January 2015 archive

Imagination, adventure, magic & friends


Goodreads isn’t just good for your own personal book records and recommendations, but it’s also one of my favorite ways to find new books to read with ETC. It’s hard for me to browse in the library with kids in tow, and with our library having so many branches, it’s easiest to find and request books before I ever step foot in the door.

Beekle is a great book about imaginary friends, which I never had as a kid, but I’ve always found the idea charming. I may have gotten this with the hopes that we’d find an imaginary friend lurking about our lives. It hasn’t happened. Yet.

Sam & Dave not only go on a great adventure that’s great for getting kids to think and imagine while inspires getting their hands dirty, but the illustrations are hilarious with suspension. You can see what they’re digging near/around, and ETC were eager for them to finally find the diamonds buried deep in the ground.

Foxy in Love was a book I cold-grabbed off the Valentine’s Day shelf, and I’m so glad I did! It’s a cute discussion about what things we love, but Foxy and Emily are an adorable duo also that have another book about them. I’m currently on the hold list for the other book.

Little Elliot is an ADORABLE little elephant who really illustrates what it’s like to be a little guy in a big world. The lesson at the end is sweet, and the illustrations in the book are so fun to look through.

Dojo Daycare feeds Toby’s “minja” fascination. The book’s rhyming and recurring “Kaboom! Kapow!” exclamations are really fun to read through with kids, and the ninja focus on rules and respect is just awesome for wild, rule-testing 4-year-olds.


Andrea’s January Wrap-Up

A few weeks ago I posted that I was going to unofficially join the Bringing Up Burns 2015 Reading Challenge– this should meet half of my goal of 52 books this year. So where do I stand at the end of January? Let’s see!


Number of books read: 4 (with 2 in progress) so I AM ON TRACK! At the time of this writing, Goodreads actually has me two books ahead of schedule for the challenge but…I’m pretty sure that is because I finished and marked a book as read in 2015 that was over 50% read in 2014. Since I personally don’t count that in my 2015 stats… I will just say I’m on track.

Number of pages read: 852 (two books) The Moment by Douglas Kennedy and Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin

Number of audio hours: 27.35 (two books) The Waste Lands by Stephen King and Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons

(I also have a book in progress (The Rising Tide by Jeff Shaara) that I started on audio but then my hold on the SK came in and I lost my place and now I plan to finish it in hardback)

26 Book Reading Challenge Stats: I’m rather hesitant about assigning certain categories in case I read a book later on that better fits, but so far I’m assigning The Moment by Douglas Kennedy as “book by an author you love” and Wrapped In Rain by Charles Martin as “book from the bottom of the TBR” because well… when my TBR was horizontally stacked it was literally the bottom book on the last stack. So for January I can happily say I’ve read 2 of the 26 challenge books!

General Goals: As I mentioned in my general list of 2015 goals, I would like to

  • read more non-fiction- I am actually doing this with my yoga books, but didn’t want to clutter up the side bar with 15billion “Currently Reading” titles. These are not books you read in one sitting, and I am continuously moving back and forth between about three of them.
  • Read the books on my recently acquired shelf – both of the hard copy books I read this month came from this shelf!
  • Read more “real” books- so far I’m 50/50 on the audio vs real books…. so I’m getting there!
  • Finish the Dark Tower series- I listened to The Waste Lands and I’m (im) patiently waiting on Wizard & Glass to become available from the library. I do own the entire hard copy series, but I absolutely love the narrator of the audiobooks.
  • Read the entire Chronicles of Narnia with Megan- her birthday was last week, so she just received her set then. We have already started on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (coincidentally, this will serve for prompt number 12 in the 26  book challenge!)


So… those are my stats for January. I’m hoping I can continue at this pace for my overall 52 book goal and specifically my 26 book challenge!

How was your January? Any titles to recommend?

Review: We Have Always Lived at the Castle

From Goodreads:  Visitors call seldom at Blackwood House. Taking tea at the scene of a multiple poisoning, with a suspected murderess as one’s host, is a perilous business. For a start, the talk tends to turn to arsenic. “It happened in this very room, and we still have our dinner in here every night,” explains Uncle Julian, continually rehearsing the details of the fatal family meal. “My sister made these this morning,” says Merricat, politely proffering a plate of rum cakes, fresh from the poisoner’s kitchen. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson’s 1962 novel, is full of a macabre and sinister humor, and Merricat herself, its amiable narrator, is one of the great unhinged heroines of literature.

