Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Books To Buy Right Now

I'll admit that most of my books come from the library.  Before 5 kids I bought a lot more of them, but now, not so much, because we need the money to feed them all....

I read the entire book before I realized it was part of a series... I didn't want that kind of commitment, but what choice do I have now?:

In 2015 I started recording every book I read.  In the last two years I've read 215 books and most of the books I'd say get from the library.  Here's a small list of books you should buy for your personal library.  (In no particular order.)

1.  Being Mortal

This book will absolutely transform your thoughts on dying and end of life care.  I cannot recommend it enough.

2.  Inkheart series

I love this trilogy which focuses on a book- loving father and daugher (Mo and Meggie).  Mo can read characters out of a book (can you imagine the possiblities!) which swap places with someone in the real world.  Filled with both amazing and terrible characters, I feel like these novels are fresh and exciting even after all these years.  Note, there was a terrible movie made from Inkheart, and if you've seen that first without reading the book don't let it keep you away from this series.

3.  A Gentleman in Moscow

This book follows Count Alexander, an aristocrat who was put under hotel arrest during the Bolshevik reign in Russia.  You will be completely charmed by Alexander and his ability to deal with his situation in a graceful way.  It made me want to live my life better and more thoughtful.

4.  Lessons From Madame Chic

This is the story of the author's year in Paris and the lessons she learned from two specific women there.  I loved this book which really focuses on looking at your life and living the very best life possible all the time.  Ideas like using your best china, having routines that value guests, only wearing clothes that you love and fit you perfectly.  In a nutshell, quite possibly a book that focuses on first world problems of fairly privileged people.  But that doesn't make it shallow, it makes you thoughtful about how you live your life.  And that should be a perspective that everyone has no matter their lot in life.  She wrote two books that continue this "Lessons" series.  You could probably get the other two from the library.

5.  Four Seasons in Rome

A food memoir focusing on a family and their year in Italy.  I kind of have a thing for Italian food memoirs.  It makes me want to eat better and simpler, and also I just cannot get over the descriptions of the Italian countryside.  Like sign me up and move us overseas immediately.  Two other food memoirs worth your time and possibly your money for a hard copy:  Bread and Wine and 1000 days in Tuscany.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Resolutions

I forgot...?:

I don't always do resolutions.  But this year I have two that I am going to strive really hard towards if you don't count my yearly resolution of reading 100 books.

The first is a joint one with Ava.  She is obsessed with the Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook.  (Buy it, it's only $8 on Amazon.)  Apparently my love of the series has run into the next geneartion- I love it. So we decided to cook through the entire cookbook through 2017.  There may be a few exceptions, like blackbird pie, but if we can do it we will.

My second resolution is bigger and much, much harder.  My goal for 2017 is to not buy things made in China.  I have serious issues with China and their labor issues and lax in safety in a lot of their items, especially anything involved in kitchen items.  Check your local Target, almost all of them are made in China.... Chris doesn't think I can pull this off, and I admit it will be next to impossible, but I am willing to give it a go and do my best.  It will involve a lot of me remembering to look at labels and make sure that it doesn't come from China.  It will probably also involve me spending more for whatever item it is that I need/want.  An exception to this I am toying with is if I get something second hand.  It's not like it's a new item being generated in horrible circumstances, but I can't decide if I should make this exception or not.  You'd still have to weed out anything worrisome, like kitchen items, etc.  We'll see what I decide.

Here's to 2017, 2016 was good and hoping for a better 2017.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Jess Reads December

So I made it.  My yearly goal is 100 books, and I squeaked them in by the skin of my teeth!

Here's what December was:

1.  A Letter of Mary

I continue to move through this series focusing on Mary Russell, now Sherlock Holme's wife and partner.  I'm still dealing with the crazy 30 year gap in their ages, so unrealistic, but the books are still awesome anyways.  You'll love this series, if my last few months of raving about the books aren't enough to tell you that!

