unfortunately, his son is on a second team, so he couldn't commit to all of the practices and games for this league.

I tried appealing to the rest of the parents. I emailed everyone saying I'd do it, if other parents would agree to help. No response. I started getting nervous that they'd cancel our team.

So I volunteered.

(Sidenote: Once I sent out the an email to parents about practices, I did have two moms offer to help me out. Yay! I will definitely need their help because I'll be out of town for a couple of games.)

I went to the coaches meeting, learned the rules, and got my team roster, uniforms, and equipment. Then, thankfully, I went to a coaches clinic. I learned how to kick a soccer ball for shooting and dribbling. I learned a little more about the rules of soccer and how to run a practice and a game. There was even this super cool white board with magnets for players and the ball.

I took a lot of notes! 4 pages. Haha.

Then last night we had our first practice. A few hours before hand I was Googling "how to kick a soccer ball". I learn better by reading, so I read a few articles and felt somewhat prepared for the practice.

Luckily, there are only 6 kids on the team, and I already knew Christopher (of course) and three other kids. So only two players were unknowns. 4 boys. 2 girls. 6 kids. It worked perfectly for breaking up for drills.

We practiced kicking, dribbling, and passing. We played "kick the coach" which they loved. It involves the kids dribbling around a designated area and trying to hit me with their soccer balls. They all did really well and improved noticeably even after only 50 minutes.

We took a lot of water breaks. And there were some tears: Christopher. He was frustrated because he couldn't do something as well as everyone else. Oh, my little perfectionist.

It was fun. And I got about 6,000 steps in!

I am a little nervous about next week. We'll have to repeat a lot of the drills, which could be boring. I have some new stuff to teach them too, so hopefully I can keep their interest.

Do you get involved in your kids' activities? Do you know anything about soccer? I appreciate any and all tips on being a little league coach.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Beginnings and Friday 56: The Book of Broken Hearts

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader.

Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

Friday 56 is a meme hosted by Freda's Voice.

- Grab a book, any book.
- Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
- Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
- Post it.

My book this week is The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler.

The law of probability dictates that with three older sisters, a girl shall inherit at least one pair of cute shorts that actually fit. Agreed?

Bzzz! Thank you for playing! Please try again.

My initial reactions: 
- I love the cover. That's why I picked this book for my 2015 reading challenge.
- The main character is sarcastic. I think this book will be funny.

Friday 56:
I'd shaken loose an image my mind had captured and stored without permission--Emilio, winking at me and jumping on the kickstart, the bike roaring beneath him. My treacherous little beast of a heart fluttered.

I took it for what it was: a warning. The heart--in all its infinite wisdom (with some backdoor bribery from the hormones)--was totally edging in on this Vargas boy situation, and the heart didn't know the meaning of terminado.

What books have you been reading this week?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kindergarten Memories

Today I am linking up to Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. Here's the prompt:

5. What grade is your child going to be in? Share a memory you have of yourself at that same age.

Christopher is starting kindergarten in a couple of weeks. Here's a picture of me at that age.

What I remember about my kindergarten year:
  • My teacher was Mrs. Yourg, I think.
  • We had cubbies for our school supplies and hooks along the wall of closets with these weird rotating closet doors.
  • The classroom was laid out like this:
  • There was an "L" and an "R" up on the left and right of the bulletin board across the top of the chalk board. I definitely learned right from left that year, and I still sometimes close my eyes and visualize that board if I have a moment of confusion.
  • When you learned how to tie your shoes, you got your name on a shoe shaped paper that hung in the hall outside of the classroom. I took me a long time to get my name in the hall.
  • For some reason our classroom had a single bathroom off of it, but we'd still take group trips to the bathrooms down the hall at fixed times during the day.
  • While waiting in the line to go back to the classroom after using the bathrooms, someone said, "She cut me" (or "He cut me") and my teacher freaked out thinking someone was actually cut when in fact someone had just cut that person in line. (This may have been from 1st or 2nd grade, I'm not exactly sure.)
  • During carpet time, we'd often sing "Black Cat, Black Cat, what do you see?" etc.
  • We had rest time, and I never fell asleep. I remember being so jealous of the kids that did fall asleep because they got to miss a little bit of the afternoon lessons.
  • A boy in my sister's kindergarten class across the hall, broke some bones in his body and had a practically full body cast. His parents brought him in in a wagon each morning.
  • The Challenger exploded while we watched it on TV at school.
This list is pretty random. I know. I wish I could remember more. 

