09 August 2018

Books - July 2018

As promised, I've finally taken some time to chill out and read a few books! And I've missed getting together with my friend Liz from BooksIThinkYouShouldRead, so nothing has been reviewed elsewhere (by me, I mean...).
Since I had a few books to choose from (most of them being Amazon Prime First Read books from months past), I'm going to present them in the order I liked them, saving my favorite for last.

#6 - Feast: True Love in and out of the Kitchen by Hannah Howard
From Amazon: "The compulsively readable memoir of a woman at war—with herself, with her body, and with food—while working her way through the underbelly of New York City’s glamorous culinary scene.
Hannah Howard is a Columbia University freshman when she lands a hostess job at Picholine, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan. Eighteen years old and eager to learn, she’s invigorated by the manic energy and knife-sharp focus of the crew. By day Hannah explores the Columbia arts scene, struggling to find her place. By night she’s intoxicated by boxes of heady truffles and intrigued by the food industry’s insiders. She’s hungry for knowledge, success, and love, but she’s also ravenous because she hasn’t eaten more than yogurt and coffee in days.
Hannah is hiding an eating disorder. The excruciatingly late nights, demanding chefs, bad boyfriends, and destructive obsessions have left a void inside her that she can’t fill. To reconcile her relationships with the food she worships and a body she struggles to accept, Hannah’s going to have to learn to nourish her soul."

My two cents: 'Compulsively readable'? No. Not really. Don't get me wrong - I have plenty of sympathy for anxiety and mental health struggles. But I got this book hoping to read about food, and instead it was about how much she hated food. I feel bad dogging a book by someone who struggles with self esteem, but this book was not at all what I was looking for. I saw food and kitchen and thought it would be a cool book for a new employee to kitchens. Nope. This was my least favorite book this month.

#5 -  A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
From Amazon: "The harrowing true story of one man’s life in—and subsequent escape from—North Korea, one of the world’s most brutal totalitarian regimes.
Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.
In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit."

My two cents: I'm honestly really glad I read this book. There was a huge jump from the sixth spot on this list to the fifth. But it was ultimately depressing.  Masaji made it out of North Korea, but never really was able to establish much of a life again. And thinking about the fact that this is current - that people are still living this tragedy - is so, so sad.

#4 - As Good as True by Cheryl Reid
From Amazon: "A powerful and haunting novel of a woman’s broken past and the painful choices she must make to keep her family and her home.
August 1956. After a night of rage and terror, Anna Nassad wakes to find her abusive husband dead and instinctively hides her bruises and her relief. As the daughter of Syrian immigrants living in segregated Alabama, Anna has never belonged, and now her world is about to erupt.
Days before, Anna set in motion an explosive chain of events by allowing the first black postman to deliver the mail to her house. But it’s her impulsive act of inviting him inside for a glass of water that raises doubts about Anna’s role in her husband’s death.
As threats and suspicions arise in the angry community, Anna must confront her secrets in the face of devastating turmoil and reconcile her anguished relationship with her daughter. Will she discover the strength to fight for those she loves most, even if it means losing all she’s ever known?"

My two cents: The more I think about it, I could easily switch # 5 and #4 on my list... but anyway, this was written really well. It was easy to imagine Anna's choices in each situation, since her emotions were so compellingly presented. The first chapter begins with finding her dead husband, and I went from wondering what happened to hoping I was guessing right in no time at all. Anna definitely inspired compassion for her life and circumstances. 

#3 - White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey
From Amazon: "In the shadows of World War II, trust becomes the greatest risk of all for two strangers.
December 1943. In the years before the rise of Hitler, the Gerber family’s summer cottage was filled with laughter. Now, as deep drifts of snow blanket the Black Forest, German dissenter Franka Gerber is alone and hopeless. Fervor and brutality have swept through her homeland, taking away both her father and her brother and leaving her with no reason to live.
That is, until she discovers an unconscious airman lying in the snow wearing a Luftwaffe uniform, his parachute flapping in the wind. Unwilling to let him die, Franka takes him to her family’s isolated cabin despite her hatred for the regime he represents. But when it turns out that he is not who he seems, Franka begins a race against time to unravel the mystery of the airman’s true identity. Their tenuous bond becomes as inseparable as it is dangerous. Hunted by the Gestapo, can they trust each other enough to join forces on a mission that could change the face of the war and their own lives forever?"

