December 2013 archive

Review: Hands Free Mama

Hands Free Mama, by Rachel Mary Stafford

Synopsis (From Goodreads): If technology is the new addiction, then multi-tasking is the new marching order. We check our email while cooking dinner, send a text while bathing the kids, and spend more time looking into electronic screens than into the eyes of our loved ones. With our never-ending to-do lists and jam-packed schedules, it’s no wonder we’re distracted. But this isn’t the way it has to be. In July 2010, special education teacher and mother Rachel Macy Stafford decided enough was enough. Tired of losing track of what matters most in life, Rachel began practicing simple strategies that enabled her to momentarily let go of largely meaningless distractions and engage in meaningful soul-to-soul connections. It doesn’t mean giving up all technology forever. It doesn’t mean forgoing our jobs and responsibilities. What it does mean is seizing the little moments that life offers us to engage in real and meaningful interaction. It means looking our loved ones in the eye and giving them the gift of our undivided attention, leaving the laundry till later to dance with our kids in the rain, and living a present, authentic, and intentional life despite a world full of distractions. So join Rachel and go hands-free. Discover what happens when you choose to open your heart—and your hands—to the possibilities of each God-given moment.

What I Thought: So, I’m an internet person. I was a teenager when the internet was “new” and I jumped on board and didn’t look back. I have good friends who live in my computer and honestly some of my closest friends are “internet people”… so when I jumped on the smart phone train, I was in it. You know what I mean. The panicky feeling when your phone isn’t touching you, the times spent in front of a glowing screen when you could be building your marriage, that constant need to be “connected”… I was there. When I saw this book, I knew that it was absolutely something that I needed to read. I had been trying without success to pull myself out of the computer & my phone and felt like hearing someone else’s account of the same situation would be helpful.

It totally, totally was.

Rachel’s struggle was a bit different than mine. I think that I became a phone addict because being a SAHM to two little ones is just lonely. Real conversation is infrequent and texting and being online was a great way to alleviate that. Rachel was more of an overachiever that needed to constantly be emailing about projects and schedules and things that I don’t deal with as much… but the result was the same: that feeling that maybe we are not giving our kids and husband the best of ourselves.

I think that this idea of being “hands free” is pretty beautiful. The whole goal is just to put down electronics, get away from the glowing screen and give our families our undivided attention for large chunks of time. It’s about striking a balance between being a busy, connected person and also a caring and attentive family member. She is realistic in saying that we will still use electronics, but that there is a time and place for that.

There were a lot of practical tips here, but actually what helped me is not something that was mentioned. I told myself that I was “allowed” to check my phone every hour on the hour for about 10 minutes. When the boys were napping, or before they woke up I could have free reign and that after they go to bed I can look at it only after I have some quiet time with my husband. Knowing that I was not restricted entirely but just disciplining myself really helped. The first few days were really, really hard but after a week or so, I didn’t find myself craving that outside connection as much, as I was finding more satisfaction what I was doing in the moment. There is something powerful in that, in being so totally in the moment.

I thought that this book was written in a really familiar, personal way. I have never read the author’s blog, but I suspect that a lot of the chapters were pulled from her blog, as they just had that short form feel more than the feel of a whole cohesive book. I don’t necessarily think that that detracted from the book especially since it was set up with questions and suggestions for using it as a group discussion book. By the end of the book I could feel the repetitiveness setting in, but honestly sometimes to learn something you have to hear it a few times, so it didn’t feel as repetitive as it did reaffirming.

So I loved it. It is one of those books that has truly, truly made an impact on my life and my family. I heartily recommend it to all of my internet people :)

I got this book for free through NetGalley, but all opinions are my own!

Review: The Son

The Son by Philipp Meyer


From Goodreads: The acclaimed author of American Rust, returns with The Son: an epic, multigenerational saga of power, blood, and land that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the border raids of the early 1900s to the oil booms of the 20th century.

Part epic of Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching portrait of the bloody price of power, The Son is an utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American West through the lives of the McCulloughs, an ambitious family as resilient and dangerous as the land they claim.

Harrowing, panoramic, and vividly drawn, The Son is a masterful achievement from a sublime young talent

Andrea’s Thoughts: This book blew me away. I’m not a fan of westerns, but this title kept cropping up on every list I saw and then I had a shiny new Audible credit to spend. The story is narrated by three characters- Eli, his son Peter, and his great-granddaughter, JA. The producers of the audiobook decided on three narrators, and they nailed it.