Erin’s Thoughts:  Each year, I generally set myself a goal to read five classics.  The past two years I’ve failed miserably, so I decided to be more focused this year and read five works from someone I’ve always wanted to read more of but never got around to.  Enter Shirley Jackson.  I enjoyed both reading and being disturbed by “The Lottery” in college, but I never pursued reading more of her works until now.  If the rest of her works live up to We Have Always Lived at the Castle, I have an exciting year of reading ahead of me.

Mysterious deaths, a creepy house, and an off-kilter narrator are just a few of the elements that weave this creepy tale together so deliciously.  Merricat, our narrator is amicable and disturbing all at the same time.  I spent the entire book both wanting to be her friend and being fairly wary of her. Merricat lives with her sister and Uncle in their isolated home.  A family poisoning a while back has left the Blackwoods far less than beloved.  Merricat keeps the judgmental townspeople away with her neurotic rules and makeshift magic — buried stones, books nailed to trees — until a cousin with his eye on the family fortune shows up.  I won’t reveal what happens next, but I will promise that it’s good. Merricat is definitely high up on my list of favorite heroines!

Review: Truman

Truman by David McCullough

From Goodreads: The life of Harry S. Truman is one of the greatest of American stories, filled with vivid characters — Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Wallace Truman, George Marshall, Joe McCarthy, and Dean Acheson — and dramatic events. In this riveting biography, acclaimed historian David McCullough not only captures the man — a more complex, informed, and determined man than ever before imagined — but also the turbulent times in which he rose, boldly, to meet unprecedented challenges. The last president to serve as a living link between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Truman’s story spans the raw world of the Missouri frontier, World War I, the powerful Pendergast machine of Kansas City, the legendary Whistle-Stop Campaign of 1948, and the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, confront Stalin at Potsdam, send troops to Korea, and fire General MacArthur. Drawing on newly discovered archival material and extensive interviews with Truman’s own family, friends, and Washington colleagues, McCullough tells the deeply moving story of the seemingly ordinary “man from Missouri” who was perhaps the most courageous president in our history.

Jennie’s Thoughts: NINE HUNDRED NINETY TWO pages of pure AWESOMENESS. (Yes, even after reading that many pages of eloquent and informational prose, I still use the word awesomeness.) This might be my favorite biography outside of John Adams (also written by McCullough)…on second thought, I think it’s a tie between them.

I was born, raised, and still live in/near Kansas City, so reading this was fascinating on two fronts. The expected presidential front and the learning about my city’s past and growth. McCullough writes non-fiction stories like they are fiction, taking the reader on a trip through the past with interesting tidbits and factual information woven together. I will read anything he writes. I have many of his other books on my shelves waiting to be read. His grocery list, sign me up.

Truman himself was a fascinating character, and yes I’m probably totally biased when I say that. (What can I say, it’s the Missouri girl in me.) I loved reading about his time growing up in Missouri and his relationship with his wife. But also, coming off the huge FDR biography I finished last month, reading about the days in which Truman took over in such chaos was literally heart pounding reading. Not to mention the war times Truman say, as a soldier and a President. I mean, talks with Churchill and Stalin?! Korean skirmishes? The atomic bomb?

I’ve been to Truman’s Presidential library as an adult, but didn’t get to see most of it because I was there to hear Clinton and Carter speak about volunteerism (of which, made me almost sign up for Greenpeace, but that’s a whole other story). It’s on my short bucket list to have one of our next dates (romantic, isn’t it?!) to be visiting it properly.

In short, read this book. Yes it’s gigantic but it ABSOLUTELY worth the time. Just get the e-book maybe, the hardback almost broke my wrists.

Review: It Starts With Food

It Starts With Food, by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig

From Goodreads:
It Starts With Food outlines a clear, balanced, sustainable plan to change the way you eat forever—and transform your life in unexpected ways. Your success story begins with “The Whole30,” Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s powerful 30-day nutritional reset.

