Archive for the ‘ Books ’ Category

What’s your time worth?

In one single encounter the other day, I believe that I made a choice that would make my mother & Laura Vanderkam proud, while simultaneously embarrassing my children (always a bonus). We were in the midst of another week where we all seemed to be running, coming & going. Recently I went back to work full time after 3 years of part-time work and we are all still adjusting.

While driving my daughter to soccer practice, I noticed a lawn care truck in front of a neighbor’s house. A seemingly nice man was putting away his mower when I shamelessly accosted him and asked if he had any time to cut our grass. Typically this falls into ‘husband’ category, not that this Kentucky girl hadn’t handled a SNAPPER mower on my childhood farm for MANY years, but said husband had been dealing with his own crazy work stuff and getting home late and exhausted. Lawn care is certainly not in our budget, but at this moment when our grass had gotten to an almost embarrassing level, I decided that I could shave some money from one budget line or work a few additional hours JUST TO GET IT DONE.

My kids says that in the heat of the moment that I told Ron Busken (Busken Lawn Care) that I loved him when he agreed to the task (I’m denying it) and off we sped to soccer. Read the rest of this entry

Summer Reading

Heading out of town or simply have more time to read during these longer days of summer? Here’s my TOP 10:

1. Defending Jacob by William Landay – legal thriller that SHOCKED me

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth – if you loved Hunger Games, jump into this series

3. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs – one man, 18 months of using his own body to test and try all fitness fads, ridiculously entertaining & informative

4. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty – delicious historical fiction & USA Today‘s #1 Hot Fiction Pick for the summer

5. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson – creepy, creepy, creepy fantastic, kept me guessing till the end

6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson – offers a fascinating window into the year when the world began its slow slide into war. Non-fiction that reads like fiction, unbelievable.

7. The Might Have Been by Joseph Schuster – baseball story that resonates with the pull of lifelong dreams, the stings of regret, and the ways we define ourselves against uncertain twists of fate

8. Spy School by Stuart Gibbs – perfectly fun & funny for elementary & middle school boys

9. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne Valente – full of oddments, adventure, whimsy, and joy for ages 10ish and up.

10. Life if a small-town girl – For some laugh out loud uncomfortable, ridiculous reading, check out my teen angst years

 

Books I’m Gifting this Year

Amazing Adventures of a Nobody by Leon Logothetis. I had the pleasure of meeting Leon and taking a ride in his Kindness Cab this Fall and his book is going to my traveling sister-in-law and also my best friend who sees the good in everyone…and probably others as well – I heart this book.

White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby to my Chef step-brother or his lovely wife. “This richly layered novel is based on the life of legendary chef Auguste Escoffier, who popularized French cooking methods at his restaurants at The Savoy and The Ritz at the beginning of the 20th century. Escoffier’s love for two women: the beautiful, iconic actress Sarah Bernhardt and his lovely, poetess wife, Delphine Daffis, is at the heart of this complex tale. The characters are vivid and the food — oh, the food — is delicious!” Indiebound.org

Wildwood by Colin Meloy to my hip sister (age 35) or niece (age 7) as this is a great book of wonder, danger, and magic as told by the lead singer of The Decemberists. A touching tale for anyone of any age.

 

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard to my history loving husband. “A deranged man shot President James A. Garfield, but it was his doctors who killed him”. This true story of a Civil War hero, elected to Congress in 1862 who fought for black rights & liberty, who surprisingly won the presidency amongst the most corrupt of administrations who was treated by an egomaniac doctor named Dr. Doctor with Alexander Graham Bell on the sidelines…this book competes against the best fiction out there.