I look forward to Christopher building his own memories this year.

What do you remember from kindergarten?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: Red Queen (YA)

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Goodreads Summary:
The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

My Review:
This book has elements of all my favorite dystopian trilogies: a rigid two-caste system and childhood best friend/love interest like in The Hunger Games, a lower-caste main character with special skills and a growing rebellion like in Divergent, and a rags to riches princess story like in The Selection.

Victoria Aveyard has created a society ruled by Silvers, highly evolved humans with silver blood and special abilities. Each high-house has a super power that's passed down the male line. Many of the abilities are related to controlling the elements, kind of like X-Men.

The main character, Mare Barrow, is a Red - supposedly a normal human like us. But a freak accident her first day on the job at the palace reveals that she can control electricity. In order to maintain the image of power over the Reds, the queen forces Mare to pretend to be Silver-born, Mareena, who was raised by Reds when her parents were killed in battle.

Mare is such a lovable character, as are her family and her childhood friend, Kilorn. I immediately grew attached to them and was routing for them throughout the whole book.

In the palace, Mare meets many Silvers, some kind and some cruel. She doesn't always know who to trust. I enjoyed reading about her discovering her abilities and about the growing rebellion. I always love an underdog story.

The writing in this book was fantastic. There were so many great quotes, especially at the end of the chapters. One favorite: "In the fairy tales, the poor girl smiles when she becomes a princess. Right now, I don't know if I'll ever smile again."

There is a kind of love square in this book, but it wasn't overdone or angst-y. The romantic elements added to the plot, and I found them believable.

My only complaint about this book is that I read it too soon. I want the sequel now! I should know better than to start trilogies before all of the books are released. I will definitely be counting down until the February release of Glass Sword.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: My Most Read Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is "top ten authors we've read the most books from".

This is my first Top Ten Tuesday as I was finally able to think of ten items that matched the topic.

My younger years...

1) Ann M. Martin

Like many other young readers in the late 80s and early 90s, I read A LOT of Babysitters Club books. I'd guess I read around 75 of these books during my pre-teen years.

2) Laurlene McDaniel

Starting in around 5th or 6th grade, I moved on to McDaniel's "dying kid books". In almost all of her stories the main character is dying of some horrible illness, very often cancer. There is romance of course because they're books for pre-teen and teenage girls. Call me sick, but I loved these books. By my count on Goodreads, I read at least 20 of these books - some many times. My favorite was Time to Let Go. I always thought I'd be a pediatric oncologist, inspired by these books, but that didn't work out.

As a mom...

3) Mo Willems

I bought an Elephant and Piggy book from Target when Christopher was about 3, and after that we were all hooked. Those books are so fun and funny! We've laughed out loud over and over again reading them. We now own 7 of the books, but we've read all 22 books thanks to the library. We've read and own some other Willems books as well. He is one of the best children's authors for sure.

4) Dr. Seuss

Thanks to Jim's aunt and uncle, we got a ton of Dr. Seuss books as hand me downs. They're timeless and fun to read. I've read too many to count. We own 12, but we've borrowed a bunch from the library. My favorites are The Lorax and Fox in Socks.

My more current favorites...

5) Jodi Picoult

I high school I moved on to reading contemporary adult fiction - the types of books my mother was reading. Jodi Picoult quickly became a favorite in our house. I have read all 26 of her books and 2 novellas. I still can't resist when a new book comes out, although I don't have to read it immediately, like I used to. My favorite book of hers is Vanishing Acts.

6) Nicholas Sparks

I know. I know. His books are so cheesy, but I LOVE them. And all of the movies that are based on them. He's another must read author that I started with in high school. I have read all 17 of his novels and his memoir about traveling with his brother. My favorites are The Notebook (of course!) and Safe Haven.

7) J.K. Rowling

Starting in college I got hooked on Harry Potter. My best friend, Laura, was an education major, and we read the first three books out loud to each other. Then I had to wait for the rest to come out one by one. By the time book 6 came out, I had my husband hooked as well. I've listened to the audiobooks at least 20 times each. Since then I have read The Casual Vacancy, her two Robert Galbraith books, and Very Good Lives. So that's 11 books.

