1.22.2017

Mischling by Affinity Konar {Book Review}

In MIschling by Affinity Kovar, we meet Pearl and Stasha, twins who are tortured at the hands of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz.

{Many thanks to the publisher for sending me an eARC of Mischling free of charge. If you click through the affiliate links in this post, any purchase you make supports this site.}

Mischling by Affinity Konar is not just another World War II story. It follows the journey of Pearl and Stasha, twins were are pulled aside on the train platform at Auschwitz by Josef Mengele, to participate in his twisted, depraved, and horrifying human experiments.

Stasha and Pearl have an almost magical connection that offers moments of love and connection in the midst of the terror of Auschwitz. They create ways to survive, depending on each other and their fellow prisoners.

In MIschling by Affinity Kovar, we meet Pearl and Stasha, twins who are tortured at the hands of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz.
Moments in Mischling made me smile, which is amazing. Many more made me want to cry, of course, but Konar tempers the story with true sweetness.

So many novels set in this area are set only during the war and I truly enjoyed how Konar took the story much farther, not only with the main plot, but with flashbacks and glimpses of the future. This novel was not an easy read, but it was a worthwhile one.

1.16.2017

The Ballroom by Anna Hope {Book Review}

The Ballroom tells the story of several patients and their doctor in an English asylum in 1911. Somehow, it's a page turner!
{Many thanks to the publisher for sending me an eARC of The Ballroom free of charge. If you click through the affiliate links in this post, any purchase you make supports this site.}

Well, I'm lucky today was a holiday and that I have multiple locations within my home to hide from my family. Cunning was necessary this afternoon because I could not put down The Ballroom by Anna Hope.

This novel, set in a Yorkshire asylum in 1911, tells the story of three patients and a doctor. We follow their time in the asylum, wondering who are the truly sane ones.

So often you hear that writers should "show and not tell." Hope could give a master's class on this writing technique! The story contains an pervasive sense of sadness and doom. It feels like redemption or despair is lurking around every corner, making it an "on the edge of your seat" sort of reading experience.

Melancholy, atmospheric books are generally not my thing, but the pacing of The Ballroom was so perfect that by the end, I was doing the aforementioned hiding and turning pages as quickly as possible. It was a roller coaster ride!

1.10.2017

The Lost Property Office (Section 13) by James R. Hannibal {Book Review}

Follow Jack Buckles on an adventure that begins when he stumbles into The Lost Property Office in London.

{Many thanks to the publisher for sending me an eARC of The Lost Property Office free of charge. If you click through the affiliate links in this post, any purchase you make supports this site.}

The Lost Property Office (Section 13) by James R. Hannibal is a fun and quick Middle Grade read! We follow Jack Buckles on an adventure that begins when he stumbles into The Lost Property Office in London.

Laden with history, this novel is full of clues, puzzles, and secret government agencies hidden in plain view. The plot takes us all over (and under London) as Jack learns about himself, his family, and the history of London's Great Fire.

The Lost Property Office also includes a bit of steampunk, including the mechanical beetles pictured on the cover and a wide variety of means of transportation. These little treats were woven seamlessly into the plot, helping to move it along with a bit more interest that you'd expect.

I may have stayed up too late to finish this book, so consider this fair warning. I'll make sure not to read the second one in the series so close to bedtime!

The Ones by Daniel Sweren-Berger {Book Review}

Would you want to be a One - genetically modified before birth? Consider the question in The Ones, a YA novel by Daniel Sweren-Becker.

{Many thanks to the publisher for sending me an eARC of The Ones free of charge. If you click through the affiliate links in this post, any purchase you make supports this site.}

The best dystopian novels take a little grain of truth about our society, then push it out to the extreme. Such is the case in The Ones by Daniel Sweren-Berger, which considers the societal results of a pilot program by the NIH allowing genetic engineering in 1% of babies born.

I've read so many books where the characters didn't feel like anyone I'd ever know, but the main characters here, Cody and James, were three-dimensional and believable. This is the first in the series, so I look forward to seeing where their relationship goes.

This novel had twists and turns I was not expecting, but it did read like a book intended for the Young Adult audience. The pace was quick and the plot was well-developed, though I wanted to know if the society described had any other differences from our own. Had they made any other leaps in technology that affected their daily lives?

I will certainly pick up the next book in this series because this one was engrossing (and because there's a cliffhanger!).

