Thursday, December 12, 2019

Quick Lit - December

 Happy mid-December!  I hope your "left to shop for list" is rather small and you are getting to spend plenty of cozy time on the couch with a book.  I am not done shopping (but close) but still have been knocking through some books.  Gotta hit those numbers I want by the end of the month! (Yes, I know it's a little bit crazy but I think I am doing ok.) 

As always, you can find me on Goodreads and Instagram.  Although I've been spending less time on the latter just because...December. 

Other book posts this month:

And everything else I've been reading!

Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler
When I think of this book, the first thing that comes to mind is the smell.  My library copy smelled HORRIBLY of cigarette smoke, so bad that I wouldn't read it in bed because I did not want it stinking up our bedroom (it left no lingering smells in our house, thank goodness).  I check out a lot of library books and this is the first time I've ever had a problem with the smell of one.  I really do think I would have liked it more if it hadn't smelled so bad and given me headaches from that.  The plot points are all a little hazy at this point but it felt like a combination of The Age of Miracles and Good Morning, Midnight.  Although I definitely liked The Age of Miracles the best of all 3.  3 Stars

The Road to Paradise by Karen Barnett
This is historical fiction set in Mount Rainer National Park almost 100 years ago.  Margie is a young naturalist whose father (secretly) made a large donation to the park to get her an unpaid job there.  Really, society says she should be going to fancy parties and finding a husband but she is very interested in nature and wants to make her own way.  The park is in it's early days but still a big tourist attraction and she ends up finding a place for herself there as well as, maybe, a handsome guy.  I really did enjoy this one, it was charming and I've thought about the characters since.  3.5 Stars

Frankly in Love by David Yoon
I'm a sucker for a good YA book, and often seem to read good ones in November (see: Eleanor & Park and The Sun is Also a Star).  This one follows Frank who is Korean-American and his parents only want him to date girls who are also Korean-American.  So him and his (Korean) friend come up with a plan to act like they are dating each other to keep their parents happy but then secretly date who they really want to.  That was the premise on the book jacket but it ended up being a much smaller part of the book than I expected.  It reminded me of The Sun is Also a Star which feels right because it was written by the author's wife.  I liked it, not as much of the other YA books I've mentioned in this paragraph but I did like it. 3.25 Stars

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
I finally finished my year-long reread of the Anne series!  I had mentioned multiple times in my summaries of the last few books that I didn't like how much Anne was relegated to a side character while most of the books were about their neighbors, her kids, and their friends.  Here, again, Anne is a side character but that is to be expected since it's her daughter Rilla's name in the title.  It's set in the 1910s, as Canada is entering World War I and a couple of Rilla's brothers and neighbors are going off to fight.  It was heartbreaking to read about what the families were going through back home and it was the first time, in my life, I was emotionally moved by an animal.  I could see myself rereading this before Anne books 4-7.  It was nice to end the series with an enjoyable (but sad) book. 3.5 Stars

Murphy's Law by Rhys Bowen
I added this to my list because I saw that it takes places partially on Ellis Island and partially because I liked the cover.  Then the cover that I got from my library was NOT that and made me almost not actually pick up the book.  But I did and it was delightful.  Set in 1901 (first of two books on this list set around then!), around Molly, an Irish immigrant coming to American to escape being prosecuted for killing someone in self-defense.  Through a series of "wrong place, wrong time" she ends up, secretly, helping investigate a murder and going to parts of NYC that she shouldn't be.  I liked Molly as a protagonist even though, I myself, would have stayed far away from many of the places she ended up.  And it's a good thing I liked her because there are a TON more books in this series.  I don't know if I will make it through them all but I have the next on my list for January!  3.75 Stars
We Met in December by Rosie Curtis
My library does not own a paper copy of this so I had to read the whole book on my phone, on an app that seemed to make my battery extra hot.  That didn't make for the most enjoyable reading experience and I think I would have liked this book even more on paper, BUT I still really did like it.  It's similar to One Day in December (which, fittingly, I read last December), in that it is also set in London, following 20-somethings as they navigate life and relationships.  She says in the opening pages in the book that there is just something extra magical about London at Christmas and that must be true given how many books and movies are set then and there.   It was a pretty light read but one I eagerly picked up (again, not at bedtime because I didn't want reading on my phone to mess up my sleeping rhythms so I read this in pick-up line and during Sam's naps).  3.5 Stars
When Less Becomes More: Making Space for Slow, Simple, and Good by Emily Ley
I have read Emily's two previous books (Grace, Not Perfection and A Simplified Life) and even pre-ordered this one!  Reading it right after Thanksgiving, right as the Christmas crazy was ramping up, was perfect timing.  I've read many books about simplifying but this one struck some new notes for me, helping me see more benefits to living a good, not great, life and areas where I could make improvements.  I really enjoyed this one and need to reread it every other year or so.  The reminder to slow down is really relevant.  4 Stars

