Saturday, October 31, 2015

Month in review: October

What happened to October?! Seriously. This month went by way too quickly. It was full and busy though, so I guess that's a good thing.

Here's a recap...

- I finished 12 books this month (4 audio, 7 paper, 1 Kindle), including 1 re-read.
- I read my October book for the 2015 Reading Challenge, but I still haven't finished by September book. I need to get through it this month because it's due back at the library very soon.
- My YA Book Club had a short meeting earlier this month. Next month we'll be reading The Program by Suzanne Young and discussing it on November 18th if you'd like to read along with us.
- Inspired by The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I am giving up my Summer Reading Challenge. I donated the remaining 3 books that were mine to the library. I will still read Americanah because I've heard such good things about it. And then I'll return that book to my best friend, Colleen, since it belongs to her cousin.

- I started writing fiction every Friday with my new series, Fiction Friday.
- I added a logo to my site thanks to my friend Sarah. And I changed by blog colors and background. I love the new look, and I feel so professional now. I even printed business cards for NerdCon. I only handed out two, but still. I have them now.

- I had a really great month at work this month. Finally! I'm still not sure IT is what I want to be doing long term, but I am feeling much better about my current job. I am able to be productive day to day, which is a good feeling.
- My co-worker quit though and his last day was Wednesday, so hopefully we can find someone else right away, so I don't have to try to carry his workload as well. I don't really know much about the applications he was working on.

- My foot is getting better, slowly. I am hoping exercise can happen in November.

- Christopher's loose tooth hasn't fallen out yet, but I did get the tooth fairy pillow done early this month, so we're all ready.
- I switched Christopher's booster seat to use the guided seat belt, in one car at least. I need to remove the harness from the seat in Jim's car still. Christopher is loving the flexibility the real seat belt allows. He can lean forward and get things out of the seat back pocket. Big excitement for sure!

Christopher in stage 2 of his booster seat.

- We celebrated Christopher's half birthday on October 18th.
- Christopher started taking showers instead of baths. It's a little tricky trying to wash him from outside the shower, but he's really liking the spray of the water. And he's finally not afraid of water on his head and face. Yay!
- We had our final soccer games. The kids all got medals, and I wrote them all letters praising their skills and growth. I also got an adorable card from the kids and a Barnes & Noble gift card. So fun!

Christopher after the last soccer game with his card, 
medal, and popcorn. Hooray for the end of the season!

- I attended NerdCon earlier this month with my friend, Sarah. And I met Rainbow Rowell!
- My mother came to visit at the beginning of the month while Jim was still in Spain. We had a low key visit with lots of Gramma time for Christopher and redecorating fun for me. My mother is a master at interior decorating as she and my dad move a lot.
- Jim and I saw The Martian movie and my friend Sarah and I saw the second Maze Runner movie.
- We introduced Christopher to Harry Potter by watching the first movie and then reading the illustrated edition of the first book. We have seven chapters left.  Then he's allowed to watch the second movie.
- All things Halloween! We went to the pumpkin farm last weekend. Christopher had a Halloween party at school yesterday and a school dance last night. And then today we'll be carving pumpkins and Trick or Treating. I'll get some pictures up tomorrow.

- We got the rest of our house painted. I'll post the pictures soon. I promise.
- Jim also installed some new light fixtures. I love them all.
- And we bought a new sectional couch for our TV room. We still need to buy some tables to go with it, but the room looks so much nicer already.

I am really excited for November. There are so many good books coming out this month. And it's almost Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving! It's always been my favorite holiday. And I can't wait to spend time with my family in Florida.

Starting tomorrow I'll be participating in #FindJoyInNovember. A challenge created by Katie at Stars and Stress. Follow my Instagram for pictures. I'll have some posts on the blog for the challenge as well.

What have you been up to this month? Do you have anything fun planned for next month?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Fiction Friday: Kindred Spirits

I started the Fiction Friday series last week. We'll see how long I can keep it going. I already have ideas for the next several posts, and I'm hoping that in the future I will have more time to spend on these entries. I want to hone my skills and not feel like I'm rushing to get a post out. But I do think the deadline will be helpful in forcing me to keep writing.

I was aiming for a longer story this week, and I have a great idea for one, but I didn't get to it this week. Life got in the way. Here's a short but sweet little tale.


Lunch finally! Jessica is very much been looking forward to sitting alone and reading her book while she eats her lunch. It has been an exhausting morning. Starting a new school is difficult. The unknown location, the endless introducing herself to new people, the trying to project a positive aura, so the other students won't judge her as harshly.

She woke up 2 hours early this morning and deliberated in front of her closet for 35 minutes before selecting the perfect outfit. She worked for 40 minutes on her makeup and hair. That process alone was taxing. Then she had to face the bus ride as a new high school junior in a sea of long time friends. It seemed to Jessica that no one ever left this town. How is she supposed to break in when everyone has known each other since kindergarten?

Some teenagers might fear the lunchroom in a new school. They might hide out in the library or eat their lunch in the bathroom. Jessica doesn't mind. She has her favorite book to keep her company. Her beloved "friends" who she's known since middle school will let her escape for half an hour. She needs the quiet of reading to recharge before facing her afternoon classes.

She makes her way through the lunch line, selecting a granola bar, an apple, and a carton of milk, all things she can eat or drink with only one hand. She finds an empty table in the corner of the lunch room, and she sits down. She pulls out her book, opens up to her favorite part, and begins reading.

Not two minutes later, someone approaches her table. Jessica groans inwardly. Why do people always assume that a person sitting alone and reading wants company? She's isn't reading out of boredom or loneliness. She actually wants to be alone with her book. But she's trying to make a good impression, right?

She looks up kindly and smiles. Before she can even say anything, the boy says, "Don't worry. We don't have to talk. I just wondered if I can sit with you. I have my laptop, so we can be introverts together."

Jessica's smile widens. "Sure," she says.

The boy sits down, pulls out his laptop, and begins working. They don't even exchange names.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Goodreads Summary:
This guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list). 

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this book featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

I am a pretty tidy person. Except for a few areas, my house is pretty well organized and neat. And I have taught my son to be a tidy person. Or maybe he's just naturally that way. All of his toys have a specific place in his playroom. All of his clothes have a designated section of his dresser. Just like my things. But I have gotten lazy about getting rid of clothes he's outgrown or things we're no longer using.

