Monday, February 29, 2016

Month in review: February

February was another good month although it went by way to quickly. Jim had a long business trip in the middle of the month, so it felt like the beginning of the month was anticipating the trip. Then he was gone for 9 days, and once he was back and we were recovered, the month was ending.

Books
- I finished 11 books this month (2 audio, 6 paper, 3 Kindle). Three were eARCs.
- I listened to a book by one of the authors from my new author challenge, but I didn't read my re-read challenge book. I'll have to catch up in March.
- I enjoyed my YA Book Club, but my Moms Book Club meeting was canceled this month.

Work
- I caught up on a lot of my work due to some multi-day meetings involving other people that left me alone most of the month. It was pretty nice.
- I've been having a lot of fun getting to know my newish co-worker better. That's making work a lot more enjoyable.

Health
- I went to the gym 7 times this month. Not as good as last month, but I think I've figured out a weekly workout routine that I'll be starting this week. I'm pretty happy about that, and I'm hopeful that I can stick to it.
- I started eating low carb again this month, and although it was quite challenging at times, I'm feeling very good about the change. And we're rediscovering some of our low carb dishes.

Family
- Christopher has started reading the Hey, Jack and Bille B. Brown chapter books recommended by Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader. We LOVE them. He completed his 6 hours of reading and will receive a free ticket to Six Flags.
- I went to see my nephew's high school play. He was the assistant director of Once Upon a Mattress which I'd never seen. I really enjoyed it.
- Christopher celebrated his 100th day of kindergarten

Christopher selected 100 Pokemon for his 100 day shirt.

- Christopher passed the swim test at The Princeton Club, so he can now use the water slide, which was big excitement and kind of blew me away. Then he passed two levels of swim lessons, so obviously having lessons in the deep pool is helping.
- We celebrated Jim's mom's birthday mid-month, and we got to see the whole family and play some games. And Christopher got to trade Shopkins with his cousin, Claire.

Claire and Christopher trading Shopkins.

Fun
- We resumed our monthly game nights after taking off in January. We had an especially fun time this month because we had a lot of new games we purchased after our gaming weekend with our cruise friends.
- I started watching The Fosters again. I love that show!
- Christopher attended his best friend's birthday party, and he got to see their third musketeer who we haven't seen since last summer.

Isaiah, Rell, and Christopher at Rell's birthday party.

- We went to see A Little Critter Musical at First Stage children's theater in downtown Milwaukee. As usual, the production was wonderful.
- We attended a Milwaukee Admirals hockey game on Valentine's Day with Christopher's friend and his family. We had a great time. Christopher is still asking to play hockey. We'll see.
- Christopher and I traveled to Baltimore/Philadelphia to visit my cousin and my sister while Jim was in CA for work. We had a fun trip despite ALL of the fighting between the kids. It'll get better as they get older, right?

Cousins! Cece, Andy, and Christopher squeezed into the backseat of a Honda Accord.

Home
- Our bathtub started leaking again, so we need to figure out what to do about that. For now, we're just not using it anymore.
- New neighbors just moved in next door after the house has been empty for 3 years. They have two girls - 6 and 9. Christopher befriended them immediately. I'm so excited to have more kids in the neighborhood.


March means spring break and FL! Harry Potter, here we come. I cannot wait!

How was your month? What are you looking forward to next month?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Book Review: The Heart of the Fight

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


The Heart of the Fight: A Couple's Guide to Fifteen Common Fights, What They Really Mean, and How They Can Bring You Closer by Judith Wright and Bob Wright

Published on February 2, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Every couple fights—it’s how you fight that can determine the success of your relationship. This book teaches you to look beyond what you and your partner fight about, and discover the core issues that undermine your relationship.

In the midst of a disagreement, many couples ask themselves, “What are we really fighting about?” Sound familiar? As it turns out, breakups and divorce don’t happen because couples fight, they happen because of how couples fight. In this much-needed book, Judith and Bob Wright—two married counselors and coaches with over thirty years of experience helping couples learn how to fight well—present their tried-and-true methods for exploring the emotions that underlie many relationship fights.

In this unique guide, you’ll learn how to use disagreements as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of your partner, bring more intimacy to the relationship, strengthen your bond, and really learn from the conflicts and tensions that occur between you. You’ll also learn how to navigate the fifteen most common fights couples have, including “the blame game,” “dueling over dollars,” “If you really loved me, you’d…,” “told-you-so’s,” and more.

If you’re ready to start fighting for your love, rather than against it, this book will show you how. 

Background:
I enjoy a good fight. I come from a family of fighters, so I was intrigued by this book. I was curious how fighting could enhance a relationship. I started this book back in November, and it took me a long time to get through, which isn't that unusual for this type of non-fiction.

My Review:
The authors believe that fighting can be healthy as long as you know how to fight. Fighting gets things out in the open instead of covering up potential issues or disagreements. Basically, they instruct the reader to look for the underlying yearnings beneath the surface of the argument. They combat many myths about relationships, i.e. being with the right person makes you happy. And they share real stories about real couples and their arguments.

The first section of the book lays out the 15 types of fights. Then the second part walks through 6 tools to dismantle the fights and uncover the yearning beneath. I found the topic very interesting and even their approach made a lot of sense. I was able to relate to many of the types of fights and scenarios they laid out. And there were many tips for examining behavior and feelings and becoming more self aware.

