February 29, 2016

read with us: a book chosen by another

Welcome to our February update for the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge! This month, we read a book that someone else chose for us. Let's just say our results were a little less than spectacular!
Our books this month were The Martian, The Lost Garden, The Eye of the World, and Pride and Prejudice.

Becky's book: The Martian by Andy Weir, chosen by Val
Val says: I was SO excited for Becky to read The Martian – it wasn’t so much that I thought it was the perfect book for her specifically, it was more that I read it and loved it SO MUCH that I was desperate for anyone and everyone to read it, too! The Martian is everything you could want in a book – it’s suspenseful, engaging, and funny – I really didn’t expect it to be so funny! Technically this book is sci-fi, but don’t let that keep you from reading it. It is a total delight.

Becky says: I am so glad Val picked this book for me! I haven't seen the movie yet, and I knew I wanted to read the book first, but without this push, I probably wouldn't have.

Prior to beginning the novel, this is what I knew: An astronaut left behind on Mars survives by eating potatoes. And there's science.

Here's what actually happens: Mark Watney, a member of the Ares 3 crew, is presumed dead and left on Mars when a storm comes up and the mission is aborted. He has to figure out a way to survive until the next Ares crew arrives. Through ingenuity and lots of crazy science, he manages to stay alive.

The Martian is hilarious! It's the funniest book I've read in ages, and I wasn't anticipating that, even though people said it was funny. (I guess I should have believed them...) There is so much science in the book, and I'm not exactly a science kind of girl, yet it never gets overwhelming or boring. Most of the book is comprised of Watney's journal entries, and that's where the hilarity comes in. He's witty, sarcastic, and just plain funny--which is pretty amazing, considering his circumstances. Once he is (SPOILER ALERT!) finally back in contact with NASA, he continues to crack jokes on a regular basis ... including a very well timed "that's what she said" joke.

I so badly wanted Watney to survive, and I loved reading about the ups and downs as he tried to do just that. This is easily the most fun I've had reading so far this year. One thing to note, though: There is a lot of swearing in this book. So if you have a problem with excessive language (seriously, it begins in the very first line), then I'd skip the novel and go straight for the movie. (I still haven't seen the movie yet, but it's rated PG-13, so the filmmakers must have toned down the language. The language just on the first page of the novel would push it into R category.)

Val's book: The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz, chosen by Becky
Becky says: When it comes to reading material, let's just say that Val and I rarely ever choose the same books. The majority of my reading is in the realm of Christian fiction, a genre Val gave up on in the 8th grade. Every once in awhile, I come across a book that doesn't feel like Christian fiction, one that seems like something Val would enjoy. The Lost Garden is one such book. I loved it so much that it made my Top 10 list in 2015, and I wanted to share it with Val. (See my review.) Also, how could you not be attracted to a book with that cover? Gorgeous!

Val says: Becky chose The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz for me.  It’s a dual-story plot – following Eleanor in 1918 after the conclusion of World War I, and following Marin and Rebecca in present-day. All three characters are facing great loss – Eleanor’s brother, Walter, was killed in the war, and Marin has just been given custody of Rebecca, her 15-year-old half-sister, because their father and Rebecca’s mother were killed in a car accident.  Marin and Rebecca end up living right next door to Eleanor’s old house, and they discover a walled garden that Eleanor helped plan.

It took me a while to get into this book.  I did not find Eleanor immediately likeable, and I felt that some of her reactions to events felt off – untrue to the situation.  But as the book progressed, I didn’t notice those issues anymore, and after about 50 pages in, I was very interested in both storylines.  I haven’t finished the book yet (I have about 50 pages left), and I’m excited for the unresolved questions in both storylines to be answered. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the post-WWI time-period, or anyone looking for an engaging book with a compelling storyline that isn’t too emotionally taxing.

This is what Val's cat Chloe thought of the book.
Steph's book: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, chosen by our brother Andrew
Steph says: Our brother picked my book for me. It was The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. I didn’t make it past the first page for two very important reasons: 1) this book is the most intimidating thing I’ve ever picked up. Only two people that I know gave encouraging opinions of this thing. They are also the only two that like epics. 2) I was added to a committee at church that was meeting extra the entire month of February. That meant I didn’t get home until about 10 o’clock four nights of the week. I already get sucked into books and have a hard time putting them down so that I can sleep. An epic this month was just not going to happen. You will be seeing my thoughts on this book when we reach our “books that intimidate you” portion of our challenge—when I will *hopefully* not be working on surprise projects.