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
This is historical fiction set in Atlanta at the turn of the 20th Century.  The Downstairs Girl, Jo,  in the title is a Chinese-American teenager who is finding that maybe even harder than being African-American in the South 20 years after the Civil War is being Chinese-American.  She has few rights, most people won't employ her, and there isn't much she can do to improve her position.  I've never read anything set in this time and place and it was so interesting to read about how difficult life was for these people.  I really wanted Jo to succeed and especially liked the "Miss Sweetie" column she started anonymously submitting to a newspaper.  3.5 Stars

El Deafo by Cece Bell
This is an absolutely charming and enlightening middle-grade graphic novel based on the author's experience losing her hearing at a young age and growing up mostly deaf.  She talks/draws about getting hearing aids and having to wear a special hearing aid to school that, inadvertently, had her over hearing everything her teacher did all day - from going to the bathroom to gossiping in the teacher's lounge.  It was a super fast read, as graphic novels usually are, and gave me a little more understanding as to the difficulties there can be with being deaf.  Highly recommend.  4 Stars

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
I've really been going through contemporary romance novel lately (I'm currently reading another).  Which isn't on purpose but it is nice to read a bunch of books with happy ending this time of year!  The premise of this is that a (male) nurse working 3rd shift posts an ad for a roommate, saying they will both live in the flat but their times will never overlap, since he mostly needs a place to sleep during the day while the hopeful roommate is at work.  So a girl coming out a bad relationship and in need of a cheap London apartment takes him up.  They don't meet face to face for a good part of the book and are amazed at how much they know about each other, just seeing things around the flat.  It also covered some harder issues (mistaken incarceration, abusive relationships) that I was not expecting but seemed to be handled well.  Fairly predictable but still fun.  3.5 Stars

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A classic that I partially picked up because I was in that aisle of the library looking for another book, partially because I had never read the actual book, and mostly because it was very thin and I knew I'd need some quick reads to hit my reading goals this year.  I kept picturing a Mickey & Minnie Mouse cartoon version of the story that I saw at some point in my childhood (and now need to check Disney+ for) which, honestly did help since writing styles were different when this was written.  But it was also only 85 pages or so.  It was a delightful read for December and I feel slightly more accomplished now having read this classic.  3.75 Stars 

That's what I've been reading lately.  What have YOU been reading??

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Book Love: The Father Christmas series

Last week I wrote about one of my favorite book series to reread every December and now I have my other favorite book series to share!  I have been reading Robin Jones Gunn for 2/3 of my life and she's had a huge influence on my faith life, especially as a teenager.  Yet, somehow it took me years to get to reading this series, probably because it didn't include my fictional friend, Christy Miller.  Yet, once I started reading them, they became a December staple for me!

These are novellas which means they are pretty short, I can almost read one in a day, depending on what else is going on in my life (Oh, are there things going on in December??).  Yet, even with (relatively) few pages, I still feel like I get a good sense of who the characters are. 

The first two books center around Miranda, who grew up in the States with an stage actress mother and never knew anything about her father, other than a picture of him as a child.  In Finding Father Christmas, with her mother passed on and living a pretty boring and lonely life in California, she decides to figure out who her father is.  She flies to England right before Christmas to visit the town where the photographer took the picture of her father.  What she finds surprises her, surprises her hosts, and throws her into a loving family.

I've never been to England in December but it all sounds so cozy (and, honestly, not THAT much different from Christmas in the Midwest, with the cold and snow and all).  Robin is good at very vivid descriptions and setting a strong sense of place, I really feel like I am there, with these people, experiencing an English Christmas.

The second book, Engaging Father Christmas, picks up Miranda's story a year later, when she is returning for her second English Christmas.  These people were just strangers a year ago but now they are beloved family members and she is quickly folded back into their crew. 