But my issue with this book is that it doesn't seem like something a couple could actually apply without a counselor's help. It seems unrealistic to ask people who are having relationship problems to self-discover issues from their past that may be leading to attachment issues, for example.

The text was quite long as well. The introduction was about 26% of the book and dragged a bit for me. Then when it got into the meat of the book, I had a hard time keeping up with all the small strategies being shared. I almost gave up and didn't finish this book. Most likely it's not really meant to be read cover to cover. It could be a useful reference guide, but I think their techniques are more likely something that should be taught to counselors to help in their sessions of couples therapy.

Favorite Quote:
Living happily ever after implies unexamined, unconscious, static ways of being. Living happily ever after isn't the point. Living deeply ever after is what matters.

My Rating: 2 stars
Understand my ratings.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Kid Lit: A Friend for Mole

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


A Friend for Mole by Nancy Armo

To be published on March 1, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
An accidental encounter throws Mole and Wolf together. One is afraid of the light, the other is afraid of the dark. Together they learn that friends are all they need to conquer their fears.

My Thoughts:
Armo has written a cute book about friendship, kindness, and conquering our fears. Mole is happy living in his hole underground until he hears a lot of noise from above and decides to investigate. He is overwhelmed by the brightness and cannot find his hole. He ends up hiding in a bush and falling asleep until night time. In the dark he encounters a young wolf cub who is also lost. The two become friends, keep each other company through the night, and help each other in the morning.

This story will appeal to children whether they're animal lovers or not. The honest description of their fears is something anyone can latch on to. The illustrations are fun and add to the story. I enjoyed this book.

My Rating: 3 Stars


I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.

Friday, February 26, 2016

YA Book Club: February Recap

We almost didn't have book club this month. Jim was out of town, and it took me a while to find a babysitter. Two of our babysitters work until 6 PM, but we usually have book club at 5:30 PM over by my work. When the one babysitter wasn't available, we had to make a change in venue and time to make sure I could be there.

I'm really glad it all worked out because I need this girl time once a month for my sanity. It was also nice to have a night out after spending 9 days as a single mom while Jim was on his business trip.

The Book
While reading My True Love Gave to Me, Annie suggested we read a book by Matt de la Pena. Sarah and I were on board right away since we'd seen him speak at NerdCon and really liked him. We originally agreed on Ball Don't Lie, but as the meeting grew closer we changed books at my suggestion. The description of the original book just wasn't appealing to me anymore.


We Were Here by Matt de la Pena

I liked the description of this book much better, and since I recently started watching The Fosters again, it really spoke to me...especially the beginning of the book when Miguel is in the group home.

The Venue
We had dinner at P.F. Chang's again, which is one of my favorite restaurants. And as I'm eating low carb again this month, it worked well for me. I had the beef with broccoli, no rice. Annie had sweet and sour chicken, and Sarah had the "Buddha's Plate" (tufu and veggies).

We all skipped dessert and alcohol this month, which made it easier for me to stick to low carb.

The Book Discussion
Annie loved it. Sarah thought the beginning dragged, but she liked it a lot more from about half way through. It's funny because I enjoyed the beginning and end and not the middle. We all agreed that Rondell and Mong were pretty cool characters. I think I was the only one completely annoyed by Miguel.

Sarah had about 20 pages left, but she begged us to tell her what Miguel had done, and I did because she'd basically guessed it already. We all felt bad about a certain situation with a girl towards the end of the book.

Ratings:
Annie - 5 stars
Sarah - 3 stars
Me - 3 stars

The Non-Book Discussion
Sarah was sick again this month, but it was the tail end of a cold this time, so she was more in the mood for chatting. We talked about...

- my trip to Philadelphia to visit my sister
- Annie's cat and his diabetes, as of Wednesday he started getting insulin shots, poor kitty
- Napping and sleeping while touching someone else (I shared a bed with Christopher all weekend)
- Sarah's team at work are all getting standing desks
- Christopher's swim lessons (that was one of the original reasons for the time change of our meeting)
- Jim's business trip
- Sarah and Annie's time at UW and Annie's hate turned friendship story with a classmate
- the varying colors of bruises and how they indicate healthy blood clotting - yay!
- Sarah's co-worker who's returning from maternity leave in 7 work days - super yay!


Next month we'll be reading...


Weird Girl and What's His Name by Meagan Brothers for our meeting on Wednesday, March 23rd.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Book Review: We Were Here (YA)


We Were Here by Matt de la Pena

Goodreads Summary:
The story of one boy and his journey to find himself.

When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live.

But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only thought about Mexico and getting to the border to where he could start over. Forget his mom. Forget his brother. Forget himself.

Life usually doesn’t work out how you think it will, though. And most of the time, running away is the quickest path right back to what you’re running from.

My Review:
This book is written in journal-type entries in Miguel's voice. The language is filled with slang, so it took a little getting used to. I struggled for the first few entries, but then the story started flowing. (Side Note: This would make a great audiobook.) I enjoyed the beginning portion of the book, but about half way through it slowed down a lot and became kind of a slog to get through.

Miguel ends up in a group home after doing something horrible - the crime isn't revealed until the very end of the book and that drove me crazy. He and two other guys decide to run away. The bulk of the book focuses on what happens to them after they leave the home.

The characters in this story were well developed. I liked Mong and Rondell a lot. Mong was very authentic even if he was a bit crazy. And Rondell was so sweet despite his ignorance. The three of them made an unlikely bunch. But Miguel drove me crazy! I enjoyed reading his honest thoughts in the journal, but I couldn't stand how macho he tried to be with everyone, including Mong and Rondell. I struggle a lot with male main characters, and this book was no exception.

