Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday Five

By now my weather commentary each Friday is probably getting old. In Iowa, weather seems to be a fairly popular topic. As a farm girl, I was used to paying attention to the weather forecast each day. As an adult I'm still checking the forecast daily - especially since we seem to be in the midst of a never-ending winter.

However, I am finding some new spring things to get excited about. I've been really good about not spending money on clothes so far in 2019, but I'm not guaranteeing that will last forever.

1.  Gianni Bini Cow Print Pumps - these are far out of what I would wear on a day to day basis, but I still think they are fantastic.  I believe Meghan Markle has a similar pair but she has many more places where she could wear these.  I've decided cow print is something I love just as much as fur and camo.  

2.  Belmont Mockneck Sweater in Coziest Yarn - I love the horizontal stitch and the color of this sweater. There are more color options available, but this is the color that's caught my eye.

Belmont Mockneck Sweater in Coziest Yarn in heather carmine image 1

3. SHEIN Marled Knit Stepped Hem Jumper - this sweater is really inexpensive and comes in a variety of colors.  I don't necessarily need another sweater, but I'm finding it hard to resist.

4.  Suede/Turquoise Stone Wrap Bracelets - I wish I were better about wearing jewelry.  I love how it looks on other people, but rarely wear it myself, especially bracelets since they seem to get in the way if I'm typing or writing.  

5.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg Face T- I admit to being totally in love with RBG after having read a biography about her and seeing the movie.  I would pretty much read anything about her and would love a shirt with her face on it. 

6.  Brooklyn Pullover Sweatshirt - I have plenty of sweatshirts, but many of them are things I just throw on after I exercise.  I saw this sweatshirt last week when I was in Des Moines and did some shopping. It's a really nice sweatshirt, one you can feel is good quality.

7.  Women's 2011 Icon Trench in Oversized Gingham - gingham is still big this spring, and I love how this pink and white coat just feels like warmer weather is right around the corner.

8.  Betty and Veronica KickStart Comic Sneakers- I grew up reading Archie comics and I love a good pair of fun sneakers. 

Image result for betty and veronica kickstart comic sneakers

9.  Magnolia Cardigan - I love the color combination of this cardigan.  

10. Family Secrets Podcast with Dani Shapiro - I read Inheritance by Dani Shapiro last week, and now I can't wait to listen to more of this podcast.  

Image result for family secrets podcast

So that's it for me this week. What's caught your eye?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Middle Grade Update

Middle grade novels are the types of books I love to pick up and devour in one sitting. They aren't usually super-long and yet in addition to an interesting storyline, there is often a bigger message that authors are able to convey without it being too wordy or revealing more than a middle grade reader is ready for.  I am always amazed by how talented these writers are.

I've been lucky enough to have time to read a lot of great middle grade novels over the course of several snow days we've had.  Here are five recent favorites:

The Unteachables by Gordon Korman - Korman is fast becoming a go-to author for me. He's been writing for a while and has a lot of books already published, so kids won't quicky run out of things to read if they like his style.  His novels are humorous with a side of serious which is what I love so much about them. The Unteachables are a group of misfits - kids who have a variety of issues that seem to make them unteachable. This year the school has assigned Mr Kermit to be their teacher. He's burned out and just counting the days until he can retire. At one point Mr. Kermit had been an outstanding young teacher, but a cheating scandal ruined his career, and ever since then he's never been the same.  Until this year. There are plenty of hijinks with this group of kids, and somehow they do what no other class has been able to do: break through Mr. Kermit's decades long funk and get him to care about them and their learning.  This is such a fun novel, yet one that has a good message for kids - and teachers.

Nikki on the Line by Barbara Carol Roberts - I played (if you could call it that) basketball in junior high and was terrible. However, I love a good basketball story.  Nikki is passionate about basketball. When she makes a competitive team along with her best friend she's relieved and excited. The team costs a lot of money though, so Nikki has to watch her younger brother after school instead of him going to daycare. That means she can't hang out with her best friend as much. When one of the new teammates seems to be moving in on Nikki's best friend, Nikki feels even more left out.  Plus she's finding it difficult to find her place on the team and her self confidence takes a hit when she overhears what a teammate's dad has to say about her.  The one bright spot in Nikki's life is the new boy in school who turns out to be a pretty good friend.  This book is perfect for middle grade readers. 