2.  To the Bright Edge of the World

I was fairly excited about this book which focuses on Colonel Allen Forrester as he led a very small group of men into Alaska and across the Wolverine River into unchartered areas.  It was sort of advertised as a great epic voyage mixed in with some fantasy elements.  Written in letter format from the perspective of Allen as well as his wife Sophie who was left behind in Vancouver, it focuses on both of their stories simultaneously.  The back and forth letters drove me a little batty- I tend to not love stories told in letter format.  In the end I kind of felt that it was lacking, both in the adventure of Alaska, I was expecting more of what they suffered, what they did, saw, ate, etc., and I felt it was lacking in more of the fantasy.  There were some fascinating fantasy traditions from Native lore, but again I felt like it was just a little bit, not enough to really engage me and I wish they would have fleshed these out a bit, especially the ones involving Sophie thousands of miles away.  But it could just be me, the book has 4.6 stars on Amazon.

3.  The Snow Child

This book was written by the same author as To the Bright Edge of the World.  Actually written first, it focuses on an infertile couple in their 50s living in Alaska near the Wolverine River.  (The author is actually from Alaska).  The couple emotionally have been struggling for years because of their inability to have children, and now are estranged from each other in a lot of ways.  One night inspired by a beautiful snow fall, they build a little snow child.  They giver her hair and a face and the next morning when they wake up the snow is half gone/toppled and there are steps leading only away from the snow girl.  This is essentially a fairy tale, and I can't really give all that much detail about it without giving it away.  A much better book by Eowyn Ivey in my personal opinion, and was actually a finalist for the Pulitzer prize.

4-9.  Laura Ingalls Wilder series

The weather got cold here and I decided to read the first Little House book, my all time favorite in the series. This caused me to go down a Little House hole of which I haven't quite come out of yet.  I read Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, skipped Farmer Boy, read On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, and Little Town on the Prairie.  I love Farmer Boy but wanted to concentrate on just the Laura books.

I love this series and probably read it every year.  It makes me feel like I'd rather simplify my life and calm down a little bit and be grateful for all of the things I have.  It also leads me to be frustrated with my kids at how much they have and don't appreciate.

Pa always has great sayings, things like (summarizing) "modern inventions are great but then we rely on them".  He was talking about kerosene for a light and Ma had said they never had kerosene when she was growing up but still somehow had light.  Can you imagine?!  Americans have no practical skills anymore, and this is a huge reminder of that.  Makes me want to learn how to do things "the old way".

I think everybody and their mother has read this series, but if not, buy it ASAP, you'll be glad you did.  All in all, a good way to end 2016.

Final 2016 book total: 104

Currently reading Robinson Crusoe for the first time and Pride and Prejudice (again...).  Wonder which one will be my first book for 2017?!

And here's a post on Five books to spend your hard-earned money on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What I Asked for Christmas

Chris is a terrible gift giver.  Like the absolute worse.  After 15.5 years of marriage I've learned it's really just best to give him a list.  Here's what's on it this year in no particular order:

1.  My Burberry Black Perfume

I haven't worn perfume in years and as I've gotten older I can't wear anything sweet smelling.  My Burberry Black falls into the spicy category and while I don't love it immediately after I spray it, the lingering scent is amazing and makes me feel like I come from old money.  I want to make this my signature scent. $95 for 1.6oz

2.  A New Watch
Image result for michael kors rose gold watch with leather band

My beloved Swiss Army watch broke a few weeks ago.  I've had it for 8 years and I literally feel naked without it.  It's a metal men's watch, and this time around I've been feeling like maybe a leather band.  I went to TJ Maxx and they had great name brand watches for much cheaper.  Then I found out that a jeweler in town can probably fix my watch.  So this isn't going to make an appearance under my tree, but at least I have a better idea for the future.