The writing is really great. It reminded me of John Green in some ways. There are a lot of profound statements buried in this book. But, ultimately, I just didn't love the story. I wanted more action.

I plan to give Matt de la Pena another change. Maybe one of his other books will work better for me.

Favorite Quotes:
I decided what I like about reading books. When I'm following what a character does in a book I don't have to think about my own life. Where I am. Why I'm here. My moms and my brother and my old man. I can just think about the character's life and try and figure out what's gonna happen. Plus when you're in a group home you pretty much can't go anywhere, right? But when you read books you almost feel like you're out there in the world. Like you're going on this adventure right with the main characters.

I completely agree!

People change because they discover that this supposed line between being a good person and being a bad person doesn't actually exist...

It reminds me of when you stand right up near the tracks watching a big-ass Amtrak train barreling toward you. And you think, Yo, I could just take one little step forward, onto the tracks, and I'd be dead. And deep down you assume there's some kind of line there you could never cross. A barrier. Something wouldn't ever let you take that step even if you tried. But guess what? There's no line. You can do anything.

You can step.

You can die...

Yeah. I've definitely thought that before. Sort of interesting to read that same thought in someone else's book.

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review: The Infinite Sea (YA)


The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave #2) by Rick Yancey

Goodreads Summary:
How do you rid the Earth of seven billion humans? Rid the humans of their humanity.

Surviving the first four waves was nearly impossible. Now Cassie Sullivan finds herself in a new world, a world in which the fundamental trust that binds us together is gone. As the 5th Wave rolls across the landscape, Cassie, Ben, and Ringer are forced to confront the Others’ ultimate goal: the extermination of the human race.

Cassie and her friends haven’t seen the depths to which the Others will sink, nor have the Others seen the heights to which humanity will rise, in the ultimate battle between life and death, hope and despair, love and hate.

My Review:
This book is a typical middle book in a trilogy. A little more information is revealed about the Others, and a glimpse is given of the resolution that will surely come in the final book.

The writing was great. I enjoyed the short chapters and the changing perspectives: Ringer, Cassie, Poundcake, and Evan. Although I missed Ben's perspective. His voice was my favorite from the first book.

A few additional characters are introduced, and Ringer's character is developed a lot more, which I enjoyed. I also appreciated how much stronger Cassie was in this installment of the story.

Overall, I didn't feel like there was enough advancement of the plot in this book. It picks up right after the explosion of Wright-Patterson and spans about a month. After the immense amount of information and action in the first book, I guess I was just expecting more from this book.

This book is worth reading if you're invested in the series, but it wouldn't hold up on its own. There's just not enough substance. I'll certainly be reading the final book, but I'm really expecting Yancey to deliver a lot more than he did with this book.

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #13: Books I've Enjoyed outside My Normal Genres

I read mostly adult contemporary and YA books (of pretty much any genre except hard-core fantasy or horror). I don't usually read non-fiction or historical fiction. I also don't read many thrillers or books with diverse main characters, written by non-white authors. 

Here are some titles that fit those descriptions that I read within the last year and really enjoyed.

Historical Fiction

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I know this book has sparked a lot of debate recently. As someone who doesn't remember much about reading To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school, I really enjoyed this book. The insight into the pre-civil rights movement South was fascinating.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

World War II is a subject I have been avoiding lately because I feel like it's been overdone. BUT I read this book because everyone was talking about it, and I couldn't resist the bandwagon. I loved it. The writing was beautiful and the story was wonderful. If some how you haven't picked this one up yet, do. You won't regret it.

Diverse Characters

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

I feel like I could have included this under historical fiction even though it's a present day story. It has the same feel to it - the character of Carla is so far removed from the typical American life. She is a young girl from Honduras struggling to get to the U.S. I fell in love with her. This story is so good, and it reads like an adult contemporary even though it's heavier.

Second House from the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson

I think this may have been the first fiction book I read written by a black author. There were some elements of Felicia's past that I couldn't relate to, but a lot of her struggles as a mother we has in common despite our racial differences. I enjoyed this story immensely.

Thriller

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This book is another that I read because everyone else was reading it. I could't resist even though I thought I wouldn't like it. I was SO wrong. This was SUCH a great book. It was sucked in immediately, and I really enjoyed trying to figure out what happened.

Non-Fiction


Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I love Gretchen Rubin, so of course I had to read this book. But self-help isn't my usual genre. I really enjoyed all the discussion of habits, and this book got me thinking about change and even helped me publicly commit to starting this blog and then doing it!

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

True stories are really not my type of book - even when it comes to non-fiction. But I loved this book, mainly because I used to be a rower (in high school). It was a bit of a slog to get through. Thankfully, I choose audio which always makes non-fiction easier. But this is a great read if you like sports or competition at all.


If you follow this blog, you know that I really struggle with memoirs. I read a couple this year that really didn't work for me, but this book was a near perfect read. I love Felicia Day, and I really liked reading about her strange upbringing and her establishing herself in the world of Internet entertainment. Her story is inspiring.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates

I read this book because John Green mentioned it on Reddit. I didn't really know what to expect. It was a brutally honest look at the life of a black man in America. It was heart breaking and eye opening, and I agree with him. Everyone should read this book.