I wanted to read this book to see what the buzz was all about. I reserved it from the library several months ago as a possible candidate for my 2015 Reading Challenge "a book that everyone has read."

My Review:
Overall, I liked this book. The beginning was a little slow as I didn't feel I needed the psyching up that perhaps messier people might need. I wanted her to get to the point and start telling me how to tidy up. I agree with the basic approach: get rid of stuff first, keep only what brings you joy, and then organize what's left - assigning a specific place for each item in your home.

I am skeptical of some of her statements, and I don't think I'll follow her methods to a tee. But I am motivated to tidy up our house. And actually I already started last weekend. I got rid of a whole carload of stuff that had taken up residence in my son's closet - old clothes, baby items, etc.

I listened to the audiobook, but I recommend the paper copy of the book, so you can refer back to each section, following her proposed schedule, as you tidy up your house.

The "life-changing magic" portion of her method is that tidying your house helps you know what you like and builds your confidence. Many of her clients make life changes after her course because they realize what they want from their careers, their relationships, and their lives. In that way, this book was inspiring beyond just my already heightened enthusiasm for throwing things away.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

My Takeaways:
I am recording these more as notes for myself when I begin tidying, but feel free to use this as a cheat sheet in case you want to get started before reading the book.

- Tidy your whole house in one shot, as quickly as possible (average = 6 months)
- Tidy by category, not location
- Start with things of less emotional value or rarity (clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, mementos)
- Complete discarding before you begin organizing
- Collect all items of a category in one location, hold each item in your hands, and think "Does this spark joy?" Only keep those items where the immediate answer is "Yes!"
- Don't get rid of other people's stuff
- Two reasons why you might want to keep something that doesn't spark joy: (1) attachment to past, (2) fear of the future - those reasons are also a reflection of how you want to live your life

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: Love Anthony

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

Goodreads Summary:
From the award-winning New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice and Left Neglected, comes a heartfelt novel about an accidental friendship that gives a grieving mother a priceless gift: the ability to understand the thoughts of her eight-year-old autistic son and make sense of his brief life.

Two women, each cast adrift by unforseen events in their lives, meet by accident on a Nantucket beach and are drawn into a friendship.

Olivia is a young mother whose eight-year-old severely autistic son has recently died. Her marriage badly frayed by years of stress, she comes to the island in a trial separation to try and make sense of the tragedy of her Anthony’s short life.

Beth, a stay-at-home mother of three, is also recently separated after discovering her husband’s long-term infidelity. In an attempt to recapture a sense of her pre-married life, she rekindles her passion for writing, determined to find her own voice again. But surprisingly, as she does so, Beth also find herself channeling the voice of an unknown boy, exuberant in his perceptions of the world around him if autistic in his expression—a voice she can share with Olivia—(is it Anthony?)—that brings comfort and meaning to them both.

My Review:
This book blew me away. As Lisa Genova does in her other novels, she uses her medical background to create a rich story about characters dealing with brain illness: in this case, autism.

This book alternates between two story lines that come together only briefly. Olivia has moved to Nantucket after the death of her son, Anthony, due to an autism-related seizure. She is mourning her loss and trying to find meaning in Anthony's life.

Beth, another Nantucket resident, is struggling with her identity after her husband, Jimmy, admits to having an affair. She discovers her old writing notebooks in the attic and dives into writing a novel based on a short story she'd written years ago after seeing an autistic boy at the beach.

Her book is written from the perspective of a mute, autistic boy, who very closely resembles Anthony, although she has never met him. The writing was fantastic. I enjoyed the stories of the two women, but what really captured my attention was Genova's insightful explanation of the autistic mind. Reading Anthony's words added a depth to autism that I never understood before. An autistic brain works in such a unique way. I won't spoil it by saying any more.

I appreciated the parallel stories of Beth and Olivia dealing with their own grief and trying to sort out what to do next. I liked how both women turned to art to help with their healing: Beth to writing and Olivia to photography. Also, there was a spiritual, mystical element to the story that I enjoyed more than I expected I would.

The story was a little predictable, but I didn't mind at all because the writing was so good. The whole book was so great. I loved every minute of it, and I blew through it in only a few sittings.

My Rating: 5 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Kid Lit: The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party (The Princess in Black #2) by Shannon and Dean Hale

Goodreads Summary:
Inconvenient monster alarms, a sparkly array of princess guests, and spot-on slapstick pacing make for a party readers will celebrate.

Today is Princess Magnolia’s birthday party, and she wants everything to be perfect. But just as her guests are arriving . . . Brring! Brring! The monster alarm! Princess Magnolia runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! She rushes to the goat pasture, defeats the monster, and returns to the castle before her guests discover her secret. But every time Princess Magnolia is about to open her presents, the monster alarm rings again. And every time she rushes back—an inside-out dress here, a missing shoe there—it gets harder to keep the other princesses from being suspicious. Don’t those monsters understand that now is not a good time for an attack?

We love The Princess in Black in our house. I recently bought a copy through Christopher's Scholastic book order in preparation for the sequel. We've been waiting for this book for a long time.

I understand that Christopher isn't exactly the target audience because this is a "girl" book. But the first book has a good mix of adventure, monsters, super hero action, and princess stuff. There's even the prospect of Duff the goat boy becoming a super hero side kick in a future book. So it can work for boys as well. And we don't really subscribe to boy vs. girl toys in our house. Christopher plays with My Little Pony and Shopkins, although many people might consider those "girl" toys.

That being said, I was worried that this book might be a lot "girlier" because of the princess party aspect. And I'd seen some tweets from Shannon Hale talking about the other princesses who'd be making appearances in the book.

My Thoughts:
I didn't like this book at much as the first book. And not even just because of the 12 extra princesses.

It's Princess Magnolia's birthday, so she's invited her princess friends to the castle for a party. But during that party the monster alarm keeps going off. And she keeps having to come up with excuses to distract the other princesses, so no one figures out her secret.

There was a lot of back and forth between the party and the goat pasture. And more monsters. Sort of. Unlike the first book, Hale doesn't show the monster point of view, which made it a little less funny.