3.  Wicked Good  Boots
Image result for wicked good boots
Most of our house is tiled, and while I love it that my kids aren't getting carpet filthy, it's more than a little chilly in the winter.  As I write this it was -5 this morning, no joke.  I've worn to death a pair of slippers from Gander Mountain but they are so old and worn that there is literally no support in them at all not to mention the traction is totally gone.  These LL Bean boots/slippers would totally fill the bill.  They are technically indoor/outdoor boots, but the carpet we do have is white! so these would be inside only shoes.  I would wear them all day everyday.  $129

4.  Duluth Pack Scout Pack

I've kind of been obsessed with backpacks lately.  I only carry purses that have a shoulder strap, I hate having something in my hands.  But the backpack goes to the next level, total hands-free and behind out of the way.  I'm really drawn to the natural color in this bag, but can't imagine trying to keep it clean.  Handmade in Duluth, Minnesota.  $135

Friday, December 9, 2016

What We're Getting the Kids for Christmas

Lol whaaa:

As mom to 5 this just might be true....

I struggle every year on what to get our kids for Christmas.  I think that too many toys stifles the imagination and leads to kids being dependent on "things" for fun.  Plus we really want to instill in our kids that Christmas really isn't all about the presents; contrary to what most of America thinks.

This year we actually did end up going with toys.  I am still trying to make peace with it.  For our two boys ages 5 & 6 we went with Legos.

This for Moyz.

This one for Truitt although we got it on amazon prime and much, much cheaper.

Kembia is getting this doll from Walmart.  It's sold out online but we got ours in the store.

This alt value should not be empty if you assign primary image
That fox purse kills me.

Owen is getting the newest Diary of a Wimpy kid book, plus a hunting snowsuit as well as this awesome multi-tool with a hatchet on it.

Ava is our tough one.  She already got a pair of combat boots she wanted early.  She'll also be getting skinny jeans, a gorgeous winter hat- think hipster style, and a pair of mittens.  She's a tough one with very defined ideas on what she likes.

Other than that, we're going very low key.  Our kids have every thing they need.  We've been reading through the Little House books, and are constantly amazed at how few things they  had, but how happy they were.  We're all kind of feeling that simplicity is better.

We have one main Christmas tradition,and that's pomegranates in the stockings.  But Ava felt like we didn't have enough traditions, so this year we decided that every Christmas Eve we'll make oyster soup inspired by non other than the Little House books again.  Not necessarily the main part of the meal, but definitely present at our evening meal the night before.

Other than that the kids have their stockings which are filled with goodies to eat, and one other very tiny present, Kembia is getting a Hello Kitty robe that we found at the goodwill, of all places.  She's been asking for a robe for the last several months.  We definitely don't believe that presents have to be new.

We're also doing the paper chain countdown until Christmas, honestly mostly for my sanity.  Moyz asks me every day if it's time to open presents....

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Jess Reads November

Life's been crazy busy so no blogging recently....

Books for November:

1.  The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

This is a true story about saving priceless writings from Timbuktu in Africa.  The story focuses on the fact that most people think Africa was a continent of completely uneducated losers.  Contrary to this, there are manuscripts illuminated to the best of them, early Islamic teachings of equality and a woman's right to refuse how things have changed.  The story is interesting, especially because it brought to light how naive I personally am about early 14-17th century writings in Africa, but it ends up mostly being about radical Islam and how it has affected so many places and the desire to not let people be educated and do anything contrary to extremist teachings.  You will end the book seriously irritated about radical Islam and wishing it would all just stop.  Fascinating and sad all at the same time.

2.  Rooms

Rooms is a Christian fiction book.  It focuses on a young man who inherits an amazing house from a rich uncle he's never really been in contact with.  Then the house starts changing as he starts having to deal with issues from his past.  I've never been crazy about Christian fiction in general, and this book is no exception.  It's okay, but that's about it.  The story is okay and I like how he interacts with another main character, but it's utterly predictable which I think is my biggest beef against this genre.I probably wouldn't have finished it but I was sitting in a deer stand with literally nothing else to do. Pass.