My two cents: I admittedly have enjoyed all of the WWII novels I can recall. I enjoyed Franka's struggles and her character, as she suffered so greatly, but still retained her caring nature. Her history was so interesting, and I always wanted more stories of her earlier life, both before and in the early times of the war. While the ending of the book seemed a little too quick and thrown together, it was exactly how I wanted it to end, so I can't complain much.

#2 - Matchmaking for Beginners: A Novel by Maddie Dawson
From Amazon: "A delightful, light-as-air romance that successfully straddles the line between sweet and smart without ever being silly…The novel is simply captivating from beginning to end.” —Associated Press
Marnie MacGraw wants an ordinary life—a husband, kids, and a minivan in the suburbs. Now that she’s marrying the man of her dreams, she’s sure this is the life she’ll get. Then Marnie meets Blix Holliday, her fiancĂ©’s irascible matchmaking great-aunt who’s dying, and everything changes—just as Blix told her it would.
When her marriage ends after two miserable weeks, Marnie is understandably shocked. She’s even more astonished to find that she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn brownstone along with all of Blix’s unfinished “projects”: the heartbroken, oddball friends and neighbors running from happiness. Marnie doesn’t believe she’s anything special, but Blix somehow knew she was the perfect person to follow in her matchmaker footsteps.
And Blix was also right about some things Marnie must learn the hard way: love is hard to recognize, and the ones who push love away often are the ones who need it most."

My two cents: This book was truly delightful, as the Amazon review says. I love, love, loved Marnie and Blix, and all of the interesting characters they were with in their Brooklyn life. I also enjoy what my husband refers to as 'airy, fairy, sticks & berries.' Reading about Marie's and Blix's compulsions to find love everywhere, and for everyone made my afternoon reading time so blissful. I would love another book continuing Marnie's now-charmed life. 
P.S. - this was also reviewed recently by Liz on BooksIThinkYouShouldRead.

#1 - Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy) by Margaret Atwood
From Amazon: "Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining."

My two cents: Wow, wow, wow. Now, I'm already a Margaret Atwood fan from the Handmaid's Tale, but this stuff coming out of her head is nuts! She calls it not dystopian, but 'speculative fiction.' If dystopian fiction is your style, you absolutely owe it to yourself to read this whole trilogy (on sale right now!). I've already finished the second book in August, and I'm almost done with the third. All three sort of re-tell parts of the story from different viewpoints, while also progressing through the time and struggles. 

I've already finished nearly two books in August - let's see if I can beat July's record, eh?

27 July 2018

10 Random Things for Friday

  1. My mind is going a million miles an hour right now, but I want to post, since I won't be around all next week. :O Yesterday a friend of mine invited the kids and I to join her and her kids for a week near Lake George, NY! So we're leaving in a couple days. Today and tomorrow will be spent doing all the laundry and packing so we can leave at sunrise for the 10+ hour drive.
  2. I have one invincible goldfish left. Actually, he's some sort of tetra, but he's gold in color. I've taken all of the gravel out of the aquarium, trying to eliminate the black hair algae. Now that I'll be gone for a week, the fish will just get fed and have to live with the yuck. I'll launch a new plan of attack after we get back.
  3. Like I said, my head is still sort of spinning. I'm a planner, and this flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants in two days is sort of disconcerting.
  4. Have you watched Gravity Falls? My kids are loving it. It's on Hulu, but it looks like it's six years old or so. I'm surprised no one ever mentioned it before.
  5. Last night we rented Ready Player One from the Redbox. While Jack didn't really watch it (which surprises me, since he LOVES video game stuff), the rest of us enjoyed it. Of course now I'm on the library's list to borrow the book for my Kindle. I'm #110 in line, so don't hold your breath for that review.
  6. We're putt-putt golfing this afternoon, but we'll probably head to the library after that for our road trip tradition - a couple audio books for the drive. Now that Maggie is big enough for the front seat, she can't watch movies, and I certainly don't want the kids playing their darn phone games for that long each way of our drive.
  7. Speaking of killing time on your phone, what are your go-to games? I still crush the candy (but actually just on my laptop - I'm at level 1621), and try hard to take care of my Tiny Tower (on my phone). I finished Tiny Tower Vegas, and waited months before deleting it, hoping they'd add more floors. I also dabble at Words with Friends, but then I forget to go to it for weeks. Sorry, if you play against me there! Hahaha...
  8. Just wait til you see my list of books read in July - I've been a reading machine! I think I'm at four or five so far, and starting another one today!
  9. Good news! I forgot to eat my leftover pizza for breakfast, so now I know what I'm having for lunch! We were going to have pizza and a movie on Saturday, but hubby had a hankering for it last night, so we swapped last night's sloppy joes for Saturday instead. 
  10. I am definitely all over the place, and feeling spread thin, but I'm sure a week of vacation will reset all of that. Enjoy your week!