The first book was so unique and fun, and Princess Magnolia was trying to keep her secret from a snooping Duchess, so I didn't mind the lying. In this story, she keeps lying to her friends about what the alarm is. I know that's a thing with super heroes, but I've never really understood why super heroes need to be so secretive. One of the princesses seems to be on to Princess Magnolia, and I was really hoping she'd figure it out.

Also, I was disappointed that Duff didn't make much of an appearance in this book, except to yell for help. I understand the desire to have a story where the girl is the hero, but isn't there a little room for a boy side kick?

Maybe young girls and parents of girls will enjoy this book more than I did. I'm still hopeful that the third book will be a little more appealing to boys as well as girls. I will definitely still check it out when it's published. I'm just sad I didn't enjoy this book more.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review: After You

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.

My Review:
I liked this book, but I didn't love it like the first one. The story begins about 18 months after Will's death. Louisa is a mess. She's dealing with grief and finding it hard to move on with her life despite her family members' urging. She feels guilty about having bought a flat with Will's money. She's even questioning whether she imagined their relationship to be more than it actually was. It's sad.

Then sixteen year old Lily turns up saying Will Traynor was her father. Her mother kept it a secret from everyone. Lily is even more of a mess than Louisa. And by caring for Lily, Lou finally begins to move on with her life. Mr. and Mrs. Traynor are in the story as well, so Moyes shows how they're coping as well.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Lou and Lily. It seemed very believable. I didn't really appreciate Louisa's family at all during this book. Were they that annoying in the first book? I can't remember. There was a weird plot with her mother that didn't really seem necessary to the overall story.

The cast of characters from Lou's support group helped round out the grief plot, and Louisa's ridiculous boss gave the story some humor. There is a sweet love interest story line as well, of course. I thought that plot line was very realistic as well.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I didn't ever really WANT to sit down and read it. It wasn't extremely compelling, perhaps just because of the sad nature of the story.

My Rating: 3 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

It's happening again

Last year in 4K Christopher struggled with behavior. A LOT. He got in trouble constantly, and it turned him into a pretty miserable little person. At the end of February he was essentially kicked out of his daycare. It was a low moment for our family. I cried on the phone to my boss. It was embarrassing and awful.

But then we found a wonderful daycare and the most amazing 4K teacher, and Christopher did so much better. He only got in trouble a handful of times from March through August. He was a happier kid, and I was kicking myself that we hadn't switched daycares sooner. I was just trying to hang on until kindergarten. Frankly, I was just being lazy. Shame on me.

Christopher opening Shopkins on his half birthday.

Christopher started kindergarten in September at our local public school. Almost right away I started getting emails (and even one phone call) from his teacher about his behavior. I am happy his teacher is reaching out. I want to work with her to make things better. I just don't really know how.

We're struggling at home too. I told her I was reading a book to try to come up with strategies for home as well. And then the emails stopped.

For 2 weeks.

I thought maybe his behavior was getting better. I was fearful that maybe she'd given up. Or that she was saving everything up until our parent-teacher conference next week.

And then yesterday I got another email. Christopher has been having behavior problems all week. All week! And today he lost privileges: show and tell, free play, and something to do with 4th grade buddies. She's hoping that will help him behave better in the future.

It won't.

I emailed her some tips based on You Can't Make Me. Strong-willed children will accept consequences just to get their way. Use humor to deflect the situation instead of getting into a power struggle. Be honest about why he needs to do things he thinks aren't worth his time.

I hope I didn't piss her off. I don't want Christopher to make her job harder. But I also don't want my child to be in trouble all the time. My mommy claws came out a bit. I want kindergarten to be a positive experience for Christopher.

And it is. Somewhat.

But I also have been hearing that he's not learning anything (other than Writer's Workshop, which he loves). And that it's "baby school" (in reference to practice using scissors) and that he "sucks at school" (because he keeps hitting people).

I emailed his old teachers to see if they have any helpful tips to share with his kindergarten teacher. And we'll have the conference next week. But I don't really know what else to do.

I just know that it's happening again. My heart sank when I read that email.

I just really don't want to go through all that again.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fiction Friday: Moving Away

I said I was going to try to write some descriptive stories this month. I'd like to make it a series. A little ambitious? Probably! But I'd like to make this a weekly thing, so I need to force myself with public accountability.

I'm calling it Fiction Friday. I may make it a link up at some point if I can figure out how to implement a linking tool on my site. I welcome all tips from other bloggers on that.

Here is my first attempt. It's a little short. I'll try for something longer next week.


"We are beginning our final descent into Seattle. Please fasten your seat belts, make sure your tray tables are stowed and your seat backs are brought to an upright position. We will be landing in 20 minutes." The flight attendant's voice cut out abruptly.

Oh my god! Am I really doing this? Casey thought. Am I really moving to a place where I know no one? She was traveling across the country to spend a year doing volunteer work in an unknown city. She'd gone away to college, but she and her twin sister had started together their freshman year. This was the first time she'd moved somewhere alone.

OK. Don't freak out. She told herself. You can do this. It's a chance to reinvent yourself. Remember the plan. You're going to be your true self. Camp Casey so to speak. It'll be great. No one knows you. That's a good thing.

Casey took a deep breathe. She checked her seat belt. It was still fastened. She didn't need to move her seat back. She never reclined on airplanes. She found it rude to invade the space of the person behind her.

She put up her tray table, gathered her garbage, and waited for the flight attendant to come by. Once her trash had been collected, she picked up her novel, the most recent YA contemporary, her favorite genre. She gripped the book tightly while focusing her gaze out the window as the plane descended towards the clouds.

She could see the peak of Mt. Rainier above the thick cloud cover. When the plane broke through, it was raining. Of course it's raining. She thought. This is Seattle.

Casey shifted her eyes forward and stared intently at the back of the seat in front of her. She adjusted the air flow using the control above her. She got motion sickness sometimes during landing. Eventually she closed her eyes and continued taking deep breaths until the plane touched down on the runway.

I'm here. This is happening whether I'm ready or not. She unbuckled her seat belt as soon as the captain turned off the fasten seat belt sign. Then Casey collected her bag from the floor, tucking her book inside. She waited impatiently until the passengers in front of her had exited the plane.