3.  The Forgotten Sister

This is one of many Pride and Prejudice continuations.  The Forgotten Sister focuses on Mary and her story mostly during the time that Pride and Prejudice takes place.  P&P stories can be infuriatingly bad, but not this one.  I love Mary's story, her history that is given, and how her life plays out.  It's a fresh take on a character that wasn't exactly charming in the original.  She's slightly irritating here too, but it's how the book pulls everything together.  Read it, you'll be glad you did.

4.  The Monstrous Regiment of  Women

This is the second book in the Mary Russell series which follows Mary with her mentor and partner  Sherlock Holmes as she goes to college at Oxford and solves crime in her spare time.  It's an interesting take on Holmesian thinking from a woman's perspective, one which I love and appreciate it.  If you've read any Sherlock Holmes and enjoyed it, then you'll love this one too.  I am half way through the third one as well and they just don't disappoint.  They might not be serious reading but they sure are fun.

5.  The Bookshop on the Corner

A charming, and very quick read.  It focuses on a young English librarian named Nina who loses her job because her library is closing.  All she's ever wanted to do was help people find good books. Faced with no job and needing to pay the bills she buys a food truck style van and moves to Scotland to sell books to the masses in rural areas.  One caveat, the book lost some of its charm as the story progressed and Nina started making some not great choices.  Mostly having sex and getting slightly vulgar as the story goes on.  I felt like in the beginning I would have recommended this book to everyone, but the change in tone in the latter half of the book makes me think twice.  I so appreciate a story that has a character who loves books, that alone sold me on the first half, but wish the author would have left her just a little bit more carefree, sweet and dare I say it purer and wholesome.  Nina's not by any means outrageously vulgar, but I feel like somehow her personality didn't match who she was at the beginning.  Still a good book and probably worth your time.

6.  Rules of Civility

I read this after reading A Gentleman in Moscow, one of my favorite books of this year.  I figured Amor Towles' first novel must be just as good.  Boy was I wrong.  This book takes place in 1938, a decade I really dislike reading about.  That should have tipped me off but it didn't.  It's basically the story of a woman and her close friend and a man that they both liked and what happens among them after an automobile accident seriously injures one of them.  But really all you need to know is that this book is terrible.  There is none of the charm like Gentleman, and I don't really even feel like it seems like it's from the same author.  It's a good thing I read this second because had I read it first I never would have given Gentleman the time of day.  Skip it, not worth your time, which is a shame because clearly the author is capable of some amazing work.

7.  Valley of the Moon

Single mother Lux goes on a camping trip when her son is visiting his grandparents.  She wakes up in the middle of the night and has to go to the bathroom and finds herself surrounded by fog,  She follows a light and ends up back in time.  Lux finds rest and simplicity in 1906 in a community called Greengage but knows that she must go back to her own time in 1975 where her son is.  There she faces a tenuous and stressful relationship with her father, and her finances aren't all that great.  As the months go on she continues to travel back in time to Greengage for rest on weekends but comes to the realization that she needs to decide if she will stay forever or not.  This book has a great concept and it was executed fairly well.  I appreciated an ending that had a little bit more surprise in store than what I was thinking even if I guessed right for part of it.  This is a simple tale, simply wrote, but I appreciate it even more for that.  The author didn't try to overachieve or make the story more complicated then it needed to be.  A very quick read, even if you don't totally love it it's so quick I don't think you'll feel like you wasted your time.

8.  The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

This was a super charming book about 69 year old Arthur Pepper and the mysterious charm bracelet he finds on the first anniversary of his wife's death.  It's a bracelet he's never seen before and on one of the charms he finds a phone number to India.  He makes a call which sets Arthur off on a journey to discover who his wife was before they were married and why she never talked about it.  I feel like the author was probably heavily influenced by the book Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, of which I also loved.  Arthur's journey is filled with both charm and chutzpah (for lack of a better word!) as he finds himself challenged by his situations and growing out of his widow mode and into what can only be described as him finally living his life after a year of moping for Miriam.  The only one thing I couldn't quite get on board with was the fact that Miriam hid so much stuff from him.  Turns out the reason is perhaps quite charming, but I am not sure I can believe it.  I would want to talk about all the things that happened in my past with my husband.  Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book. Definitely read it.