23 July 2018

Happy 11th Birthday Maggie!

Why yes, I do remember what I was doing 11 years ago. If you really want to know exactly how my day was going, check out hubby's account of it all here.

More importantly, 11 years ago was the start of my life as I know it. It was the day I became a mom. And not just a mom, but mom to the most amazing girl I know.

Maggie is 11 today. She's so kind to animals and people alike. She's a fabulous, loving, supportive sister to her little brother. When she was in kindergarten, she got mad at her best friends when they laughed at her brother liking My Little Pony. She was seriously mad that someone judge her best little buddy.

But the sweet and kind is sometimes just for public viewing. She's snarky as heck, and the sarcasm gene is strong. She hates being spoken down to, especially if it's by someone she knows is making less-smart decisions than she does. But she knows she's still a 'kid,' and she'll let them get away with it til she vents to me later.

She's a wonderfully compassionate friend. She refuses to engage in petty gossip and drama. Her teacher this year commented that when the fifth graders in her class start going on about their crushes, and who likes who and such, she walks away (hello, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, she says).

I love that she sees the value in people, even if they don't have a lot in common. You don't have to be Maggie's best friend for her to still appreciate your humor, or intelligence, or kindness. There's something great about everyone.

She's the best combination of fun, love, smarts, and growing up. She's learning how to make her way in the world, and hopefully make the world a better place.

I love her to pieces, and I'm so lucky and proud to be her mom.

20 July 2018

10 Random Things for Friday

  1. So this is apparently what you get when you search for an 'old fashioned Friday' image. LOL I do like a good old-fashioned, though, so I'll leave it.
  2. I actually searched for old fashioned Friday because we're headed to Mackinac Island this weekend. The trip is celebrating my daughter's 11th birthday, and she's bringing her best friend from school. They haven't seen each other since school got out in June, so this should be super fun.
  3. The forecast all over Michigan has some storms and rain this weekend (which is why we're taking the boat to the island on Sunday, instead of Saturday). I'm hoping it will take care of my baskets of flowers! My energy is at a zero lately, but the rain comes as soon as I finally muster up the motivation to water everything.... Hope mother nature drenches them like I mean to!
  4. Our deck is oh-so-close to done. We can walk out on it now, but I think there's something else going on the railing, and the steps aren't completely finished yet. We're also considering setting a gazebo on it to keep the table/seating out of the sun. Have you done this, or know someone who has? It's too late in the season to see them in person at the store, so we're left with just shopping online.
  5. We enjoyed a couple more Hello Fresh meals this week (well, hubby and I enjoyed - the kids don't really get into them). But between a late delivery in early July, a box that wasn't my choices after that, and then this week they billed me instead of using the credit on my account, I got too frustrated and canceled it. I think there are a couple companies I haven't tried yet, so I suppose I'll mix it up now.
  6. Summer is getting away from us quickly! Most of August is booked, as well as like half the days left in July! I am happy that the kids have kept up on their 'homework' this month. Each morning after they get dressed and have breakfast, they do a worksheet of math, and then we all read for a half hour. I feel like the mean mom, but they're complaining less now that they're used to it.
  7. I'm also quite happy that my nails have been polished at least half the summer. I'm not allowed to have them polished during the school year at work, so it makes me happy to see them nicely done. I had used Color Street a few times for breaks last year but this summer I've been using Essie Gel Polish exclusively. It dries pretty fast, and lasts for more than a week without chipping! It is usually about $10/bottle (I've gotten it at Sally's Beauty Supply, Meijer, and Target), but it's worth it as a splurge for me.
  8. I guess I'm soundly in 'summer' mindset....More than half way through my Friday, and I just realized I forgot to nag the kids into taking showers this morning! Whoops! We're hitting the road tomorrow after breakfast, but they're gonna have to shower too. 
  9. Jack is watching a video with a guy reminiscing about Toys R Us, and it's making me sad. He's pulled old signs out of an abandoned parking lot, and now they're playing the old commercials. So sad!
  10. Hope your summer is going great! Jack keeps asking me when my favorite time of year is (he says his is his birthday). I do like spending lots of time with my kids for summer, but I also enjoy my routine during the year. I guess I like the whole year, eh?