When it was her turn, she exited the row swiftly. She didn't want to cause any more delay for the passengers behind her. She said goodbye to the flight attendants as she departed the plane. She walked as briskly as possible up the jet way and finally emerged into the Seattle airport.

Well, here I go. The beginning of a new chapter. I've got this. She thought, feeling more confident with each step.


Are you an aspiring writer? Do you write short stories? I'd love to read some. I welcome all links in the comments.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book Review: How to Be Brave (YA)

I received this book for free from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

How to Be Brave by E . Katherine Kottaras

To Be Published on November 3, 2015

Goodreads Summary:
An emotional contemporary YA novel about love, loss, and having the courage to chase the life you truly want.

Reeling from her mother's death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave - all the things she's wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she's always been afraid to do - including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn't always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most - and you learn that you're stronger and braver than you ever imagined.

My Review:
This story is fun and messy and so real. I loved it. Georgia, a senior in high school, is dealing with the recent death of her mother. In her last letter to Georgia, her mom charged her to "be brave" and "try everything." In this spirit, Georgia creates a list of 15 things she'd like to do. With the help of her best friend, Liss, she sets off accomplishing the items on her list.

This book jumps right in. The pacing was so good. Details and backstory were filled in as they were needed, but the story flowed well from the beginning. I was compelled to keep reading this book, and I'd sneak in little bits whenever I could throughout my days.

Things derailed for Georgia about 2/3 of the way through the book. But that's life, isn't it? Things don't always go according to plan. Mistakes are made. New opportunities and challenges present themselves. I found that I didn't mind the rather strange twists the story took. It added to the authenticity of the characters.

I wasn't completely on board with the amount of drug use, so I think this book is for older teens and adults. But otherwise, I thought the message was good.

There is some poetry sprinkled throughout the story. I enjoyed that. Sometimes it flowed really well with Georgia's first person narrative. Other times it seemed a little forced, tacked on to the end of the chapters. But overall I think it adds to Georgia's voice.

This book was an enjoyable, quick read.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Home Improvement: Painting

Three years ago when we moved into our house, we made a tentative list of home improvements we wanted to do. This spring we finally got some lighting installing in our living room, and this past week we had the remaining rooms on the first floor painted.

We'd had the kitchen/laundry room and the upstairs painted last winter, but it was too much for me to decide on paint colors for the whole house all at once.

Our home improvement list from 2012. We're getting there.

Our house was a MESS last week. Sunday night Jim and I spent a couple of hours preparing the sunroom, the playroom, and the bathroom for painting. Then on Monday night we moved more furniture to get the living room ready. And then we shifted even more stuff around on Wednesday night to get the family room set up to be painted.

It was exhausting!

Here are some pictures amid the chaos.

The living room all prepped and ready for the painter.

The family room mid-painting.

The playroom during my clean up.

The living room mid-clean up. 

The family room post painting.

The sunroom, the ultimate dumping ground mid clean up.

I had to scramble to write blog posts at work last week because I had packed away my laptop and desk at home. We didn't even have a TV all weekend long because Jim was out of town, and I didn't even know where to begin in trying to get it set up.

We watched Netflix on Jim's laptop in the guest bedroom, cuddling in the new bean bag chair Jim ordered for his office.

Christopher hogging the whole bean bag chair. He wouldn't share with me.

I put together a bunch of the rooms this weekend, and Jim started on the TV room last night. We were at least able to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone albeit without surround sound. We still haven't made much progress in the sunroom, so Jim is continuing to work out of his old office upstairs in the guest bedroom. But we'll get there.

I'll post before and after pictures once we have everything put back together. For now I will say that I love how the colors turned out, and I am very happy we had the painting done. It was just A LOT more work than I was expecting, considering we didn't even do the painting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

YA Book Club: October 2015

I'm a little behind on posting this recap. Last Wednesday night was the October meeting of my YA book club. I also only took one picture this time.

We were all a bit tired I think. Annie was getting over a cold, I was exhausted from prepping our house for the painter, Sarah and I were both catching up on sleep after NerdCon, and Sarah was stressed about some presentations she had to give at work the next day.

Our meeting this month was pretty short. But as October is Sarah's birthday month, Annie brought her a present. That was the first order of business. Annie is an awesome gift buyer. She bought Sarah an adult coloring book. So perfect!

Sarah opening her present. Isn't that card so cute?

The Book
While camping in August, Sarah and I were reviewing the guest list for NerdCon. We hadn't ever heard of Maureen Johnson, but since she writes YA, we decided to pick one of her books for our book club.  We decided on...

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Sarah and I listened to it together on our drive to NerdCon.

The Venue
We went to Bravo! I ordered lobster ravioli. So tasty! Sarah got eggplant Parmesan. And Annie had spaghettinni and meatballs. She thought it was boring, but you can't go wrong with a classic.

Sarah also got vanilla bean and mocha gelato for dessert.

The Book Discussion
I thought the book was OK. Not great. Sarah and Annie agreed. Annie had originally given it 4 stars on Goodreads because she didn't want her rating to impact our thoughts on the book since she finished first. After we'd finished, she went back and changed her rating to 3 stars. So at least we all agreed.

Sarah did mention that the more she thinks about the book, the more she likes it because she's remembering only the good parts. It was cute, but so unrealistic.

Annie thought the pacing was good, but she wasn't ever anxious to pick up the book when she needed to read it. I think I would have only given it 2 stars if I hadn't listened to it in only two days. I know I wouldn't have wanted to keep listening because during my daily commute, it would have taken forever to get through.

Sarah and I both really liked Maureen Johnson when we saw her at NerdCon, so I need to try another one of her books.

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

- the democratic debate - I'm the only one who watched it, but I had A LOT to say
- The Martian movie - Sarah and Annie both loved it. You know how I felt about the adaptation.
- Daylight savings - we were lamenting how dark it was at only 6:30 PM
- my house being painted and all of the work involved
- traveling to FL in winter - how Sarah left a coat in a cab ("I forgot that coats existed.") and how I never wear a coat on the airplane when going somewhere warm, no matter how cold it is in Milwaukee

Did you read the book along with us this month?

Do you want to join us next month?

We'll be reading The Program by Suzanne Young for our next meeting on Wednesday, November 18th.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: All the Summer Girls

All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

Goodreads Summary:
In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her fiance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa is obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, the aspiring writer who can't seem to put down a book--or a cocktail--long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired... again.