8) Ann Brashares

I loved The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. I read the first 4 books when I was in my 20s, and they're just too fun. When the 5th book was published, I read it right away. I've also read 3 of Brashares other novels. I just need to read The Here and Now, and I'll have read all 9 of her books.

9) Liane Moriarty

After reading What Alice Forgot last year, I completely binged and read all of Moriarty's work. I loved 5 of her 6 novel. Only The Hypnotist's Love Story didn't work for me. My favorite is definitely Big Little Lies, but I also gave 5 stars to What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret.

10) Rainbow Rowell

There are a lot of authors that I've read 4 books by, so I'm picking Rainbow Rowell for this last spot. She is hands down my favorite author right now. She writes such amazing YA and adult fiction. My two favorites are Fangirl and Attachments. I love the nerdiness of her writing. A a book nerd and IT person, her characters resonate with my big time! I have pre-ordered Carry On, and I am working on getting to NerdCon in Minneapolis in October, so I can meet Rainbow and get my book signed. I don't usually geek out about famous people, but I make an exception for her.

What authors do you love? Whose books will you drop everything to read? I'm always on the look out for more must-read authors. Let me know who I'm missing.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: Graceling (YA)

Graceling (Graceling Realm #1) by Kristin Cashore

Goodreads Summary:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight - she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...

My Review:
In this story Katsa is graced with the ability to kill, so she has been put to use by her uncle, one of the kings of their realm. Prior to the story starting, she decides that she can also use her grace for good. She, her cousin (a prince), and a few trusted friends have started righting some wrongs across the kingdoms, including rescuing the grandfather of another prince. The central plot of the story is Katsa trying to figure out who imprisoned the grandfather and why.

I really got into the world building in this book. The graces were varied and interesting. The many kingdoms were mystical. I wanted to love this book, but there just wasn't enough action. I wanted more adventure and more conflict.

Katsa reminded me of America from The Selection series. She was feisty and physically violent with Po. She had a rebellious streak, so I was routing for her right away. I always enjoy a female character who has sworn off love. I enjoyed seeing her come around. But like Anna and the French Kiss there was just too much romantic build up and little else in this book until too far into it.

There were some interesting bits where Katsa and Po are learning more about their graces. But throughout the whole book I was sure I wouldn't read the sequels...until the end. Then I was attached to the characters, and my desire to find out what happens to them won out. I downloaded the sequel a few days after this book. Maybe it'll be better?

Audiobook Note: I listened to this on Overdrive. It was full cast audio. This was my first experience with that. It was kind of weird although not entirely unpleasant. It worked for this story because there is a lot of narration. My only complaint is that there was a lot of dramatic music between segments of the book. A LOT. It made it seem like an old radio show or something. (Thankfully the sequel isn't like that.)

My Rating: 3 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Summer Reading Challenge Update

So I got an email with this in it this week...

The library sale is in September, so I thought I'd have through Labor Day weekend to finish my Summer Reading Challenge. I guess not.

I will be failing my original timeline for this challenge, but I'm not going to quit completely. I checked the library website, and there is another sale in December, which means another book drive in November. I'm just adjusting my goal.

So far I've read three of eight books for this challenge.

Me & Emma (3 stars)

Wildwater Walking Club (3 stars)

Windless Summer (2 stars)

My new goal is to finish one more book before this book drive on August 22nd. Then I'll read the 4 remaining books before the next book drive in November.

Here's hoping that one of the remaining books will earn more than 3 stars!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Review: Every Last Word (YA)

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Goodreads Summary:
If you could read my mind, you wouldn't be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off. 

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

My Review:
I devoured this book in 2 days. I could not pull myself away. I stayed up until 12:30 AM finishing the book the second night. I never do that. It was just so good!

Sam is struggling with keeping her OCD a secret from everyone besides her family. More specifically she is struggling with going back to school after an amazing summer away. She has been in school with the same people since Kindergarten, and she can't break away from her friends to be her true self. I love the idea of "Summer Sam". I had a similar "camp me" growing up.