Another bandwagon book. Despite the many odd-ball type statements in this book about socks having feelings and thanking your clothes. I enjoyed listening to this short book. I see how it could be extremely helpful to people who cannot let go of possessions. And even for me, a chronic purger, it was inspiring to read


What's your favorite genre? What books have you read outside that genre recently that you really enjoyed?




This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review: Saint Anything (YA)


Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Goodreads Summary:
Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

My Review:
I think I've been overdoing it on YA contemporaries lately. This book was just so-so for me. I'm going to try something new and discuss what I liked and didn't like about this book.

What I Liked

1. Layla & Sydney's Friendship

After her brother goes to jail for injuring a boy in a drunk driving accident, Sydney transfers schools to save her family money and go somewhere where everyone doesn't know Peyton. That first day after school she meets Layla. The two become friends almost instantly. Real friends, not just surface friends. They share secrets and bond over their older sibling's drama. I love stories about instant friendship, and their friendship felt so genuine. Even when boyfriends come into play, they stay true to each other and never get petty or do anything stereotypical of high school girls. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story.

2. The Theme of Invisibility / Being Seen

Sydney feels invisible at home because her mother is so focused on her brother being in jail and her father has always kind of ignored her. Mac used to feel invisible because he was fat, but now girls notice him because he is attractive. I liked the theme of invisibility and being seen that kept coming up throughout the story. I think it's a very common feeling during adolescence, and Dessen handled it very well.

3. Mac

Mac is the cutest! So nice and unaware of how awesome he is. He's an amazing brother to Layla and the perfect love interest for Sydney. And he's in a band! I enjoyed how he talked to Sydney's parents, his text exchanges with Sydney, and his crazy inventions. Why didn't I know a guy like this in high school? Oh right, I went to an all-girls school.

4. Unconventional Subjects

I appreciated the heavier topics discussed in this book: drunk driving, drug use, jail time, rehab, parents with disabilities, and entrepreneurship. The main story line of this book was different and made it stand out among other YA contemporaries. It gave it something extra besides the romance plot, which I really liked.

What I Didn't Like

1. Sydney's Mother

OMG! She is so over-protective. And so over-involved when her son is in JAIL. I could not stand her. At the beginning of the book I worried a little that I could somehow be like her if Christopher ever made the kind of bad decisions that Peyton made. But by the middle of the book I was convinced that I so would not be. She is the stereotypical horrible parent from the majority of YA books. I really disliked the plot lines related to Sydney and her mom. Ugh!

2. Ames

What is up with this character? Ames is Peyton's best friend, but he keeps hanging around after Peyton goes to jail, sucking up to his mom and generally creeping out Sydney. And he's the biggest tattle-tale. I HATED him. I am impressed that Dessen was able to come up with such a despicable character, but he really put a damper on the book for me.

3. Sydney's Passivity

Seriously?! I could not stand how Sydney didn't stand up for herself...ever! I wanted some faster character growth. This book dragged a lot for me because resolution was too slow in coming and not at all satisfying when it did come.

4. Writing Style

The whole book is written in past tense with a knowing tone, like Sydney is looking back and telling the story after it happens. She says things like "if I had known...", etc. Many chapters started with a little tease and then jumped back and filled in the gaps after the first paragraph (I'm guessing since I listed to the audio). It was confusing. I would have preferred the story just be told linearly. I like flashbacks normally, but it didn't seem like that style was necessary for something that happened right before. It was distracting.

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Challenge:
I read this book as part of my new author challenge. I get the feeling that this book wasn't the typical Sarah Dessen...maybe a little heavier on the family drama than the romance. I plan to try another one of her books after I get out of my YA contemporary funk.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

New Blogger Feature @ Ex Libris Kate

Today I am being featured in Ex Libris Kate's New Blogger Feature.

In addition to having a wonderful name, Kate is one of many other book bloggers who has made me feel welcome in this online community. I started reading her blog in June 2015. She has made recommendations on many wonderful books, including some lesser read titles, such as Devoted and Joyride.

She started this series as a way to help new bloggers get an introduction into the community but also to allow us to ask questions of more experienced bloggers. I jumped at the chance to be featured mainly because I have a lot of questions for all you more experienced bloggers. And I am honored to be the first featured blogger.

Head over to Kate's blog to read my responses and questions and give me your input.

Thanks, Kate!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Kid Lit: We're in the Wrong Book!


We're in the Wrong Book! by Richard Byrne

Goodreads Summary:
When a potato sack race goes awry, Bella and Ben find themselves bumped from their familiar page into uncharted territory. It's a brave new world of lollipops and sphinxes—and Bella and Ben are on one page-turning adventure. How will they find their way back into their very own book?

Background:
We read Byrne's This Book Just Ate My Dog! last year, and I loved it. I even bought a copy for Christopher's classmate this year for their holiday book exchange. When I heard Byrne had written a new book, I knew we had to check it out ASAP. This book was published in September 2015, but I didn't find out about it until last month.


My Thoughts:
I love when books acknowledge that the book is a book. In this story, like in his last book, Byrne brings the reader into the fold of the characters. Bella and Ben get knocked out of their book by Bella's dog. And they have to travel through many other books to find their way home.

A few of the other books are interactive. There is a picture comparison, a maze, and a how-to folding instructional page. Christopher and I both enjoyed those elements and followed along or discussed doing the related activity.

We both enjoyed this book although I didn't like it quite as much as This Book Just Ate My Dog! which was a bit more amusing. I don't see this as a book that we would read over and over again, but it was certainly entertaining for one read. It was a great library book.