Over the last three years, their underground Whole30 program has quietly led tens of thousands of people to weight loss, improved quality of life and a healthier relationship with food—accompanied by stunning improvements in sleep, energy levels, mood and self-esteem. More significantly, devotees of their program have reported the “magical” elimination of hundreds of lifestyle-related diseases and conditions.

Now, Dallas and Melissa detail the theories behind the Whole30, summarizing the science in a simple, accessible manner. It Starts With Food will show you how certain foods may be having negative effects on how you look, feel and live—in ways that you’d never associate with your diet. More importantly, they outline their life-long strategy for Eating Good Food in one clear and detailed action plan designed to help you create a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, calm systemic inflammation and put an end to unhealthy cravings, habits, and relationships with food.

Infused with their signature wit, tough love and common sense approach,It Starts With Food is based on the latest scientific research and real-life experience, and includes success stories, a shopping guide, a meal planning template, a 30-day meal plan with creative, delicious recipes, and much more.

Jenny’s thoughts:
I’ve slowly been learning more and more about nutrition since first learning about the negative affects carbohydrates have on a body like mine (PCOS and insulin resistance). I started taking metformin again (I had quit for pregnancy and breastfeeding), and with diet and exercise, I was able to drop 20 lb. until last year, when I hung out in limbo for various reasons.

I watched a friend go through her first Whole 30 challenge and was really inspired by the changes in how she felt, so on the day after Thanksgiving, I quit all the banned foods and ingredients cold turkey.

I did it without reading the book. I simply used the free resources on Whole30.com. I had a vague understanding of what symptoms I could see disappear and why, but what I was really most interested in was results.

I got them. All those negative symptoms are gone, I lost 12 lb., and 17 INCHES are gone from my body.

I decided to keep going until I got around to figuring out what I care enough to reintroduce in my diet, and, in the meantime, actually read the Whole 30 book, It Starts With Food.

After all my positive reactions to the actual challenge, you’d think I loved the book. I didn’t. I’m pretty vanilla on the book, actually, though I don’ t think it’s a waste of good resources or time.

What I didn’t like:

  • The writing style was patronizing. I get that they go for the tough love approach, but there’s a line between tough love and acting like your audience is full of idiots. They cross it.
  • The Whole 30 plan itself is privileged, and adding more text behind it makes the tone even more privileged. Yes, grass-fed, free-range, organic meats (and organic fruits/veggies) are best, but the focus on You Really, REALLY Should Get These Meats is pretty off-putting. They push 100 compliance, so I can see folks who can’t follow their recommendations to a T feeling overwhelmed, bad about about their limitations and wondering what they’re missing out on by not affording the best of the best of the best.
  • Along with above, they spend a lot of time bashing how bad the No-Foods are for you, then they tell you how to bring them all back, saying to just do another Whole 30 if/when you start feeling bad again. Why generalize and say the foods are bad for all when it’s just as easy to say, “These foods aren’t great for everyone. Doing an elimination challenge and slowly reintroducing will teach you what you should eliminate for good or at least how much time you need to put in between indulgences to truly live with all foods in moderation.” Or something like that.

Really, this book and the plan are good for anyone struggling with feeling like crap. It’s important to look at the basic fundamentals of our lives, and food/drink is just about as basic as you can get. Our society has turned eating into a brainless reflex, driven by cravings and not-so-subliminal messages (I can’t drive past a McD’s without thinking, “FRIESSSSS!”). If you want to think more about food and the science (I didn’t dive deep into their studies, though I’ve seen some people say their findings are shallow in scientific fact).

Oh, and p.s. Whole 30 fanatics, stop with the coconut obsession. The world should not be coconut-flavored. Ever. And, yes. I can totally taste it. Gross.

Raising Readers: The Ask Me Series and other kid stuff!