I adored the way Stone used writing poetry as a way for Sam to truly find herself and make some necessary changes in her life. I enjoyed reading about her opening up to her new friends. The writing was great! Stone really puts the reader inside Sam's head, so much so that when she has short daydreams, I didn't even know that they weren't real until they were over. It was so fun!

I appreciated that this wasn't just another YA illness book. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of those books, and there are a lot, but this was refreshingly different. It had elements of instant friendship, which always gets me. But the theme of identity would apply to any reader.

Not to mention the romance! The love interest, AJ, is so adorable. He and Sam have such a healthy relationship.

The mom's character was great too - at least in the beginning of the book. She sort of drops out of the story as Sam builds some new friendships, which was kind of sad.

I wasn't on board with some elements of the ending, so I almost dropped my rating to 4 stars. But considering how quickly I flew through this book, I left it at 5.

Favorite Quote:
"I don't need to go away to reinvent myself. I've already been doing that."

I did need to go away. When I moved to Milwaukee in 2002, "Camp Kate" finally became real live Kate, and it was wonderful.

My Rating: 5 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bookworm Problem: Everything Comes into the Library at Once

I use the library hold system A LOT. And I like to keep track of where I am in the queue, so I don't end up with too many holds coming in at once.

But my library does something that I find weird. When the book comes back to your home library, it goes to the next person on the list from that library first instead of the next person on the list for the full county. That means that I'll occasionally get an email saying a book has come in for me when I thought I was number 18 on the list for example because I'm the first person in New Berlin waiting for that book. It really messes with me, especially when it happens for multiple books at once.

I appreciate the library system trying to keep the cost of book transfers to a minimum, but it really messes up my reading plans when I am suddenly overloaded with books that come in before I expected them. You see...bookworm problem!

Visit Quirky Bookworm for more #bookwormproblems!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

How I survived 19 hours in the car with my 5 year old son

I found out a few weeks ago that Jim needed to go out to AZ for 3 days for work. Since his high school friend and co-worker lives out there, he wanted to stay over the weekend as well to hang out. That meant I'd be a single mama for 7 days. Obviously I'd be working full time still, so during the week it wouldn't be that much more work, but over the weekend, I'd be Christopher's sole entertainment, which meant no alone time for me until bedtime each night.

Can you feel my panic?

I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity for Christopher and me to visit my parents. The only problem was that on such short notice, plane tickets were $500+ each. No way was I going to pay that much! Especially when it's only a 9.5 hour drive. Only. Haha!

I knew I needed to do some serious planning if we were going to survive this trip. We've driven from Milwaukee to Mayville, NY before, but it's always been the three of us. And then Jim and I usually take turns sitting in the back with Christopher, so we can play with him or watch movies or whatever.

He and I have driven to Minneapolis before alone, but that's only 5.5 hours. And even then it's gotten a little treacherous with me trying to hand him things or changing out audiobooks or whatever. I didn't want to endanger our lives (too much anyway).

So here's what I did...


I went to Target and loaded up on snacks. I didn't want to eat fast food on the road. It would slow us down and make me feel greasy and gross.

I didn't feel like consolidating, and I knew, with only two of us in the car, we'd have a ton of room, so I loaded them all in a big box, pre-opened all of the lids, and belted it into the front seat of my Prius.


I packed two bins of toys. I originally intended to switch the bins half way through the drive, but we didn't need to. So we had fresh toys for the ride home.

I belted the toy bin in the seat next to Christopher, so he'd be able to reach whatever he needed, and I wouldn't have to worry about the bin sliding across the seat or falling onto the floor.

Each bin contained books (easy reader and picture books), coloring books or paper or High Five magazines, markers or scissors and glue, a measuring tape (I thought that might be fun), toys (cars, planes, ninja turtles), Etch-a-Sketch or similar toy, small puzzles or beads, etc. He played with some stuff, but I brought a lot more than we needed. That was fine with me! We had plenty of space.


I got 6 audiobooks from the library. Then a couple days later went back and got 6 more, so we'd have different books for the return trip.

My car has a 6 disc CD player, so I pre-loaded the CDs before the drive and put corresponding post-it notes on the books numbered 1-6, so I wouldn't have to load while driving. It worked really well. I handed Christopher the stack of books, and he told me which disc he wanted to listen to. (We ended up doing them in order on the way there, and on the way back, we only listened to a couple of the books.)