The Line Tender by Kate Allen - Lucy and her dad have gotten along fairly well since the death of Lucy's mom, a marine biologist.  Lucy is interested in animals as well, and when a Great White shows up on the shore of her small town, Lucy and her best friend, Fred, want to see it for themselves. They are spending their summer on an extra-credit school project, creating a book of animal diagrams and drawings and a Great White would be a fantastic addition.  And then, tragedy strikes again.  Lucy's summer - and life- are forever changed and she must figure out how to go on.  This is a bit of a heartbreaker, but I loved this book and the hope that it shares.

To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer - I love an epistolary novel! This entire story is told in emails between two girls, Avery and Bett, who begin corresponding when they find out that their dads are dating.  The girls aren't into this idea at all - and definitely don't want to be friends with each other- but they begin to plot at how to break their dads up. And then they spend a summer together at camp, at first avoiding each other, and eventually becoming inseparable. However, while they were at camp becoming friends, their dads were traveling in China, deciding they didn't really want to date anymore.  Now their emails aren't about how to separate their dads. Avery and Bett begin plotting how to get their dads back together.  This novel is such fun with some twists and turns and a happy (but surprising) ending.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D Schmidt- Carter Jones family is struggling a little bit. Carter's dad has been deployed and no return date is in the near future. When an English butler shows up at their house, a result of something his grandfather provided for them in his will, his help is very much needed.  Mr. Parker-Bowles' lessons in cricket (a new and unfamiliar sport to Carter), as well as the guidance he provides Carter as he navigates his dad's absence and the grief he is still experiencing over the death of his brother are invaluable.  There are hints of The Wednesday Wars in this novel; this is a book that will make you laugh and cry. Schmidt knows how to tell a good story, and Pay Attention, Carter Jones is one that readers will thoroughly enjoy.

So, readers who enjoy middle grade fiction, these books are the ones you won't want to miss.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: Wunderland

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature where I highlight a soon to be released title I can't wait to read. 

This week's pick:  Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Due out: April 23, 2019

Synopsis taken from Amazon:

An intimate portrait of a friendship severed by history, and a sweeping saga of wartime, motherhood, and legacy by an award-winning novelist
East Village, 1989
Things had never been easy between Ava Fisher and her estranged mother Ilse. Too many questions hovered between them: Who was Ava's father? Where had Ilse been during the war? Why had she left her only child in a German orphanage during the war’s final months? But now Ilse’s ashes have arrived from Germany, and with them, a trove of unsent letters addressed to someone else unknown to Ava: Renate Bauer, a childhood friend. As her mother’s letters unfurl a dark past, Ava spirals deep into the shocking history of a woman she never truly knew. 

Berlin, 1933

As the Nazi party tightens its grip on the city, Ilse and Renate find their friendship under siege—and Ilse’s increasing involvement in the Hitler Youth movement leaves them on opposing sides of the gathering storm. Then the Nuremburg Laws force Renate to confront a long-buried past, and a catastrophic betrayal is set in motion…

An unflinching exploration of Nazi Germany and its legacy, Wunderland is a at once a powerful portrait of an unspeakable crime history and a page-turning contemplation of womanhood, wartime, and just how far we might go in order to belong.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday Mini-Reviews: Two Fantastic Fiction Reads

It's always fun to look through my TBR stacks and see what treasures are awaiting me that I've forgotten about.  Both of these novels have been sitting around for a while, and I was happy I finally found the time to get to them. I loved them both!

The Only Woman In The Room by Marie Benedict - Benedict wrote The Other Einstein which focused on Albert Einstein's wife, a brilliant scientist who did not receive the accolades she deserved because Albert took all the credit. I loved that book, and was excited to read Benedict's latest, which is the story of Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. Hedy grew up in Austria as Hedy Kiesler, a Jew.  Her acting gained the attention of a powerful and wealthy munitions dealer with ties to Mussolini and Hitler. After her marriage to this man, she begins to listen to his business conversations and plotting to escape to the United States.  Lamarr arrives in Hollywood just as World War II was starting, reinventing herself and beginning her career in the US, while still trying to help Austria and the Allies defeat Hitler. I found this entire story to be fascinating. Her marriage and eventual escape from her husband were suspenseful - and nearly unbelievable.  Fictionalized biographies are one of my favorite types of books to read, and this one was fantastic.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin - Fiona Skinner is a famous poet, interviewed in the year 2079 about her poem The Love Poem.  Skinner tells the story of her family's past.  The story begins when her father died suddenly in his thirties. The four children in the family (Fiona is the youngest) are deeply affected by this, but their mother seems unable to go on.  This begins the time in their lives they refer to as The Pause.  With little adult supervision, the siblings are bonded together.  As life eventually returns to normal, they all grow up and make lives for themselves, yet each is still affected in some way by the events of their childhood. This is a family saga that spans decades (I love this type of story).  There are ups and downs throughout the years, but their connection to each other remains.  When I first cracked this book open and saw it was set in 2079, I very nearly closed it right back up. However, the 2079 setting is really the set-up for the entire novel. It is the place and time where Fiona reads her famous poem and is then interviewed.  At this point Fiona is over one hundred years old, and she is looking back on her life and career.  Almost the entire novel is Fiona's recollection of her life, which I very much enjoyed.