Kissing Father Christmas picks up with a new character, peripherally related to the characters from the first book, but Anna didn't appear in either of these.  I appreciate knowing more about the characters, and spending another Christmas with them, but I never felt as connected to Anna like I did with Miranda.  However, it was nice to revisit again.

There is at least one Hallmark movie based on the series, however I haven't seen it yet.  I did just find out that my library does have the DVD though so maybe I'll get to it soon!

I have a couple non-Christmas books I am finishing up and then I plan to read through these three books in a couple days before starting on Winter Street.  If I can time it just right, I'll finish all this Christmas reading right on Christmas, a feat I've only accomplished once before.  With all the hustle and bustle of December, I really like simplifying my reading a little by spending time with familiar characters, in cozy books I know will give me the perfect feels for Christmas. 

Do you have any December favorites you reread every year?  

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Friday, December 6, 2019

Looking back at November

Sometime in October I went through our annual family photobook and allocated pages for the rest of the year.  To get lay-flat pages I can only have 90 of them and they are very carefully parceled out.  Besides my two usual month-end recap pages that each month gets (one of random pictures of the boys and one of just other life things), I gave 2 pages to Thanksgiving weekend and then left one other page for November.  It didn't seem like many, especially when the summer months each get about a dozen, but, turns out it was.  Nothing much happens in November.  That one other November page went to the snow we got mid-month that gave Luke his first 2 hour delay of the year.

November is an in between month, especially this year with Thanksgiving so late.  Besides parenting and (some) sleeping (will Sam ever grow out of his sleep problems?  5 months in and it's starting to feel like NO), school runs, reading, house cleaning...not a lot happened.  I did get to meet our newest nephew (adorable) and was a confirmation sponsor for a niece (honored), Sam is talking up a storm and Luke is making strides in his reading.  We were home a lot and I Christmas prepped and baked and did some shopping (still plenty left) and kinda just relaxed and took a breath before December crazy-ness kicked in.  Oh and we had an adoption home visit, I keep for getting about that one.

Looking back:
1 year ago: Viva Las Vegas!
2 years ago: {25} Christmas Picture Books (we rereading all of these again this year!)
3 years ago: Flying with a Three Year Old (MUCH easier than flying with an 8 month old!)
4 years ago: Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
5 years ago: Praying for the Next One
6 years ago: Christmas Treats: Reindeer and Turtle Noses
7 years ago: It's Almost the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
8 years ago: Kitchen Project 
9 years ago: Guess What We Did This Weekend? (I may have hated this project even more than the bathroom remodel)
10 years ago: On Vacation!

Here's how November looked to us!

1) Matt & Luke made a No Noggin that they were VERY proud of.  I assume most parents of kids under 10 know what I am referring to.
2) We still had beautiful fall colors at the beginning of the month!
3) Spritz cookie baking day with my Mom, 3 of my sisters, and a combined 9 kids not yet in school!  I think we did about 11 batches!
4) So we need to activate those child locks more...
6) And more snow!
7) And then I had a snowball in my freezer...
8) Beautiful sunrise, back when the sun was rising before we left for school.
9) Getting back into family movie night!  Sam spent the ~15 minutes of the movie he watched yelling "Vader! Vader!" at the tv.
10) Sam got into my Christmas book stash (this is still the week before Thanksgiving)...more than once.
11) Mashing 12 lbs of potatoes.  Maybe not the best thing for my arthritic hands.  But I LOVE mashed potatoes.
12) A brief moment of quiet before the busy of Thanksgiving weekend began!
13) My Thanksgiving Eve tradition for about 10 years now.  I watch The Family Stone and address Christmas cards and I LOVE it.
14) Place settings on Thanksgiving.  What this doesn't show is the ~2 hours I put into figuring out a seating chart for our 13 adults and 16 kids (all under 10).
15) On Black Friday I get a solo Target shopping trip and I LOVE it.  Thanksgiving weekend has a lot of things I love.
16) Starting the decorating process.  It is a process.  But I also LOVE that.

Books finished: 13, just 17 more I want to read by the end of the year, it's fine.  It's not like we have anything else going on or anything.
Miles ran: 0.00, usually I run at least a couple in November but with lingering foot problem and already having taken a month off...I'll be back to it in the spring!
Currently watching: Two of our usual shows are on a break until the new year (The Good Place for us both and Grey's Anatomy for me), we're one episode into The Mandalorian and a couple episodes into The 2000s on Netflix.  We do intend to start season 2 of Jack Ryan soon-ish too, but really haven't had much time for tv lately!