18 July 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation - My Review

Last weekend the kids and I went to see Hotel Transylvania 3. We enjoyed the first two, and a matinee is always worth it on a hot day, right?

We already knew we loved the characters, although I think Tinkles the puppy was new, and it was fun to see Dennis and one of the wolf girls as besties. The plot was totally predictable, but I found the character of the true villian to be a little intriguing. He was a really, really old human, but most of his body had been recreated as a machine.

Overall, I'd give this movie 3 out of 5 stars. Very good for a sequel. I'm sure we'll see it again once it makes its way to Netflix.

16 July 2018

Crafty Day

Today was so fun! I had my mom and another friend over and we made greeting cards. The cardmaking kits from Close To My Heart now come with most of what you need, and easy instructions to assemble the cards.

The first cards we made were the Festive Birthday kit (G1157 for $18.95). In addition to the kit, we needed two stamp pads (Bashful - Z2819 and Sapphire - Z2848), the Piercing & Embossing kit (Z2046), and 3-D Foam Dots (Z3342), as well as some acrylic stamping blocks, paper cutter/scissors, and adhesives that we already had on hand.

The kit made six each of these two card designs. I prefer my creativity pretty structured (LOL) so I made the cards exactly as specified in the included printed directions (well, to the best of my ability anyway). My mom and my friend both chose to put a 'THANKS' stamp from the next kit I'll talk about instead of the 'Please Join Us' sentiment that was given. Honestly, I was afraid if I didn't finish the cards today, they may never get done and sent to anyone. So I followed the directions, and now need to invite six people to 'join us' for something....

The second card set we made was In My Heart (G1156 for $19.95). In addition to the kit, we needed three stamp pads (Charcoal - Z2831, Glacier - Z2841, and New England Ivy - Z2835), the Edge Distresser (Z1297) and Thin 3-D Foam Tape (Z2060, which I actually used in place of the 3-D foam dots for the last kit as well). I also used acrylic stamping blocks, paper cutter/scissors, and adhesives that I already had on hand.

I again followed the instructions as printed and included with the other supplies. For a little variety, the print of the leaves on the top card and the stripes/leaves on the bottom card is actually two sides of the same sheet of paper, so you could use them interchangeably.

I absolutely love crafting kits. The kits in both cases included the stamp sets, the variety paper, the card bases and envelopes, and the embellishments (I think they were called dots in the first kit, and sequins in the second). I have some paper scraps left, and lots of the embellishments from both kits. And of course I can use the stamp sets again and again!

If you're like me, and kind of creative, but like guidance, these cardmaking kits are great. You can see all of the available kits on my friend's Close To My Heart website. I'd love to see what you make!

12 July 2018

Books - June 2018

Just to be clear, I've already read more books in July than in April, May, or June. :)

But to summarize last month, here's what I read in June:

When I'm not even picking my own books, I'm not sure how I keep getting intriguing mysteries. Twist of Faith by Ellen J Greene was 3.5 out of 5 stars from me on Books I Think You Should Read. You can see my full review there.
In short, it's the story of an orphan raised by her seemingly reluctant guardian after being found as a toddler abandoned at a church. No one has ever given her any detail about her biological background, but they don't seem keen to include her in her new family either. Once her adoptive mother dies, she starts finding clues about murders in her mother's things. She gets two co-workers to help her try and find out the truth, and the story just gets more convoluted from there...

The second book I finished in June was Punishment by Scott J Holliday. This was another 3.5 out of 5 stars from me on Books I Think You Should Read. She also has a giveaway on this one, but it ends this week (July 19, 2018). 
This is another murder mystery, with a sci-fi twist. The police (and others) are now able to pull memories from one person, and share them with another. Detective John Barnes is responsible for reviewing the memories of the victims of a serial killer, and the killer even knows he'll see those memories. The mystery is figuring out what links the victims, who could be next, and how to stop him.

As promised, July has almost three books finished already - go, me! Check back in August to get my thoughts on them.