We've got more snow heading our way, which means I might find a little more reading time in my future.  While all these snow days and late starts are fun in the moment, the fact that our school year is continuing to be extended with each day off now is definitely not good news. There is no one (student or teacher) who feels motivated to learn weeks after we were meant to be enjoying summer.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Five

A few years ago when I attended the state wrestling tournament in Des Moines, I walked around without a jacket and wore shoes without socks. I even bought a pair of flip flops to wear because it was so warm. This year my husband and oldest two daughters left in the midst of a blizzard for a long and treacherous trip to Des Moines.  They arrived safely on Monday night and won't come back until Sunday (when snow is also in the forecast).  

Despite the very wintery weather, I am starting to find spring things online that I would love to buy.  

1.  Resisterhood Distressed Trucker's Hat - I love how hats look on other people, and am totally loving the plaid of this one.  I always feel like I look ridiculous in hats, but if I could carry them off, this is one I'd buy.

2.  Organic-Cotton Cowl-Neck Sweater - casual, comfortable, a little bit of warmth for some cold spring days. I like the color which seems a little more like spring than winter.

3.  Sofft Sommers III Slip-on Sneakers -this style of sneaker is all over right now. I still have co-workers who wear them daily - without socks!! and we have tons of snow on the ground!! - I need warmer weather to wear this shoe because I absolutely have to dress warmly in the winter or I am freezing all day long.

4.  Leopard Printer Sweater- despite the fact that I love leopard print, I don't own a single leopard print clothing item aside from a scarf.  I love this sweater that would look great with a pair of black pants.

5.  Everyday Cashmere Crewneck Sweater With Leopard Heart - and I love this leopard print heart on this sweater.  

everyday cashmere crewneck sweater with leopard heart

6.  The Reeds X JCrew Rugby Sweater with Side Buttons - there is always a lot of navy featured for spring.  I like the stripes and the side buttons. 

the reeds x j.crew rugby sweater with side buttons : women sweaters

7.  Evangeline Linen Tunic - this tunic comes in several prints and I like them all.  I also think it could be worn as a swimsuit cover up.

8.  Helena Chino Skirt - this skirt also comes in a variety of colors, but I always love a good print on a chino skirt.  

9.  Chambray Ruffle Shirt Dress - a few years ago I got to visit Reese Witherspoon's store, Draper James. Much of the clothing is out of my price range, but there are sales, and if this dress goes on sale, I might have to invest in it.  I love the ruffle on it, and a little cardigan would be super cute if worn over top.

10.  Broken Harts Podcast - my youngest daughter and I started listening to this and she has made me promise not to listen to it without her.  This is a true-crime story of two women who married and adopted six children together.  Although they seemed like the perfect family, there were charges of child abuse that were being investigated and the family perished in a car accident, when one of the women drove the entire family off a cliff.  The story is fascinating and heartbreaking.

That's it for me this week.  What's caught your eye?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day Romance: Field Notes on Love

I have read every single book that Jennifer E Smith has written and loved them all in varying degrees. She is definitely one of my go-to YA authors.

Field Notes on Love is a fun story that includes romance and adventure.   Hugo has just been dumped by his girlfriend right before he's set to start college.  His ex-girlfriend gives him the tickets she has purchased for their cross country train trip, thinking he can still go on this adventure himself.  However, there's a small problem.  The tickets were purchased in his girlfriend's name, and are non-transferable. 

So, Hugo puts an ad online explaining that he is looking for someone named Margaret Campbell to go on a no-strings-attached cross country trip with him.  The new Margaret Campbell , Mae for short, is an aspiring filmmaker who is also about to set off to college herself.  

And when she and Hugo begin their trip they know nothing about each other, yet their time together is more than either of them bargained for.  

Smith does such a great job with this story.  We have the adventure of the trip, the attraction between Mae and Hugo, the original Margaret making a reappearance to create some anxiety, Mae's relationship with her dads and her grandmother's health crisis, and Hugo's family - he's a sextuplet - and their influence on him.   I'm not sure how Smith is able to squeeze all this together in one amazing love story, but she does, and the reading experience is fantastic.