Most read post this month: Quick Lit - November and then A Day in the Life #11
Luke's current favorite song: I played Jingle Bell Rock on my phone when we were driving to get a Christmas tree and Luke was reminded of how much he loves it.  I will probably come to regret that by the end of the month.

Happy December!  How is there just one month left in this decade???

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Book Love: The Winter Street series

There are two times a year where I consistently reread past favorites.  One is around my birthday (I do NOT want to waste good birthday reading time on a potentially bad book) and the other is December.  I made my book plan yesterday for December and 80% of it is rereads and it has been that way for a few years.  And I LOVE it. 

I don't know what your December is like, but, despite all of our best intentions, December always ends up crazier than I expect.  I always try to get a jump start on my baking and shopping but neither of those are completely done yet.  I did rearrange a few things in my schedule but then I also got a new computer a couple weeks ago that we are still getting 100% right (up and downsides to having a husband who likes to tinker with computers).  We just upgraded both of our cell phones which takes a little time to get right.  AND we have adoption paperwork and a profile book we really need to get done.  And I have an almost 2 year old (WHAT??) who is constantly trying to rearrange the tree and just get into everything.  I need easy comfort reads in December, especially this December.

I have enjoyed almost everything Elin Hilderbrand has written but this series, the Winter Street series, is among my absolute favorite.  (Also on the short list is this book and this one.)  The first book, titled Winter Street came out in 2014 and I read it immediately.  Then have reread it every year since.  The following books came out in 2015, 2016, and 2017 and were added to my annual reread as soon as they came out.  This year will be my 6th reread of Winter Street and I am SO looking forward to it.

Winter Street follows members of the Quinn family who own an inn on Nantucket, on, appropriately, Winter Street.  (In case you were wondering, and I finally was enough after 6 years, there really is a Winter Street on Nantucket.  It looks to be about a block long with ~6 houses.  Sadly, no Google street view for it.)   Their patriarch Kelley, runs the inn with his second wife Mitzi (who is a little ditzy).  Kelley has three kids from his first marriage, Patrick, Kevin, and Ava; and one from his second, Bart.  His first wife is a Katie Couric type, Margaret Quinn, who does the CBS evening news and lives in New York City.  Patrick lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and their three boys.  Kevin and Ava both live on Nantucket and have jobs outside of helping at the Inn.

All these family members are going through their own dramas and issues.  In typical Elin Hilderbrand fashion, the books all bounce back and forth between their different points of views.  On the first read it was a lot of characters to keep track of.  By the 5th rereading of a 4 book series, well I wrote that whole summary without looking up a single name.  I feel like I know these people. 

Patrick does some sort of stocks/bonds/financing (to be clear, I don't understand this job in real life) and is under a lot of pressure at work to put up big numbers.  I have adopted his wife's Christmas tree decorating philosophy as my own (although with a fraction of the budget).   His wife, Jennifer becomes a more central character in the later books when Patrick is other wise, indisposed.

Kevin is a bartender on Nantucket and having a secret relationship with the Inn's French housekeeper, Isabelle.  Dating someone who works at a bar and lives with his parents in his late 20s isn't the most enticing option and he wants to make something more of himself, especially compared to his older brother.

Ava is a elementary school music teacher on Nantucket with two possible suitors in the first book and then a 3rd is added later on.  Being the main younger woman character, I've always felt a special kinship with her, even though our lives are pretty opposite.

And Bart is a Marine who has just been deployed right before the series starts.  The family spend the whole first book waiting to get word that he is safe in Afghanistan.  Being the youngest, and the only one from the second marriage, he has gotten a much easier deal than the "olders", at least until he joined the Marines and was sent to Afghanistan.

There is just something so cozy about reading about the Quinns again every Christmas season.  The books are on the shorter side, I don't think any are over 300 pages, which makes it easy to cruise right through them when I have dozens of other things on my to-do list.  I love reading about Nantucket, about a close family, about how they all stick together when things don't go the way they plan.