In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women being to realize how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier--and the secrets that only now threaten to surface.

My Review:
This book is a fun beach-y read. The exposition is a little long, but I really enjoyed all three of the main characters. I was able to relate to them all.

Kate is the responsible one. She's grown up to be a lawyer, and she has a plan for her life...that is until her fiance, Peter, breaks up with her 3 months before her wedding. Vanessa is the beautiful one. She's married to the son of a TV news anchor, and she's quit her job at an art gallery to raise their 2 year old daughter. She's feeling like she lost herself and is questioning her marriage after her husband kisses another woman. Dani is the proverbial screw up. Still working on her novel after eight years, she loses her job at a book store, and she still drinks and does drugs way more than a 29 year old should.

All three women have issues stemming from the summer they were 21 years old when Kate's twin brother, Colin, drown. All three of them have carried some guilt ever since. When they return to Avalon, NJ for a girls weekend, the truth finally comes out.

This story was fairly predictable, but I really loved the characters, so I didn't mind. I enjoyed watching the drama unfold. I always love stories of long friendship, especially ones involving trips to the beach.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My own juvenilia

While I was listening to the guests read their juvenilia at NerdCon, I remembered that I had been co-editor of the literary magazine my senior year of high school. I thought it would be fun to find the books in the basement and share my writing on this blog.

Guess what? I wasn't published in either the junior or senior year books. Apparently my writing wasn't very good.

What I did find in one of my memory boxes was this book that my sister and 6 of our friends wrote in elementary school. I'm guessing maybe 4th or 5th grade.

I had 4 stories in the book. They're all pretty awful. But I thought it would be fun to post one of them. This one is probably the best.

Kristen and the Hidden Treasure
By: Kate Puleo

One day Kristen was playing in the woods and she ran into a cave. On the floor of the cave there was a big X. Then Kristen went home.

The next day Kristen came to the cave with a shouel and dug up the spot where the X was. She found a treasure chest. Kristen took the chest home and showed her mother. Her mother told her to open it. Kristen opened it. It was full of gold and jewels. They were rich.

A week later they went to the store and got a new car and some new clothes. Kristen was happy. And so was her mother.

Kristen's friend's birthday was coming up. Kristen gave her some decorations to decorate her house. She gave her a dog for her birthday, but her friend Amanda's mother would not let her keep it so Kristen said, "I'll keep it at my house and you can visit it when ever you want to." That made Amanda happy. Amanda said, "I'll name it Speckel." They both thought that was funny. Then Kristen had to go home.

Haha. How random! Here's a picture of the original typed version. I'm not sure who made the one correction. A teacher? My mother? My sister or I when we were older?

What stories did you write as a child? Do you still have any of them?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Review: Carry On (YA)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Goodreads Summary:
Rainbow Rowell continues to break boundaries with Carry On, an epic fantasy following the triumphs and heartaches of Simon and Baz from her beloved bestseller Fangirl.

Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters.

I loved Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, and I am obsessed with Harry Potter. I always love books with fictional books within them: A Wedding in December and The Fault in Our Stars are two books that come to mind. I always want to read those books! In Fangirl, Cath's Simon Snow fan fiction is like reading Harry Potter only "Harry" (Simon) and "Draco" (Baz) fall in love. It makes sense. And I really wanted more of that story. Carry On is that story, and I couldn't wait to read it. It took me over a week to read this book, and that kind of killed me. I had a lot going on with NerdCon, but I really just wanted to be reading this book. All. The. Time. Anyway...

My Review:
I don't read a lot of fantasy, other than Harry Potter. Maybe because I love Harry Potter so much. It's kind of hard to top J.K. Rowling. And other books that are too similar seem to be trying to hard. But the great thing about Carry On is that it's kind of supposed to be Harry Potter fan fiction in a way because of it's origins in Fangirl. And that made the similarities OK.

And there are a lot of similarities. Simon Snow is prophesied as The Chosen One, he goes to a boarding school to learn magic, he has a brainiac best girl friend, he has a sworn enemy, there is an evil character he must fight in the end, and he even has an adult friend who loves animals.

But there are also a lot of differences. The World of the Mages is not set apart from the Normal world as much as the Magical world of Harry Potter is separated from the Muggle world. The adults in this story all have real jobs, but also happen to do magic. Everyone has cell phones and talks about pop culture. And the spells are spoken in everyday English. British English. But still English.

I loved how Rainbow Rowell was able to create this fantasy world within our real world. And as always in her books, the characters were amazing.

The story is told in first person in chapters with alternating narrators: Simon, Baz, Penelope, Agatha, The Mage, etc. I loved getting inside their heads. It added so much more depth to the story of The Chosen One. Even the minor characters have complex motivations and back story.

I'll be honest. I was a little worried about the gay romance. But I loved it! Reading Baz's thoughts about Simon. And about Simon questioning his sexuality and giving into his desires. It was all so good. I love a good unrequited love story, and Rainbow Rowell does love so well.

There is so much more I could say, but I don't want to give anything away.

I know this is a book I'll read over and over again.

My Rating: 5 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

NerdCon: Stories 2015 - Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, Rainbow Rowell drew me to NerdCon last weekend, but the event ended up being so much more wonderful than I imagined. I knew John Green, Paul & Storm, Stephanie Perkins, and John Scalzi would be there as well. Other than that, I didn't know many of the guests.

It turns out that didn't matter.

I found the sessions hilarious, enlightening, and enjoyable. I was moved to tears several times by writing that people read. I laughed hysterically, a lot. And I tried to soak in as much bookishness as possible.

Waiting to get in to the first session on Friday morning.

Here are some of the topics covered by the sessions that I attended and some of the thoughts I took away from the weekend.

John Green. This picture is awful. I know.

Why Stories Matter

This question was addressed by many different people throughout the convention. Paul Sabourin and Storm DiCostanzo (of Paul & Storm) discussed this question separately and took more comedic approaches. Others were more serious. I was most struck by John Green's response to the question. As you may know, John suffers from OCD. He talked about being trapped in the prison of his body and how fiction (writing and reading) helps him escape that prison. I don't find my body to be a prison, but it is nice to escape my problems by reading books. I also like to experience what life might be like for other people by viewing life from another person's perspective while reading.