Susan's book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, chosen by Steph
Steph says: For our mother, I picked Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen because it is my favorite book and one that I have reread 8 or 9 times. It is witty, it is clever, and Lizzy is just my spirit animal. She has grace, class, and just the right amount of sass. All of the characters are wonderfully realistic and ridiculous in turn. The book has such a fun look at what family life is like. I asked mom to read it because she never has, and that just had to be fixed. 

Susan says: When I began reading the book, I really found it not that interesting. However, now I think it was because of the version Becky lent me. The book is beautiful, but it has small, old fashioned looking print.

I switched to my Kindle, where I'm reading the "insight edition" with notes prepared by Bethany House Publishers. The foreword was written by Nancy Moser, who wrote a novel about Austen's life called Just Jane, and as soon as I read it, I couldn't wait to read the Pride and Prejudice! In the body of the book, there are sidebars about terms or meanings of words, and the type is so much easier to read. I have been fascinated! I "hear" Colin Firth's voice when I read Darcy's lines. I am enjoying it very much! The ease with which I can read it makes it better. I haven't finished reading the book yet, but I'm looking forward to reading more!

Have you read any of these books? We'd love to hear your thoughts! And be sure to join us again next month, when we're each reading a book published this year!

Flashback: See what we read in January.

February 26, 2016

in defense of "fuller house"

This is what I did during lunch today...
If you haven't been living under a rock, you probably know that Fuller House, the Full House reboot/continuation hit Netflix today. I've been VERY excited to see this--after all, Full House was my favorite show before Dean Cain as Superman came along and stole my heart. 

When the critics' reviews started coming in, I wasn't too concerned. After all, Full House wasn't a critical darling, either. But I haven't seen a single positive review from a critic. The best review I saw was from TVLine, which gave the premiere a B-. Hilariously, EW gave the show a C- and the first episode an F. Really, an F? 

Here's the thing: Full House was never considered edgy, and it looks like Fuller House won't be either. And that's exactly what I want--a sweet family sitcom that reminds me of a simpler time.

I've only watched the first episode so far, but here's my snap judgement:

From the opening strains of the original theme song, which opens the first episode, to the side-by-side old and new images of the cast in the opening credits, to "Forever," to every catch phrase the show ever spawned being uttered at least once, Fuller House presses practically every nostalgia button imaginable. And I loved it.

The good (besides what I've already mentioned):
  • Everyone easily slips back into their roles--especially the three who will carry the series: Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, and Andrea Barber.
  • Steve and D.J. still have chemistry ... and both are single. The producers, at least if the first episode is any indication, are determined to give the people what they want, so I have high hopes for the happily ever after that I always assumed Steve and D.J. found.
  • Andrea Barber (Kimmy Gibbler) is hilarious. Her comedic timing is spot on!
  • Steve's dog is Comet Jr. Jr.--of course there's a Comet!
The bad:
  • The first half of the premiere is so focused on nostalgia that the actual plot doesn't really exist. This is especially apparent in the opening scene, which is more about recognizing each actor than anything else.
  • While Fuller House is definitely tamer and more family appropriate than anything not found on the Disney or Hallmark Channels, I still cringed when Kimmy's ex talked about how well-versed she was in the Kama Sutra. Wouldn't want to have to explain that to a kid!
  • The Olsen twins joke: When it's said that Michelle isn't coming home because she's building her fashion empire, everyone turns to the camera and gives withering looks. This would be amusing, except it goes on far too long. It ended up feeling mean spirited, not funny.
The big question:
  • Joey is clearly wearing a wedding ring--but no wife is ever mentioned. Does Joey have a secret Vegas family?
Here's what it boils down to: Fuller House is a love letter to Full House fans. If you weren't a fan of the original, you probably won't like this. But if you were, and you still enjoy sweet, family-friendly programming, then you'll definitely want to give Fuller House a look.

February 19, 2016

five friday favorites #22: week of feb. 19, 2016

This is a Friday that could not have come soon enough. I do have to get up at 4:15 a.m. tomorrow because of speech, but I'm still thankful it's Friday! It's been a long week, even though I took Monday off as a vacation day, and I am very eagerly anticipating next Friday for two reasons. 1) We do not have a speech meet next Saturday, so Friday truly will be the last workday of the week. 2) Fuller House drops on Netflix next Friday. I absolutely cannot wait! In fact, I'm so excited, that practically all of my favorites could revolve around Fuller House ... but I'll restrain myself to one!

1. Fuller House Cast on The Tonight Show
While I've seen lots of Fuller House things in the last few weeks, this is invariably my favorite. I love pretty much everything about it!