I am never disappointed by Smith's stories and this is a perfect YA romance for anyone needing a little love in their life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: One Night at the Lake

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly feature where I highlight a soon to be released title that I can't wait to read.

This week's pick:  One Night at the Lake by Bethany Chase
Due out: July 2, 2019

Synopsis taken from Amazon:

A tragedy on a hot summer night at a lake house forever alters the lives of two best friends--and the man they both love. But the truth isn't as simple as it appears in this atmospheric thriller for readers of The Wife Between Us, Bittersweet, and All the Missing Girls.

Leah Tessaro has been waiting for this moment for a long time: Her boyfriend, Ollie, is taking her to his family's home on Seneca Lake for a week of lazy summer bliss, boating, and barbeque. The couple has been together for four years and Leah is convinced that Ollie is finally going to pop the question. And Leah can't wait to share the joyous news with her best friend, June, who is joining them on their getaway, and whose presence will make everything feel more real.

Seven years later, the moment June Kang has been dreading has finally arrived: Her fiancé, Ollie, is taking her to his family's lake house. But this is not an ordinary visit to an ordinary place; it is a home haunted by June's long-buried memories of her lost friend, Leah--and the connection that appears to remain between Leah and the man June loves as deep as her sense of foreboding.

Alternating between the two women's vibrant voices, One Night at the Lake is a gripping novel that explores a complex tangle of friendship, loyalty, and betrayal, all driving toward one question: What exactly happened to Leah on that hot summer night?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday Mini-Reviews: Four Great Selections

I've still been racing through books at a pretty good pace.  There are so many books out there right now that I've got my eyes on, and no way of ever catching up, but I'm sure doing my best to get to everything I can.  

These four were ones I loved during the past week.  

The Mother-In-Law by Sally Hepworth- I read Hepworth's first book and really liked it, but haven't picked up another one of hers since.  The Mother-In-Law comes out in April and it's definitely one to have on your radar.  This is a novel of suspense set in Australia.  Lucy has always had a hard time with her mother-in-law, Diana.  Diana is hard to get to know, and Lucy has tried on numerous occasions to develop a relationship with her.  When Diana is found dead in her home, it first looks like a suicide, but after the police get involved, it becomes obvious that there is more to Diana's death than it initially appears.

More Than Words by Jill Santopolo - I enjoy a nice romance from time to time, and this one fit the bill.  Nina's father dies leaving her his company. Her whole life she thought her father was perfect - a successful businessman, a loving father. After his death, Nina uncovers several secrets that cause her to see her father in a new light.  Nina is also engaged to her childhood best friend, yet she can't help but feel attracted to her boss, Rafael. At some point, Nina will have to deal with her feelings and with the mess her father left her.  This one is somewhat predictable, but honestly, I didn't mind a bit.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray - this one is being compared to The Mothers, which is apt. Three sisters, Althea, Violet and Lillian grew close when Althea became the matriarch at a young age after their mother's death. When Althea and her husband are arrested and eventually sentenced to prison time, the sisters join efforts to help raise Althea's children.  I liked this one a lot, which features an African American family struggling through hard times.

The Lost Girls by Pam Jenoff - Grace comes upon a suitcase sitting at a train station. When she opens it she finds pictures of young women that she becomes curious about.  After some research Grace learns that Eleanor Trigg, a leader of the secret agents during World War II, is the owner of the suitcase.  Grace can't help but set out to solve the mystery of who these young women were. Part of this novel is narrated by Marie, one of the Resistance workers, and the rest by Grace, and I really liked how Jenoff was able to blend the stories together at the end of the novel. I love WWII novels, and this one set toward the end of it was so interesting and kept me turning pages quickly.

I would recommend all of these books to other readers. They are all worth curling up with if you find a free moment.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Friday Five

This is the time of year where the spring catalogs start arriving and I start dreaming of warm weather, yet I also find lots of great deals for winter clothing that are on sale.  My daughters missed a day of school this week because of the snow and freezing rain and have a delay today, while my district has been on time both days.  

Here's this week roundup of things that caught my eye:

1.  Viv Day Dress - I don't know what it is about this dress, but I really want to purchase this one. I love the detail on the front, and feel like this could be worn to a variety of occasions. I also like the scarf they've added.  The only drawback is that it's linen.  Every time I wear linen I look like I've just taken my clothes out of the laundry basket.  

2.  Everyday Dream Dress - and this dress also caught my eye. I love the colors and patterns and I think it could be worn with leggings as well.