MOST IMPORTANTLY, Jim loaded up the iPad with new movies before he left, so Christopher had plenty of his more recent favorites to keep him entertained. And that meant I got to put in my ear bud (only one ear, so I could still hear him), and listen to my audiobook. I listened to Armada on the way out and Graceling on the way back. I squeezed in about 4 hours of listening each way. That helped a lot!


Each time we stopped (minus the first two times because I forgot), I gave Christopher a surprise from the trunk. He loved this! I had raided the Target dollar bins and picked out activity books, flash cards, an easy reader book, stickers, and a cardboard cut out of a race car with special markers and even glitter! I grabbed a few big picture books from the library as well: a cat book, a DC Comic dictionary, and a Lego encyclopedia. I got Lego sets too, but he couldn't do those in the car alone unfortunately.

The activity books and the race car were big hits, but the biggest hit of all was a roll of masking tape. I got this idea from Jennifer at That's What She Read. Thanks so much! On the way home he spent three hours on and off cutting pieces of tape and sticking them all over the window.

He enjoyed this activity so much that he continued working on the window for twenty minutes after we got home, and he has been sticking tape to the windows in my car and Jim's car for the last two days. Haha.

It better come off.


A couple of times I gave Christopher some chocolate as a treat instead of giving him a surprise. He calls Hersey's bars "Wonka Bars" since we watched Willy Wonka and the Chococolate Factory. On the way out he had a half bar without a problem. On the way home I gave in and let him have a whole bar. He ate all but once piece and then had a stomach ache for the next few hours. Oops!

I also packed some small candy treats for myself: Sour Patch Kids and Haribo Gummy Bears - my favorites!


The drive wasn't bad at all. Christopher got a little grumpy around the 6 hour mark on the way out there, but I think it was more related to lack of sleep (I'd woken him up at 4:30 AM to avoid Chicago traffic) and the fact that I was on the phone with my sister at the time, so he wasn't getting enough attention. The activity books required that I grab them every two pages and read him the (thankfully brief) instructions on what to draw.

We missed an exit near Cleveland on the way out, so we lost about 15 minutes there, which made me a little grumpy too. But the drive home was event free! It seemed a lot faster too because once we hit Chicago it felt like we were almost home (even though we had two hours left).

I won't be rushing out to do this drive again any time soon, but it's good to know we can handle it when we need to. We had a great time visiting with my parents and my brother and his family. Christopher got some good grandparent and cousin time. I got to read a whole book and hang out with my family. It was a great weekend!

Have you taken any road trips this summer? How do you keep your kids entertained?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Review: Armada (YA)

Armada by Ernest Cline

Goodreads Summary:
Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

My Review:
I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I enjoyed Ready Player One, so I had to check out Cline's next book. I liked this book, although not as much as his first book. I listened to the audiobook, read by Wil Wheaton. He did such a great job portraying the 18-year old main character. His voice even cracked in the appropriate places.

I read a few bad reviews before reading this book, so I was a little nervous. Those bloggers criticized the unoriginal story line, but I found that to be the point of the book. Zack has been playing video games and watching sci fi movies his whole life, and now aliens from his video game are invading Earth. I thought Cline did a great job of outlining what that would be like. The story is funny and poignant,

But, for me, the book was about the character of Zack. Cline does the teenage boy so well! Zack is struggling with the absence of his father, who died when he was a baby. He worries that his dad was just some crazy guy who wrote down his conspiracy theories in his notebooks. It's a quest to understand his father. And then Zack finds out that his dad was actually right. Good feels.

As in Ready Player One, this book is full of references - nerdy and non-nerdy, mostly 80s and 90s reference since Zack's dad was born in 1980 (the same year I was born). I enjoyed that a lot. I also found it amusing that Cline chose to set the book in 2018, so there could be a female president.

I had a hard time following the battles in the audiobook, but that may have just been me. And I felt like the pacing was off a little bit. It jumps right in to the story at the beginning, which I liked a lot. But then it slowed down in the middle - too slow. And the ending felt rushed, although oddly, it seemed to set up for a sequel.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book. I don't think I'll read it again because it's not really my genre, but I did get emotionally invested in the characters, so I'll read the sequel if there is one.

My Rating: 3 Stars
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