2. Detoxinista's No Bake Peanut Butter Cup Pie
Basically, I've gone all-in with peanut butter. (Just ask my speech kids. I have a jar of peanut butter that I pull out at each meet.) I made this peanut butter cup pie as individual cupcake-pies for a Valentine's Day treat (and then I forgot to get them out when my friends were over!), and the flavor was phenomenal! However, I decided the almond meal chocolate crust was unnecessary, so I made the recipe again leaving it out and putting the peanut butter filling in mini cupcake liners. It worked wonderfully! (I also reduced the amount of sweetener a bit--the original recipe tastes wonderful, but it's also very sweet.)

I store these in the freezer and get one out when I need a dab of sweetness. So, so good!

3. This Shirt
Ten years ago, I bought this shirt on sale at Younkers. There must have been some magic going on in the dressing room, 'cause when I got home, I realized the shirt didn't fit at all. But it was a final sale item, so returning it wasn't an option. Over the years, I cleaned out my closet multiple times, but the shirt always remained ... even though it was way too small. But yesterday I pulled it out again, and it fit! I absolutely love it. It's comfy, it's not too low, and it has a very interesting neckline. I'd go back and buy more in other colors ... if it wasn't a 2006 design!

As you can see, I still haven't quite mastered the art of the mirror selfie :-)

4. The Flash
Yes, The Flash has been one of my Friday Favorites before. But right now, it's firing on all cylinders, and I just need to gush a bit. (If you don't watch The Flash, feel free to skip down to my 5th favorite.)

Incorporating Earth-2 into this season of The Flash has added so much to the show. Not only did it allow Tom Cavanagh (Harrison Wells) to remain on the show, but Barry, Cisco, and Wells' recent trip to Earth-2 made for two of the most fun hours of TV I've seen in a long time. On Earth-2, Barry's mother is still alive, Barry is married to Iris (who is a police detective), and Barry is most definitely not The Flash.

Not only was it fun to see the doppelgangers of "our" characters (including Killer Frost and Reverb), but a mysterious new character came into play--the "man in the iron mask" who was held in Zoom's lair. Through some kind of coded communication, he got Barry and Wells' daughter to realize he was trying to say "Jay Garrick"--and he became very upset when Barry said that Jay was safe on our Earth. Is the man in the iron mask the real Jay? Is he warning Barry about Jay? Is he (and this is my favorite fan theory so far) Iris' dead fiance Eddie Thawne? And who is Zoom? So many questions--and I can't wait to uncover the answers!

(Not on the Flash bandwagon yet, but you'd like to check it out? Season one is now on Netflix.)

5. If I Run by Terri Blackstock
If you like suspense, you'll want to check out If I Run, the first novel in a new series by Terri Blackstock. Here's part of what I said in my review:
If I Run is fascinating, fast-paced suspense. It is written in first-person, present tense, alternating between Casey's and Dylan's point of view. While this perspective took a bit to get used to, once I did, I felt like I was right there with Casey and Dylan, experiencing the action as they did.
Once I finished the novel, I wished that I could pick up book two immediately!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and feel free to let me know your own favorites! I'm linking up with the usuals: Erika, Karli, and April.

February 3, 2016

two snow days, otherwise known as "i needed this"

Every year, speech season just about kills me. Not literally, though it does take quite the toll on my body. (Thank you for that, Hashimoto's.) When we reach February, we're about a third of the way through the season, but we're halfway through the really intense "speech meet every Saturday" part.

And I'm exhausted.

So when I heard Winter Storm Kayla was heading our way, I was hopeful for a day off school. (By the way, when did we start naming winter storms? That's a recent development, right?) Turns out, we got two--because boy did we ever get hammered by the snow!

I am so, so thankful for this time off! I haven't done much--reading, TV watching, a little cooking, and of course the dreaded snow shoveling--and it's been absolutely fantastic. This afternoon, my mom came over, and we finished up Downton Abbey. What a great way to spend a Wednesday afternoon!

My backyard last night.

My front door this morning. That's a 19" drift!

My backyard this morning. The deepest drift measured 22".

A photo posted by Becky Ritta (@beckyritta) on

I have to jump right back into the thick of it tomorrow with our annual student council sponsored blood drive, but today? Today I'm savoring. Thank you, Lord, for this break!

Update: Just got the call--we have another snow day tomorrow. Roads in town are decent now, but apparently the gravel is a mess. Plus, our kids come from all over the area, and some other towns are in pretty awful shape. I can't remember ever having three snow days in a row before ... but I'm certainly not complaining!

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