The Boy Who Cried Ninja by Alex Latimer to my 3 year old nephew. If you’re going to be stuck reading a book over & over then you might as well enjoy it. Ninja takes a quirky twist on The Boy Who Cried Wolf when a boy’s excuses turn out to have an unexpected element of truth. This book makes me smile every time I read it and the illustrations are great.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh to my Mom who loves a heavy hearted story but this one retains hope among a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world after aging out of the foster care system. Her gift for flowers and her understanding of the ‘language of flowers’ (honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love…) helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

Good gracious, I could go on and on but I’ll wrap up with Divergent or Daughter of Smoke and Bone for my bestest who loved the Hunger Games, Leviathan for Cullen’s male teacher who taught Middle Grade World War I (and it’s knee deep in Steampunk) & Go The Fu*! to Sleep for Cindy Lou who will be a first time parent in the Spring. Merry Happy Reading!

 

My Summer Bookshelf

Sunset from paddleboat

Admittedly AWOL – sorry about that! I got the chance to head to KY for a couple of weeks to hang with friends and family & obviously I didn’t do a lick of work. I grew up on a farm about an hour south of Louisville (Luhvill if you’re from there) so when you have a view like this, it’s hard not to just veg…and read! What did come out of my long absence was some of my favorite books for your summer reading!

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward – A mystery on its own but the actual relationship that is played out between the authors (exes) throughout the chapters is hysterical.

Don’t Breathe A Word by Jennifer Mcmahon- Did twelve- year-old Lisa really get pulled into a fairy world or was she kidnapped? This haunting tale gave me the creeps & had me guessing well into the last pages.

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson- With themes of teenage angst, suburban disaffection, and the punk scene in the late 1980s, while also tackling the larger subjects of love, identity, complex family relationships, religion, and sexuality, it’s hard not to love these heavily flawed characters.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I hate to be swayed by hype AND technically this book along with the sequels are found in the young adult section BUT I’m a convert. I flew through this entire dystopian series in less than a week. I can’t wait to see the movie.

Speaking of movies, pick up these other 2 favorites of mine as movies are being cast/made at this very moment: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard & One Day by David Nicholls.

 

Let’s Get Cookin’

Admittedly I’m not the most comfortable in the kitchen but with the help of two new (to me) cookbooks & some dandy accessories, I’m at least starting to feel mildly competent & have some fun.

Squeaky Gourmet is the first cookbook that I have truly loved. Don’t get me wrong, I can spend hours flipping through beautiful 20lb cookbooks, but never have I found one small cookbook so fitting to my most basic needs & skills. Let me warn you that there are NO pictures and this delighted me to no end – nothing to show how sad my food looked compared to professional photos. What I’ve enjoyed best about this little book is that I have most ingredients on hand for every recipe.  It’s all of 138 pages, contains great nutritional info, and as stated on the cover,  Simple – Clean – Food.

One of my other hesitations in the kitchen comes from the fact that you have to clean up afterwards. Elizabeth Yarnell’s Glorious One-Pot Meals removes all such concerns. Now there’s a lot of chopping involved but then you simply layer proteins, vegetables and sometimes rice /pasta in your Dutch Oven and walk away. Her book does contain lovely photos but when everything is tossed together mine looks just fine too. For a limited time, Elizabeth will personally inscribe a book to the recipient of your choice when purchased on her site.

Also check out these practical & fun kitchen gadgets:

Thanks to Lisa & Vann Knight who recommended these great cookbooks!

Spring into Reading!

Time for my seasonal reading suggestions and as usual, I’ve tried to cover the gamut.

For no other reason that to eavesdrop on some of the biggest celebrities of the last few decades, pick up Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead by Neil Strauss. Journalist Strauss goes back over former interviews and pulls out (sometimes) shocking and often unexpected narratives from interviews never published. Read how Strauss shoots guns with Ludacris, gets kidnapped by Courtney Love, makes Lady Gaga cry,  shops for Pampers with Snoop Dogg, goes to church with Tom Cruise…and that’s barely cracking the surface. Unbelievable!

One measure of a great book for me is if it sends me out in search of more. In the case of Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland, I checked out 5 books on Tiffany glass, upon completion of this book, to learn more about the incredible works of Clara Driscoll and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Set in New York, near the end of the twentieth century, Vreeland takes fact – Tiffany’s debut at the World’s Fair, his employment of women in a largely dominated male field and Driscol’s idea for the now infamous Tiffany Lamp – and layers fictional scenes to create an engrossing and cultural read. Hear author Vreeland on npr discuss how it all happened.