3.  Antigua Sandals - I looked at a similar pair of sandals last year and never purchased any. I'm not sure I can hold off all year this time.  My job doesn't allow open toed shoes, which has seriously reduced the number of sandals I own, but I still feel like I need a nice pair every now and then. These come in a few different color options if you're not feeling the blue.

4.  Nouveau Garden Sweatshirt - I have been looking for a floral sweatshirt for a while and everything I could find was sold out.  This is virtually the same thing I had my eye on, but in a different floral and color.

5.  Resin Disc Drop Earrings - I am guilty of buying a pair of earrings and wearing them exclusively for months.  It might be time to get a new pair to ear for a while.

6.  Mock Neck Rib Knit Sweater for Women -this is a pretty basic piece,but I like the pattern in the knit and the fact that it comes in many colors.

7.  Maria Light Packable Jacket - my oldest daughter needed a new winter jacket this year. Her last few have been black, but that's what she still has been picking out.  This shinier fabric is something she likes, and this style does come in a few colors.  (I just ordered it for her in a white/silver color) And because we waited forever before ordering, the price was down to just $66.

8.  Textured Cable Knit Mockneck Pullover Sweater - I love cable knit sweaters.  I have an old one that I still wear occasionally, but it's also looking its age.  I'm keeping my eye on this one.

9.  Brushed Turtleneck Pullover Sweater - I'm a sucker for stripes and this one is a little different with the one blue stripe thrown in.  

10.  The Dropout Podcast -  I absolutely loved the book Bad Blood by John Carreyru and this podcast is pretty much a rehashing of everything that was in that book. I'm loving hearing it again. And if you're not familiar with the book, you might want to try the podcast.  So good.

That's it for me this week.  What's caught your eye?

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Recent YA Romance

I've read a bunch of YA romance lately, which seems rather timely since Valentine's Day is fast approaching.  I liked all of them, some more than others, of course.

What If it's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera - Arthur is new to New York City, spending the summer there with his parents.  One day he runs into a guy at the post office who is sending a box to his ex-boyfriend.  Sparks fly, but the two don't even know each other's names. It takes a lot of effort to find each other, and then there's the ex-boyfriend to contend with along with a variety of other ups and downs.  This one is fun, although a bit long (I'm pretty sure I could cut at least a hundred pages).

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan - Rukhsana is part of a very conservative Muslim family.  They aren't really in favor of her dream to go to CalTech to become an engineer, and they definitely won't understand that Rukhsana has a girlfriend. Her parents expect her to marry a nice Muslim boy.  When her mom catches her daughter kissing her girlfriend, Rukhsana is whisked off to Bangladesh where she visits her family, but is also held against her will.  Rukhsana doesn't give up easily, and finds some advice in her grandmother's diary.

Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott - this story is set to come out in theaters this spring, so I wanted to make sure I read it before I saw it.  There is definitely some similarities to Everything Everything, but also plenty of differences that readers won't feel like they are just reading another version of the same story.  Stella has cystic fibrosis and has spent her life in and out of hospitals. She is a little bit of a control freak, although there's not much about her health she has control over.  When she meets Will at the hospital she is immediately irritated by him and his lack of concern about his own CF.  And yet the two are attracted to each other. However, CF patients aren't allowed within six feet of each other for fear of infection. How will the two ever get to hold hands or kiss?  This is a sad and beautiful love story.

96 Words For Love by Rachel Roy - Raya's future has been mapped out for her. After graduation she will attend UCLA. However, when her cousin invites her to come to India and visit the ashram where their grandmother spent time as a young woman (and left them something), the two decide this is a chance they must take.  While there Raya is able to learn more about herself and what she really wants for her future. And of course, there is a cute guy there as well that Raya begins a romance with.

Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein - Maya is still recovering from the death of her mother, but enjoys her internship at MIT where her mother once worked.  When she comes across her mom's research notes and the study she was conducting on enhancing human attractions, she decides to continue with the research.  The hormones Maya is taking do seem to have an effect, but Maya needs to decide which guy she is really interested in - and the study has little to do with that.

This Is Kind of An Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender - Nate's girlfriend, Flo, left him for a girl she met, and Nate doesn't really believe in happily ever after because of what he's seen in his parents' relationship.  However, his best friend from his childhood has moved back to town, and Nate can't help but hope that Oliver is interested in him.  There are a lot of missteps as the two reconnect and Nate struggles with whether he should disclose how he really feels.  

So if you're in need of a romance, any of these are worth picking up.  February is the perfect time to enjoy a nice love story.