9.  Sahara

I have to admit it, Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt series of which this is one, feels like old man reading.  I mean that in the best of ways, really I do.  It's adventure reading for the pleasure of adventure reading, something that I feel like older retired men would do.  Cussler wrote a whole series focusing on Dirk Pitt- an underwater researcher, who happens to be dashing with the ladies, can always get himself out of near-death experiences along with his best friend Al Giordino, and somehow always has the perfect one liner to say.  I love it.  And I'm not even a little bit ashamed.  Sahara focuses on Dirk Pitt in Mali looking for the source of a toxin that is headed towards killing all plant life in the entire world.  At the same time Dr. Eva Rojas is in Mali also looking for a toxin that is resulting in a plague affecting people and making them insane.  Sounds like Pulitzer prize winning stuff, huh!?  Add a tyrannical dictator and a billionaire suave Frenchman and you have yourself quite a story.  I love the Dirk Pitt series, every single one of them.  I read them whenever I want a literal escape from anything serious including reading.  One note, Cussler is a prolific writer, often teaming up with other authors to do writing for him.  I'd say stay away from those and only focus on books where Cussler is the only author.  This book was also made into a movie starring Matthew Mcconaughey as Dirk Pitt and Steve Zahn as Al Giordino.  It was considered a flop in terms of revenue, but I actually loved it.  It does swerve from the book a fair amount, but just like the book, it's adventure for the sake of adventure and sometimes a girl needs that!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Jess Reads October

1.  The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor's Wife follows a woman named Martha who goes to help a family where the wife is getting close to having a baby because the husband travels a lot; and where she proceeds to fall in love with a man named Thomas who has a secretive past in England.  This sounded like such a good book- using the history of the English Civil War to shape the characters and drive the story line. Except Martha is really hard to like and not a whole lot happens.  Honestly, when it came time to come back and do my books read for October I realized this book was completely forgettable.  Like literally.  I had to jump onto Amazon and remind myself what it was about because none of it stayed with me.  Skip it.

2.  Madame Curie

I'm going to be super honest here.  I don't love biographies.  They usually bore me to tears, and as a general rule I tend to stay away from them.  But I came across an old copy (not this one pictured here) for a dollar at a sale, and I have a soft spot for Marie Curie.  This book was amazing.  Written by her youngest daughter Eve, it goes through her life in Russia occupied Poland with her family, all of them also extremely intelligent, follows her into college in France where she meets Pierre, their courtship, struggle to find physics positions for both of them, their marriage and work (they discovered radiation along with several elements, naming one Polonium after her original country of Poland), and her incredible volunteer work in the first World War. There was so many amazing things about her that I had no clue of.  What a remarkable woman in so many ways.  And for most of her career, extremely undervalued.  They did their biggest discoveries in France in a shed with almost no heat.  It wasn't until after Pierre died only 8 years into their marriage where Marie took over his position as the first female ever allowed to work at the college, before she was essentially given the status that her incredible mind and research should have been given to the Curies years before.  She was also the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.  Marie and Pierre could have patented their research on radiation and become exceedingly wealthy, but decided that radiation was for everyone, and to make money off of it was "contrary to the scientific spirit".  An attitude you will almost never find today.  If you are even slightly science minded you should read this book. You should read it even if you hate science.  Madame Curie is 100% worthy of your time.