1.05.2017

We are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly {Book Review}

Maybe don't read We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly on a stormy day, unless you don't mind nightmares!
{Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a complimentary eARC of We are Unprepared. If you click through the affiliate links in this post, any purchase you make supports this site.}

As I sit here typing this, my weather app tells me that there will be seven days straight of rain here in Northern California. This was not the right time to read We are Unprepared by Meg Little O'Reilly, which fictionalizes a super storm event that is heading towards the Eastern Seaboard. I have a feeling I am going to have flood nightmares!

I was very interested in certain parts of this novel - the preparations for the storm, the experience of the storm itself, the aftermath, and the reconstruction. However, most of this novel is spent not on these topics. Instead, it involves a great deal of hipster navel-gazing.

The pretentiousness of the main characters, and the narrator especially, is off the charts. About halfway through, I was sorta hoping The Storm would win in the end.

The Author's Note is very upfront about the motivations underlying this novel - it is, "in equal parts, a small gesture of activism and a love letter to the woods" that Reilly grew up in. The activism in this novel is not subtle, so would not be a good pick if you're in the mood from something escapist or if you have strong feelings on the topic of climate change.

3/5 Stars

1.04.2017

Favorite Books of 2016 {Read These Books}

There's a wide range of genres in this list of favorite books from 2016 reading. Sci Fi, YA, historical fiction, thrillers, and even horror!

{Many thanks to the publisher for sending me eARCs of many of these books free of charge. If you click through the affiliate links in this post, any purchase you make supports this site.}

What a year for reading! Phew! These are the books I read in 2016 (not necessarily published in in 2016) that rose to the top. There were so many good ones, but I went with my gut reaction for this list. Off we go!

There's a wide range of genres in this list of favorite books from 2016 reading. Sci Fi, YA, historical fiction, thrillers, and even horror!

The Passage Trilogy - I had trouble reading these books at night because I would get so nervous and, sometimes, scared. Set aside a chunk of time for these, because they are big, fat books.

A Hundred Thousand Worlds - Mix some comic-con, cosplay, comic book geekiness with feminist rants and beautiful, heart-wrenching writing and you'll be close to this story of a mother and her son.

The Last One - It's rare to be completely surprised by a book but I somehow did that with this one! I don't want to ruin it for you, so let me just say if you are a fan of reality TV and post-apocalyptic stories, you will love this thriller.

The Neopolitan Novels - One of my goals for 2017 is to finish this series (I got through the first two of the four in the series)! I got sidetracked, but these novels are so well-written and engrossing.

There's a wide range of genres in this list of favorite books from 2016 reading. Sci Fi, YA, historical fiction, thrillers, and even horror!

The Underground Railroad - I just wrote a review of this one, but let me just say that this is one of those books that may turn into a modern classic. It will stick with you.

How It Went Down - This is a "ripped from the headlines" story about a shooting. I read it in one sitting and it completely changed the way I interpret news stories about shootings.

The Nightingale - One of my reading challenges I'm doing this year says to read the backlist of an author you really liked. After reading this historical fiction novel, I think I'll be heading to the library for more books from Hannah.

There's a wide range of genres in this list of favorite books from 2016 reading. Sci Fi, YA, historical fiction, thrillers, and even horror!

Queen of the Night - It is pretty surprising to me that this novel does not have better Amazon ratings. Having never read a novel set in the Franco-Prussian war, I was hitting up Wikipedia pretty hard while reading this.

Red Queen Series - If you don't love a YA dystopia, post-apocalyptic novel, I'm not sure we can be friends anymore. Read this series (and all the novellas, too.) The third book will be out in February 2017.

Sleeping Giants (The Themis Files) - You'll find a true science fiction story in this series, which is told through interview transcripts, reports, and other ephmera. The second is due to be published in April 2017.
What were your favorite books this year?

1.03.2017

Lessons from 2016 and a Goal for 2017

Lessons from 2016: financial freedom, meal planning simplification, still loving my bullet journal, and more.

{If you click through the affiliate links in this post, any purchase you make supports this site.}


Looking back on the year is so helpful to figure out what's working and what's not. This year my focus was definitely on simplifying. The lessons I learned in 2016 certainly reflect that mission! I'm sharing what I'll focus on in 2017 at the end of this post. 

Here are the highlights of what I learned in 2016.


1. Dave Ramsey's System and Mint.com

Lessons from 2016: financial freedom, meal planning simplification, still loving my bullet journal, and more.
What a lifesaver. With so many changes to our budget, income, and expenses this year, implementing Dave Ramsey's system and using Mint.com were lifesavers.