This story is gripping, epic, sweeping, and all around excellently written. This is one of those books that you find yourself thinking about when you’re away from the book, and long after you finish it. The writing is so vivid I could see the characters in my mind.

This is by far the best book I listened to in 2013. I will definitely check out more of Meyer’s work!



PS- If you’re wondering where Jennie is, she’s around.Life requires a lot of flexibility, and sometimes we just need to swap shifts. She’ll be back later this week =D

Best of! Jenny’s top 10 of 2013

I’m so close, but I’m still one book short of my goal to read 75 books in 2013. Don’t worry, friends. I’m going to get that last book in, and I’m hoping to surpass it by one – just because I’m that girl. Of the 74 books I’ve read this year, I given 22 books a 5-star rating on Goodreads. Of those 22, five were rereads, so I’m only looking at 17 5-star books. In alphabetical order by author, here are my favorite books from 2013 (Yes, there are 11 instead of 10. Again with the plus one. That girl, I tell you):

Just One Day
Just One Year
On the Jellicoe Road
The Sea of Tranquility
Eleanor & Park
Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Code Name Verity
Rose Under Fire
The 5th Wave

Jenny’s favorite books »


The problem I have here is that nine of these 11 were on the list of top-10 YA novels I published last week, meaning you’ve probably read about as much gushing about these books as you can stand. The fact that I included them on my overall list should tell you two things. One: I have a thing for YA books; and two: I think these books are worth pushing over and over and over again.

That said, it doesn’t do well to simply repeat oneself, so in case you’re looking for a refresher or you’re reading my 2013 lists for the first time, away you go! Just come back because, WAIT, there’s more.

There are three books that made my best-of-2013 list that didn’t fall in the YA category:

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: I really appreciate a book that makes me laugh out loud, and you wouldn’t expect that from a book that’s rife with mental illness, the joys of suburban society and marriage woes. Semple uses a unique storytelling format that takes some time to get into, but once you do – look out! I can’t imagine many not enjoying this book.

11/22/63 by Stephen King: This book was full of so much excellence that it’s hard to capture in a short recommendation. This is a Stephen King book for all, not just fans of getting the pants scared off of them. This is on my must-reread list simply because I know I read it too quickly, but I just couldn’t help myself. It’s a fast-paced, what-happens-next book that will suck you in from the start.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: This one should be read by all people, young and old. Auggie will inspire you, break your heart, make you laugh, make you cry, and, above all, make you want to share his story and his heart. This is a book that can make the world a better place, and if that isn’t a lofty recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Best of! Andrea’s Top 10 of 2013

At the time of this writing, I have yet to meet my goal of 65 books for the year. I’m at 62 with 2 currently reading. Of those 62, I rated 24 as 5 star on Goodreads. Of those 24, eight were re-reads (several were the Outlander books, plus I read The Fault in Our Stars and The Thirteenth Tale once or twice a year)…Which leaves me with 16 5-star books thus far. In no particular order, here are my top ten:

The Hanging Judge by Michael Ponser- I read this one courtesy of Netgalley (pub date December 2013). I think this was my first Netgalley book and it hooked me.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield-  this book. Man. I loved this book.

Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy- a classic Conroy, excellently crafted by my favorite Southern cad.

The Grant County series by Karin Slaughter- I used to read a lot of thrillers, but since having kids I have really cut back. This series is gruesome and twisted, but I couldn’t quit it.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe- a book about the love of books. A book about the love between a son and his mother. A book about hope in a hopeless situation.

The Harry Potter series- must I explain? After years of resistance I bought into the HP mania and haven’t looked back!

Breathe My Name by RA Nelson- this one was unsettling, but it stayed with me for weeks afterward. And any story about a family more dysfunctional than mine is good.

Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy- I love DK. I’d read his shopping list.

The Killing Floor by Lee Child- I loved this book. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of this series.

The Son by Philipp Meyer – okay, I’ve just finished this on audio, and it’s my favorite book of the year. It’s an epic western, which I do not normally read, and it is amazing. I have thought about these characters and this story for days. I can’t wait to sit down and write a proper review.

I’m also going to include the following two books, which are probably on every Best of list this year, but are worth mentioning because you need to read them RIGHT NOW if you haven’t yet:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Sea of Tranquility by Katjay Millay

That’s it for me!