This was originally planned as a trilogy and I do find the 4th to be the weakest of the set but I also wasn't complaining about spending one more Christmas with the Quinns.  She also self-references one of her own books (that I also enjoyed) within either the 3rd or 4th that I still find off-putting, even when I know it is coming.  These characters aren't always making the best decisions and can find themselves in various troubles - legal and otherwise - but they always come back together in the end.  I get the feeling that there is a lot of love within this family and I really enjoy the time I spend with the Quinns every December.  I don't see an end to my annual rereading anytime soon.

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Things I Like - November

My monthly round-up of 5 things I'm liking, with a few affiliate links sprinkled in.  Thanks for helping support the blog! =)  See more here!
Happy Black Friday!  Are you shopping today?  I am.  Mainly to get this deal to use later but also for the joy of browsing Target alone.  And I can almost guarantee we will be placing some online orders today too.  November and December is when I can look at our Amazon account and be unnecessarily proud that we have gone TWO WHOLE WEEKS without placing an order.  That feels like an accomplishment this time of the year.

1) Target Yoga Pants
I know people are all about leggings (which I also own but mainly for sleeping/layering) but I still love a good yoga pants, over my leggings.  I am on my third pair in the last 10 years and I cannot give them up.  I bought these in the spring as a replacement for my last pair that had too many holes to be worn decently without leggings underneath and then promptly forgot all about them until about a month ago and was delighted to pull them out. The don't have a fold over waistband which I like because there is less fabric to deal with with these.  I find them to be perfectly fitting and super comfortable.  I am very appreciative to my past self for buying these in May so I'd have them in the fall!

2) Instant Family
We have a massive group text with a large part of Matt's family (I just checked - literally 38 people on it) and a couple of my sister-in-laws were talking about this movie.  It was on the shelf at the library and I checked it out a couple days later.  We both really enjoyed it.  It's about a married couple who don't have kids and then decide to go through the foster care system and get a sibling set of 3 and instantly become a family.  We laughed and I cried by the end.  We haven't fostered but there are still parts we could relate to as adoptive parents and I think most people would find it hilarious and heart-warming.  We really enjoyed it.

3) Cantu Coconut Curling Cream
I've been on a journey with my hair this year, changing every single product I use on it and mostly being happy with it (except the wet hair for drop-off part).  I can even get two days out of one washing which I couldn't before when my hair was curly!  I've been using this curling cream after a leave-in conditioner in the mornings and I really like it.  It holds my waves well, it smells good, and I like that it's in a tub so I know I'll be able to get every little bit out (although the tub is huge and that's going to take me months).  Usually by this point in the year I've switched to drying and straightening my hair about twice a week but this year I'm still going wavy which feels like an accomplishment! 

4) White Cheddar Cheetos
We are pretty hardcore Aldi devotees.  We buy their store brand of almost everything we can and I'll pickup a few items at Target and Kroger that I mostly can't get at Aldi.  But there are a few things where we will agree that the name brand is better.  One is Oreos (our neighbor gave us a package and we quickly agreed they beat store brands) and the other is Cheetos.  Last Saturday morning Matt and Luke were off getting my tire fixed and I realized I was out of the molasses I needed to make gingerbread dough (OF COURSE I didn't finish going through the ingredients and also notice that I was out of ground ginger which is pretty important when it's in the name).  Matt agreed to do a Target drive-up order for my molasses and I threw these in the order to help make-up for them needing to stop for an ingredient for cookies they don't really eat.  And then we remembered, again, that actual Cheetos are better and these, in my opinion, are the best variety.  We buy them maybe twice a year but they are really good.  Bonus, these don't leave orange residue all over your fingers.

5) Vintage (looking) Ceramic Christmas Trees
My Mom painted one of these and it sat in my parent's entryway, every Christmas season, my entire childhood (that I remember...maybe it didn't make an appearance a few years when there were toddlers in the house but maybe my Mom also trusted us more than I trust my boys?).  I've seen them popping up more lately and now I am sale stalking one at Target.  I do not need any more Christmas decorations and I do try to simplify BUT...there is a nostalgia factor here that reminds me of the cozy Christmases of my childhood.  Bonus, this one runs off batteries so I can put it on a shelf up high where my boys can't reach it and it's only danger is the balls that occasionally fly in the house despite the rule of "no throwing balls in the house".  I'll probably buy one with a 20% shopping trip if they aren't sold out by then!

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