Adaptation into Alternate Media: But They Changed the Thing I Love!
John Green, John Scalzi, Holly Black, Maureen Johnson, Matt de la Pena

You all know how I reacted to The Martian movie, and I didn't write the book. Obviously. It was so interesting to hear authors speak about having their books turned into movies. The general consensus was that you have to accept that the movie will be a completely different thing. But, unfortunately, fans will still hold you accountable for the movie version, even though the author has very little say in the casting or adaptation of the book to the screen.

The sad thing was that many authors feel like they have to say yes to movie deals because it's a way for them to make money, and it's a way to get more publicity for their books. The end goal is to have people read their books. Only John Scalzi was able to say no and wait for the right movie deal to come along.

This picture was a little better. 

Honing Your Craft: Embettering Your Word-Doing
Holly Black, Stephanie Perkins, Lev Grossman, Nalo Hopkinson, Paolo Bacigalupi

This session was one of my favorites. I loved hearing how each author approaches the writing process. They were all so different. Clearly it boils down to finding what works for you. I absolutely loved Holly Black and Paolo Bacigalupi, and I will be checking out their books as soon as I can.

Connecting through Stories: Communities and Fandom
Leslie Datsis, Sarah Mackey, Cecil Baldwin, Paul Sabourin, Paul DeGeorge

This session was not what I was hoping. I'm not exactly sure what I was hoping...Harry Potter or Fangirl discussions? Who knows. This ended up being more of a discussion about the mediums available for connecting with other fans. The Internet and social media basically. And how different the fan communities are now vs. 20 years ago. It was interesting, but more broad than I wanted.

I did really love Sarah Mackey from NaNoWrMo. She almost inspired me to try writing a novel in November even though I am not at all ready for that. Maybe next year?

And back in the main, not so good.

No Pressure: How to Keep Creating Once You've Technically Succeeded
Patrick Rothfuss, Tea Obreht, Dessa Darling, John Green, Rainbow Rowell

This was my favorite session because I got to hear both Rainbow Rowell and John Green talk about continuing to write books after their success. John Green basically said he hasn't written anything in the last four years. Rainbow Rowell said she was lucky in that when Attachments was published, she already had her next two novels written. Everyone was SO honest. It blew me away how real everyone was.

During this session Patrick Rothfuss compared life to playing a game of Settles of Catan. He said you have to figure out what your winning conditions are and make sure your strategy aligns with that. You can't do it all. For example, as a famous person, you can choose satisfying your fans or spending time with your family. That was a really great take away.

A Conversation about Science
Hank Green, Ben Lillie

I enjoyed this little nugget of awesomeness during the Friday afternoon session. They discussed whether our brains are wired for stories and whether all sentient beings tell stories. I think it's true. As a mother I have seen how much stories help in explaining things to children: how the world works, where they fit into the hierarchy of society, etc.

Matt de la Pena, Holly Black, Mara Wilson, David Nadelberg

Writers read some of their earlier works. It started off serious with a poem about a mental health patient, then moved into some hilarious 8th grade fantasy, then into some online forum posts by a pretentious high school girl, and ended with a laugh out loud (even the sign language interpreter) poem about a fictitious bagpipe player. "I like that bag, Mr. Pips."

I'll let you guess who wrote which piece.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Patrick Rothfuss, Mary Robinette Kowal, Hank Green, Paul Sabourin, Joseph Fink, Maureen Johnson

Have you ever played this game? Or seen it played? Basically everyone pretends they're in a Medieval tavern, and the person to their left says something like, "Won't you please tell us about that time that you parked your horse on top of the Tower Bridge in London," And that person then has to tell the ridiculous tale. Each other player also has some coins, and they can jump in and ask questions or add details that the person then has to incorporate in their story.

I enjoyed watching Patrick Rothfuss attempt to explain this game to everyone. They kept chatting, and he kept getting annoyed and trying to bring them back to the point. I loved it! He so reminded me of Jim. His intensity when playing games. I was really wishing Jim was there during this session.

I could never play this game. But it was incredibly amusing to watch. I laughed until I cried. And I was blown away with the creativity of everyone, except Hank Green. He struggled just as I would have struggled (well probably not as much as I would have struggled) if I ever had to play this game.

Open Mic

The fans were given 3 hours over the two nights to share their own talent. I enjoyed this a lot. It was a unique open mic in that there were mostly stories read and not as much music played. But my two favorite people were musicians.

1. Zoe Gray sang this adorable song begging to go to Hogwarts. Check it out.
2. Tea Rose rapped and sang an amazing song. She blew me away! But I can't find her on YouTube.

Once More with Feeling: Storytelling through Song
Paul Sabourin, Storm DiCastanzo, Steven Brust, Dessa Darling, Joe DeGeorge

I love the title of this session since it's a shout out to the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My favorite episode of the entire series!

Anyway, I skipped out of this session early to get my book signed by Rainbow Rowell. But before I did, Steven Brust said something that struck me. He said, "We all love words." That is very true of a lot of people there. A lot of bookish people, especially those who want to be writers, do love words. I think that's why people struggle with re-writing and can't get past a point in their writing because they can't think of the right word.

I don't love words. I love stories. What's holding me up from writing stories is that I cannot think of a good plot or good characters. And my fear when I do come up with a good idea is that I won't be able to tell the story because I suck with words. I don't do flowery language. I am very analytical and factual. My story will be something like, "She loved dogs, so she went and bought one. The End."

It could be good though. Maybe. During the open mic, many people read stories that were so heavy on the description, but so light on actual substance. Maybe a minimalist approach to writing could work. We'll see when I finally write some descriptive prose. I have an initial idea in my head, and as Lev Grossman suggested, I'm mulling it over in my head, so that when I sit down to write, I can make good use of that time.

Rapid Fire Q&A. Yes, that's a giant squid. Don't ask. I don't know why.

There was so much more that I didn't take notes on. As I said yesterday, we crammed a ton of amazing stuff into two days (Friday, Saturday). I highly recommend the convention to anyone who loves stories of all forms.

I plan to return next year, but I'm getting a babysitter, so Jim can come too. He would have loved it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NerdCon: Stories 2015 - Part 1

Sarah and Me right after registration on Thursday night.