My Rating: 4 Stars


I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: Small Data

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



Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends by Martin Lindstrom

To be published on February 23, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Martin Lindstrom, a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, harnesses the power of “small data” in his quest to discover the next big thing

Hired by the world's leading brands to find out what makes their customers tick, Martin Lindstrom spends 300 nights a year in strangers’ homes, carefully observing every detail in order to uncover their hidden desires, and, ultimately, the clues to a multi-million dollar product.

Lindstrom connects the dots in this globetrotting narrative that will enthrall enterprising marketers, as well as anyone with a curiosity about the endless variations of human behavior. You’ll learn…

• How a noise reduction headset at 35,000 feet led to the creation of Pepsi’s new trademarked signature sound.
• How a worn down sneaker discovered in the home of an 11-year-old German boy led to LEGO’s incredible turnaround.
• How a magnet found on a fridge in Siberia resulted in a U.S. supermarket revolution.
• How a toy stuffed bear in a girl’s bedroom helped revolutionize a fashion retailer’s 1,000 stores in 20 different countries.
• How an ordinary bracelet helped Jenny Craig increase customer loyalty by 159% in less than a year.
• How the ergonomic layout of a car dashboard led to the redesign of the Roomba vacuum.

Background:
I am a data nerd. I love it. I have been working in IT for the last 13 years, and I've done a lot of data analysis. More recently I have been thinking that web analytics might be an interesting field to get into.

When I read the description of this book, I knew I had to read it. Web analytics is Big Data, but I have always been interested into the smaller behaviors as well.

My Review:
This book was not exactly what I was expecting. It's less of a business book about small data and more of an anthropological look at the very personal trends and behaviors of various cultures around the world.

After the introduction the book is broken down into chapters that are essentially case studies. Lindstrom recounts his research and recommendations for various companies. He's helping with product branding or marketing in almost all instances, but this book goes beyond being a resource for business or marketing people. It's truly fascinating to read. It reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell's books: The Tipping Point and Outliers.

I especially loved the chapter about the United States. Lindstrom is from Denmark, so he has an outsider's view of Americans that was spot on, but also amusing to read. And he mentioned the game Cards Against Humanity, which I love, so that was an added bonus.

My only complaint about the book is that there are quite a few tangents in each chapter, which made some of the case studies seem long and a bit hard to follow. I understand that it would have been hard to explain his recommendations without the backstory, and the additional cultures explored were interesting, but it made a number of the case studies somewhat tedious to get through.

My Rating: 4 stars
Understand my ratings.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reading Habits Survey

This past weekend Julie @ Smiling Shelves did this survey, and I knew I had to do it. It's been a while since I did a survey or tag, so I couldn't resist.

I saw this poster at the high school library and had to get a picture. I love John Green!

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

I have many favorite reading spots all over the house. I most frequently read on the TV room couch (see #5 below) or in my bed right before I go to sleep.


2. Do you use a bookmark or a random piece of paper?

I use a random piece of paper...most often my library receipt.


3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter or a certain amount of pages?

I am interrupted A LOT while reading, so I've learned to stop anywhere (although I prefer to finish a chapter). When I put my bookmark in, I put the printed side of the receipt facing the page I left off on, so it helps me find my spot a little quicker.

When reading on my Kindle app on my phone, I try to at least finish at the end of the paragraph. And since there aren't many paragraphs per "page" on my phone, it's pretty easy to find my place when I come back to the book. When reading on my phone, I pretty much only ever read a few "pages" at a time.


4. Do you eat or drink while reading?

Yes. I often drink tea (Tazo Wild Sweet Orange) and snack while reading. On nights where I'm trying to be especially good and not snack, I read in bed because I don't allow myself to take food upstairs.


5. Do you watch TV or listen to music while reading?

Not intentionally. But I do spend a lot of time reading on the couch while Christopher is watching movies or playing video games, so I have gotten very good at tuning out the background noise.

My preference is to read in silence though, but it happens rarely.


6. Do you read one book at a time or several at once?

Many. I always have a book (or two) going in each format, so I always have a book to read not matter where I am or what I'm doing. I listen to CD audio in my car. I read Kindle books on my phone when I'm out and about. I listen to Audible when doing chores or working out. And I read library hardcovers while at home.

I try to read books of varying genres or at least different stories lines as much as possible, so I don't get confused on the plots. And I take good notes in Trello for my reviews while I'm reading.


7. Do you prefer to read at home or anywhere?

I will read anywhere. Having a Kindle book on my phone makes this possible. I pull out my book anytime I have to wait more than 2 minutes somewhere. It definitely aids in finishing more books in a month.

But again my preference is to read at home somewhere quiet.


8. Do you read out loud or silently?

I read silently in my head unless I'm reading bedtime stories to Christopher. Although one time I did read my book out loud to him because we were snuggling in our recliner together and he asked and the book was appropriate enough for a young boy.


9. Do you read ahead or skip pages?

Never. Although I do sometimes flip ahead to count how many pages are left in a chapter.


10. Do you break the spine or keep it like new?

Keep it like new. Always.


11. Do you write in your books?

No. The only time I wrote in my books was when I was reading them for English classes in high school. Then I would take notes on important passages in the book to make it easier to study. It pained me to do so though. I don't like marking up books.