We use the approach outlined by Ramsey in Total Money Makeover, though we tweak it a bit. We maintain an Excel Spreadsheet to create and track our yearly and monthly budget, along with retirement savings, sinker funds, and the rental house we own and manage.

We plug the monthly budget into Mint, which helps us to track spending and income on a monthly basis and easily create spending reports. Having our finances under control has been such a relief.



2. Plated 

Lessons from 2016: financial freedom, meal planning simplification, still loving my bullet journal, and more.
When my husband had major surgery in January 2016, I needed a way to streamline meals, while still preparing fresh and healthy recipes for my family.

Plated has delivered to such an extent that I now get three meals a week with three servings each (one serving for each adult and a third for the kids to split). My grocery store time is minimized, as is my meal planning time, and we are eating healthier and even more deliciously!

There are at least 11 options to choose from each week and it is easy to skip a week if your schedule does not include any time to cook. As an example of the menu, this week we are having
Cheesy Loaded Baked Potato with Roasted Tomato Soup, Parmesan-Crusted Chicken with Roasted Tomato Caesar Salad, and Cherry Tomato And Turkey Rag├╣over Roasted Spaghetti Squash.

Both the Plated website and app couldn't be easier to use. They mixed up an order once and promptly refunded the cost of the meal, so my customer service experience has been positive, as well. 

I also reviewed Plated awhile back if you'd like to see what they send. This is one of those things I am always mentioning to people!

If Plated's meals don't appeal to you, there are also a ton of other meal kit subscription boxes. Check them out in the Food & Drink section of the Subscription Box Directory.



3. Bullet Journal

Lessons from 2016: financial freedom, meal planning simplification, still loving my bullet journal, and more.I still love my Bullet Journal - This is the only system that has stuck with me for more than a few months. I keep finding new ways to use it!

For more details, check out this basic guide or this detailed one, or both! I'm currently journaling in this journal and using these pens.

And fair warning - Pinterest is a bullet journal rabbit hole.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but if you feel like your head is all cluttered with details and lists and events and on an on, it might be worth giving it a try.

I really did try every app out there and none of them worked for me, but this does!

I already started a Lessons from 2017 collection in journal!



4. Overdrive 



Overdrive is an app that lets you check out ebooks and audiobooks from your library. I feel like a broken record here, but if you aren't utilizing Overdrive, you are missing out and wasting money!

Sorry for getting bossy, but I can't help myself. Yes, there is a wait time for many books (like any popular library book) but I can always find something to check out that is available.

I also download audiobooks for my son to listen to when he has trouble falling asleep and for my daughter to read on her Kindle Fire.

Perfect for not just road trips and commutes, but for doing laundry, picking up the house, and other random household tasks that are mind-numbing!


5. iPhone SE

Lessons from 2016: financial freedom, meal planning simplification, still loving my bullet journal, and more.
Have you heard of the iPhone SE? Because I sure hadn't when my old iPhone 5s finally died. The size of 5s was so perfect so I put off upgrading until my phone just gave up and stopped working.

Enter the iPhone SE, which was a total mystery. The size is the same as the 5s, but it has the guts of the 6s.

I had some trouble convincing my husband that I'd prefer this style phone, but found this article, which really summed it up well.

I want my phone to be a tool, not a lifestyle.



6. Google Photos

Lessons from 2016: financial freedom, meal planning simplification, still loving my bullet journal, and more.I think most people struggle with staying on top of managing and backing up photos. Google Photos is one part of that puzzle for us.

We use it to back up all of our photos to the cloud. It will automatically update across all devices, though you have to open up the app on your phone for it to update those.

It has simplified the process and eliminated our need for a separate cloud backup program. One less thing to pay for!

I have also moved most of our computer files on to Google Drive. It is so nice to be able to access them anywhere and the storage is cheap. Luckily, you can exclude your Google Photos from Google Drive to prevent using up too much space and duplicating backups.


2017

I've been thinking about the trend to choose a word or phrase for the coming year. I think this year, I'm going with CHOOSE to remind myself when life gets crazy that I make the decisions that got me here.

I chose to work part time for many reasons, I chose to volunteer for my children's school because it is rewarding, I chose to sign them up for sports. If I remember that, then how can I complain when I get overwhelmed?!

I don't want to be the person always complaining about being tired, being stressed, or feeling overwhelmed by obligations, so I am going to be careful about what I choose to commit to, then I am going to remember I chose it!

Last year's lessons: Lessons from 2015