This past weekend I went to Minneapolis for my first ever on-land nerd convention. I have been on the Jonathan Coulton cruise twice (JoCo Cruise Crazy 2 and 3). I really enjoyed those cruises, but I felt like a bit of an impostor, especially the first couple days of the first cruise. I am not a computer geek, and I don't own a lot of nerdy t-shirts. I did buy a couple before the second year, but they were book related: The Giving Tree and Harry Potter.

I am a book nerd. And NerdCon: Stories was for bookish people like me. I felt right at home. Right away. It was wonderful!

I found the event when Googling book conferences one day a few months ago. I immediately wanted to attend because Rainbow Rowell was going to be there, and she is my absolute favorite author these days. The event corresponded perfectly with the release of Carry On, which is why she was there obviously. I bought the hardcover book, even though I own all of her other books in Kindle format, so I'd be able to get it signed at the event.

Rainbow Rowell signing my copy of Carry On. Can you tell I was nervous?

And I did! I missed the first signing on Saturday, but I skipped out of a different session early and was lucky enough to get into the line for her second hour of signing. My friend and book club-mate, Sarah, was there with me, so she could see the experience and take pictures. It was your typical fan-famous person interaction. I didn't say anything profound, or much of anything at all, other than, "I love your books." I don't often nerd out, so it was embarrassing, but I'm glad I did it. I got my book signed. The goal of the weekend was accomplished. Yay!

Me and Rainbow Rowell!!!

Rainbow Rowell's signature in my book.

I didn't really know what to expect of the rest of the event. I don't think anyone did, including Hank Green, who created the event. But it was awesome! The large morning and afternoon sessions had the same feel of the JoCo cruises. Tons of fans in a huge auditorium being entertained by a random assortment of famous people: authors, songwriters, entertainers, theater people. There was never a dull moment.

The main auditorium at NerdCon: Stories.

Seriously! There was hardly any down time. Sarah and I didn't even really eat. We were expecting a continental breakfast at the hotel, and we didn't even get that. Luckily she brought some granola bars, and there was a Dunn Brothers Coffee that sold muffins and yogurt. We made a quick trip to Jimmy John's Friday night for dinner during the only 60 minute gap in the schedule. And Saturday night we skipped two events to finally go out to dinner because we couldn't stand it any more.

It was amazing and crazy how much we crammed into two full days of programming. It was so hard and so sad to choose between sessions during the middle of the day. I wanted to go to everything!

More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quality Easy Readers

Christopher started reading this summer, so we've been checking out a lot of Easy Readers from the library. I give a lot of credit to people who write Easy Readers. It's not easy. Beginning readers can't read many words, so sticking to simple vowel sounds and sight words does not make it easy to create an interesting story.

Here is a list of decent Easy Readers that Christopher has read recently.

What This Story Needs Is a Pig In a Wig by Emma J. Virjan

This story is pretty ridiculous, but it's cute. It had a funny ending, and it does a good job of telling a story using as many short I words as possible.

The Berenstain Bears' Big Bear, Small Bear by Stan & Jan Berenstain

Using simple opposite words, this book is a very fun and funny easy read. Christopher and I both laughed out loud when reading it. Some of the words aren't really sight words, but the drawings made it easy for him to figure out the words he didn't know.

The Bug In a Jug Wants a Hug: A Short Vowel Sounds Book by Brian P. Cleary & Jason Miskimins

We read this book many times. It was so cute. And silly. Christopher loves rhyming words, as all early readers do, I think. This book created long sentences of rhyming words using various short vowel sounds. And then the illustrations brought them to life. It was just plain fun.

Bears on Wheels by Stan & Jan Berenstain

This book used repetition to make it easy for early readers. It was so simple, but so fun. The counts of bears and wheels changed page by page. It was pretty much non-sense, but it was enjoyable. I liked the mathematical element of the counting. It was more advanced because it wasn't just the typical sequential counting.

One Hundred Shoes by Charles Ghigna

I confess that I read this one to Christopher both times we read it, but he probably could have read most of it himself (even though it's Level 2). I really liked the higher counting involved in this story and the introduction of multiplication. Christopher could have counted the shoes in the drawings all day if I had had the patience to let him. Math books are rare, and this was a really simple but fun one.

What have your kids been reading? Do you have any Easy Reader recommendations?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Book Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes (YA)

13 Little Blue Envelopes (13 Little Blue Envelopes #1) by Maureen Johnson

Goodreads Summary:
Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke–about–town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous–though utterly romantic–results. But will she ever see him again?

Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it's all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.

Ages 12+

My Review:
I really wanted to like this book. It's like The Life List for teens. The premise was good, but the reality of it was too unbelievable. Ginny is sent on a scavenger hunt across Europe by her recently deceased aunt. She's only 17, but somehow she convinces her parents to let her take this trip without a phone or any money.

The story starts off well enough. She goes to London and stays with her aunt's friend, Richard. She meets an adorable boy, Keith, who finds her crazy behavior endearing. The first half of the book was sweet and funny. But then things get weird. The later destinations seem too random and too rushed. She spends only a day or two in each location and picks up fellow travelers along the way.

I liked the characters. Ginny was super shy and painfully awkward in the beginning. The high school version of me could relate to her very well. Keith was spontaneous and artistic. Richard was very fatherly. Even Aunt Peg, whose motives I didn't agree with, was true to herself. There was a lot of potential here.

But the execution just wasn't as good as I would have liked. The ending was frustrating. The whole thing felt a little elementary. I should have noticed the "ages 12+" in the description before reading this book. It's definitely a YA book meant for younger readers.

Audiobook Note: I listened to this book, read by Emily Durante. That may have impacted my opinion of the book. She read it an almost condescending tone: like you would read a book to a 3 year old.

My Rating: 3 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Lunar Chronicles Read Along: Cress

I am ahead of schedule for The Lunar Chronicles read along hosted by Brittany at The Book Addicts Guide. I couldn't resist, and I started Cress at the end of September. It'll work out well though. Now I have time to re-read Fairest before Winter comes out on November 10th.

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer.

As with Cinder in August and Scarlet in September, I listened to this book on Audible.

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

Goodreads Summary:
In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. 

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. 