Do we have similar reading habits? Or are you very different from me? I'd love to know. Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Review: The Siren (YA)


The Siren by Kiera Cass

Goodreads Summary:
A girl with a secret.
The boy of her dreams.
An Ocean between them.

Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again. 

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude...until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of.


Falling in love with a human breaks the Ocean’s rules. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart. 

Background:
This book was originally published in 2009, and I've had it on my TBR list since June 2014 after I read The Selection series. I never got around to reading it until now. So I read the recently re-published version. I love the cover! It matches up well to The Selection covers but also fits the story.

My Review:
Going into this book I couldn't remember what it was about. Even with the title, I didn't suspect that the main character would be an actual siren. I don't know what I thought. But I really enjoyed the magical realism of this book. There's only loose magical elements within the present day world. The extend of the world building was comparable to The Selection series.

Kahlen is an ordinary girl traveling on a ship with her family circa 1930. Think the Titanic. Suddenly people start throwing themselves overboard because of a mysterious singing. Kahlen doesn't want to die, so she begs the universe to save her. The Ocean hears her and rescues her, but her repayment is that she must serve the Ocean as a siren for 100 years. So cool, right?

Jump ahead 80 years. Kahlen and her siren "sisters" are living in Miami. They can mingle with humans, but they cannot speak because their voices are deadly. Every year or so the girls have to sing to bring the Ocean human lives to somehow save the rest of humanity. The exact details of how it works aren't there, but it didn't bother me too much. I kind of expect this now with Cass' writing.

Kahlen spends a lot of time at the library researching the lives of the people she's killed. She's plagued with guilt, and she's just trying to make it to the end of her sentence, although she has great affection for the Ocean as well. Then she meets a boy. A wonderfully adorable, sweet boy. Oh how I loved Akinli! He reminded me a little of Levi from Fangirl. The kind of boy that cares about everyone. He isn't at all fazed by Kahlen's sign language and muteness.

The romance was great, but even more than that I loved the relationships between Kahlen and her siren "sisters". I love friendship stories. The girls are all very different, but clearly devoted to each other. Having multiple sirens added so much to the story.

The motherly nature of the Ocean was intriguing as well. I felt like Cass was drawing parallels to the often difficult relationship between teenage girls and their mothers. Unlike many parents in YA novels, She was portrayed as having believable emotions and being understanding and fair with the girls. It'll make sense when you read it. I promise.

I was a little unsure of this book in the middle. The pacing slowed down a little bit, and Kahlen got a little whiny and repetitive...not unlike America in The Selection. But I stuck with it, and the second half of the story was very satisfying. I really enjoyed this book.

My Rating: 4 stars
Understand my ratings.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #12: Favorite Audiobooks

I'm not much of a music person. Seriously. I almost never listen to music except during a workout. This week's topic was supposed to be about music and books, but as I don't know many songs or artists, I didn't even know where to begin.

Usually I prefer to listen to audiobooks. And when I want background "music", I just put on one of my favorite audiobooks. Listening to books I've read many times before provides a nice distraction from tedious tasks or a long workday.

Here are 10 of my favorite audiobooks. These are the ones I've listened to several times, and I turn to these stories when I need some filler noise.

https://twitter.com/snitchseeker/status/632605095897792512

1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Jim Dale does such an amazing job reading this entire series. He does all of the voices. It's like watching the movies, only better because he reads the full books. If you're a fan of this series, and you haven't listened to these books, you are missing out. 


2. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but this book is my favorite time travel story. It's so believable...and romantic. I have listened to this book countless times. The alternating perspectives of Clare and Henry are read by Meg Reed and Christopher Burns. They do an excellent job. I just love this story.


3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This book is read by a whole cast of people, but it's not really a full cast production. Because of the epistolary nature of the story, it lends itself well to being read by multiple people. They do a whole host of voices to match the many characters in this story. It's so well done. I really love this story of long distance friendship and love of books.

http://nobsbookreviews.com/tbt-marissa-meyer-feb2014/

4. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Rebecca Soler does such an amazing job with this series. She brings all of the characters to life so well, but I especially love her personification of Iko. This is another series that is worth reading again if you haven't yet listened to the audiobooks. 


5. The Selection by Kiera Cass

This series is another one of my favorites. Since I like to re-read books before the next installment of a series is published, I often listen to the older books. I got hooked on Amy Rubinate's reading of this series, and now I just listen because I love it so much.


6. The Martian by Andy Weir

Unlike all of the other books I've listed, I have never actually read this book. I've only listened to the audiobook read by R.C. Bray, and it is AMAZING! Seriously, I think a huge part of why I was so disappointed in the movie was because the audiobook had already done such a great job of bringing this story to life. No movie could live up to this audiobook. If you haven't read The Martian yet, I highly recommend the audio version. Bray brings the humor and horror of the situation to life so well.

http://bookwormsdiary.com/2013/11/07/about-the-death-and-the-book-thief/

7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This story is narrated by death, so it lends itself well to audio format. Allan Corduner reads it so well. I don't think I ever read this book either. Sometimes stories that take place in other countries work better in audio for me because the reader is always better as pronouncing the foreign words. This is a great story, and the audio is done very well.


8. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman

Often times when an author reads they're own story, it doesn't go well. Writers don't necessarily make good readers, but Phillip Pullman is phenomenal. I've only listened to this series as well, and it is so entertaining. Great adventure stories lend well to being listened to. Even though this is middle grade, it's so enchanting and riveting. 


9. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Tara Sands reads this book very well. The slow romance and the descriptions of the flowers all make this story so mesmerizing. Again, I've only listened to this book, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a joy to listen to even though the story is hard to hear at times.


10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

I couldn't come up with a 10th book/series, so I thought I'd mention Harry Potter again as it truly is my favorite series ever and definitely the best audio I've listened to. I love it so much that I listened to it while I was in labor with Christopher. It's exciting, it's relaxing, and it's been the background noise to my life for the last 16 years or so ever since my parents bought my sister and me the first three books on CD for Christmas in 2000.


Do you prefer music or audiobooks? What are some of your favorite audiobooks?




This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Review: Stars Above (YA)


Stars Above (The Lunar Chronicles Novellas) by Marissa Meyer

Goodreads Summary:
The enchantment continues....

The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories—and secrets—that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic. How did Cinder first arrive in New Beijing? How did the brooding soldier Wolf transform from young man to killer? When did Princess Winter and the palace guard Jacin realize their destinies?


With nine stories—five of which have never before been published—and an exclusive never-before-seen excerpt from Marissa Meyer’s upcoming novel, Heartless, about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Stars Above is essential for fans of the bestselling and beloved Lunar Chronicles.

My Review:
It's no secret that The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favorite series. I was so happy to be able to read more of this saga so soon after the publication of Winter. This collection includes back story on all of the main characters in the series, as well as a wedding story that takes place 2 years after the conclusion of the 4 main books.

I've read and reviewed some of the stories in this collection before, so I only read the new additions. And I was patient enough not to skip ahead and read the wedding story first. Below are my impressions of the book in general and reviews of the stories I hadn't read before.

The Keeper

I loved this story! We get a glimpse of Michelle Benoit, her relationship with Logan, and the responsibility of hiding Selene for all those years. The story covers 11 years, hitting the high points. I enjoyed reading about young Scarlet as well. Meyer proved her genius yet again with her explanation of the origin of Cinder's name.

5 stars

After Sunshine Passes

This story was so sad. It chronicles young Cress and the origin of her satellite. Her desperation for Sybil's approval broke my heart. She was still as imaginative and hopeful as ever, and I enjoyed that. Since this was a story that was pretty much known from flash backs in the original books, I didn't love it quite as much as some of the others.

4 stars

The Princess and the Guard

Hooray! More Jacin and Winter. I really fell in love with them both in Winter, and I was kind of sad they didn't get more time in the series. This story was perfect! It gives their background. We get to see them playing together as children. Meyer shows Jacin's devotion to Winter. I absolutely loved this story. It was so sweet.

5 stars

The Mechanic

When I read Cinder the first time, I wasn't sold on Cinder and Kai. But as the series continued, I began to appreciate Kai more and more. This story tells of their initial meeting, but from Kai's perspective. I LOVED it! I enjoyed getting into Kai's head a little more and seeing his vulnerability. I like him even more now.

5 stars

Something Old, Something New

No spoilers, I promise!

This story was perfect. I loved knowing what happened with everyone two years after the end of the series. There was a lot packed into this short story. When they make the movies, I hope they'll even cover this tale as a final movie or an epilogue to Winter.

It was just so fun to read about the whole gang back together again. I love the banter! That has always been a huge part of what I love about this series. The characters are so endearing, so comfortable with each, and so fun to read about.

5 stars

My Rating: 5 stars
Understand my ratings.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Blind date with a book

My library hosts the "Blind Date with a Book" each February in honor of Valentine's Day. Does your library do this?


Last year I let Christopher pick a book for me, and I ended up getting The Goodbye Quilt, which I really enjoyed. It's the story of a mother coping with her daughter leaving for college. It's not something I would have picked out for myself at this stage in my life, but it was a good, quick read.


I wasn't sure I was going to do the blind date this year since I already had so many books planned for February, but when I saw the display at the library last week, I couldn't resist. I selected a short fiction book.


Turns out, I'd already read A Thousand Acres in high school, and I absolutely hated it. I have HATED many books in my life, but this was one of the first. I appealed to my Instagram followers about whether I should give it another chance or try again. They told me unanimously that I should pick another book. I was so glad!


This time I went for a book described as "Full of Intrigue." I assumed that would mean a mystery book, and since I don't read many mysteries, I figured there was a good chance I wouldn't have already read this book. Thankfully I hadn't.


Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Goodreads Summary:
Two stories, "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow," told through the eyes of a pair of contemporary young Japanese women, deal with the themes of mothers, love, transsexuality, kitchens, and tragedy.

My Thoughts:
In general, I think something was lost in the translation. There were a lot of awkward phrases. Since there were 2 stories in this book, I'll discuss the separately.

Kitchen

This story was a little strange. I couldn't tell if it was even a love story. Mikage's grandmother dies, leaving her all alone as her parents and grandfather had already died. She's college age. A young man, who knew her grandmother from the flower shop where he works, invites Mikage to come and live with him and his mother. She accepts and for a time she lives with Yuichi and his transgender mother. Mikage has an obsession with kitchens, and she teaches herself to cook. When she gets a job as an assistant to a cooking instructor, she moves out. When Yuichi's mother dies, the two come together again.

This story was very slow and rambling. I wasn't sure what the plot was supposed to be. The tone was rather depressing and very existential. It felt like when I was reading Slaughterhouse-Five. I kept pressing on even though I wasn't completely following. It had a rather sweet ending, but I can't say I really enjoyed the story.