3, 4, 5.  The Eye of the World,  The Great Hunt,  The Dragon Reborn

When I was a senior in high school a friend of mine recommended The Wheel of Time series.  It was pretty much my first foray into fantasy writing and I loved it.  There are 14 books in this series, all of them in the 500+ pages category, so if you start them it is a commitment.  When I first was introduced to this series in 1999 there were already several in paper back but the series wasn't complete, and I was devoted.  I would read the new one every few years as they were released feeling like 2-4 years was such a long time to wait for the next book.  Sometimes forgetting stuff that would happen because they are so long and it had been such a long time since I read the last one.  And then the author died in 2007 before the series was ended.  You know how you become emotionally invested in something? Yep, that happened,  But Robert Jordan knew he was sick and took many notes and long talks with his wife led him to pick Brandon Sanderson as the author to help write the final books after his death. The final book was released in January of 2013.

All that info. stuff to say that I have decided to reread the series for the first time since the last book was completed almost 4 years ago.  It's been 18 years since I read the first book and I am excited to give it a go again.  It's kind of hard to describe the books because there are a lot of characters, and a lot of stuff going on.  Jordan can be wordy, and repeats background information a lot, but I guess when you write a series over an extremely extended period you need to do that.  My advice to you is just to read the first one and see if you like it.  You can google stuff about it, but all the summaries that I read make it sound kind of ridiculous and not anywhere near as good as it really is.  If you like fantasy, then this series is it.  He's widely recognized as one of of the best fantasy writers of all time. Just be prepared to get sucked down the Robert Jordan hole and not come out for a very long time.....

6.  The Beekeeper's Apprentice

A friend of mine recommended this to me quite a while ago, and I just finally got around to reading it.  It's about an extremely intelligent young girl named Mary Russell who happens upon Sherlock Holmes in the English countryside after he has retired.  They have a verbal exchange which leads to him realizing that an apprentice for himself has quite literally stumbled upon him.  The book moves forward from there as he trains her and follows her story at Oxford.  This is not just another Holmes book, although if you love Sherlock Holmes you definitely will not be disappointed in this.  It's a fresh way to experience "Holmes like" reasoning from a woman's perspective, which truly changes a lot.  This is the first in a series, and the only one that I have read so far.  I definitely will be continuing through them.  Read it.

7.  The One in A Million Boy

This book is very hyped in the blogging world.  It follows a young boy's relationship with a 104 year old woman until he unexpectedly dies and then his father who hasn't been around, vows to finish his son's obligations with the elderly lady.  Boring sounding, I know.  But this book deserves the hype that has been generated around it.  The interactions of the father with Ona (the old lady) throughout the book are incredible, and the pain that you read about through both parents seems genuine.  I feel like this book gave me a fresh perspective on people who are nearing the end of their life. Ona's thoughts on her life are a gentle reminder that you can't just write off people in society because they are old.  So obvious, I know, but something that I think our society forgets. Ona is by far my favorite character, full of spice and one liners, and I love that through the book you get clips of an interview that the boy did with her from just her side.  Read it.

8.  A Gentleman in Moscow

Another much-hyped book.  I loved it.  I loved it so much I am buying a copy.   And that is a rare thing indeed.  This book follows Count Alexander Rostov, an aristocrat who ends up getting house arrest in the Moscow hotel after the Bolsheviks come to power.  It follows his 30 odd years in the hotel and the relationships he forms with the patrons as Russia changes around him.  Alexander brings us back to a time when flowers were sent to someone based on what the flower said.  A time when wines were picked out specifically to complement flavors.  Rostov is a gentleman and while the Bolsheviks may not have appreciated it, you certainly will.  I already have a proclivity for Russian history and took Russian in college, so that may have swung me in favor of this book from the get go, but you will be charmed by this book.

9.  Commonwealth

For my third much-hyped book of the month, this one by far fell the flattest.  It follows the kids of two families who have become stepsiblings after an affair.  Commonwealth was super hard to follow as it jumped back and forth between time and people, and try as I could I just couldn't get into it. I didn't care one lick about what happened to anyone in any of the families.  About the only thing that I could appreciate was the stories of the dumb things the kids did when they were young and thinking about all the stupid things I did.  The rest of this book was a wash.  Not that interesting, not that thought provoking, and not worth your time.