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

My Thoughts:
When I first read these books, Cress was my favorite. It has the most characters and the most complex plot. I don't want to give anything away. But there is all kinds of craziness going on, and the characters get split up because of everything that's happening.

Meyer has created yet another unique retelling. This time it's Rapunzel. I enjoy the backstory on Lunar shells, the creative nature of Cress' imprisonment, and her chaotic and romantic rescue.

I love Cress' character. She's a dreamer. She's the damsel in distress many times in this book. But yet she's also this kick-ass computer hacker. I love her intense certainty of Thorne's heroic nature, her awe of everything on Earth, and her naive and sweet spirit. She and Thorne make a cute couple. Are they a couple?

The dynamics between all of the characters makes this book so enjoyable. Meyer weaves together the different story lines so well. The complex plotting to stop Queen Levana's wedding kept me on my toes while I was listening. There is so much going on at once. But I really liked how even Iko plays a vital role.

This book wasn't quite as enjoyable as the others the third time around, but I think it's still my favorite...for now. I'm sure Winter is going to be even more amazing. The introduction of Jacin and Winter in this book sets things up nicely for the conclusion.

I can't wait! Only one more month!

My Original Rating: 5 Stars
Understand my ratings.

Friday, October 9, 2015

DNFed Books: Fall 2015

A few months ago I wrote about what I like in a book and two books I didn't finish this summer. Within the last few months, I've put aside two more books. Here is an explanation on why I couldn't finish each of them.

Fire (Graceling Realm #2) by Kristin Cashore

While listening to Graceling, I didn't plan to continue the series. I wasn't enjoying it that much. But then I got to the end and I was curious what happened to the characters, so I reserved the second book right away. Due to some issues with my Overdrive app, I listened to the first two tracks several times, and I just couldn't get into it. I enjoyed the background on King Leck, but after the introduction, it starts telling the story of Fire, a monster human in a different part of the Graceling realm. It was too much new information, and I just didn't care. I eventually gave up because the book was due back to the library again, and I didn't feel like listening to it anymore. In 6 weeks, I'd made almost no progress.

32 Seconds by Johanna K. Pitcairn

I "bought" this Kindle book for free on Amazon. I must have read a review or something because I don't often get books without a recommendation. I only read 8% before I stopped. I'm not sure where the book was heading, but the part I read was about a girl, Julie, who's boyfriend breaks up with her on Valentine's Day because she has anger issues. Then the next day at school, she punches his new girlfriend in the face. She runs away and meets an old woman who forces her to eat a piece chocolate after revealing that she knows about Julie's issues with anger. She is immediately transported to "The Underworld" where a boy also lectures her about her anger. Is this Christian fiction? It felt very preachy and weird. And not for me.

What have you DNFed lately?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book to Movie: The Martian

Tuesday night Jim and I went to see the movie adaptation of The Martian. Since I had just re-read the book, it was fresh in my mind. This can be a good thing or a bad thing when it comes to seeing the movie version of a book. In this case, I think it was a bad thing.

I had pretty low expectations going into this movie. The book had a unique story telling format that would be hard to translate on screen. And yet, I was still disappointed.

The Good

I was nervous about Matt Damon playing Mark Watney because he wasn't at all what I imagined when I listened to the book. But he was actually really good. He captured Mark's humor perfectly.

The folks at NASA and the rest of the Ares 3 crew were portrayed well. I had a few minor complaints there, but nothing worth getting into. The casting was good.

The movie covers almost all of the highlights of the book's plot as well. They did tweak the ending, which I didn't especially love, but the plot and pacing was good enough.

The Bad

I understand that they had to fill in the gaps between log entries since the movie has to show more of a continuous timeline. But one of the great things about Mark in the book is his optimism. He keeps things light with his humor, and he never despairs. There was too much despair in this movie.

And too much counting food rations. They made this into a movie about NASA trying to bring Mark home, instead of a story about Mark surviving on Mars. I should have guessed that this would happen based on the movie poster.

The Ugly

They removed all of the science and replaced it with duct tape and plastic. Plastic! In space. Would it have been that hard to simulate HAB canvas?


3 Stars. It was a good movie. But it is a GREAT book.

I will note that Jim really loved the movie, and he's listened to the book several times as well.

Have you seen it? What did you think? Had you read the book first? If not, will you read the book after seeing the movie?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: You Can't Make Me

You Can't Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded): Strategies for Bringing Out the Best in Your Strong-Willed Child by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

Goodreads Summary:
Turn Conflict into Cooperation. 

Many parents suspect their strong-willed child is deliberately trying to drive them crazy. Difficult to discipline and seemingly impossible to motivate, these children present unique, exhausting, and often-frustrating challenges to the those who love them.

But strong will is not a negative trait. These same children have firm convictions, high spirits, a sense of adventure—all the makings of a great adult. In this book you’ll discover how to channel that passion and determination in positive ways as you build a healthy relationship. Through insights gained from strong-willed people of all ages, you’ll…
·  better understand how their minds really work
·  discover positive ways to motivate your strong-willed child
·  learn how to share control without compromising parental authority
·  apply key tactics to survive a meltdown
·  get practical tips for parents who disagree, blended families, and single parents

Packed with  immediately useful strategies to drastically reduce the level of tension in the home or classroom, You Can’t Make Me shows how you can start today to build a stronger, more positive relationship with your strong-willed child.

I found this book after searching "strong willed child" in my library's card catalog. We are really struggling with Christopher. He doesn't obey our requests. And we often end up in a power struggle. There is far too much yelling going on in our house, and it doesn't even help. The tension is thick, and I was at a loss as to what to do.

My Review:
This book was just what I needed. It's short and sweet. After a brief explanation of what a strong willed child is and how their minds work, it jumps right into practical strategies to use. The bottom line is making requests vs. demands. And I think that's easier to do once you understand why demands result in power struggles and conflict.

There were some parts that were too Christian for me, including a whole chapter about right vs. wrong, which addressed the Bible's commandment to obey parents. As an atheist, I just skipped those parts. The rest of the book was still very helpful.

I bought this book while reading it because I know it's one I will want to read again. There are some sections on dealing with older children and teens that I'd like to come back to when my son is a little older.

Now I just need my husband to read the key chapters (1-3, and 5), so we can be on the same page with our parenting style.

My Rating: 4 Stars
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