2 stars

Moonlight Shadow

I liked this story a little more, although it was also quite depressing. Satsuki's boyfriend dies in a car accident along with his little brother's girfriend. Satsuki is in college I think, and Hiiragi is in high school. Both are devastated by their losses. They're very lost. And they do not lean on each other at all until later in the story.

Satsuki meets a woman on a bridge one night, and she sort of magically gets in touch with her again a few days later. She tells Satsuki of a phenomenon that is going to occur on the bridge in a few days. Something that only happens every 100 years. Satsuki goes to the bridge, and she is able to see her boyfriend and say goodbye.

This story was much shorter, so it moved along a little better. It was still a little strange, but I kind of liked the magical element.

3 stars


This book is something I never would have picked out for myself, so it was enjoyable to read even though I didn't love the stories.


Have you ever had a blind date with a book? How did it work out?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Kid Lit: Here Comes Valentine Cat


Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood

Goodreads Summary:
Cat does NOT like Valentine's Day. It's much too mushy, and no way is he making anyone a valentine—especially not his new neighbor, Dog. Dog refuses to respect the fence. He keeps tossing over old bones and hitting Cat in the head! But just as Cat’s about to send Dog an angry "valentine" telling him exactly what he can do with his bones, Dog throws a ball over the fence. What is Dog playing at?

Background:
OK. So I might have a slight obsession with Deborah Underwood's cat books. We read Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat in November when Christopher had his first lose tooth, and we loved it. Then we read Here Comes Santa Cat in December and liked that one as well. I knew with Valentines Day coming up this month, we had to read Here Comes Valentine Cat. And we'll definitely be checking out Here Comes the Easter Cat next month.


My Thoughts:
This book was another cute story about Cat. The narrator is asking Cat what he's going to do for Valentines Day and whether he's going to make a card for someone. Cat is complaining about the new dog next door. He's too loud and keeps throwing bones over the fence and hitting Cat. Cat makes a few not so nice cards for Dog, and as usual the narrator reprimands him.

When Dog sends his own Valentine over the fence, Cat realizes he's been wrong to judge Dog. Maybe he's just lonely. He changes his mind and makes a nice Valentine. Again, I love the moral. I love how Cat doesn't speak. He only communicates with signs and facial expressions. This book wasn't quite as silly as some of the others, but it was still a very enjoyable read for both my son (age 5.5) and me.

My Rating: 4 Stars


I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Original fairy tales...inspired by Google

On January 12th the Google Doodle celebrated the birthday of Charles Perrault the author of Cinderella and other fairy tales. Seeing this image I was reminded of reading the original story of The Little Mermaid last year and finding it more gruesome than the Disney classic we've come to know and love.

Google Doodle from January 12, 2016.

I thought I remembered someone telling me that in the original Cinderella the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to make them fit in the glass slipper. I've always wondered if that was true. So I went online and reserved this copy of Perrault's fairy tales, so I could read the originals for myself.



Cinderella

Similarities:
- The stepsisters.
- The fairy godmother, the pumpkin, the animals, the dress, and the glass slippers.
- The ball and the prince.

Differences:
- Her father isn't dead. He's just so controlled by his new wife that he no longer thinks for himself. He isn't really in the story at all.
- The stepmother isn't really in the story either other than a quick mention that she makes Cinderella do all of the housework.
- When the fairy godmother appears there is no fanfare. It's completely nonchalant. Kind of like, "Oh, and she was a fairy." So weird.
- The fairy godmother hollows out the pumpkin first before turning it into a coach. How practical!
- The ball is 2 nights. It's the second night that Cinderella forgets to leave before midnight.
- When the prince's men come to have the girls try on the glass slipper, the fairy godmother returns and transforms Cinderella's dress again. And Cinderella and the prince are married at once.

Verdict:
- This story was pretty much the same.
- The variances were rather insignificant.
- There are some very cryptic morals at the end of the story with some serious Christian undertones. Something about graciousness being more important than beauty. Disney kind of warped that one I guess.



Sleeping Beauty in the Woods

Similarities:
- The bad fairy curses the princess, but one of the good fairies changes the curse so she'll sleep for 100 years instead of dying when she pricks her finger on the spinning wheel.
- The good fairy comes and freezes everyone, so they will still be there when Sleeping Beauty wakes up in 100 years. She sends the parents away.
- Thorns grow around the castle.
- The prince comes upon the castle covered in thorns 100 years later.

Difference:
- Sleeping Beauty's parents are away when she pricks her finger.
- There is no kiss! The prince wakes Sleeping Beauty by finding her, not by kissing her.
- The prince marries her in secret and keeps her in the castle. She bears him 2 children, while still being kept secret.
- The prince's mother is ogress who likes to eat children! So he's trying to protect them.
- When the king dies and the prince becomes king, he introduces his queen to the people of the land and his mother and finally brings her out of hiding.
- But then he has to go to war. The ogress takes the queen and children to a house in the woods and tries to eat them. But her man-servant tricks her into eating animals instead.
- She find out and is about to kill them for real when the king shows up. The mother (ogress) kills herself instead.

Verdict:
- Say what?!
- This story started off so similarly, but then it took a crazy turn. Seriously? WTF was happening in this story.
- Once again there is a moral. This time it's about patience and waiting for marriage. Huh? Where does the ogress factor into all of that?



I also read Perrault's Little Red Riding Hood, and it was exactly the same, so I had nothing to comment about.


Have you read any original fairy tales? What did you think?