In honor of my darling girl’s FIFTH birthday today, I decided to share a few of Megan’s new favorite books. She’s been reading for about 6 months now, and she’s really devouring everything she can get her hands on. Her aunt found a (sadly, seemingly untouched) series at a kids’ stuff sale and snagged it for Christmas: The Ask Me series. It’s a collection of 12  books, covering topics from science to ancient history.Here’s the best pic of 10 of the titles I could find on the internet:


Sooo. I was so excited to tell you all about them, but a quick Google search reveals that these books are extremely hard to find. They are like the unicorns of awesome books for kids. They are available from Southwestern Advantage and they are basically kid-friendly encyclopedias. These books are awesome. Most recently, we have read the one titled “Do I have bendy bones?” because Megan is fairly obsessed with anything anatomy after getting this book:

(Side note- this book is extra awesome because each part of the body (beginning with a clear shell for the skin) lifts up to reveal the next one. Even I learned some things from this one)

I’m very excited that she is showing such an interest in science, (I wasn’t keen on it in school, but hey- maybe she’ll grow up to be a doctor!) I also like how the Ask Me book addressed the whole how-babies-grow-in-utero deal without getting into the actual conception of the cells. I’m really excited to keep reading this series with her- I have a feeling the space book is up next!

What books have your kids discovered lately? Any good recs for a curious kid?



Non-Fiction Binge!

So I posted a couple of weeks ago about how I was going to try again for 40-50% of my total books read this year to be non-fiction, and friends, I came out swinging. Since the beginning of year, I’ve read FOUR non-fiction books and am almost through a fifth. Boom! I thought I’d tell you a little bit about each of them because they have all been highly recommendable.

Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth

This is a memoir written by a woman who was a midwife in England in the 1950’s. FASCINATING. She didn’t… ahem… shy away from graphic birth stories but I think most of us have SEEN SOME STUFF if you know what I mean, and I could not look away. Apparently there are a couple more in this series and ALSO apparently this is a show on tv? I haven’t read any of the later ones or seen the show, so I can’t tell you anything about that, but I can tell you that this will keep you reading and also make you very, very happy that you are giving birth now and not then. Eek.

The Hard Way on Purpose, by David Giffels

So you know how sometimes you read a book and get really preachy about it and make everyone around you read it? This is that for me. I had barely finished it when I thrust into my mom’s hands and she even passed it on to my step dad although he’s not at all a reader because IT’S THAT GOOD. I reviewed his first book last month and got all gushy about Akron and this is nine thousand times more Akron-y, but even outside of being a local, the history of the rise and fall of industry in this part of America is something that should be studied and read and learned from. Not all of the essays were great (I kind of got tired of hearing about his favorite bands) but as a whole this is a solid collection that I highly, highly recommend.

The Most Dangerous Animal of All, by Gary L. Stewart

Soooo, what would you do if you went hunting for your biological father and found out that he was quite possibly the most notorious and searched for serial killer ever? Why, write a tell-all memoir, of course! I’m sure if you’ve read my reviews for any amount of time, you’ll know that I’m pretty morbid overall, but I’ve always been amazed by this case- mostly that this dude seems like he so much wanted to be caught and the police just couldn’t get it together. No one was every arrested for the Zodiac murders- that’s insane right? Well, this guy went digging and builds a pretty strong case that it was his very own father. Even if he is wrong (who knows?), this is a pretty interesting look at the case.

Such Good Girls, by R.D. Rosen

Books about the holocaust are about a dime a dozen right now (wouldn’t it be awesome to get a dozen books for a dollar?) but this one stood out to me because, short of Anne Frank, I feel like the “hidden children” of the holocaust really aren’t talked about too often. This book was a look at young kids who were either physically hidden or hid in plain sight by getting new documents during the holocaust and how that effected their later years. One girl was particularly fascinating to me because she was at an age when her mother got papers and taught her her new name that she literally forgot her true identity. Her mom taught her all the catholic prayers and customs and she started going to a Catholic school and to her mom’s horror, she became pretty anti-Semitic. When her mom gently broke her original name and identity to her, she had a really, really hard time adjusting. In more recent years, a lot of these Hidden Children have started meeting together and talking about their stories in an attempt to come out of hiding. Truly a unique read.


And there it is! I’m on a roll. Looking at these all together makes me laugh- I’m nothing if not all over the place. Have you read any good non-fiction lately? I need more recs!

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