Best of! Jacki’s Top Ten of 2013

Of the 100 books I read this year, I rated 17 with five stars. Of those 17, three were re-reads and one doesn’t come out until next year (I’m reviewing it next month and I can’t wait!) so I’m left with 13 five star books. I shared a few of them with you last week when I talked about my favorite biographies and memoirs so I won’t feel bad not sharing them again so… somehow this top ten list was really easy to compile.

Without further ado, in no particular order, my top ten books of 2013:

1. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

THIS BOOK! You guys. I can’t even. I can’t do it. Here is the crazy-excited review I wrote on Goodreads after I finished it. Rainbow Rowell is my new favorite everything and if there is bandwagon or a fan club or a brain-twin committee, I will join. If not, I may just start them.

2. Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple

It is totally Sophie’s Choice, but I kind of think this was my favorite book of the year. It was just perfect. It was unique and fun and made a point and was beautifully written and…. I cannot say enough. I’m starting a campaign to have Wes Anderson make the movie because I cannot think of a better fit for anyone to do anything ever.

3. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

I read this early in January and have thought about it time and time again. A lot of people have tried to write in short form and tie it all together and it just fails. Elizabeth Strout made it work and just did a stunning job. She wrote about the same character from a lot of different points of view and it never felt disjointed or like she was trying to hard. It was just beautiful and honest and I loved it.

4. The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

I have a thing for Kate Morton. She just writes like an absolute dream. I am also a sucker for books that have a past storyline and a present storyline that circle around each other and start to intersect and Kate Morton does that like no other. I read this over the summer and became so totally immersed that I could feel the damp, cold English spring. Loved it.

5. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

Do I even have to talk about this one? It’s Ann Patchett. She’s writing about science and jungles and love. It’s frigging incredible.

6. Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

This book absolutely blew me away. The illustrations are just absolutely gorgeous. I loved that it was not quite a graphic novel, but that the pictures were not just showing what happened, that they progressed the story. I thought that the story itself was sweet and the writing was sharp. I fell hard for this book and can’t wait until my boys are old enough to read it.

7. Swan Song, by Robert McCammon

There were parts of this that were blatant rip offs of The Stand…. and I wasn’t even mad. It was different enough and unique enough that I almost felt like Robert McCammon and Stephen King were given a writing prompt, so they started at the same place and then we got to see these totally, totally different paths. This was a huge, fat book that I just relished. Really good stuff.

8. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

I debated about including two books by the same author, but if I had read 10 books by Rainbow Rowell, this would just be a Rainbow Rowell list. I’m not even apologizing. This book was awesome.

9. The Cuckoo’s Calling, by J.K. Rowling

You guys know that I loved this. I already told you. Sometimes I go crazy over a book right after I read it and then later feel like maybe I over reacted. I still feel totally positive about my five stars on this one. Loved it.

10. Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen

This is the first book I reviewed for We Still Read. Then I said that it was haunting. Three months later, still haunted. This is probably the book that I read this year that I’ve thought the most about since. A beautifully written book that just got my right in the heart.


So there ya go! My top ten non-biographies/memoirs. Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Best Of! Jennie’s Top Ten of 2013

I’ve read 90 books this year, and hope to squeeze in a few more since they’re due back to the library before January. Of those, I gave 31 5 stars on Goodreads. I either had a really good reading year, or I’m an easy 5 star reviewer. I’m not sure which.

A few of these I mentioned in my Top Ten Young Adult list last week, but there are some new books, too! In no particular order, here are my Top Ten Reads of 2013!

1. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen – This was the only Sarah Dessen book I hadn’t read, so when I found myself in labor with my second baby without a book in hand, I pulled this one up on my Nook app on my iPhone. Whoa. This is not near as light and fun as her other books. This is an issue book, and probably not the best book to be reading while in labor and in the days after having a baby with all those insane hormones. BUT, it is an amazingly well told and heart wrenching story that needs to be read!


2. Born Wicked & Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood – I posted this in my top YA, but I had to include it here too. I blame my mom for my love with paranormal/fantasyish type stories.




3. The Founding Gardeners: How the Revolutionary Generation Created an American Eden – I reviewed this one here on WSR, so you’ve seen me gush already, but this book was the perfect mash up of my new gardening/homesteading daydreams and my existing obsession with history and the US presidents.