For all you fantasy readers, run – don’t walk – and pick up a copy of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. No matter what you thought of previously published vampire books, this one takes it up a notch. Read the rest of this entry

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

I have 3 of my own sisters and we have been, on occasion, described as weird… among other things. Naturally I was drawn to this book by Eleanor Brown though I’m always hesitant when there’s the possibility for assigning family members isolating and cliche stereotypes. Thankfully, this book contained none of these and created each sister full of contradictions and flaws. Their love for each other is unconditional yet one gets the sense that they might not even be friends if they weren’t born into the same family.

One of the most enjoyable parts for me was their peculiar father who spoke

My "weird" sisters, I'm in orange.

primarily in Shakespearean verse and named each daughter after a character: (Rosalind; As You Like It), Bean (Bianca; The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia; King Lear). While it’s enjoyable for the reader to see how applicable these verses are to daily life, the sisters felt a bit differently Read the rest of this entry

Happy Heart Day!

No matter to who or how you plan to say I Love You this Valentine’s, I’ve got some suggestions to hopefully make it your best yet.

For the tea/tea party lover, pick up a set of these beautiful ‘inside out heart’ cups from nordstrom.com.

For a dapper fella who’s always in a suit, gift these ‘suggestive’ collar stays which will keep him grinning throughout those long meetings.

For the book lover, a copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

Locally, take your special someone on a Valentine’s Night Hike at Shaw Nature Reserve.

For the person who’s all business, this great Lifestyle File Tote is practical and with every purchase 25% will be donated to the American Heart Association.

Uncommongoods provides a fantastic Love Meter so that you are able to gauge your own “commitment level” and shop accordingly.

Last, but not least, consider the give of life and contact your local Red Cross to make a blood donation or head to organdonor.gov and register to be an organ donor.

The Battle over the Tiger Mother

As a parent, I was completely engrossed by this fascinating book that discusses one mother’s choice to raise her children in the Chinese way while surrounded by indulgent Western parents.  After working with college students over the course of 15 years, I’ve become intimately familiar with parents whose children received medals for participating in any sport, never had to resolve their own conflicts, and paving over any discomfort throughout their entire childhood.  So, some of her beliefs did resound with me.

I’ll admit that there were MANY parts of this book that made me uncomfortable, but I couldn’t put this brutally honest, yet humbling, memoir down. Amy’s forthrightness regarding her choice is made without apology, even when one of her two daughters begins to take an unwavering stand in favor of a more typical upbringing.

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve already heard multiple reviews of this book that attempt to reduce it to a simple argument:  Amy Chu’s way against every other parent in the world.   It is reminiscent of the tired, dated debate that pits  working  moms vs. those who stay at home.  Don’t buy into it-  you need to pick up this book for yourself.  I promise that it will create great discussions.  And like me,you’ll realize that the answer, like most things, lies somewhere in between.

“Fall back” into reading

With the nights getting darker and the mornings brighter, you may have some extra time on your hands so why not sneak in a few minutes of reading. Here’s my top 5 suggested fall reading picks and, as usual, a little something for everyone.

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter –  “The funniest way-we-live-now book of the year.” -Time magazine (great for a book club)

Faithful Place by Tana French – “Faithful Place takes readers into a grim corner of Dublin where families do their best to suffocate dreams and cops are to be avoided at all costs”.  – NPR

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John – How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she’s deaf? (Local St. Louis author, signed copies at Pudd’nHead Books)

The Film Club by David Gilmour – The true story of a father who let his son drop out of school – if he watched three movies a week.

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman – Bittman demystifies buzzwords like “organic,” “sustainable,” and “local” and offers straightforward, budget-conscious advice that will help you make small changes that will shrink your carbon footprint — and your waistline.

I had picked 4 out of the 5 before I realized that they all started with “F” so I had to make sure the 5th one did as well. So enjoy these fantastic, fabulous, phenomenal fall picks! Feel free to add your suggestions as well – thanks!