4. Code Name Verity – This would’ve made it to my Top Ten YA, but I finished it after my post had gone live. This BOOK! I have a weird interest in Hitler’s rein and this was a fascinating story in that setting. Plus, it involved airplanes. And as I’ve mentioned, my dad loved to fly as a teen, so this was doubly interesting for me. I’m reading the companion novel now…I foresee another 5 star story!





5. Salting Roses – I found this book at a used library book sale sometime in the past two years, but it sat on my shelf until for some reason I finally picked it up. I love a good stolen/left behind infant story that isn’t doom and gloom. But, this story captured me because of the characters. The Goodreads description is pretty plain, but don’t let that scare you off. Give it a read!





6. Just One Day & Just One Year by Gayle Forman – These books felt like a warm hug, full of love and inspiration. Just perfect. And beautiful.





7. Kowalski Family series – I’m cheating a bit here, but I love this series so much that I don’t care. I’ve asked for the most recent two releases of this series for Christmas. I just fell in love with this family and their fun and craziness. Plus, the romance is perfect and the stories are well-written and suck you in. If you’re a fan of romance novels, or a are a fan of long series’, check these out.



8. Out Of The Easy – I was so immersed in this book I forgot I wasn’t in New Orleans in the 1950s. So, so amazing. Such a rich setting, and a story full of heart and characters that grab your attention and won’t let go.





9. In Honor by Jessi Kirby – Also in my Top Ten YA, I had to include it again because I think war is touching more and more people like it touched Honor these days. This book was amazing, in a dealing with death and the cost of war kind of way. Touched my heart, and left me inspired and hopeful. Plus, road trip books – totally make me happy.



10. The Good Dream – This book was one of those that starts out slow, and then builds until you finish and can’t believe it’s over. I was interested in it the moment I saw the glasses on the cover, and as the story unfolded my love grew. A story of heartache, of 1950s standards, and of a woman with a strong heart. Basically, it’s beautiful and a wonderful historical fiction story.



Best of! Young Adult (part 2)

Friends, 2013 was a great year for reading. My top 10 (okay, 14, but I’m a sucker for book series) are all books I plan to reread – either to recap for a 2014 release in the series or to just revisit plots that promise to reveal so much more now that I know how it eventually unfolds. After going back through my favorite books I read in 2013 (though these weren’t all released in 2013), I am excited to see what 2014 has in store.

The Name of the Star/The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson: True-crime history (Jack the Ripper!) slamming into a contemporary-paranormal-coming-of-age plot created a delicious foundation, and a new cast of Johnson’s always-relatable and always-likable characters made this a page-turner.


The Raven Boys/The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: What is it about Maggie Stiefvater that makes a paranormal/supernatural story so believable and REAL? Raven Boys had me from the start, though I was confused and felt as if I’d started in the middle. Ultimately, Stiefvater unraveled the story perfectly, and I was sufficiently creeped out and anxious for more.


Just One Day/Just One Year by Gayle Forman: Just One Day made me swoon in ways that only a book that spends so much time in Lover’s Paris can. This is far more than a coming of age or romance, it’s adventure, humor, suspense – it has all the delicious ingredients to keep me hungry for more then YANK! The end. Thankfully Gayle Forman follows up with Just One Year, which is All Willem, All The Time.


Code Name Verity/Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: These two companion novels set in Western Europe during World War II are a must read for teens and adults. Raw, fierce, intelligent and heartbreaking, Verity and Rose rocked my world.



The Diviners by Libba Bray: Libba Bray brings us a swanky, scary world in The Diviners. The characters are timely and relatable with today without being contrived or far from their own time.




The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: The 5th Wave is fantastic. It’s scary; it’s sometimes funny; it is sweet in places; and the ACTION! It’s full of page-turning fight scenes that really get your brain dirty as the characters battle against the odds & their enemies.



The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay: I’m not sure if this is classified as Young Adult or New Adult, but either way, this book is beautiful. It’s emotionally exhausting in a way that breaks you down and builds you up then breaks you again.




Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: I loved this book! The 80s, the misfit teens, the real-teen language, the SWOONING of first love – it was such a great book. The life that Eleanor survives is heartbreaking, and the way that Park loves her is heart-melting. This is so much more than your average YA love story.



Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: Another World War II story, this time following a family condemned to a labor camp in Siberia. Hauntingly fantastic.




On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Melina Marchetta spun me around so forcefully that I was convinced the ground was actually the sky … and it was awesome.



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